“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28 ESV)
What does “counting the cost” mean? Too often people have hastily taken up a profession of Christianity under the pressure of circumstances, from sentimental feelings, from animal excitement or from a vague desire to do like others around them, but without any solid work of grace in their hearts.
People like these are in a position of immense danger.
They are precisely those, if Bible examples are worth anything, who need to be exhorted to count the cost.
People from the Bible Who Did Not Count the Cost
The Israelites Wandering in the Desert
For lack of counting the cost, myriads of the children of Israel perished miserably in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. They left Egypt full of zeal and fervor as if nothing could stop them. But when they found dangers and difficulties in the way, their courage soon cooled down.
They had never reckoned on trouble. They had thought the promised land would be all before them in a few days. And so when enemies, privations, hunger and thirst began to try them, they murmured against Moses and God and would sincerely have gone back to Egypt (Numbers 14). In a word, they had not counted the cost and so lost everything and died in their sins.
For lack of counting the cost, many of our Lord Jesus Christ’s hearers went back after a time and “no longer walked with him” (John 6:66 ESV). When they first saw his miracles and heard his preaching, they thought “the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 ESV). They cast in their lot with his apostles and followed him without thinking of the consequences.
But when they found that there were hard doctrines to be believed and hard work to be done and hard treatment to be borne, their faith gave way entirely and proved to be nothing at all. In a word, they had not counted the cost, and so made shipwreck of their profession.
For lack of counting the cost, King Herod returned to his old sins and destroyed his soul. He liked to hear John the Baptist preach. He observed and honored him as a just and holy man. He even “did many things” which were right and good. But when he found that he must give up his darling Herodias, his religion entirely broke down. He had not reckoned on this. He had not counted the cost (Mark 6:14-29).
For lack of counting the cost, Demas forsook the company of Paul, forsook the gospel, forsook Christ, forsook heaven. For a long time he journeyed with the great apostle of the Gentiles and was actually a “fellow–laborer.” But when he found he could not have the friendship of this world as well as the friendship of God, he gave up his Christianity and cleaved to the world. “Demas has forsaken me,” says Paul, “having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10 NKJV). He had not counted the cost.
Contemporary Examples of Not Counting the Costs
Zealous Young People at Revivals
For lack of counting the cost, hundreds of professed converts, under religious revivals, go back to the world after a time and bring disgrace on religion. They begin with a sadly mistaken notion of what is true Christianity. They fancy it consists in nothing more than a so–called “coming to Christ” and having strong inward feelings of joy and peace.
And so when they find, after a time, that there is a cross to be carried, that our hearts are deceitful, and that there is a busy devil always near us, they cool down in disgust and return to their old sins. And why? Because they had really never known what Biblical Christianity is. They had never learned that we must count the cost.
Kids Who Grow Up in a Christian Home
For lack of counting the cost, the children of Christian parents often turn out ill and bring disgrace on Christianity. Familiar from their earliest years with the form and theory of the gospel, taught even from infancy to repeat great leading texts, accustomed every week to be instructed in the gospel, or to instruct others in Sunday schools, they often grow up professing a religion without knowing why or without ever having thought seriously about it.
And then when the realities of grown–up life begin to press upon them, they often astound everyone by dropping all their religion and plunging right into the world.
And why? They had never thoroughly understood the sacrifices which Christianity entails. They had never been taught to count the cost.
Churches Must Be Honest About Counting the Cost
These are solemn and painful truths. But they are truths. They all help to show the immense importance of the subject I am now considering. They all point out the absolute necessity of pressing the subject of this message on all who profess a desire for holiness and of crying aloud in all the churches, “Count the cost!“
These people ought to be told honestly what it is they are taking up if they profess a desire to come out from the world and serve Christ. They ought not to be pressed into the ranks of Christ’s army without being told what the warfare entails. In a word, they should be told honestly to count the cost.
Jesus Was Honest About Counting the Cost
Does anyone ask what our Lord Jesus Christ’s practice was in this matter? Let him read what Luke records. He tells us that, on a certain occasion,
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25–27 ESV).
I must plainly say that I cannot reconcile this passage with the proceedings of many modern religious teachers. And yet, to my mind, the doctrine of it is as clear as the sun at noonday. It shows us that we ought not to hurry men into professing discipleship without warning them plainly to count the cost.
Faithful Preachers Are Honest About Counting the Cost
Does anyone ask what the practice of the eminent and best preachers of the gospel has been in days gone by? I am bold to say that they have all with one mouth borne testimony to the wisdom of our Lord’s dealing with the multitudes to which I have just referred.
All is not gold that glitters, that conviction is not conversion, that feeling is not faith, that sentiment is not grace, that all blossoms do not come to fruit.
Luther, Latimer, Baxter, Wesley, Whitefield, Berridge and Rowland Hill were all keenly alive to the deceitfulness of man’s heart. They knew full well that all is not gold that glitters, that conviction is not conversion, that feeling is not faith, that sentiment is not grace, that all blossoms do not come to fruit. “Be not deceived,” was their constant cry. “Consider well what you do. Do not run before you are called. Count the cost.”
We Must Be Honest About Counting the Cost
If we desire to do good, let us never be ashamed of walking in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Work hard if you will, and have the opportunity, for the souls of others. Press them to consider their ways. Compel them with holy violence to come in, to lay down their arms and to yield themselves to God. Offer them salvation, ready, free, full, immediate salvation. Press Christ and all his benefits on their acceptance.
Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to count the cost.
But in all your work tell the truth, and the whole truth.
Be ashamed to use the vulgar arts of a recruiting sergeant. Do not speak only of the uniform, the pay and the glory; speak also of the enemies, the battle, the armor, the watching, the marching and the drill.
Do not present only one side of Christianity. Do not keep back the cross of self–denial that must be carried, when you speak of the cross on which Christ died for our redemption. Explain fully what Christianity entails. Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to count the cost.