The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section XXVII

the train which followed Jesus in departing from Galilee. the warning addressed to undecided followers

(Mat 19:1-2. Luk 14:25-35)

When Jesus was departing from Galilee, the nearer He approached the borders of the country, the more the number of those who followed Him increased. Great multitudes of the populace began to attach themselves to the train of His true disciples; and, beyond doubt, many were there who were hoping that the kingdom which the Messiah would establish over the world was now about to commence. At all events, many had not the smallest suspicion of the meaning of His journey from them. But He did not choose to leave the country with a troop of wild enthusiasts, or to lead a superficial, thoughtless set of people into misery. He behoved, therefore, to institute a sifting of His followers. This sifting, however, He could not carry out by separating the grain from the chaff, by an outward discrimination of those about Him. For long discourses, also, there was no time; and however long they had been, they would yet have failed of accomplishing the purpose. A brief utterance, therefore, of unusual sharpness and sternness shall do the business. He turned and said unto them, ‘If any man cometh to Me, and hateth not his father, and his mother, and his wife, and his children, and his brethren, and his sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple!’

In a milder form, Jesus had on an earlier occasion already uttered the same thought, when He was giving to His apostles their instructions (see above, p. 193). But now He saw occasion for putting it in a stronger shape. That He did not preach the hatred of men, and least of all the hatred of our relations, was a thing which His followers well knew, one and all. If need was, they might put themselves in the right point of view by considering the requirement, that one would need to hate his own life also if he would be His disciple. If it was impossible for this requirement to be taken absolutely, the same principle of interpretation would hold good of what precedes. A danger of offence through misunderstanding what He said, was therefore not to be apprehended. On the other hand, the sentence, in the high degree of sharpness in which it is here conceived, was perfectly fitted for the work of weeding His followers, for which it was intended.

They might perhaps reflect, Though we continue to love our relations and ourselves in the old way, though our hearts still cling to this old world in which we find our happiness, yet that need not hinder us from going with Him, from entering upon the kingdom in conjunction with Him, and then making all our relations share in our good fortune. But no, said Jesus; if ye will follow Me, ye must forsake this old circle of your natural love.

Well, they might perhaps again think, we must make our relations and our own selves a secondary consideration if His honour is in question; we must love those objects of affection less than Him; in this way we shall cling to Him, and yet not give those up even if we leave them. Even that does not suffice, says our Lord; ye must renounce them.

We must renounce them, they might perhaps then think, with a sigh; well, we will endeavour to put them out of our thoughts, to forget them, in order to gain the kingdom of heaven. But once again Jesus speaks: Even that is not enough; ye must hate them, yea, and your own life also.

This hatred must be a decided hatred, for it is to be the qualification which shall make them His disciples. What hatred can that be, except the hatred of all that stands in the way of and gainsays discipleship, whether it be found in father or mother, in wife or child, in brother or sister, nay, in one’s own life even? It is the hatred of all that opposes itself to the love of Christ, to the image and Spirit of Christ; real hatred of what is really hateful, in spite of its being found in the dearest of our fellow-creatures or in our own beloved life. We must in no way seek to weaken this strong word, but only explain it. The disciple must be prepared to forsake those the most beloved, if Christ calls. And if then his heart is in danger of preferring them to the Lord, he must in this comparison make them secondary. And if, through their objections or through the objections of his own heart, they would fain make this appointment grievous, he must put them out of his thoughts. But if they then stand in the way as adversaries of Christ, he must, in this crisis of their gainsaying, hate them; he must renounce them; he must sternly go forth trampling them, and all feelings and longings of his soul which would clog his course, under his feet. And all this, in respect to the inward decision of his heart, he must at once carry through in one and the same act of consciousness as accompanies his self-surrender to Christ. He is to cease to love his friends and himself out of Christ; all that he loves with a false and worldly reference, he must as viewed with this reference sternly extinguish in his soul, to love it afresh in Christ and through Christ with a just reference to his eternal salvation. Then will he win Christ, and win likewise in Him, beautified and renewed, in idealized forms of life, father and mother, and every relative, and his own soul. It is at once apparent, that this hatred of what is hateful in those who belong to us is a hatred of the false caricatures of their life, and therefore displays its own most proper character in strong victorious love to their own eternal and essential forms.

Jesus added the old law of discipleship: ‘And whosoever taketh not up his cross and followeth Me cannot be My disciple.’

After this, under parabolic forms, He twice advises them to weigh well whether they are prepared to answer such demands of unqualified self-denial and renunciation of the world.

The first similitude points to the case of a man’s wishing to build a tower; a castle, we may suppose, or a watch-tower intended to adorn his vineyard or his estate. Such a person will of course first make his calculation whether the money which he can apply to the object will be sufficient. If he does not do this, but goes and lays the foundation without thought, and if it afterwards appears that he cannot complete the building, he becomes a laughing-stock to people.

But it is not a private individual only who should exercise such foresight; even a king may find it a ruinous course to undertake without reflection a work which goes beyond his powers. Supposing that a warlike impulse has carried him away so far that he is already on the point of going to take the field; he will yet surely once more bethink himself, setting himself down quietly to take counsel, whether he is really strong enough to go out to meet the enemy, especially if he finds that he can only muster some ten thousand men for the field, to meet a hostile force of twenty thousand. There may be circumstances, Christ intimates, which may make it advisable to this prince to march out even ‘with ten thousand men against twenty thousand;’ but, at any rate, it is his duty duly to reflect and see his way clear before he starts. And if he finds that he is too weak for the encounter, instead of soldiers he sends ambassadors to meet the enemy who is already on the move against him, and asks for conditions of peace.

Thus, then, Jesus binds upon His followers the duty of taking counsel with themselves whether they are prepared to follow Him. For this undertaking is one of momentous consequences to them, is decisive of their destiny; and therefore it is far better that they should hang back until, in their old security or insecurity, they have sufficiently weighed the business, than that they should rush into it without reflection, and then come to a fearful end. Jesus employs two similitudes in recommending this forethought, designed to set forth the different sides of the undertaking. Not only must the ordinary citizen (the man of less property) who wishes to build a tower exercise this forethought, but also the man of royal position (the man of greater means), who is marching out to the conflict against a powerful prince opposed to him. And the disciple must in any case use forethought, as well because in one point of view he has a high, building to complete, as because in another he has a severe conflict to fight out.

The main thought in both similitudes is this, that inner planning and calculation must be gone through before the outward execution in practice; that a man must first become a Christian before God in his heart, before he rises up before the world with his confession of being a Christian. He must, at all events, first sit down and come to a clear understanding with himself respecting the plan of procedure, that is, respecting his inner life.

If he then finds that he has some spiritual resources, yet perhaps he also makes the discovery that those resources will not go far enough to construct the lofty and splendid edifice of decided apostolic discipleship. Then he will postpone the outward structure, that is, following the import of the figure, he will humble himself before God, till all the resources have accrued to him which he is in want of, until on some bright morning he learns that the Lord has called him to the building of the tower, and that He will help him both to begin and to finish it in the resolute vigour of the most decided success.

And even if, on taking counsel with himself, the man finds that he has a force of ten thousand men, yet he will still bethink himself carefully, whether he is able to march to meet the hostile king who is coming with twenty thousand men. Even the more gifted disciple will be on his guard against going forth at once as the confessor of Christ to the field of conflict against the world with all the world’s temptations; else he may possibly perish as Judas did, or come into the extremest danger as Peter did. But how can the disciple ask of the enemy conditions of peace, if under the enemy is to be understood the world, with all its temptations? Peace here can only mean an armistice, and the suing for it only the avoidance of an over-hasty conflict to which the Christian is not yet adequate. He will for awhile still remain a Jew with Jews, like Nicodemus, rather than become a Judas with Christians, like Iscariot. But in these very circumstances his soul, in inward distress, and shame, and self-humbling before the Lord, will be gathering strength, so that he will soon be in a condition to march forth at the head of an army against the enemy. It is not said that he behoves to have an army of thirty thousand men in order that he may go out against the twenty thousand; only he must have assurance of victory. In this assurance the Christian always combats victoriously against the hosts of the world, however numerous and however superior they may seem.

All then depends upon this: whoever will fain step forth before the world as a disciple of Jesus, must have that mature and calm, certainty of conviction with which the apostles were really able to step forth after the day of Pentecost.

But in what shall consist the power of the man who would fain make the venture of standing forth boldly and openly before God and all the world as Christ’s disciple and follower, and of walking with Him! He must have renounced all that he has. His old world he must have sacrificed, with all its glory, to his God. This voluntary poverty is only made possible by the assurance, that one has found in Christ the kernel and nucleus of a new world. In this assurance lies the preparation which enables a man to follow the Lord. He who clearly renounces the world, finds his strong tower, his fortress, in God. In this very conflict of renunciation he, armed with the supra-mundane powers which God has given him, cuts his way through the threatening hosts of this world’s mighty temptations, and passes on a victor.

The close of Jesus’ warning is formed, according to the account of the Evangelist, by the word respecting ‘the salt which has lost its savour.’ No doubt the whole people of Israel should have been a salt of the earth; and so Jesus might very well summon a great crowd of Israelites, who wished to form a following of His, to examine themselves whether they really were a salt, whether they had not for the most part become saltless, and thereby ripe for the judgment of rejection. It might also be thought possible that the connection in which the word here stands was merely due to the Evangelist himself. What gives the words here a new emphasis, and may well warrant the assumption that they really belong to this very connection, with a wholly different reference to what they had when spoken previously, is the closing word, ‘Who hath ears to hear, let him hear!’ Wherever this is found, it always is designed to act like a loud rousing call, and to point attention to some great solemn mystery which might easily prove hidden from men. The mystery to which the word respecting the salt here referred, was the fact that there speedily awaited the great mass of the people of Israel the destiny of being cast out as a salt which had lost its saltness,-cast out upon the great highways of the heathen world, which they so much despised.



According to Stier (iv. 97), the other king with whom the warring king, in the second similitude, has to do, means ‘by no means the devil, but actually God the Lord, encountering His children under the semblance of an enemy.’ According to this, suing for peace would be suing for the peace of God, ceasing to strive against God. This exposition, however, seems entirely to give up, not merely the real occasion which led to this parabolic discourse, but also the parallel with the similitude of building the tower. Clearly, the three particulars,—not yet following Jesus openly, not yet undertaking the building the tower, and suing for peace,—mean one and the same thing. They are intended as the result of the self-examination which the weaker disciples of Jesus have made, and by which they are constrained to feel that going to Jerusalem with Jesus might perhaps bring them into a fatal temptation, into the power of a strong irresistible enemy, whom they had not taken sufficient account of. But, according to Stier, this praying for peace would, on the contrary, set forth the last decision of discipleship. Moreover, this figure would surely not be fitted to set forth the reconciliation of the man with God, as according to it the former would remain contrasted with the latter as an independent and armed power.