... 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 that leadeth unto life and few there be that find it." - MATT. VII. 13, 14.
WE shall yet again enter on a further account of the hardness of the way to heaven, and of the broadness of the way to hell, both by further enlarging on what was glanced at, and from new particulars: but the latter we shall bring in in the application.
Besides what is said we shall now,
1. Speak somewhat by way of caution, to prevent mistakes.
2. Some native doctrinal inferences from the whole purpose.
3. Some lamentation and exhortation.
I. For caution, take these things, - 1. For all these things that shew the way to life to be narrow, yet unto the godly man it is a most pleasant way. Oh! with what delight doth he walk therein, with the heart lifted up in the ways of the Lord, as Jehoshaphat, (2 Chron. xvii. 6, Psalm i. 2, and cxix. 32, 59). It is a way of great breadth, though not for sin, yet for duty and delight, (Psalm cxix. 96). he makes haste and progress in it, (Psalm cxix. 60, Philip. iii. 13, 14). And on the contrary, the way of sin, and unto death, is dark and strait, and that because of the nature of the new exertion in the soul, (Rom. vii. 21, 22, 23). This makes many things sweet and easy that otherwise are hard. How much toil will a mother undergo about her own child? Why, all is natural to her. The strivings, and wrestlings, and fightings, are hard indeed unto the flesh; but the new man likes them the better. See if it be not so with you in your toil in religion. Though there be something within that tires somewhat of work, there is somewhat within also that makes tiresome work sweet. The way of life is a pleasant way, because of the lively faith and hope of the prize, (Rom. viii. 18, 24, 25; 2 Cor. iv. 16, 17, 18; Heb. x. 34). It is pleasant from the support and help of infinite strength, (2 Cot. xii. 8, 9, 10; Isa. xl. 31). It is pleasant from the sweet enjoyments of fellowship with God they feel in the mean time. The simple and plain meaning of this truth is then in these: 1. That the way to heaven is full of great difficulties. 2. They are such as an unregenerate man cannot away with. 3. And such as a godly man, without courage and strength from heaven, would never wrestle through; but with that strength, sometimes finds them easy: - and again, it is for his advantage to find them hard and strait.
Second caution - Whatever breadth and wideness there is in the way to destruction, it is ofttimes on other accounts found strait. They find it bitter, and tire of it, (Hab. ii. 13). All the walkers therein, are bondslaves to sin and Satan, (John viii. 34, 44). God often meets them with warnings by his word and rod, as the angel did Balaam, and thereby conscience straitens them. Ahab, in the way to hell, met Elijah as an enemy, (1 Kings xxi. 20). Their fear of the issue embitters all for the present; and the vanity and emptiness of all their idols to stay their hearts with solid satisfaction. The meaning of this then is - to corrupt nature the way to hell is easy, and that it is commonly felt so by the wicked.
II. Draw some doctrinal inferences from the whole purpose.
1. We see, then, that the Lord hath constituted a great difference betwixt the ways that lead men to their estates in another world, as to the gratifying of the flesh: the one strait to it, the other easy. We have said enough to confirm this; the words are also clear for it. The reasons of this are, 1. Conformity to Christ the head, in the godly, who entered into glory by a strait way, as has been said. 2. It cannot otherwise be, supposing the Lord's design on his people to glorify himself, in the bearing them up, and in the exercise of grace. 3. Corruption being left in both - in the one wholly, in the other in part - makes it to be so as it is. 4. That the Lord may leave it to men's choice though he graciously determine his own, by his hand, to choose life, whatever hardness be in the way.
2. No man's testimony concerning the two ways can be of such service as a godly man's who hath walked in both - as none know so well without experience what hell and heaven are, as the devils that have tasted of both; and we see their malice bewrayeth it: - unless we except our Lord Jesus, who had a sort of experimental knowledge of both, as his readiness to save sheweth. And the witness of the godly is seen, 1. In that they all have turned out of that way, and never turn in again. 2. And they testify a vast difference between them, not only as to the issue, but the way itself. And what means all their shame, and sorrow, and mourning for their walking in the broad way, but a testimony against the one, and for the other?
3. We see the true reason of the difference in the number of the saved and damned, is from the interest of the flesh, denied by a few, and indulged by the greater part: and we may wonder at the folly of men making so bad a choice of their way to eternity, as commonly they do.
III. Lamentation and reproof.
1. Over the godly who are questioning their way, because of the difficulty they find therein, whereas it ought rather to confirm them that they are in the right; or who at any time look with envy on the ease of the foolish, (Psalm lxxiii).
2. Over the ungodly, who bless themselves that they never found any such hardship and straitening in godliness. It is strange but true, that the ungodly find these the most easy, that the godly find most hard; as faith not only of divine truth, but of their interest in Christ - or that repentance is an easy thing with them - or the sincerity of their hearts: they think their hearts were always right: - or about prayer, and all religious duties. And this is because they know not the true nature of all these great things.
3. Over those who frame to themselves a religion free of all its difficulties. Men in professing to take the rule of the word for the rule of their religion, do often wrench and cut away all things that are hard therein in applying it.
Lay aside that foolish and common opinion, that the way to heaven is easy. Oh, by all means beat it out of your minds! I shall in pressing this exhortation shew, 1. The commonness of the mistake. 2. What are the causes of it. 3. What is its danger. 4. How it may be removed.
1. To shew the commonness of this opinion about the easiness of the way to heaven, it may serve to see men's confident hopes of getting safe thither, with their laziness in striving, or taking pains. This is unquestionable, that many of the most confident are most lazy. It is a common thing to see men of these sorts to be confident of heaven, 1. That never mortified one corruption, especially their darling one, nor ever endeavoured it. 2. Nor ever wrestled with God in prayer, as a hard work. 3. Nor ever watched over their hearts. 4. Nor ever deny themselves, 5. Nor ever sanctify a day to the Lord in a spiritual manner. 6. Nor ever submit to a cross, that a little warping can prevent or shift.
2. What are the causes of it. 1st, Men's own hearts are inclined to such a way, and so are easily prevailed with to think it is so. This inclination is strengthened by these: 1. A rooted ignorance of God in his greatness, holiness, and truth, - the root of all wickedness. 2. Ignorance of the nature of heaven and eternal life: he that knows the end and prize lost, is likliest to know what running and fighting are called for. 3. Ignorance of their enemies, their own hearts, and others: he that knows not his heart's corruption is not likely to take much pains to have it made better. 4. Undervaluing of eternal things, especially when compared with temporal.
2d, Satan is busy in persuading to this, being cunning enough and well acquainted with his own interests. If he could, he would keep all ignorant; and if that cannot be, he strives to make them lazy, and lose their crown.
3d, Mistakes of the practice of the godly. The ungodly see not the secret duties of the godly, nor their inward work in public duties, and therefore think them like themselves.
4th, The ensnaring practice and principles of a careless world about them. If they be like their neighbours and others, they think well of themselves.
3. What is its danger. Its danger is great. This keeps them in the broad way, and great with peace of mind, and against all warnings and convictions. Hence is it sadly seen in experience that multitudes of professors keep it, and are most rarely awakened of any body else.
4. How it is to be removed. 1. By the rule of the word. 2. The practice of the saints, as David and Paul (1 Cor. ix. 26, 27). 3. By an honest experiment. The last consideration is that of the text, which we shall now enter on.
It is Christ's special will, and our special duty, to enter in, and keep on in the strait way that leads unto life. This is the scope of the words. If any scruple or doubt should remain about this, these things clear it: 1. It was Christ's special errand as a priest, to remove the otherwise immovable impediments lying in this way. 2. As a prophet, to teach the church the way. 3, As a king, to lead them in it, and help them on against all impediments that remain. 4. In his state of humiliation, he went before us in this way as a pattern. 5. In that of exaltation, he assureth us of the happy issue of striving; and in the room of his people, and as their head, hath taken possession of the kingdom. 6. The great principle that moved him, and the end he aimed at, was to have his Father's love, and wisdom, and grace, and his own, glorified in bringing sinners to heaven. As God, he accomplished the work by merit and strength; as man, by suffering and example. So that it is abundantly clear that Christ envies not your walking in the way to life, but rather invites, commands, encourages, threatens, to stir you up to walk therein.
That it is our special and main duty is also clear, not only on the former grounds, but, 1. Because this alone tends to the saving of the soul. 2. No duty whereby God can be actively glorified by us can be performed save in this way. But there is no difficulty in this point, or necessity of clearing it. If it be the way, and the only way to heaven, then every one will judge it necessary to walk in it.
Our work, then, mainly in opening up this exhortation, and preparing for its practice, stands, 1. In clearing what it is to enter in at the strait gate. 2. In clearing the motives and arguments whereby Christ presseth it; and then we shall also press it.
1. What is it to enter in at the strait gate? It is,
1st, To begin, and set forth well and rightly, in the practice of godliness. A good beginning is the one-half of the work.
2d, It is to hold on and continue therein. Though the word "enter," at the first view, and in the parabolic phrase, seems not to imply this, yet necessarily it is implied, in that heaven itself is the end; and all the course that leads thither is spoken of as a gate and a way. Though our Lord's way of speaking may shew that the main difficulty is in right beginning, and that they that begin, and enter in, never go out of it again.
2. What are his arguments to press it? They are, the wideness of the way to destruction, and the multitude of walkers therein, - which say to us these things:
1. That the greatness and commonness of danger should be a sharp spur to duty. The Lord allows a lawful exercise of self-love; and oh that it were more in exercise amongst you! The report of destruction should make salvation more lovely, and all the means that lead unto it, even those that are hardest.
2. The multitude of walkers in a way, of itself is no sound argument for its goodness, nor that it shall have a good end. Christ would not have his people to follow the multitude: they are to be a singular people as to their way of walking.
The second argument is from the nature of the way that leads unto life, which saith, -
1. Our Lord is very free and faithful in warning his people of all inconveniences they may meet with in the way; which being duly pondered, may prevent many stumblings.
2. The difficulty of the way to heaven makes many hold on in the way to hell. The wicked know the straitness of the way to heaven. I named this amongst the general truths. But now, how come they to know the way to be strait, since they never walked in it? They know it by what they hear in the word; by what they see in the saints; by what they feel in the form of religion; by what their lusts teach them to fear there is in godliness; - and this, compared with what they feel in the broad way, varies the case from what hath been already spoken of them.
Now, to press this exhortation on you in the close of all this purpose, I would desire you to gather and compose your spirits, and reflect on what hath been said, and proved, and cleared, 1. That there are two different states after this life abiding all men: there must you shortly be. 2. There are two different ways that lead thither. 3. It fares with men according to the way they take. 4. There is a wide difference between the numbers of the walkers in the two ways. 5. And that, from the great difference in the ways. We have also taken a closer view of the words, and shewn you, and proved, that the way to heaven is narrow, and to hell broad, by several illustrations, though many more might be adduced, and they that are named never insisted on. And lastly, that our Lord is willing you should walk in the way to life, and escape destruction; and hath bound it on you by his command, as your duty; and hath sent me to proclaim this his will, and to declare to you your duty.
My question then is, Do you believe these things or not? If you do not, propose your scruples: how easy a work it is to clear them! And what use do you intend to make of them? Say not, you expect to hear that of me, for if you believed these divine truths, you would use them quickly. But I will tell you what use you do make of them, ere I tell you what you ought to make. "I make use of all," may one say, "for further informing of my understanding about these things;" and thus people learn still to know more and more, and mind to practice nothing. Some will make use of these things for rendering them more censorious and suspicious of others. It is far easier to instruct one how to see a motein another's eye, than a beam in his own; and he is far more inclined to the one than the other.
The use you should make of all this, is to look upon your own way, and see wherein you find it strait and narrow. Oh, for the Lord's sake, try yourselves in this! It is not past hope, even though all be amiss. Do you walk in a way so broad as to give room to any allowed sin, or willingly neglected duty? Then you are not in Christ's strait way. Or is it so strait that you perceive you can make no progress therein with such a load? Then is it good. How came you into that way? Was it by Jesus Christ? And is it in him that you yet walk? Or are you dreaming that there is no farther use of Christ in helping you to heaven, but in dying for you? Oh, sad mistake! Must he not dwell in you by his Spirit, - lead, and guide, and protect you? Is your way so broad, that you can escape your enemies? Or so narrow, that you must go through them? Have you the multitude walking with you, or are you much alone? The way of whole parishes travelling to heaven is not the king's highway. A believer, though he have company, yet in a manner he is alone: he hath as much work as if there were none but himself.
After reflecting on and examining of your way, if you find you are in the strait way that leads to life, then, I exhort you, be cheerful: go on in the strength of the Lord. Your way hath a good end, and you shall shortly feel it: your helper is strong. Be painful and diligent; strive on, wrestle, press through all! Weary not of well-doing; mind your work heartily; your reward is sure. Bring forth your faith and patience, and use them nobly, for great shall be your victory in the latter end of the day.
As for you whose consciences may convince you that as yet you have not walked in this way, and know within yourselves that you have a pretty easy work in godliness, know of a truth and certainty that this way will bring you to destruction, for God threatens it! How terrible is it, for God inflicts it and lays it on! Meditate a while on this. Will the Most High alter his word that hath gone out of his mouth in righteousness, for ease to your sinful flesh? Where hath he said that the lazy shall be crowned, or that a fighter against God, and a friend of sin and Satan, shall be rewarded with eternal life? Then, leave it betimes - even now: make a good choice. The ways and the ends are set before you. Consider how frail and uncertain your life is; how uncertain the gospel's continuance with you is, and any power attending it; how the way will be to you the straiter, the longer that you delay entering in thereat. And if you have a mind to be saved, hearken to these admonitions. Put away your foolish opinions about those ways, and fill your understanding with the certain truth of God in this matter. Lay aside your lazy practices, and take pains about your souls. Enter in at the strait gate, and walk on in the narrow way that leads unto life. And let these be your practices: Enter in Jesus Christ, and have him dwelling in your hearts by faith, and abide in him, and walk in him. Lay aside every sin, especially your besetting sin. Take up every duty, and every thing that is in duty, - the inward spiritual part thereof. And thus you will find the way sweeter than you think for, and an abundant entrance shall be ministered unto you into the kingdom of God.