[The following is an excerpt from the book Holiness by J. C. Ryle, one of my favorite writers. This is from chapter 5, The Cost. Primarily I wanted to share this with members of a discipleship group to which I belong. But it’s so good that I thought I would post it hear for anyone to read.]
Count the Cost
[The] last thing which I propose to do, is to give some hints which may help men to count the cost rightly.
Sorry indeed should I be if I did not say something on this branch of my subject. I have no wish to discourage anyone, or to keep anyone back from Christ’s service. It is my heart’s desire to encourage everyone to go forward and take up the cross. Let us count the cost by all means, and count it carefully. But let us remember, that if we count rightly, and look on all sides, there is nothing that need make us afraid.
Let me mention some things which should always enter into our calculations in counting the cost of true Christianity. Set down honestly and fairly what you will have to give up and go through, if you become Christ’s disciple. Leave nothing out. Put it all down. But then set down side by side the following sums which I am going to give you. Do this fairly and correctly, and I am not afraid for the result.
1. The Profit vs The Loss
Count up and compare, for one thing, the profit and the loss, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian. You many possibly lose something in this world, but you will gain the salvation of your immortal soul. It is written: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
2. The Praise vs The Blame
Count up and compare for another thing, the praise and the blame, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian. You may possibly be blamed by man, but you will have the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Your blame will come from the lips of a few erring, blind, fallible men and women. Your praise will come from the King of kings and Judge of all the earth. It is only those whom He blesses who are really blessed. It is written: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11, 12)
3. The Friends vs The Enemies
Count up and compare, for another thing, the friends and the enemies, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian. On the one side of you is the enmity of the devil and the wicked. On the other, you have the favor and friendship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your enemies, at most, can only bruise your heel. They may rage loudly, ad compass sea and land to work your ruin; but they cannot destroy you. Your Friend is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. None shall ever pluck His sheep out of His hand. It is written: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him.” (Luke 12:5)
4. The Life That Now Is vs The Life to Come
Count up and compare, for another thing, the life that now is and the life to come, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian. The time present, no doubt, is not a time of ease. It is a time of watching and praying, fighting and struggling, believing and working. But it is only for a few years. The time future is the season of rest and refreshing. Sin shall be cast out. Satan shall be bound. And, best of all, it shall be a rest for ever. It is written: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18)
5. The Pleasures of Sin vs The Happiness of God’s Service
Count up and compare, for another thing, the pleasures of sin and the happiness of God’s service, if you are a true-hearted and holy Christian. The pleasures that the worldly man gets by his ways are hollow, unreal, and unsatisfying. They are like the fire of thorns, flashing and crackling for a few minutes, and then quenched fore ever. The happiness that Christ gives to His people is something solid, lasting, and substantial. It is not dependent on health or circumstances. It never leaves a man, even in death. It ends in a crown of glory that fadeth not away. It is written: “The joy of the hypocrite [is] but for a moment.” “As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool.” (Job 20:5; Ecclesiastes 7:6)
6. The Trouble That True Christianity Entails vs The Troubles That Are in Store for the Wicked Beyond the Grave
Count up and compare, for another thing, the trouble that true Christianity entails, and the troubles that are in store for the wicked beyond the grave. Grant for a moment that Bible reading and praying and repenting and believing and holy living require pains and self-denial. It is all nothing compared to that wrath to come which is stored up for the impenitent and unbelieving. A single day in hell will be worse than a whole life spent in carrying the cross. The “worm that never dies, and the fire that is not quenched” are things which it passes man’s power to conceive fully or describe. It is written: “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and thou art tormented.” (Luke 16:25)
7. The Number of Those Who Turn from Sin and the World and Serve Christ vs The Number of Those Who Forsake Christ and Return to the World
Count up and compare, in the last place, the number of those who turn from sin and the world and serve Christ, and the number of those who forsake Christ and return to the world. On the one side you will find thousand; on the other you will find none. Multitudes are every year turning out of the broad way and entering the narrow. None who really enter the narrow way grow tired of it and return to the broad. The footsteps in the downward road are often to be seen turning out of it. The footsteps in the road to heaven are all one way. It is written: “The way of he wicked is… darkness.” “The way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 4:19; 13:15) But it is also written: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Proverbs 4:18)
Such sums as these, no doubt, are often not done correctly. Not a few, I am well aware, are ever “halting between two opinions.” They cannot make up their minds that it is worthwhile to serve Christ. The losses and gains, the advantages and disadvantages, the sorrows and the joys, the helps and the hinderances appear to them so nearly balanced that they cannot decide for God. They cannot do this great sum correctly. They cannot make the result so clear as it ought to be. They do not count right.
But what is the secret of their mistakes? It is want of faith. To come to a right conclusion about our souls, we must have some of that mighty principle which St. Paul describes in the eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews. Let me try to show how that principle operates in the great business of counting the cost.
How was it that Noah persevered in building the ark? He stood alone amidst a world of sinners and unbelievers. He had to endure scorn, ridicule, and mockery. What was it that nerved his arm, and made him patiently work on and face it all? It was faith. He believed in a wrath to come. He believed that there was no safety, excepting in the ark that he was preparing. Believing, he held the world’s opinion very cheap. He counted the cost by faith, and had no doubt that to build the ark was gain.
How was it that Moses forsook the pleasures of Pharoah’s house, and refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter? How was it that he cast in his lot with a despised people like the Hebrews, and risked everything in this world in carrying out the great work of their deliverance from bondage? To the eye of sense he was losing everything and gaining nothing. What was it that moved him? It was faith. He believed that the “recompense of reward” was far better than all the honors of Egypt. He counted the cost by faith, as “seeing Him that is invisible,” and was persuaded that to forsake Egypt and go forth into the wilderness was gain.
How was it that Saul the Pharisee could ever make up his mind to become a Christian? The cost and sacrifices of the change were fearfully great. He gave up all his brilliant prospects among his own people. He brought on himself, instead of man’s favor, man’s hatred, man’s enmity, and man’s persecution, even unto death. What was it that enabled him to face it all? It was faith. He believed that Jesus, who met him on the way to Damascus, could give him a hundredfold more than he gave up, and in the world to come everlasting life. By faith he counted the cost, and saw clearly on which side the balance lay. He believed firmly that to carry the cross of Christ was gain.
Let us mark well these things. That faith which made Noah, Moses, and St. Paul do what they did, that faith is the great secret of coming to a right conclusion about our souls. That same faith must be our helper and ready-reckoner, when we sit down to count the cost of being a true Christian. That same faith is to be had for the asking. “He giveth more grace.” (James 4:6) Armed with that faith we shall set things down at their true value. Filled with that faith we shall neither add to the cross nor subtract from the crown. Our conclusions will be all correct. Our sum total will be without error.
Think – Whether Your Religion Costs You Anything at Present
In conclusion, let every reader of this paper think seriously, whether his religion costs him anything at present. Very likely it costs you nothing. Very probably it neither costs you trouble, nor time, nor thought, nor care, nor pains, nor reading, nor praying, nor self-denial, nor conflict, nor working, nor labor of any kind. Now mark what I say. Such a religion as this will never save your soul. It will never give you peace while you live, nor hope while you die. It will not support you in the day of affliction, nor cheer you in the hour of death. A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. Awake before it is too late. Awake and repent. Awake and be converted. Awake and believe. Awake and pray. Rest not till you can give a satisfactory answer to my question: “What does it cost?”
Think – What it Cost the Son of God to Provide Salvation for Your Soul
Think, if you want stirring motives for serving God, what it cost to provide a salvation for your soul. Think how the Son of God left heaven and became Man, suffered on the cross and lay in the grave, to pay your debt to God, and work out for you a complete redemption. Think of all this and learn that it is no light matter to possess an immortal soul. It is worthwhile to take some trouble about one’s soul.
Ah, lazy man or woman, is it really come to this, that you will miss heaven for lack of trouble? Are you really determined to make shipwreck for ever, from mere dislike to exertion? Away with the cowardly, unworthy thought. Arise and play the man. Say to yourself, “Whatever it may cost, I will, at any rate, strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Look at the cross of Christ, and take fresh courage. Look forward to death, judgement, and eternity, and be in earnest. It may cost much to be a Christian, but you may be sure it pays.
Persevere and Press On
If any reader of this paper really feels that he has counted the cost, and taken up the cross, I bid him persevere and press on. I dare say you often feel your heart faint, and are sorely tempted to give up in despair. Your enemies seem so many, your besetting sins so strong, your friends so few, the way so steep and narrow, you hardly know what to do. But still I say, persevere and press on.
The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more.
The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer her below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. We shall marvel that in “counting the cost” we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay. Let us take courage. We are not far from home. IT may cost much to be a true Christian and a consistent holy man; but it pays.