No Reserve, No Retreat, No Regrets
"Come, take up the cross, and follow me." (Mark Chapter 10 Verse 21).
"Ye will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christís company, without a conflict and a cross." (Samuel Rutherford)
"He who fears to suffer cannot be His who suffered." (Tertullian)
"Hear me; I am older than thou: thou art like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, svvords, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death and what not. These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies." (Worldlv Wiseman to Christian)
One of the most solemn sentences in the New Testament reads: "The high priest then asked Jesus of His disciples." With Peter denying all knowledge of Him even to the length of oaths and curses; with the kiss of the renegade Judas still smarting on His cheek; with the memory still fresh in His mind of His other followers disappearing into the dark shadows of the olive trees - then, at that most awful moment of His loneliness, Jesus was asked about His disciples.
What could He answer? And what can He say of us today?
It is well, at the outset of our Christian life, to realise how hard a thing it is to follow Christ.
Christ left His contemporaries under no delusions on the subject. As it has truly been said: "He never hid His scars to win disciples." In fact, it was the vision of what Calvary had cost their Master that was the inspiration of the early Christian witness. "He shewed them His hands and His side . . . Then said Jesus to them . . . as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."
It is the same today. The passage of centuries has not lowered Christís standard one inch. He will have every would be disciple know that to follow "the despised Galilean" means to travel the Via Dolorosa with Him.
It means bearing a cross.
The terms of His discipleship Christ disclosed for all time, when, with the shadow of Calvary before them, He turned to His disciples and said: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected . . . It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master . . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me . . . If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
The threefold "cannot" still holds good. It is a comparatively easy thing, in the excitement of religious emotion, to cry out, "Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." But it is a far more searching experience when the disciple begins to realise that this will entail, as it were, an up hill journey towards Jerusalem, with the burden and shame of a cross "day after day."
Yet if we are to deserve the honoured name of disciple, we must face the conditions our Master has laid down. He looks today, as He has ever looked, not for crowds drifting aimlessly in His track, but for individual men and women whose undying allegiance will spring from their having recognised that He wants those who are prepared to follow the path of self renunciation which He trod before them.
Christ will not alter His conditions. When a wealthy and good living young man, whom He could not help loving, came up to Him, Christ told him that the thing which meant most in his life had to be renounced before ever he could become His disciple.
Are those words of love?
We little realise today the horror that the phrase "take up the cross" had for Christís contemporaries.
It conveyed to their minds not the bearing of a heavy burden, but rather the voluntary taking upon oneself of a thing of shame. Cicero tells us that the very word "cross," that "infamous and unhappy tree," was an abomination to Roman ears; and we know how repugnant it was to a Jew.
Only the basest of slaves and murderers ever suffered crucifixion, until our Lord Himself endured the cross despising the shame, and thus hallowed that symbol for all time to every follower of His. As Chrysostom pointed out, the form at which men once shuddered has now become the badge of highest honour.
But for the Roman, Greek and Jew the opprobrium of the cross, remained until Constantine later abolished the form of punishment which had been the means of the Saviour's death. And so a man's reaction to the cross depends on the angle from which he regards it.
To the Christian there is no greater honour than to be privileged to bear a cross after Christ. In practice, this means to suffer something of the stigma, which has always been associated with the word "Christian," ever since that nickname (for such it originally was) was first coined.
What, then, are the implications of our new allegiance? How exactly is the fact that I am now a "Christian" going to affect my daily life, and what is the cost of the new relationship to be?
These are the questions which must now be faced as we mix daily with men and women whose habits and customs, like our own until lately, ignore any higher loyalty.
Let us fairly and squarely examine what it means to follow Christ in a world that crucified Him once, and in all probability would do so again today.
It will involve a certain degree of unpopularity; insinuations that the new disciple is becoming so heavenly minded that he is no earthly use: accusations of obscurantist theology, and selfish motives, and much more.
But these are the lighter winds that only ripple the surface of life's pond. There is a deeper meaning to the cross than this.
In these pages it may dawn upon the reader that denying oneself, saying "No" to all that self inspires, is the real implication of Christís demands. The cross signifies to Christís disciples the discipline of self-renunciation, that crucifixion of the inner self till it becomes -
Dead to the world and its applause
To all the customs, fashions, laws,
Of those who hate the humbling Cross.
There was a young student at Yale University who, while he was still studying, was left a fortune. At about the same time he had begun seriously to consider his duty as a disciple of Christ.
With more of life's comforts than he could do with, and with little serious care for the future, he heard Christís call, "Come, take up the cross, and follow me." He did so.
He gave away the greater part of his fortune, and handed his life and his future into the keeping of his Master. Within seven years he had died at the age of twenty-four in Egypt while in process of studying the two most difficult languages in the world, Arabic and Chinese, with a view to evangelising the hardest people in distant China, the Moslems of Kansu Province.
Such was Borden of Yale, and his biographer discloses the secret of his life in these words, "No reserve, no retreat, no regrets had any place in Borden's consecration to God."
It is no light thing to follow the Christ of Calvary.
There are those who would be Christians, but with certain reservations. Finding that, as an old mystic wrote, "the wind is now in Christís face," they look towards "the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae," where life might be easier.
The first sin of the Christian Church, so dangerous to the future of the faith that it received the severest punishment, was "keeping back part of the price." The disciple who reserves for himself any part of the offering of his life is robbing God of what is His own.
As C. T. Studd wrote from Cambridge in 1883: "I had known about Jesus dying for me, but I had never understood that if He had died for me, then I didn't belong to myself. Redemption means buying back, so that if I belong to Him, either I had to be a thief and keep what wasn't mine, or else I had to give up everything to God.
When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it didn't seem hard to give up all for Him..." and his motto was: "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him."
To follow Christ without reserve does not necessarily mean that we should, like Studd and Borden, become missionaries. But it does mean that we are willing to do anything for Christ, whether crossing the seas to evangelise Mohammedans, or crossing the road to witness to our friends. We shall consider our duties as "witnesses" in a later chapter, but it is inevitable that early on in one's Christian life, the life of the world in which we live and the life of the Christian as exemplified in the New Testament, are likely to conflict.
There is God and Mammon, and Christ said quite clearly, one's loyalty must be to one or the other. "No man can serve two masters." If I have decided to follow Christ, I must do it with all my powers of body, mind and spirit, and at any cost.
Besides finding ourselves, as it were, in a new element living a kind of life, which is unappreciated by our former friends, we may also have to face the problem of the relation of our new faith to our old business.
There are many trades and professions, which a conscientious Christian must either transform or throw up. It is a step, which should only be taken after much prayer and thought, and after seeking the advice of older Christians, but it must be faced as one of the possible conditions of following Christ.
There is also the home. Here again many a young Christian finds himself misunderstood. His enthusiasm in Christís service is taken for "religious mania." His efforts at expressing his new faith fall on unappreciative ears. He finds himself able only to live up to his lights and quietly stand up for what he believes to be true and right. But this is a course, which almost invariably leads to an ultimate understanding of his point of view.
In any case, there must be "no retreat "
There was once an undergraduate at Oxford, in his last term and on the threshold of his career, whose better inclinations urged him to full time service for God. His thirst for adventure his love of nature and his prowess at sport, however, pulled in the other direction.
He wrote in his diary: "I would willingly draw back: but when I am tempted to do so, I hear ringing in my ears, 'no man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God '" James Hannington did not draw back; he sealed his service for Christ with his own blood in the interior of Uganda, a missionary martyr whose blood has been the seed of a church of 400,000 members.
It may seem to us a little hard that our salvation should introduce so many difficulties. But we must remember that Godís purpose in effecting the miracle of the new birth in us was not to pamper or to honour us, but to glorify the name of Christ.
Any blessing, joy and peace which come to us are all ours because Christ is honoured. When we face up to the questions of business and home relationships we realise that Christianity is a stern reality in the world today.
Many of us are in danger of becoming introspective and of regarding salvation as essentially designed for ourselves. We forget that only as what we do brings glory to our Saviour shall we know anything of the blessing which should fill our lives with peace and joy, and make it worth while holding on to the end.
The popular idea that the Christian faith is a gloomy thing, that the disciple of Christ must take all his pleasures sadly, that to bear a cross means also to wear a frown, must be exploded. Li is up to every Christian man and woman to live this down. To those who have left all and followed Him, there is a promise of "manifold more."
There never was a more joyful thing than to be a Christian.
A consecration to Christ involving "no reserve and no retreat," will bring "no regrets." The early Christians found it so, and they of all people had most to suffer. In the catacombs of Rome the symbol of the cross was often accompanied by the signs of joy or peace - flowers or a dove.
Paulinus refers to the bitter cross surrounded by a flowery crown. T. R. Glover, quoting the writings of Clement of Alexandria and others, writes that they were "the most essentially happy people of the day. 'The new people' are always happy, always in the full bloom of thought, always at spring time. The Church is the one thing in the world that always rejoices."
Nor is this surprising, for in spite of the fact that Christ demands a wholehearted devotion, this does not mean an ascetic other worldliness of unmitigated renunciation and self-discipline.
Discipline there is; renunciation there may well have to be. But these are nothing when compared with the highlights of new discovery - the sense of relief and elation of the pilgrim at the end of his journey; of the explorer on finding what he had sought for long and at much cost; of the lonely soul at meeting a Friend; of the guilty one at hearing of his sin's forgiveness.
These are joys which are not to be compared with the passing pleasures of the world, a world which can neither give nor understand nor take them away.
It was "for the joy that was set before Him" that our Lord and Master endured the cross and thought nothing of the shame. What joy could there have been at Calvary? Surely it was the joy of knowing that He was doing the will of Him that had sent Him, and finishing His work.
When Christian men and women come to the place where they can say "I delight to do Thy Will, O my God," they will find that the discipline of true discipleship is amply repaid by a peace and joy they have never known before. Christís cross must not be thought of as a wearisome weight to be borne; rather it is as Samuel Rutherford once said, "such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings to a bird."
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Recognise at the outset that a new life in new conditions will mean new difficulties.
Never take for granted the tremendous privilege of being a disciple of Christ.
Measure the cost of following the Saviour beside the cost of our redemption, and it will fade into insignificance.
Give all to Him who gave all for you.
Remember that you will find yourself in a minority as a Christian, but take courage: it is a minority with God!
Let the joy of your new allegiance permeate every department of your everyday life.