... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
MATTHEW VII. 13, 14.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." - MATT, VII. 13, 14.
THE exhortation of my text is unto the main duty of Christianity and religion, to make sure of salvation; wherein heaven and salvation are represented to us as the end of a journey, and a palace to be entered into by a particular gate. The motives are enwrapped together, first, from the multitude that take the more easy way unto destruction; secondly, from the great difficulty there is in taking, finding, and keeping the way that leads to life; which is a cause, that both few seek it, and many take up with what is more easy.
We need not to stand to speak of Christ's wisdom, in speaking of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven in parables. It was his constant custom, and a blessed pattern it is; and happy are they that have, by his Spirit, a gift of making the things of God plain, by such similitudes. It is a way that hath these advantages: 1. It makes things plain, when the similitudes are apt and pertinent, for it brings them down to people's senses by sensible and obvious things. 2. It hath a very native influence of taking with the fancy and affections, as hath been successfully practised by all the great orators and masters of persuasion. 3. It sticks in the memory, even as the sight of a man's picture makes one remember him better than the description of his person, or an account of his name. 4. It promotes heavenly-mindedness. The many parables in scripture from sowing, and fishing, and planting, and building, and walking, and running, and fighting, may, and ought to bring spiritual subjects to our thoughts, when we see or hear of such things. Two faults in this matter are carefully to be avoided. 1. Light and trifling similitudes or resemblances, that may reflect on the gravity of divine matters. 2. Too hard and strait pressing of them. They serve only for illustrating, and not for proving, and are not to be pressed beyond their scope and drift.
The other thing we shall speak of in general is this, that even Christ himself is much and often speaking in his ministry, of the rousing and awakening subjects in religion; as the fewness of the saved, the difficulty of salvation, and the hardness of the labour required about our soul's eternal welfare. And if Christ be much on this subject, then, his servants should take laws of him, and imitate his practice, and hear such doctrine gladly, especially since, 1. Nothing is more profitable, than to prevent a cheat in your eternal state; and this is its design; and this cheat is usually carried on by such a principle as this, that salvation is common and easy. 2. Nothing is more suitable, since these heart-plagues and accursed principles are sown in the heart of every man by natural corruption, and watered by the devil's temptations. And, 3. It is specially useful and seasonable in such a time of trying and stumbling, when we may see the shells of many a wrecked professor.
And to enforce this subject on your thoughts, as a preparative to the hearing of it, consider some things in Christ's pressing it, which make it far more weighty.
1. He came down from heaven, in the purest and strongest love to fallen sinners, and gave unquestionable proofs of it. Surely, then, he would not lay unnecessary burdens on them. Many a burden that we could not bear, he bore on himself, and leaves none in the room thereof but what is simply needful, (Matt. xi. 28, 29, 30).
2. He knew better than any, both the number of the saved, and the difficulty of salvation: he knew his own little flock, and all the hardships they were to endure, so that his testimony is yet more to be weighed.
3. Never was any in his name more full and large in offers general and unlimited of a right to him, and in promises of salvation by him, (Matt. xi. 28, 29; John vii. 37, and v. 40).
4. In his own ministry, he was generally sweet and alluring, according as is hinted in Matt. xi. 16, 20. He was not a severe John Baptist, but was a kind tender-hearted pastor.
5. He knew men's hearts best. Ministers guess by their own experience and the word; but he hath an immediate view of men's hearts, and therefore, his testimony, both concerning their duty, difficulty, and danger, is far more weighty.
6. He was the clear discoverer, and mainly the author of the way to heaven. He had infinite mercy in preparing it, suitable wisdom to know it, and all authority to determine it, as the only way that all must take and follow.
7. We may speak also of his own experience in this matter; that though his case was singular, both as to his difficulties and assistance, yet even this is proposed to us, as a moving pattern for our imitation. (Heb. v. 7, and xii. 2, 3). If the heir of heaven, by birthright, did enter therein through much hardship, much more are we to lay our account with the like.
Let us therefore, from these things, be stirred up to hear what our Lord teacheth us in this plain exhortation; which for the more orderly handling of the matter, passing the order of the words, we shall reduce to these heads: 1. There are two different states that all mankind enter into after this life; the one is called life, the other destruction. 2. There are two different ways that lead thither. 3. It fares with men as to their eternal state, according to the way in which they walk in this life. 4. The difference of the ways is the cause of the difference of the numbers that walk in them. And then, after the handling of these, we shall come closer unto the exhortation given by our Lord, with its grounds.
Observ. 1. There are two different states of all mankind after this life, and no more. Many different states are there in this life as to our outward concernments of body, mind, or other interests; but the greatest of all is that which is the true emblem of this - even the state of men's souls, in peace or enmity with God. This is commonly acknowledged, and the inference is plain in it, both in its predictions (Rom. ii. 5, 6, 7; 2 Thess. i. 8, 9), and in the account of the form of the judgment to come, (Matt. xxiv. 34, 41, 46). That there are but two is also evident, both from the scripture's silence of any others, and the peremptoriness of the grounds of men's being determined and sent to these, even as they are found in the first or second Adam. That they are different states, is commonly acknowledged, yea, the difference is vast, and greater than being and not being.
USE. - This plain truth calls more for application unto consciences, than any great pains in informing the mind about it. This calls for,
1. Frequent and serious meditation of it. Men think often too much on any change in their condition, if it be but probable, whether sad or joyful; but this certain and great change hath little room in your thoughts. You sometimes want matter of meditation: here is that which may still be fresh - a great, certain, speedy, eternally-lasting change that is to pass upon you. Suppose a great prince is sending for you all, to carry you into a strange land, where some of you shall be miserable slaves, and others advanced to great state and dignity, - if I may thus allude to the proud king's commission. (See Isaiah xxxvi. 16, 17.)
2. Undervaluing, and thinking little of your other present states. They are all but trifles in comparison of this. Present states are but small, future are uncertain. It is sadly strange, though very common, to see people living in this world as they were never to leave it, and minding a future state as if they will never be in it - so common is it to see gross unbelief veiled with fair and full professions of belief.
3. In thinking which of the two shall be yours. If there were many, or if the difference between the two were small, this meditation were the less needful: but now it is so necessary, that, indeed, it is inseparable from the real and serious belief of the truth. To help you in this,
Observ. 2. There are two different ways wherein all men walk toward this different state, We shall not urge any difference between the way and the gate, since the words are parabolical, and the inquiry seems neither sober nor profitable. One way leads not unto both, or either. The ways are as far different in their kinds as the states are in theirs; yea, the difference is that of contrariety and opposition. Not to speak of the difference named in the text, reserving it unto the particular notes, but of that which is proper and elsewhere in the word - ways are distinguished mainly thus, 1. From that which the walker leaves; 2. That which he aims at and approaches to - as is known in familiar talking of such things. Now, these ways differ in both exceedingly. He that walks in the way to life, leaves sin, the world, and its vanities, and draws near unto God, pursues after holiness and communion with God; the other walks, by a leaving of God more and more, for, being born with his back towards God, though he be often called on, he returns not, but goes on in pursuing after vanity and a happiness in somewhat besides God, (See Heb. x. 38, 39.) So that the ways differ exceedingly, not to speak of the different rule by which they walk, and other differences handled from Romans viii. 1, 4.
Only take it in a few plain words - 1. The godly man's way is in a course of communion with God in Jesus Christ; the wicked's way is in estrangement from him: this they love and pursue, (1 John i. 3; Psalm lxxiii. 25, and xvi. 7, 8). 2. The one, in a study of conformity to him in holiness; the other, to a conformity unto the world in vanity, (Rom. xii. 2). 3. The one, in a way of faith and trusting God; the other, in unbelief, and resting all upon the force of sense and reason. Now, that these differ, is no question, and that there are no other ways wherein men walk, but in one of these, is evident. What may be said of infants, and such as are without the church, is another question, which belongs not to our purpose.
USE. - But here comes the most needful question, Which of these ways do we walk in? We cannot walk in both, no more than be in both states hereafter. To enforce this,
Observ. 3. It fares with men as to their endless state, according to the way they take and walk in now. This is already cleared in its grounds and proofs. (See Rom. ii. 5, 6, 7.) It is not more unsuitable unto God's goodness and faithfulness to send a holy believing soul into hell, than it is to his holiness, justice, and truth, to bring an unholy unbeliever to heaven. So that here, the gate is shut by dreadful bars against the presumption of the unholy man, and is shut in mercy against the fears of a holy tender believer. You may then hence know what shall be your future state, if you can find out your present way.
Observ. 4. There is a great difference betwixt the numbers of the walkers in these different ways. There is a great train in the one, and but a few in the other, as is commonly testified in the word; yet is this to be understood only comparatively, for even the godly, considered by themselves, make up a vast multitude. (See Rev. vii. 9.) And, that we may consider this first as a caution of the other, these things shew that they are a great number who enter into life:
1. The price that was laid down was surely for some considerable purchase - that though there be still an infinite disproportion between the infinite price and the purchase, yet, surely, it was laid down for the remission of the sins of many.
2. Of this sort have some been in all ages since righteous Abel; since men began to "call upon the name of the Lord," (Gen. iv. 26), wherein Adam himself hath been priest and prophet, to this day have there been always some walking in the way to life.
3. Consider what a great harvest was gathered in after that blessed heat and rain of the Holy Ghost on the apostles, so that even of the Jews (Acts xxi. 20) there are many thousands, and many more of the Gentiles.
4. Consider what a great cloud of witnesses for the truth, by sufferings, there has been in many ages and countries, even of sufferers unto death, of whom all charity commands to believe, that they entered into life, according to Christ's promise made to sufferers for his name's sake.
5. Consider how largely the gospel hath been spread by the mercy of the Lord's blessing on his servants. See but of one man (Rom. xv. 19). Even in the apostles' days, the church was greatly spread; and more, thereafter, throughout all the Roman empire, a great part of Asia and Africa. And this sheweth there were great numbers, in that days of the spreading of the light of the gospel, use to be times of its power; and that the Lord still hath some to gather in, or ripen, where it is continued.
And particularly as to the place of the world we live in, if we consider, 1. The long time the gospel hath been amongst us; 2. The many rich gifts he hath bestowed on his servants; 3. The rare acts of providence in preserving, as well as in bringing in the gospel amongst us; 4. The multitude of professors tolerably blameless; 5. The many godly parents that have a godly posterity, as a witness from heaven against the men who say that children are out of God's covenant, and deny the duty of instructing them; we may safely conclude, that there is a considerable number in the land that shall enter into life, as there are many already entered therein.
Having thus cautioned this truth, we shall now confirm it in that only sense wherein it is true, and wherein here it is asserted: and it is observable, that it is commonly spoken by way of comparison, as here, either with them that perish, or of the sincere with hypocritical professors, (Matt. xxii, 14, and xx, 16). And though it be commonly acknowledged, yet because it is not duly pondered, we shall lay forth the truth of it before you from these considerations.
1. Consider what a vast multitude is deprived of the very means of the knowledge of the way to heaven. Alas! the Bible is in but a few languages. Many millions of sinners have never heard Christ's name, and never had the messengers of peace proclaiming salvation to them in his name. A subject of very sad meditation is this. Many worshipping sun, moon, and. stars, and the devil himself in a visible and deformed shape - their case is hopeless, and so hath it been for many generations, and likely so to be, till the Lord wonderfully appear for their delivery from the snare of the devil.
2. Consider what a great number of those that have any thing of the means of salvation, have them so mixed and corrupted, that there is little success, and little hope thereof. These corruptions are, 1. In doctrine; where, as Paul speaks, they corrupt the simplicity of Christ's gospel by their human inventions; as the Popish church, which has the Bible, but bound up from the people; Christ as Mediator preached, but saints joined therein with him; justification by faith, but by conjoined works; hell and heaven taught, but purgatory added thereunto, Now, where such doctrines are taught, there is little hope of any sound conversion to be wrought thereby. 2. Corruptions in worship, which when great, render it altogether unacceptable. Prayer is offered unto God, but through idols; sacraments are lamentably corrupted, and mutilated, and clouted with men's foolish inventions; and that of the Lord's Supper turned into the most abominable and ridiculous idolatry in the world - to worship a bit of bread, and immediately to eat it, and yet, that, as the real substantial body of Jesus Christ. Now, what hope is there of any communion with God, or communication of grace from Christ, in such ways of worship? Besides, their public prayers and service in an unknown tongue, and thus, the common people are deprived of the hearing of the word read, which in such a case, is more valuable than all their preaching. 3. Corruptions in government and discipline, which in this case of the Papists are so great, that they render their salvation yet more hopeless: As, 1. The whole frame of that Babel stands upon the pretended infallibility of their church, which is the very root of that wicked kingdom. And this being more carefully taught than any of the fundamentals of religion, and easily believed by a people nursed up in profaneness and ignorance, and in natural carelessness about their salvation, makes their case very dangerous. 2. Their wicked Hierarchy, or Satanarchy rather, is very dangerous to souls. By this, the priests rule over the consciences of the people, and bishops over the priests, and the Pope over the bishops - and thus he becomes indeed the son of perdition, yea the cause and father of the loss of many souls. 3. Their damnable devices of satisfaction for sins, and indulgences for sins to come, and. thus they make merchandise of souls, in a more gross manner than is to be found in any religion in the world. This hath these pernicious consequences: 1. It looseth the reins unto profaneness; 2. And leads men into the natural sin of hypocrisy and feigned shows, of devised and imposed duty, instead of true and real holiness; 3. And leads away from Jesus Christ, and brings them to depend on self-justification. In a word, it is a religion framed by Satan and wicked men, to answer a carnal heart's desires to the full, and is indeed a sorcery, and a most prevailing one, (Rev. xviii. 23). And the judgment is: "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb," (Rev, xiv. 9, 10).
3. Consider that where the truth is in some good measure purely delivered as to the matter, there are but a few that are ministers of the New Testament indeed, full of the Holy Ghost, and bearing their Master's image, and going at his call, and feeding in his name. And though conversion doth not necessarily follow on a minister's godliness, and his lawful call, yet commonly there is little success where there is such a carnal ministry, as that place (Jerem. xxiii. 32) holds forth in some degree: "Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord." This is a blessed appointment of Jesus Christ, and of absolute necessity to the well-being of the church, and of constant continuance therein, (Ephes. iv. 12, 13, 14), and it is highly to be esteemed. But there is no reason ,that the honour of the office should cover the faults of them that are clothed with it. Faults that cannot be hid, that are plagues in many ministers throughout the churches, are, 1. Undertaking the work, and setting themselves in the way of preparation unto it, without any call from God, or spiritual sanctifying impression which might conclude a call. 2. Studying of human learning for the increase of gifts, rather than studying true conformity to God in holiness, which is a great qualification. Hence is it seen, that the most learned, and men of greatest gifts, have least or no grace; though sometimes it be otherwise, to testify, that learning and grace are not inconsistent. 3. The much mixture of man in the dispensing of the gospel, (1 Cor. i. 17, and ii. 4), so that preaching, by many is done as a proof of their parts and learning, rather than the pure and lowly mean whereby Christ hath resolved to save believers. 4. The little standing in God's counsel, and acting with a dependence on him, and the influences of the Holy Ghost, which is a cause of much sad work, (Jer. xxiii. 22).
Now, all these faults in ministers have these prejudices attending them as to the people: 1. Some from the evidence of these things have rejected the ministry, and spoken evil of it, - a great sin, though it is sad that they should have such a temptation; and which is more pernicious to them, do join themselves to such in whom greater faults are to be found. 2. The Holy Ghost works not, or rarely, with their ministry, but in justice withdraws, when he is not employed nor depended on more than he may and ought to be by any godly man in any employment of the mind. 3. And even these workings are not missed by people; but as such ministers come in their own name, so the people hear them as such, and never inquire after more than what is man's therein; and instead thereof, have their heads stuffed with notions, and knowledge sometimes increased, and affections tickled by some human devices and flashes of wit, - which things are mighty pleasing to a carnal heart, both to give and take, both by precept and example. 4. And such carnal ministers usually lead the people, both by precept and example, into such a sort of practice of godliness as is found with themselves; for ordinarily, except where the fear of God overawes, or where a man is gross in his walking, no man will deliver such a frame of practical godliness to others which is cross to his present attainments or resolutions at least. But of this more fully, when we speak of ourselves and our own case.
4. Consider, besides all these things, and though all these were removed, how small a number of them that have the gospel purely preached, and by faithful ministers, do profess any thing; I mean, do not so much as take on an honest-like name of Christians. Few will be found, if you search them out wisely; and that will be by searching after their professed obedience to law and gospel. 1. By the consideration of the law, many sorts of hearers are visibly cast out. To begin with the third commandment, all swearers and forswearers, that commonly and fearlessly take his dreadful name in vain, are out of the way of professors: all sabbath-breakers: all eminently unfaithful in their relationship, and in the duties thereof: bad husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants: all hearts misordered, and persons under the prevalent power of passion, malice, and envy: brawlers, chiders: all unclean beasts, that burn in their filthy lusts, though in the heart only: all thieves, extortioners, and such as get unjust gain: all noted liars, that make no conscience of their words, especially in backbiting and speaking evil of others: all covetous persons. 2. As to the gospel, they are not to be reckoned professors who give any visible token of contempt and despising of its ministry, and turn away their ear from hearing the word: who are openly negligent in performing the duties which are required of them, as family and secret worship in prayer, and reading God's word: whose conversation is nowise influenced thereby as to any change, but who live just as if they were under heathenism.
5. Consider how many professors who are not guilty of any of these gross evils, yet have a tainted profession. I mean, in such spots as observers may perceive as evidences of their unsoundness. Many such things there are. A temptation suitable to their corruptedness coming, is welcomed by many, as the thirty pieces by Judas: a trying time, when suffering for the profession cometh, and then are they burnt up by this sun.
6. Consider how many untainted professions are unsound before God. When trials are not great, unsound professors may rub them out: when temptations are not strong, common restraining grace may prevent their being carried away who yet may be heart-workers of iniquity, and may be dust in God's balance, though all the world besides cannot see their lightness. This sad truth should not be improved into an uncharitable censoriousness of others, but to a jealousy over ourselves, and a belief of this grave truth, that few enter into life.
And as I brought the caution of the truth home unto ourselves, so shall I also in this, and shew you on what considerations it is evident that there are few comparatively that shall be saved in this land, and who walk in the way to life. And in this I shall use such freedom as, I judge, becomes an ambassador of Jesus Christ.
Consider, 1. How evidently the multitude walk in the way of profaneness, which leads to hell. He is a stranger to England that is ignorant of it. Now, how many thousands of such there are, would be found no easy work to reckon, Such all carry the brand-mark of the devil. This profaneness prevails generally in some places, and too much every where, London may be a scantling of this.
2. Consider how many souls are poisoned and murdered by their teachers. Not to speak of the Papists, who in England are in a far more hopeless case as to salvation than if they were shut up in cloisters in Spain or Italy; neither need I speak of the gross errors and damnable heresies that many are fed with unto destruction; neither shall I name any party. But in general, whoever are fed with doctrines contrary to those foundations, and drink them in, must certainly perish: - 1. To the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the unity of the Godhead. 2. To the incarnation of the Son of God. 3. To the satisfaction paid to justice for sin. 4. To the justification of a sinner by a believing laying hold of this satisfaction. 5. To the authority of the written word, both in revealing truth to be believed, and prescribing duty for practice. But I would speak rather of such teachers as have the greatest multitude committed to their charge, and the main allowance in the time for the discharge of their calling; and I do it not out of reflection on them, nor out of partiality, but from a real compassion on the perishing multitude of this nation, and to stir you up unto the like sense, and, to pray for the Lord's pitying them.
And of them, without any breach of charity it may be said, 1. As to their persons; 2. And then, their way of ministry.
1. As to their persons, which is very considerable for misleading the hearers. 1. The generality of them know not God, nor his Son Jesus Christ, in any saving experimental way: they walk not with him, nor have his image on them. It is a greater matter to know God savingly, and to have real acquaintance with him, than is commonly thought. Their common, carnal, and earthly mindedness, and walking after the flesh, doth sadly prove it.
2d, They run unsent. How few have a real call from Jesus Christ, to dispense his word and gospel. Their way of entering by simony and unlawful means, and into the rooms of faithful believers; their evident caring for the fleece rather than the flock, doth sadly shew it.
3d, They are generally insufficient and unable for the work they pretend to be about. The sufficiency of several is no cover for the lamentable insufficiency of the generality.
4th, They are generally negligent in their calling. Though in these parts, on obvious accounts, there is some more diligence in preaching, yet there is little of this through the land. And as for the Nonconformists their neglect of this, their case varieth, for the generality of their hearers are an uncertain company, that scarcely look on those they hear as their pastors.
2. As to their ministry, we may find, besides what is hinted, these things, which are very dangerous to souls. There are those errors commonly taught, - 1. That people are regenerated in baptism. 2. That such as are obedient unto the church are all good Christians, and accordingly are spoken of, in life and after death; which is a marvellous hardening of the wicked. 3. Speaking evil of strictness, and preciseness, and spirituality, when they do so of them that study the same, who are generally neither lovers of them nor beloved by them. Now, who can tell the
pernicious consequences of such doctrines, which, alas! are to be read off the conversation of the generality of their hearers? 4. For worship, fopperies, and mocking of religious worship; and mingling many human devices, and symbols, and badges of conformity with, or inclination to, the Mother of Harlots, especially in their prayers and sacraments. All which shew that it is no wonder that we conclude the generality of England's inhabitants to be in the broad way to hell.
Consider, 3. How many that have escaped these evils, and are some way clothed with a profession of the faith of purer doctrine and practice, of purer worship, are yet sadly unsound at heart. The evidences given in the general may be here particularly applied for confirmation of this truth as applied unto us. I shall add a few more.
1. How many ignorant ones crowd in amongst professors, that are ever learning, and never come unto the knowledge of the truth. 2. How many perishing under secret lusts, as secret leaks in a fair-like vessel, which appear most in a storm. 3. How many carnal compliers with every wind of temptation, with every turn and change - men that count gain godliness, and hardly can be persuaded of the lawfulness of any course that may expose them unto suffering; and resolve still to save their stake, be the game played as it will.
In short, the characters of godliness in the word, agree unto a very small number; so that select and sum up from all, and you may see that the saved, in comparison of them that perish, are very few.
USE. Lay aside any deceitful principle about the multitude of the saved, and be no more confident upon the same; but exercise jealousy the more, and search more.
Observ. 5. The difference of the numbers of them that obtain these two states, is because of the difference of the ways that lead thither. All that know of life and destruction, desire the better, and to escape the worse. But their hindrance is, the difference of the ways. The way to destruction is open, broad, and easy; the other way to life is strait, difficult, and narrow. Of the particular properties of the two ways, we shall speak afterward, if the Lord will. Now only of this general: If the way to life were as sweet, and safe, and taking with flesh and blood, it would be filled with travellers: but it is not so, and as we shall hear, cannot be so. Let us then lay this to heart, that it is men's unwillingness to meet with labour and difficulties, that discourages many - it is their being bewitched with the present ease of a sinful path. Admire, then, the folly of mankind who are thus taken with the circumstances of the way when the issue and lodging-place are so far different.