The Hardness of the Way

Children, how hard is it!

— St. Mark 10:24

For the rich young man to have sold all and followed our Lord,” I tell the inquiring youth, “would have been to accept God’s patent of peerage: to you it is not offered. Were one of the disobedient, in the hope of the honor, to part with all he possessed, he would but be sent back to keep the commandments in the new and easier circumstances of his poverty. And does this comfort you? Then alas for you! Your relief is to know that the Lord has no need of you—does not require you to part with your money, does not offer you himself instead!”

 “But I do not trust in my riches,” this youth might reply. “I trust in the merits of my Lord and Savior. I trust in his finished work, in the sacrifice he has offered.”

“Yes!” I respond. “You will trust in anything but the Man himself who tells you it is hard to be saved! Not all the merits of God and his Christ can give you eternal life; only God and his Christ can; and they cannot, would not if they could, without your keeping the commandments. The knowledge of the living God is eternal life. What have you to do with his merits? You have to know his being, himself.”  

Many there are who think they can do without eternal life, if only they may live forever! Those who know what eternal life means count it the one terror to live on without it

Commentary

Life or Eternal Life?
by Stephen Carney

  “Many there are who think they can do without eternal life, if only they may live forever!  Those who know what eternal life means count it the one terror to live on without it.” To put this quote another way, or at least the way I take it to mean, is to say, “I would choose to go on living a low, inferior life here on this earth, rather than trade it for a life that is filled with eternal glory in the presence of God.  But why would one settle for a lesser life?  In MacDonald's we discover why people settle for less.  Christ is always calling us to that higher life, to live on a higher plane, and to do so means death to self.  As Bonhoeffer states in the “Cost of Discipleship,” “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” 

But these are no easy words.  They challenge us to move to greater depths of living through our dying.  Hard words indeed, and many wince at Jesus own words, “If any man wishes to come after Me, let him first deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”  Eternal life is offered to us, by grace, through the work of Christ upon the cross, but it is in our reaching for it that we discover what it will cost us.  To really follow Christ means leavingour old life behind us and beginning upon the path the Lord has set before us.  But that cannot be done without leaving one path to follow another, and soon we discover that all the scenery we loved on that old path we must lose to take this new one. The old fellowships, the old plans and dreams, must give way to the higher life.  Our old earthly goals represent the lower life, the old world that we believed was so important until we heard the call of Christ.  It was only then that we became dissatisfied with the old life and began to yearn for something more and substantial.  But this is the call and the cost of being Christ followers.  It is the continual leaving behind of things no longer needed in order to lay ahold of that life that is offered to us through Christ.  It is in coming to him who is the “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” that we must leave the way we have been going, the lessor truths we had believed in and the lower life we had been living. 

 But the cost seems high to many of us mortals.  We are called by Christ to count the cost--many have, and walked away sorrowful.  St. John of the Cross compared God to a great sea and many would, as Lewis states, “dabble on the seashores,” not daring to go out into the depths.  It is safe, they think, on the shore, but they fail to realize that the tide is eroding their safety and calling them to the place where “Deep calleth unto deep.”  Most try to live a reasonably good life.  Most of us try to tell the truth, try not to cheat on our taxes, endeavor to be good to our neighbor, as long as it doesn't cost us too much.  But when a sermon is preached on giving, or a call comes to abandon our vices, that is where we draw the line.  Best not to pray to go deeper with God if it involves the surrendering of my secret sins or pet habits.  If I hear a message during lent on fasting and the call is to give up my favorite food or habit, that might seem too much for me.  Especially, when we were planning to go out to eat after church at a restaurant that serves my favorite food or drink.  We come to the shore of God's call, but throw off the goggles and air tanks needed to go deeper.  Instead, we look for a beach chair and a cool refreshing drink and cheer the “Sea,” telling others how great it is, yet never venture out over our heads. 

 But there is no “cheap grace” in our following of Jesus.  Bonhoeffer defines “cheap grace” as "the grace we bestow on ourselves.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (The Cost of Discipleship) The one thing that makes MacDonald different from many other writers with whom he might be linked is that he believes the way is hard but not impossible.  MacDonald believes we will repent once we have come to see the emptiness of our way.  But he also believes in the patience of God and the good work of suffering to help bring us to the true and living way. 

The challenge is always to take the words of Christ seriously, to believe that he meant them, and meant for us to act upon them. Jesus wastes no words. Every sentence he offers, every word he speaks, is intentional and is packed with enough truth to set us free from a blind and empty life.  Jesus values our souls too much to mince words or to flatter us with flowery speech.  He is direct, to the point, even missional in his message.  He is like a surgeon performing surgery upon the soul, endeavoring to rid it of the dark cancer that is eating away at our life, and to pour into that soul true, everlasting life.  His challenge is great, for many of his patients refuse the surgery until the situation is desperate, requiring great measures.  But the “arm of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, nor is His ear deaf that it cannot hear.”