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Exeter Ball Sermons.
COUNTING THE COST.
PREACHED ON SUNDAY EVENING, JANUARY 17, 1858,
REV. G. B. MACDONALD,
" For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it ? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that bebold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish."LUKE xiv. 28-30.
The spiritual application of my text is so exceedingly plain, that I need scarcely allude to it. Assuming it to be a revealed doctrine and an admitted fact that we have all sinned, and that the wages of sin is death, and that death, the second death, then, on the supposition that it is possible for sin to be pardoned, and for a sinner to obtain a title and a meetness for heaven, does the work of salvation stand out before us as the one great business of life. Compared with this, the pursuit after wealth, and honours, and even learning itself, is the merest child's play. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul ? The nature and extent of Scripture obligations are very clearly stated to us in the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour. Jesus Christ concealed none of his requirements; He took advantage of no man's ignorance, nor of moments of temporary excitement. Let the connexion of my text be an evidence. Our Lord had delivered the parable of the great supper to which the guests invited refused to come. Indignant at their conduct, the master of the feast sent forth his servants into the streets and lanes to gather all they could find, and bring them in to the feast. Finding there was still room, he sent out a second commission of servants into the highways and hedges, to bring in the maimed, and the lame, and the halt, and the blind, that the room might be filled. The common people, true to the instincts which belong to their order, at once apprehended the force of our Lord's parable, and they drew nearer and nearer to him, while one by one the Pharisees and Sadducees shrank away. The result was, that great multitudes followed our Lord. He turned and said unto them, “ 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." I may just remark, the word hate there simply signifies to “ love less ;” as in another passage, "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one · and despise the other.” And then our Lord exclaimed, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” My text is addressed to these men following him under the influence of such strong excitement, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able
I have said that, on the admission, as a fact, that we are all sinners, and that the consequences of sin are most terrible, then the salvation of the soul is really the one great business of life. I propose now to examine that subject through the illustrative medium which my text supplies.
The Word of God, soberly and plainly interpreted, is the only authority which we can admit upon a question like this. A revelation has been given by God to man for this prime reason, that by searching man could not find out God, and ignorance of God is necessarily connected with unacquaintance with his will and law. Life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel; but remember, the same volume which teaches us that the soul shall never die, and that there is a heaven of pure and unmixed happiness, declares in language not to be misunderstood, that certain requirements must be complied with on man's part and a certain preparation be wrought in him, if he finally partake in the enjoyments of the immortal blessed. Call they us enthusiasts, because, bowing down, to the authority of God's Word we are seeking to be made “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light?” Of all enthusiasts in this world of ours, of all fanatics, they are the most intense, who expect to obtain a given end without the use of the appointed means, to take possession of an estate without any title to it; and such precisely are the men who living forgetful of God and his laws, yet indulge a hope that after death they shall enter heaven.
My brethren, the Scriptures point out to us the only way to heaven. No improvement of modern times will ever alter the road to it. It was, and it is, and it will be a narrow way. You may shorten the distance between town and town; you may expedite the speed of your conveyances, till you measure miles of transit by the seconds of your watch; you may seem scarcely to be uttering a metaphor, when you speak of riding on the wings of the wind; but a shorter, a quicker, a saler, a better way to heaven than that our sainted fathers went, there is no man living of us will ever find out.
In calculating the expense of a building, there are two things which every prudent man takes into account. He has his specifications and his estimates before him; and he, first of all, calculates what that building must, at all events, cost him—that amount at less than which it is utterly impossible, under any circumstances, that he can get the work accomplished for. But I have supposed the builder to be a prudent man, and, if so, he has learned something from the experience of his neighbours. They will tell him of the prudence of leaving a margin for extras, for contingencies—that it would be well to look such in the face at the very outset, and thus make his calculations, whether or not he is prepared to undertake the building. Now, I propose this evening to adopt just the same plain, common-sense, business-like mode of looking at this great subject,—the work of our personal salvation.
First of all, what that work must cost a man,--the amount at less than which it is utterly impossible that he can realize it. Let me not be misunderstood as to the only ground for the salvation of the soul, while I am employing the illustrative medium of my text for referring to the means by which a man is to work out his own salvation. In the largest and fullest sense of the term," salvation is of the Lord." " By grace are ye saved." The loud cry in heaven, " Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” must be re-echoed on earth. All connected with our salvation that includes merit or worthiness belongs to God. The question, however, now before me is this : Granted that the salvation of the soul of man is a possibility, not a necessity, by what means is such to be an actual fact to the individual man who has broken the laws of God? On any other subject, except religion, I should have hesitated to detain an assembly like this, for a single moment, by pointing out the distinction between a possibility and that which is actual and real. We discriminate nicely, most accurately, upon all other subjects, never confounding the possible with the actual and the necessary, and to remark upon any such distinction, on any other theme except that of religion, would be as the utterance of the veriest truism. But, my brethren, there are thousands of men in our country jeopardising their souls' salvation by the confusion into which their minds are brought on this point. They have heard that God is love,that God so loved the world as to give his only Son to redeem the world with his most precious blood; and they have drawn the conclusion that therefore they shall be saved, because Christ has died for sinners. And so widely spread is this thought amongst masses of the population, that they employ what they presume is an admitted certainty on all hands, in reference to this subject, as one of the modes—the minor modes of giving emphasis to an assertion : "It is true, -as true as I hope to be saved,”-as though it could never cross your mind, for a single moment, that you should have a shadow of a doubt in reference to that event. My dear brethren, as I read this Holy Book, God declares his willingness that you all may be saved; but God affirms not, in reference to uny one of you, an absolute necessity. The great and important inquiry, then, is, since salvation is of the Lord, how has He appointed it? What has He appointed as means and conditions on man's part to be complied with, so that the possible shall become to the sinner the actual.
My first statement, then, on the authority of this Book is, there must be repentance towards God. It is worth noticing, my brethren, that the Holy Scriptures take for granted that all men on earth admit certain facts to be true, and that there is, through our whole humanity, a consciousness of certain mental and moral feelings. The Bible addresses you as a man that believes that there is a God; and the very first verse that you read in the Holy Book enlarges the sphere of your knowledge and of your facts, -"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I said that man, every where, is supposed to have a consciousness of certain mental and moral feelings. The first passage in this Holy Book in which the word repentance or the word repenting occurs, is in the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, in that remarkable verse, “It repented God that he had made man.”. Of course we understand the employment of the figurative language. It is in keeping with the style familiar to us all, as when we speak of the eye of God going to and fro in the earth, and of the hand of God being stretched out, and of the heart of God yearning towards his creatures, loving them; but I appeal to that verse in confirmation of what I have said, that the sacred Scriptures recognize it as a matter of universal consciousness, that man has certain mental and moral feelings. It would have been utterly unintelligible to man unless there had been a knowledge consciously of the subject. It would have been altogether mystery, as much so as if you were to attempt to describe colour to some one that was born blind. I venture to say, that there is no man in this assembly to-night who is unacquainted consciously with the nature of repentance. We all learned the lesson of repentance at a very early period of our lives. We felt ourselves to be under tutors and governors, and, therefore, to be under law, before that we understood we were under law to God. I can throw many of you back to an early period of your lifetime in proof of what I am now asserting. There was a command given to you by one who had authority, recognized authority by you,--say a father, for instance. That command was plainly given, most distinctly enunciated; there could be no mistake, you really understood what was meant; but, in an evil hour, in a moment of temptation, through the influence and the sympathy of evil companions, and from the uprising of your own depraved nature, you transgressed that commandment. You may remember the sleeplessness of that night which followed that day of transgression ; you may remember the thoughts that came to trouble you ; you may remember the remorse and the sorrow that you felt; you may remember the purpose which you formed that night, that you would, the very next day, confess that you had done wrong, that you would promise to do better, that you would ask for forgiveness. Here you have repentance fitting to such relationship between the one who had authority to command and the one whose duty it was to obey. My brethren, I regret it as a great misfortune, that, when a man opens this Book and finds in it words and terms with which he is perfectly familiar in all other books, and understands them, as he believes, pretty accurately, I deem it to be a great misfortune, that, when a man meets with words and terms here, which he is accustomed to use in ordinary conversation,-he employing them intelligibly, and those who listen to the words comprehending the meaning accurately,-that he supposes that, because they are in this Book, they must have some singularly mystical and mysterious meaning. I have quoted a passage already, that "life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel.” Allow me just, however, to say that that rendering, “ brought to light," does not exactly give us the idea intended by the Apostle. He does not teach us that the Gospel contained the primitive revelation on this subject, so that, until the Gospel was proclaimed, " life and immortality” were unknown among men, but that they were brought to light by the Gospel in this sensea clearer light, the subject made more manifest and potent, that made manifest which had been comparatively obscure. So is it that the Gospel of Jesus Christ comes and flashes its light upon the spirit of man, and upon the truths of God, developing them in higher and clearer manifestations. Never suppose, then, that when you hear from the pulpit such a term as this, "evangelical repentance,'' you must fold your arms, as though you were about to listen to some mysterious revelation that was to be made to you, that you were to discard from your mind all that you had thought and felt in your whole lifetime about repentance. Depend upon it, that in repentance towards God you will find the very elements which are existent in all real repentance; and yet the Gospel shall be connected with a higher, fuller working of them out. You have noticed that I said, repentance towards God. I know not of any system of religion extant in the world, recognizing a future state of existence and accountability, which does not include repentance as a part of its creed. If you are inclined to suppose deism to be a system of religion, why, the most celebrated, perhaps, of the deists of the past age wrote earnestly upon the doctrine of repentance, and made it most prominent as the ground of a man obtaining favour with God. I need not tell you that John the Baptist commenced his ministry with this doctrine, that Jesus Christ went forth and preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When Paul testified to the elders of Ephesus what the staple theme of his ministry had been, it was in these words : "Repentance towards God.” All sin is a violation of the law of God; and this is the great evil of sin. There are other evils connected with sin, but this is the greatest; it seems to overshadow all the others. David, in his penitent state, recognized it—"I have sinned against thee; against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”. It was not that he overlooked the injury he had inflicted upon Uriah and upon Bathsheba, but at that moment he had such an absorbing view of an, as being a violation of God's law, that he exclaimed, as I have just quoted, "Against thee, thee only have I sinned.". It was thus with the penitent prodigal: “I will arise and go to my Father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven.”
But there will be sorrow for sin, if there be repentance towards God. Allow me just to say that this sorrow for sin is not an arbitrary appointment by Almighty God. That is a most erroneous view which some persons take of it; and they seem to think hardly of God on account of it. It is not an arbitrary appointment; I appeal to the consciousness of the men whom I am addressing this evening: The point is this. A man cannot really see and admit that he has done wrong without feeling sorry for it, without what you would designate remorse or regret. There may be great diversity in the depth and in the expression of sorrow. The causes of such variety, perhaps, lie in some instances, too deep for our investigation and announcement. I am inclined to think the diversity is, perhaps most generally, one of temperament. I am not overlooking the fact, that there may be various degrees of light and knowledge that a man may have concerning the evil of sin and the purity of God's law; and, perhaps, after all, the temperament of man has very much to do with modifying the manifestation of sorrow, I have noticed this at the grave-side. It has been my duty to commit to the grave, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, earth to earth, some parent; and orphan children have stood around that grave. I have been interrupted for a moment by the wailings and pitiful outeries of some of the number ; but there has stood one of them, perhaps the eldest, and not a tear in his eye,-his countenance blanched, his lips quivering, his whole frame trembling. Oh ! what would he give for bursting tears to have relieved the pressure on his brain, and the agony at his heart! It was not his temperament to manifest his sorrow by outbreaks, by bursts of grief, such as the others had exhibited. These are but externals. They are but circumstances. All I contend is, that, if there be repentance really towards God, on account of sin, there will be a measure of grief and sorrow of heart. If a man is not prepared so far as to exclaim, “The burden of my sin is intolerable to be borne,” at all events, he will exclaim, “The remembrance of my sin is grievous unto me." But, if there be this repentance towards God, there will be an honest confession of sin to God. How distinctly this is insisted upon in the sacred Scriptures, I need scarcely say to those of you who read the Word of God. Among the feeble objections which I have heard advanced against the necessity of prayer, perhaps the very weakest assumes this form-What need is there of confessing sins to a Being who knows all things ? Granted that God is omniscient, what need can there be on your part to make confession to Him of your transgression ? My answer is twofold. First, that God, against whom I have sinned, and from whom I am seeking forgiveness, requires confession of sin from me. But I have another reason, and I wonder that it does not occur to men who have put forth the objection in the very feeble form that I have repeated to you, a guilty mind seeks relief by confession, and in confession who has not felt it? Who, in the days of his childhood, has not felt, that the unburdening of his heart to some one whom he had grieved and offended has relieved him! It was only the other day, that I saw in one of your daily journals an account of some man under sentence of death for a terrible crime. He had pleaded “not guilty" at the bar, and again and again he had most positively asserted his innocence; but the time appointed for his execution drew nigh. He had passed two or three sleepless nights and days, still, day after day, repeating some Christian minister and he opened out his whole heart to him, detailing minutely his transgression, and confessing altogether the crime that had been charged against him; and I marked it as something to be noted, that the record in the paper was, the criminal seemed greatly relieved after he had made the confession, and sank into a quiet sleep for three or four hours afterwards. So it is in the very constitution of that nature which God has given me; and Almighty God lays hold upon this. But then, let me press the thought upon your minds that the confession that God requires is to Himself, to Him whose law we have broken. "I will arise and go unto my father,” says the prodigal, "and I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, true to what I have just been speaking of, seeking for relief, he went to the parent whose laws he had especially broken, and whose authority he had despised. I take it that he would not have had the mental relief that he was seeking for, if he had only got so far as this, "I will arise, and return home, and will go to my brother, and tell him what I have been doing." No," I will arise, and go unto my father. I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.” Unto that God whose laws man has broken, man must confess his sins. And let me add, that no man has any thing like an idea of either the nature or the enormity of his sins till he begins to confess them. In the first instance, they appear few and far between, and the task of recounting them seems to be an easy one, just as children deem it an easy thing to number the stars immediately after sunset. There is first one star there, and a second there, and a third there, and a fourth there. The task is nearly done. But I say to that child, “Begin and reckon from that bright star," and, in a few minutes, the deepening shades of night have brought out fresh stars, and, all-bewildered, the little one gives up the task, and speaks of the stars as innumerable. I do not wonder at a penitent sinner, aided by that reviver of memory, the Holy Spirit,- I do not wonder that he should say, “My sins are more in number than the very hairs of my head.” But, if this repentance be a genuine one, there will be a purpose to abandon sin. Now, we demand that from a fellow-creature, as the real evidence of genuine repentance. Let there be a repetition of the act, a continuance in the conduct that offends us, though the tears may flow profusely, and the protestations be most earnest, we harden our hearts. Nothing will satisfy us that there is a genuine repentance, unless there is a putting away of that which offends us. So is it with God. But it must not be a purpose; it must be a reality. I am speaking of repentance towards God. It is not a purpose to confess sin, but it is a confessing sin. It is not a purpose to be sorry, but it is mourning before God with a broken heart. It is not a purpose to forsake sin, but doing it. I scarcely know the man but who intends, at some time or other, to alter his course of life. You have a common saying that a certain place is paved with good intentions. There is the purposing in our minds, but it is the doing of it that God requires. “Let the wicked man forsake his way.” The genuine penitent is the man that is seeking for this salvation. Has he lived without prayer? He will begin to pray. Has he lived in the neglect of the Scriptures? He will read God's Word. Has he neglected to attend the house of God? He will listen to words whereby he may be saved. Has he broken God's commandments flagrantly, been a blasphemer, a drunkard, a sensualist, a licentions man, a dishonest man? whatever may have been his iniquity, in the strength of God's grace, he resolves to put it away. Almighty God has settled the point. No man will learn really to do good, who has not taken an initiatory step and ceased to do evil. This is the relative position of the lesson, “Cease to do evil; learn to do well."
Now, supposing the man thus to have repented, there is something else required of him for his salvation, ---faith in the atoning blood of Christ. Never can there be the forgiveness of sin without repentance. But settled peace of mind cannot result from mere repentance. All the statements that you listen to, from time to time, about the sufficiency of repentance upon the part of a man are futile. If you will examine them carefully, they will not apply to a human government, much less to a Divine. They would not stand examination at the Old Bailey, much less at the judgment seat of Christ. God alone knows on what terms it was befitting Him, such a being as He is, to pardon sin. God is the moral governor of the world, of the universe. There is what I may venture to call a public character of God, which had to be preserved before the universe. God has declared how that character has been preserved. He has set before us his merciful purpose through Jesus Christ his Son, that He has given Him to redeem us, being made a curse for us, dying in our stead. The just for the unjust. So that, having illustrated, by his own purity, the law, magnifying it and making it honourable, and having satisfied its claims in His own body on the tree, God being thus satisfied in all his perfections and attributes, is prepared