... 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.
ETERNAL concernments are so weighty in themselves and of so near importance to every man, that nothing can be a greater kindness, than to give real help and warning hereabouts. But through men's unbelief, it is commonly little valued, and little improved.
Having already given you the general truths hinted in the words of my text, we shall now enter upon the particular handling of these words. And they afford to us these things, as the subject of our exercise:
1. That the way to heaven is narrow and strait, and to hell broad.
2. It is the Lord's will, that men should walk in the narrow way.
Of the first of these - that the ways to heaven and hell are greatly different, not only in their issues, but in the paths themselves - in handling of this, we shall shew, 1. Why the one is called Life, the other Destruction: 2. Why the course that leads thither, is called a Way: 3. Shew the different properties of these two ways.
First, Of the different ends: - Heaven is called life, not only from the common signifying of all happiness by the term Life, but because it is the thing promised in the first covenant, (Gal. iii. 12), albeit now attainable only by the second and better covenant; and because it is truly life, in comparing it with the present life of nature.
1. Compare it with the life of nature; this union of soul and body in a tolerable harmony. 1. This life, at best, is a moving towards death. Man is on a journey from one grave to another, from one womb to another, in our common mother the earth. Life now is but as a candle: while it is burning, it is wasting. There is no such thing in heaven. There, time is concluded; eternity is the only period (and this concludes all periods) of its duration. 2. This life, even though it wanted this period, hath many miseries in it, that take away its deserving such a name; such as, its sorrows, crosses, (Rev. xxi. 4, 5). 3. One generation thrusts another away. Life is now a flitting moveable: the fathers must give place to their children, and they to theirs. In heaven there is no such thing.
2. Compare it with the life of grace, or that new life that the Lord by regeneration begets in his children. That life is but a life of preparation unto this in heaven, as the child in the womb is to his coming into the world. Its best is but an earnest of what is possessed fully afterwards.
3. It wants not its own twinges, and faintings, and swooning fits; many spiritual diseases there are in the regenerate, besides all their hard work. Yet it is more deservedly called life, if compared with the other.
The state of men in hell is called Destruction, the most terrible name of any evil: - not a destruction of their being, nor of their sense of a miserable being; these are preserved: nor of any evil thing in them; all of this sort remains. But it is called thus, 1. Because there is a perfect and full removing of every thing that is really comfortable unto them; it reaches both soul and body. 2. Every evil thing is present - evil company, an evil place, an evil and miserable condition; universal torments in soul and body of an eternal endurance, without ease.
Ere we proceed, we shall apply this into your consciences.
Believe both firmly. Do you believe the sad state, as well as the joyful one? It is men's self-love that makes them more ready to believe the great things of good than evil, as deserved in spiritual matters; when yet, in other things, it is more ordinary to do the contrary. This great truth of the greatness of heaven's happiness is best believed, when these things have their due weight with the soul: 1. The faithfulness of the promises. 2. The spring and end of it - that free grace may be glorified. 3. The worth of Christ's purchase, and the price paid for it. 4. The aspiring nature of the new life, like an infant framed to live in a more open place. 5. The greatness of the tastes and earnests of it got in this life.
As to hell in its greatness of misery - when, 1. The faithfulness of the threatening and threatener; 2. The design of the threatener - the glory of his justice; 3. The deserving of sin, which the knowledge of the greatness of the party offended, and holiness of his law broken, do mightily shew; 4. The first fruits of this, in horror of confusion, and rage against God, and his law, and holiness, in some of the wicked - when these things are duly pondered, then may men attain the faith of this. Believe them - for as they are the main principles of your religion, so are they of most effectual influence upon men's hearts and lives, when the faith of them is once well digested. The true belief of these plain propositions commonly professed will produce a deep impression, a high esteem, and due exercise about those things; which may serve as marks of your faith.
1. Time, precious time, and especially, time under the gospel: - that is the only thing between us and our eternal lot; precious for its use of preparation for it, and for divine long-suffering acted on, and in time. It should be redeemed by many, well improved by others; and it may be holily wearied of by others, whose hope is lively.
2. God's favour in Christ: - how should this be esteemed, prayed for, and praised for, and thankfully kept: this is our right to happiness.
3. Holiness and sin: - how should men's affections change in reference to these, which are the ways to those great and different states.
4. This life and all its concernments: - this faith would make us go up and down, as unconcerned how this world goeth; like a man carried in a vessel over the seas, travelling to take up an abode for all his days, is not concerned in learning the art of sailing, which others that intend to live on and by it will do.
I leave it with these few notes: 1. It is the greatest difficulty in religion, to believe firmly these things. 2. The greatest advantage to a believer in his walk and exercise, is from the belief of them. 3. The greatest and most common cheat in religion, is about the pretended and alleged faith of them.
The second thing to be handled is, the term of "the way," and "the gate," applied unto that course and exercise which the Lord hath appointed for going to heaven, and for those which men walk in to hell.
This way of expressing, not to urge it too strictly, holds out to us, 1. That these different practices of godliness or ungodliness (for so shall we call them, until we determine them more particularly), have these different states as their end: they lead to them, as a way doth unto some place, from which it gets its name of such a way. So, ungodliness, is the way to destruction, 1. By threatening from God. 2. Desert in itself. 3. And it is a sort of earnest of it: There are begun degrees of destruction in the ungodly. Godliness is the way to life, 1. By promise; 2. Fitness and meetness for it, (Col. i. 12). 3. It is also an earnest of glory.
2. That there is labour and travel requisite in walking in them. Whenever you hear of a way, you hear of what implies travel. It is trim, there is great difference in ways, and in the manner of travelling, as it is here; but even the wicked want not their pains in the way.
3. Travel in it must be progressive. He that walks in a way, and goes not forward, doth nothing. In the way to heaven, some are farther advanced than others, and at some times more than others. And so it is with them that walk in the broad way: sometimes they may be not far from the kingdom of God, and sometimes at hell's mouth.
4. From the term "gate," we learn that there is an orderly and methodical entering on, or finishing of that way: but because we would not press parabolic phrases too strictly, we pass it. And having formerly spoken of this also, we forbear the application of it.
The third thing to be handled is, the properties of these two ways; the one called strait, and the gate narrow; and the other the reverse. I shall handle these things distinctly, ere I add any application.
I. That the gate to life, and the way to it, is strait and narrow. In handling of this, I would, first, Give you some things that confirm that so it is; secondly, Shew wherein the straitness of it lieth.
First, That the way to life is hard and strait, 1. It is seen in the confessions and practices of multitudes that walk in the broad way: some never think on it; some are affrighted from it, when thinking thereupon. Upon this same account it is seen, that the way to life is narrow, 2. In that the truly godly find it very hard, and the longer, both the sweeter and the harder. They at first seem to attain something of sweetness in religion; but afterwards, the work and the trials are better seen. 3. In the hypocrite's pain, which he finds in the external show of this strait way (Mal. iii. 14), though it be certain, that the hypocrite is not acquainted either with the sweetest, or hardest part of religion. But besides the testimony of the word, the surest confirmation of this, and the clearest, will be by giving a particular account of the straitness of this gate, and narrowness of this way to life.
As the second thing wherein this stands, I shall give you a brief account of the way to life, and of the difficulty in each of them. And they all are but so many stages in this way, and passages that a believer must go through.
1. The new birth, (John iii. 3, 6). A man is never in the way to heaven till this change pass over him. This is a change, 1. Of nature. Oh! how hard is it for folks to put off their nature! They think they make excuse for any fault, when it is said to flow from their nature. This is a creation, (2 Cor. v. 17). 2. It is a most perfect change of inclination and affections, that what was loved is hated now, and what hated is loved now: and people know what a pain there is in turning the inclination. 3. It is a change wrought by another power than theirs, which renders it some way the harder, though the more sure and possible. Now, compare this new birth with the natural birth, or with death, which is as the soul's birth into glory; and the differences are very evident: Alas! how many are there that: stand at this gate, and by no means will pass it. What! - change their natures and cast off all their beloveds? - they cannot hear of it.
2. The strait gate of the covenant. Shall I call it strait, that is cast up so wide with a universal invitation? Yet I may venture to call it so. It is so strait, that no man with any of such baggage can enter it, or will be willing. 1. The proud unhumbled sinner cannot enter in here. He that comes not empty and lost in his own sight, cannot be admitted to make such a bargain with God for salvation. 2. The resolved idolater that will not sell all for Christ in this bargain, and will not give up with all other lovers, to make a new covenant with Christ, cannot enter. (Matt. xiii. 44.)
3. There is the new life, which is a part of this narrow way. This follows on the new birth, and is the soul's promise in the covenant, that he will lead a new life, (Rom. vi. 4). This new life is a great and rare thing. We shall not insist at large on it, but on a few properties of it.
1. It is a life of faith, (Gal. ii. 20, Heb. x. 38). Formerly, the man lived by sense and reason: now, he doth by faith, looking on a promise as a good security; and employing God, and acting faith on it, whenever he is in any strait.
2. It is a life of sincerity and uprightness, or a sincere life. Hypocrisy and deceitful shows he striveth against, and in a great measure overcometh; for there is now uprightness in the inward parts, and no corner of the heart that is reserved for any evil to lodge in, though it may be found there in too great abundance, (2 Cor. ii. 17).
3. It is a life of holiness. The Holy Ghost is its author, the holy law of God the rule, and the holy Jesus the man's pattern and example.
4. A growing life, and that all a man's days. This new life being duly cared for, attains growth as long as a man lives.
This life is called "new," because the man lived not this way before: and the rest of the world do not so, nor ever did, nor will do. It is different from the life of the world, in that it hath another food for its strengthening, and air for its breathing; another father, or another and more special way of begetting, another end it lives for and aims at, with other vital actings.
The third thing that shews the narrowness of the way to heaven, is the cross. This is laid in the way, and every man must resolve to take it up when he wins to it, and follow Christ. "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me," (Mark viii. 34). It is true, that every man meets with his crosses less or more; but Christ deals very plainly with his people, in telling them, 1. That their happiness is not to be expected in this life, but in the seed and seal of it: he draws them to heaven by faith, to know what his love hath prepared for them, (1 Cor. xv. 19; Matt. xix. 28, 29). That they must lay their account in resolution with the greatest suffering, even of the loss of life, rather than to deny the least of his truth and words, (Matt. x. 38; Mark viii. 38). 3. And that all their life long, and every day, they may meet with such things.
The fourth thing that shews the narrowness of the way to heaven, is the work that is to be done by them that walk therein. As,
1. The work of mortification, (Mark ix. 43, 45; Col. iii. 5,) and that especially to be extended unto the most beloved lust. How painful this is, many may know; nay, many venture on hell, rather than thus to part with them. It stands also in some acts of faith, as, 1. That such a lust is forbidden of God, under pain of his displeasure. 2. In a striving resolution to gratify it in nothing. 3. In calling for help, both to mind and practice this resolution in our walk.
2. The work of self-denial. Whatever the lust be, as self-interest is very large, it must be denied, and the interest of God's glory and service must sway the soul in all things, (Mark viii. 34).
3. Tender and considerate watching.
4. The work of running on in this way, and making daily progress, (1 Cor. ix. 24; Phil. iii. 10, 11).
5. The work of fighting and wrestling with spiritual enemies, (Eph. vi. 10, 11); to watch, and learn skill to put on, and handle wisely our spiritual armour with which the Lord has furnished us.
The fifth and last thing which shews the strait-ness of the way to heaven, is the new trials that a Christian meets with, and none but he, and these from the Lord himself, for wise ends; of which hereafter, - as, 1. The swoonings and faintings of the soul through the Lord's withdrawing. (See Psalm xxiii. 3.) 2. The labour of wrestling with him, when his face is hld - a hard but ordinary trial.
I may yet add further, the gate of death is a strait and narrow gate, by which believers enter into life: - that after the trial of all these last, this remains, as the greatest difficulty; not to speak of it in a natural sense, but only as it is a trial, wherein a miscarrying is irretrievable: die amiss, and all is gone:-and also, as the soul is often in the least fitness for any work then. But the encouragements of faith in this are great and strong: Christ the conqueror is with his own in these trials.
II. That the way to destruction is broad and easy, is seen,
1. In that men are born with their faces and hearts towards this way; their inclinations lead them strongly to it: - there is no need of any change on them to fit them for it.
2. They have multitudes of temptations suited to their sinful inclinations that, as a wind, drive them on in it. Many lusts are gratified by walking in this path, and many wise and noble after the flesh are treading in it.
3. The Lord is often provoked, and may soon be, to take off any restraints that stand in their way. (Psalm v. 10, 11).
4. They ordinarily shift off easily all crosses for Christ's sake, by complying with their carnal inclinations.
5. They walk at liberty from any inward spiritual bonds on their hearts and way. So it is called "a walking after the imagination of their own hearts," (Deut. xxix. 19); opposed expressly to a walking after the rule of the word.
CAUTION. - Notwithstanding of all these things, yet there are circumstances of another nature, that shew their ways to be yet contrary to those: As,
1. The way to life, on all these accounts, is easy, 1. Because of the kindly delight that the new nature hath in all its difficulties and labour. 2. The lively hope of the glorious end of the way, (2 Cor. iv. 16, 17, 18). 3. The gracious support and help of infinite strength. 4. The communications of joy and delight they feel in their works; - a part of the encouragements allowed them in this life.
As also, the way to destruction is strait, 1. In that all the walkers therein are in bonds and fetters to Satan, and their own lusts, (John viii. 34). 2. In that God often meets them with his warnings, and makes conscience fly in their faces, as the angel in Balaam's. 3. They want not their own graceless cursed crosses, and ofttimes in as great a measure, as the truly godly do. 4. The fear of the issue is enough to embitter all for the present.
USE. - Is the way to heaven narrow and strait? - Then, how shameless is the graceless world, to reproach the way of the godly as strict! It is the most shameless slander that ever the world made. To call the godly ungodly is but a lie against them; to reproach the sincere as hypocrites, or the peaceable as seditious, - this is all little in regard of this, - to reproach them for that which is their glory, and that even in scripture words; to reproach them as puritans and precisians. Of the same nature is their commendation of men, as being men of latitude, and of a large walk in the matters of God. That we may insist a little more on this inference that is so clear and pertinent, let us sift out the causes of this reproach.
1. Carnal men naturally think all too little for this world, and any thing almost too much for the world to come.
2. They generally conceive good hopes of themselves, when walking according to this graceless principle.
3. As they like not doctrines that cross these precepts and practices of theirs, so, far worse, practices different from, and contrary to theirs; for practice is a more living and abiding testimony than doctrine. Hence we see, that let professors profess what they will, if they agree in practice with the world, they are liked by it well enough. For instance - in a place given to scandalous misspending of time in tippling, if a professor invited to share with them, should simply say, he cannot in conscience come so near an appearance of evil; this would vex the graceless company more, than if another should join with them, and even in their company speak of the strictness of the way to heaven.
4. False doctrine, or false application of true doctrine by ministers, hardens sinners mightily in their prejudice against strictness in God's ways: as also, the godly their placing too much of religion in little and small things, especially if of an indifferent nature in themselves.
2. Then it is a good token of a right way, that it is narrow and strait; and a shrewd suspicion of a false one, that it is broad - I mean, if it be represented as a way that leads to heaven: for the way of gathering churches of professors is quite different from this, and it is a woful mistake in people to confound them. There are three false ways that are broad: 1. The way of intellect and morality - the Pharisee's way. (See Matt. vi. 19, 20.) 2. The way of external conformity to the letter of the law - an outward service. 3. The way of any church order under heaven, is but a broad way to heaven, let men make it never so strait; for as long as men only are judges of our way, there is a great latitude for hypocrisy, and much double dealing with God, if men's hearts be not sound.
USE 3. - Then, make a wise choice; - it is laid before you, as even life and death, and their several ways. It is sad, that men should be at a stand what to choose; but much more, that they should make a bad choice, even to choose death.
I conclude with these few remarks: 1. The way and the end are inseparable; therefore take both, or leave both. If you would have life, walk in the narrow way to it: if you will walk in the broad way, resolve to meet with destruction.
2. The narrow way grows the longer the broader and easier, and the broad way the longer the narrower, till a man be in hell. It is joy to a godly man, that so much of his way is past: it is sore to the other, that it is so with him, and that there is so little remaining.
3. Unless time be preferred to eternity, there is no comparison between the two. A time of trouble at worst - an eternity of ease, and joy, and life: a time of delight at best, and an eternity of destruction thereafter; - is there any choice here with a reasonable man?