ŇEnter in at the strait gate: for it is the wide gate, and broad way that leadeth to destruction: and many there be which go in thereat. Because the gate is strait, and the way narrow that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find itÓ Matthew 7:13-14
These two verses, being the fifth part of this chapter, contain the tenth point of doctrine in this sermon of our Saviour Christ; wherein He exhorteth His hearers and us all effectually, to an earnest care in seeking everlasting life; and withal admonish us in the matter of salvation, not to follow the multitude, because most men go the broad way to destruction.
The words contain two parts: A commandment, Enter in at the strait gate; and a reason in the words following: For it is the wide gate etc. Yet for our further edification and instruction, I will consider and handle five points, which are here set down by our Saviour Christ:
I. That there be two contrary cities or kingdoms, in one of which every man and woman must abide for ever after this life; and further, that these afford unto men a contrary estate, the one life, the other death and destruction.
II. That there are two distinct ways to these two cities or kingdoms: one leading to destruction, the other leading unto life.
III. The condition and property of these two ways: The way of life is strait and narrow; the way of destruction is broad and wide, and that from the beginning to the end.
IV. What men do in these ways; namely, that many walk in the broad way, and few can find the strait and narrow way.
V. What men ought to do touching these ways; namely, pass by the broad way, and enter into and walk in the strait way; which is the scope of ChristŐs exhortation and instruction in this place.
Of these in order:
For the first: These two cities are two distinct places ordained of God for the final and eternal abode of all mankind after this life, according to that which every man hath done in his body. These are termed diversely in Scripture, one, the kingdom of heaven; the other, outer darkness, in the chapter following (vv.11,12). The one, AbrahamŐs bosom, the other hell fire (Luke 16:23). In the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Revelation, they are notably described, the one is called the city of God; the other the burning lake; and usually the one is called heaven, and the other hell. And as these are distinct places, so they afford unto men two distinct estates: the one life, the other destruction; as it is said, the narrow way leads to life; the broad way to destruction.
By life is here meant a blessed state of man in which he lives in fellowship with God, and hath his heart filled with the unspeakable love and goodness of God, and with endless joy from GodŐs immediate presence. And this indeed is the only true life; our natural life is but a shadow thereof.
By perdition, or destruction, we are to understand a cursed state of man, in which he is without all fellowship with God in respect of His favour, mercy and love; and yet in body, soul and conscience doth apprehend the bitterness of GodŐs wrath and fury for evermore; having no fellowship save only with the devil and his angels, and damned souls. This is no life, but eternal death, though soul and body live together eternally.
Use 1. In that Christ doth here mention but two cities or places, to the one whereof every man must resort after death; we may gather that there is no middle place or condition between life and destruction. A third place or state the Scripture knoweth not, and therefore there is no place of purging the souls of men after this life, which the papists call purgatory. If there had, the Word of God would have revealed it. But the papists say, it is the upper part of hell, near to the hell of the damned. I answer, If that were so, then there is no salvation for them that are in purgatory; for there is no returning out of hell to heaven, by reason of the great gulf between them (Luke 16:26), and they that are in any part of hell are but damned persons.
Use 2. If there be but two places, and in them two estates only according to that which men have done here on earth, either good or evil; then we must be admonished with all care and conscience to use all good means, whereby we may escape the one and attain to the other; to be freed from destruction, and to gain salvation. In the massacre and sacking of a city, in which some are slain and some escape alive, everyone hath care to shift for himself, to save his temporal life. Much more then ought we to provide for eternal life, seeing at the last day wherein the whole world shall be ransacked, everyone must undergo either salvation or destruction. If we had our deserving, we should be confounded every moment; but God in mercy grants unto us length of days for this very end, that we should seek GodŐs kingdom and life everlasting. And therefore this must be our principal care and study, that we may be always ready, whensoever we shall be called hence; and the rather, because we know not when Christ will call us hence. (Luke 12:40), Be ye also prepared therefore, for the Son of man will come at an hour when ye think not.
As there be two diverse estates in two distinct places; so there be two several ways that lead thereunto; the one the way of life (v.14), the other the way of destruction (v.13).
1. First, I will speak of the way of life, and thereby shall we see what the way of destruction is; in which regard it stands us all in hand to know what is the way of life. Now none hath better noted it out unto us, than the prophet Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4), in these words: But the just shall live by faith; in which place he foretells the afflictions of the Jews by the Chaldeans; whereupon the Jews might say, whereby then shall we stay ourselves? He answers, By faith. The just man lives, that is, leadeth his life, by faith. Some give this meaning to the prophet: The just by faith shall have life everlasting; but the apostle expoundeth it otherwise (Gal. 3:11). So then to walk in the way of life is to lead our lives by faith in Christ (Heb. 10:39).
Here two points must be considered:
(1) What faith is by which men must live in this world; namely, true justifying faith, the very faith by which they are to be saved in the day of the Lord. I live by faith (saith Paul) in the Son of God, who hath loved me and given Himself for me (Gal.2:20); where he doth notably expound this text shewing that faith in Christ our Redeemer, is that faith whereby we must lead our lives in this world; for they which will be saved by their faith, must first live by their faith. He that believes well, lives well; and that faith will never save the soul that cannot guide and order the life. Many men think it is sufficient to salvation to believe the promise of life; but faith hath a further work in them that it saveth; for it also causeth them to live thereby. Now a man lives by faith, when he rests himself on God, and suffers himself wholly to be led and guided by GodŐs written Word. Example hereof we have in Abraham (Heb. 11:8), who by faith forsook his own country, and at GodŐs commandment went he knew not whither.
(2) More particularly, a Christian manŐs life is twofold: spiritual and temporal; both which he must live in this world, for heavenly life begins before we die; and both these kinds of life must be preserved by faith.
(i) The spiritual life of a Christian is that whereby he hath true fellowship with God. This begins in this life; and it stands in reconciliation with God, wherein a man is accepted to the right of eternal life. This reconciliation is life, and it is held by faith; and faith only in GodŐs Word and promise in Christ alone, is it that makes us lay hold of, receive and keep this our reconciliation. We must give God this honour, to believe His promise of remission of sins, and life everlasting in Christ; and upon our faith, God vouchsafeth unto us remission of sins and life everlasting. Here some may ask, whether everything that we believe be made ours, as riches, honour and such like. Answer: No; but only that which God promiseth in the evangelical covenant of life everlasting, upon our faith. Here also some will say, If this be all, I am well, for I believe GodŐs promise. But herein many deceive themselves, believing the promise falsely. True faith is this: men must seek the pardon of their sins, and in seeking, believe it; but they that believe without using that means, deceive themselves, seeing God hath joined His promise to the means. We offend God daily, and therefore must daily renew our repentance, and by faith believe the pardon of our daily sins.
Further, this spiritual life hath its fruits. It is no dead life, for he that hath remission of sins, lives in Christ, and this life shews itself in the fruits of good works; as mercy, love, goodness. And in every good work we must live by faith, for to the doing of any good work, there is a double faith required: first, a general faith, whereby we are persuaded that the work is allowed and required of God; secondly, a spiritual faith, whereby we are persuaded that the particular work done is accepted of God. In the acceptation of the work, God first accepteth the person in Christ, and then the works in and for the person. Yea, we are moved to every good work by faith; for it brings to mind GodŐs love, mercy and goodness to us; and so motivates to perform the like duties of love and mercy towards our brethren.
Thirdly, spiritual life shews itself in resisting and enduring temptations, for every child of God hath many and grievous assaults, so as the righteous shall scarce be saved; and in all and every one of these, we must live by faith, and thereby rely on Christ, not on ourselves. Example hereof we have in Christ upon the cross, who even then when He felt the wrath of God upon Him, did yet cry unto Him as to His God: My God, my God (Matt. 27:46). And Job in grievous temptation and affliction, said unto the Lord: Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him (Job 13:15). And so must we even then lay hold on GodŐs mercy, when we feel no comfort in ourselves. So did David, when he felt no comfort, yet he did cleave to God in his meditation (Psa. 77:7-11). In disputations in schools, it is a fault to stick always to the conclusion; yet in this combat with Satan it is no fault, but a good practice of true faith.
(ii) Temporal life stands in the practice of some particular calling; and some men be of one calling, some of another; and everyone hath, or ought to have, some one lawful calling or other wherein to lead his temporal life. Now the works of a manŐs particular calling, they must be practised by faith, even the duties of the basest callings that is, as of the shepherd. And that a man may do the duties of his calling in faith, he must first have a grounded conscience that his work is allowed of God, and accordingly he must do his work. Again, every man in his calling must have a care of his own self, and of those that belong unto him, to provide for them things necessary, as meat, drink and clothing; and this care must be ruled by faith, that is, a man must use the lawful means to get these things, and yet so as he leave the issue and event unto GodŐs blessing. We may provide for necessaries, but we must go no further, but use the lawful ordinary means, and sanctify them by prayer, leaving the blessing unto God. Cast thy works on God, saith Solomon (Prov. 16:3); and St Peter bids us, Cast all our care on God (1 Pet. 5:7). Lastly, every calling hath its crosses. No life is so quiet that it wanteth all vexations. Now when crosses come upon any man in his calling, then must he bear the same by faith. He must rest on GodŐs Word, and quiet his mind with the good will and pleasure of God. He that believes (saith the prophet) shall not make haste (Isa. 28:16), that is, he shall not be carried headlong with a desire to satisfy his own pleasure and appetite, either in seeking to be freed from evil, or to enjoy some blessing, but shall content himself with the good pleasure of God.
And thus we see what it is to live by faith, which is the right way to life eternal.
Use 1. This sheweth that a great number are far wide, which think that if they live uprightly among men, then all is well. This honest life is very commendable among men, but it is not sufficient to salvation. It is but a work of nature, for a man by natural reason may lead a civil, upright life, as many have done among the heathen; but the life that must bring a man to heaven, must be led by faith; and therefore they that would walk the way to life, must walk by faith, not by reason only.
Use 2. This also sheweth that they are deceived which live by sense, measuring GodŐs love and hatred by outward blessings and crosses; and therefore when God takes away the means, they will no longer trust on Him. But we count it a point of dishonesty, not to trust our honest friend without a pawn. Much more then is it a dishonour to God, when we will not rely upon Him, without outward pledges of His favour. And therefore we must rely on God when all means fail, for no man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him (Eccl. 9:1).
Use 3. Many that profess religion are deceived that measure their grace and goodness in religion by feeling their own hearts. But we must rely thereon, for true faith may be in the heart without inward sense. Again, the devil may put false comforts many times into a manŐs heart. The bad man receives the Word with joy (Luke 8:13). Look to thy faith by ChristŐs Word, and thereby judge thyself, and rest not in thine inward feeling.
Use 4. This teacheth us to acquaint ourselves with all the commandments of God that be in the Bible; and with all the promises that concern the pardon of sins and life everlasting; for without this knowledge there can be no faith; and therefore we must abandon all ignorance of these things, and instruct ourselves, and those that belong unto us, in the Word of God, that they and we may live by faith.
Use 5. These are happy days of peace and of many temporal blessings wherein we now live; but we must not live always in this peace. God hath begun to set His judgments among us, and if we do not repent, we must look for further and more grievous judgments, as the less of His Word, and a sword upon ourselves, our friends and children. What if these days come? How must we then live? Namely, by faith in the Word and promise of God. Lay hold on this, and though thou lose friends, goods and thine own temporal life, yet hold fast thy spiritual life; by faith cleave unto Christ, and then in the midst of swords and weapons of death, thou shalt walk the way to eternal life.
And thus much of the way of life.
2. The second way is the way to destruction; which is called the way of sinners and of the ungodly (Psa. 1:1,6). This way hath many paths, which tend all to one end, and meet in the same period; and they may all be reduced to these three heads:
(1) The way of nature.
(2) The way of false faith.
(3) The way of faith and nature joined together.
(1) The way of nature is when men only live by the light of nature. Of this St Paul speaks (Acts 14:16), God suffered all the Gentiles to walk in their own ways; wherein they were void of God in Christ, and so not under mercy.
(2) The way of false faith is something more than the way of nature; but yet it leadeth to destruction, because their faith is false and profession vain; and this is the way of false religion, whereof there be these three main and principal at this day, to which all other may be referred: The religion of the Turk, of the Jews, and of the papists. The Turks in their religion acknowledge Christ for a great prophet, but not to be God, neither do they look for any salvation by Him. The Jews in their religion acknowledge but one God, yet out of Christ. They acknowledge not His incarnation past, but expect it yet to come. They wait for an earthly kingdom. They hold the Old Testament only and deny the New. Now both these refusing Christ, have not the Father, and so can have no salvation in their religion. The papists acknowledge much truth formally, but then again they overturn it; for they hold that general faith, which the devils may have; but for that special justifying faith whereby a man is to believe his own salvation, the remission of his sins, and his own reconciliation with God in Christ; that they renounce. Again, the Christ of the papist is no true Christ; for they make Him but half a Saviour, or not so much; even only an instrument to make men saviours of themselves; for by His grace, they do works properly meritorious, and fully worthy of eternal life. They rob Him also of His manhood, saying, it is everywhere in his quantity, where mass is said; for they have the self same body that was crucified. Also, they deny His offices: (i) His kingly office; for they part stakes with Him, and give it to the pope, in saying he hath power to make laws which bind the conscience, as GodŐs laws do. (ii) His priesthood, because every mass-priest offers Christ anew; and they make saints intercessors, especially the virgin Mary. (iii) His prophetic office, saying the Scriptures are imperfect without tradition; uncertain without the sense and meaning of the church; the original copies are corrupted; and the church is above them in authority.
(3) The third way is the way of faith and nature together. This is the common way wherein most Protestants walk; for we hold the right faith in word; our profession and judgment is right; but yet our lives are led according to nature.
And these three paths are all in the broad way to destruction And therefore as we hold true doctrine, and right faith in word, so let us lead our lives accordingly, and testify the same by our works, especially in the times of dearth when God lays His hand on the poor, and thereby tries the hearts of the rich.
The property of these ways. The way to life is narrow and strait; the way to destruction is broad and wide.
1. For the first: The way to life is narrow and strait, from the first entrance to the last passage. Why so?
(1) First, because the way of life is only one single path; but the way of death is manifold, containing sundry paths.
(2) Secondly, they that walk in the way of life, contain themselves within the bonds and lists of GodŐs Word; for the words of the wise are as nails and pales to keep us in (Eccl. 12:11).
(3) Thirdly, in the way to life, there are many afflictions and offences, (Acts 14:22), Through manifold afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of heaven; and (Hos. 2:6), I will stop thy way with thorns; meaning that by sharp afflictions He would hedge them in the way of obedience. But some may say, why then doth Christ say His yoke is light (Matt. 11:30)? And St John (1 John 5:3), His commandments are not grievous? And David (Psa. 119:45), I will walk at large or liberty? Answer: The way is strait and narrow in respect of our nature; but yet broad and easy by His assisting grace and help. Here then we see what course we must take if we mean to come unto Christ; namely, we must tread in this narrow way, and become like unto Him in suffering afflictions; for this way He went here on earth, and so entered into His glory.
2. The property of the way of death is breadth. Now the way of death is broad:
(1) First, because the way of sinning is manifold; even as truth is only one, and error manifold.
(2) Secondly, they that walk in this way break out of the bounds of GodŐs Word, and do not contain themselves therein.
(3) Thirdly, herein they meet with few crosses and impediments; as David saith (Psa. 73:5,12), They are not in trouble as other menÉ. they prosper always and increase in riches. And the reason is because they seek by all means to satisfy their heartŐs desire, whether by right or wrong; saying with the fool in the gospel (Luke 12:19), Soul, soul take thy rest, live at ease.
What men do in these ways; namely, the greatest part of men walk in the broad way, but few in the narrow way.
Hence we learn sundry instructions:
1. We must not be offended or discouraged when we see most men live either in a false religion, or in gross impiety; for the greatest part walk in the broad way.
2. We must not follow the multitude in matters of religion, but these that follow Christ, the patriarchs, prophets and apostles; for the most go wide, and the fewest hold the right way of life.
3. That universality is no mark of a true church; for the true church is in the strait way, but therein the smallest number walk.
4. Universal grace is a device of man; for few find the way of life, and therefore it is hid and unknown. If it be said that all might find it if they would; I answer: they cannot; for the word finding doth presuppose a seeking; as if Christ had said, Though many give themselves to seek the way of life, yet few there be that find it. The like phrase we have (Matt. 24:38), In the days of Noah they ate and drank; that is, they gave themselves to eating and drinking. Again, St Luke hath it thus (Luke 13:24), And shall not be able to find it. Why then do not the most find the way to life? Is it because they seek it not? No, verily; St Luke denies that. Why then is the way hid to the most, and revealed to few? This Christ teacheth us (Matt. 11:25,26): Because it so pleaseth God.
What must we do in regard of these two ways? We must enter, yea, as St Luke hath it (Luke 13:24), Strive to enter in at the strait way; and to pass by the broad way. This is the commandment of our Saviour Christ; wherein three things are enjoined us: First, that we must come in to this strait way, and eschew the broad way; secondly, we must not be discouraged for the straitness of the way; and thirdly, we must strive to enter in.
1. The first is a necessary duty in these times; for we are like unto mariners which pass by many pleasant countries and stately buildings, and do only behold them afar off, but not enter in to them, nor land upon them. We must therefore cease only to talk of the way of life, and begin to walk in it. If any shall ask how we may come to walk in this way, I answer: Read (Jer. 6:16), see there a notable lesson:
(1) First, we must enquire which is the old way, for the old way is the right way. But where shall we learn out the old way? Answer: In the Holy Bible. There shall we see the way that the patriarchs, prophets and apostles went.
(2) Secondly, having found the right way, we must labour to know all the turnings of it. We must see what things we are to believe and do, having the mystery of faith in a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19).
(3) Thirdly, we must walk in this way (Jer. 6:16), for it is not sufficient to know the will of God, and to make profession of religion, but we must put in practice the things which we know.
(4) And lastly, we must be circumspect to keep ourselves in the right way. (Hag. 1:5), Set your hearts on your ways. (Psa. 119:59), I considered my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
2. The second charge in this commandment is that when we walk in the way to life, the straitness of the way must not discourage us from going forward therein. This is the principal point intended by our Saviour Christ in this commandment, even to arm us with courage and perseverance against afflictions, crosses and temptations, which might dismay and daunt us in this way. And in this charge we are taught sundry weighty duties to be practised in the profession of ChristŐs true religion.
(1) That we are not to give ourselves the liberty of heart which nature desireth in all of us; but we must restrain ourselves thereof, and bring our minds, our thoughts, affections, our wills, speeches and actions into the straits of the Word of God. This restraint of our natural desire is twofold: by the law and by the gospel.
(i) In the law, every commandment ministereth its particular restraint, as we shall see in their order.
(a) The first commandment concerns the having of the true God for our God. By nature we take liberty to ourselves to conceive of God at our own pleasure; for commonly men conceive of God out of the Trinity, and worship the persons one without another. The Jew, the Turk and all the heathen will not be restrained of this liberty; but the people of God who submit themselves to His Word, then by this law are restrained of this natural desire, and are taught to choose and have to themselves the true God for their God; and to conceive aright of this God; namely, that He is one in essence and three in Person, and that the Persons must be worshipped in the unity of the Godhead; for as they are one in nature, so we must unite them in one and the same worship.
Again, by nature, we take liberty to ourselves to forget the true God, and in our own hearts do set up a false god unto ourselves. Some make riches their god, some honours, some pleasures; for look whereon a man bestows his heart and his affections, as his love, his fear, and confidence; that he makes his god. And hence it comes that some in judgment hold the true God, and yet have a false god unto themselves in their hearts. But the first commandment restrains us of this liberty also; and it enjoins us to bestow our whole heart, and all our affections, on the true God; loving, fearing and trusting in Him above all.
Thirdly, our nature is to exalt ourselves and to ascribe something unto ourselves, esteeming the good things that be in us, as of ourselves, and as though they were our own. Whereby we take to ourselves something that is proper to God, becoming like to the prodigal child which would have his portion to himself severed from his father. With this natural pride was David puffed up when he numbered the people. But the first commandment restrains us of this also, prescribing unto us the duty of inward adoration; which we perform, first, when we give unto Him all the honour that we can, esteeming ourselves but dust and ashes, and ascribing unto Him all the good that is in us, as from Him. Secondly, when we subject ourselves unto Him wholly as our Creator, and do submit our hearts, will and conscience to His holy Word.
And these be the strait ways which this commandment prescribes us.
(b) The second commandment concerns GodŐs outward worship; and it puts unto us many restraints. Our nature desires to conceive of God in some form, and to represent Him in some image; but the Lord is a Spirit, and this commandment enjoins us to worship Him in spirit and truth, and to conceive of Him in His works and properties, restraining our natural desires of conceiving and representing God.
Secondly, it is our nature to perform outward worship unto God only, but for any further thing we would take liberty to ourselves; we would give Him only the outward bodily worship, as come to church, hear the Word, pray outwardly and receive the sacraments. But the Lord in this commandment gives us charge that with as great care and conscience, we would give unto Him the inward worship of the heart; for God must be served with the whole man, our love, and fear, and trust in God, must be conformable to our outward worship.
Further, every man almost can be content to profess religion, and to perform so much as the laws of his country require for the service of God; but yet they would take liberty in their callings to live as they list. But GodŐs commandment restrains this desire also. We must hold religion not only in the church, but also shew the same in our lives and conversations; and therefore is the second table joined with the first, to teach us that we must perform duty to God in the service of man.
(c) The third commandment concerns the holy use of the holy things of God, especially of His Word and sacraments. Now for the outward work of hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments, we are content to perform them; but we would have God think Himself satisfied with the work done. But this commandment restrains us of this desire, enjoining us not only to use His holy things, but also in an holy manner; that is, with repenting and believing hearts; for they are not holy to us, unless we use them in and by faith and repentance.
Again, we take liberty to use GodŐs Name in oaths, and specially in vows, as in baptism, which we renew when we come to the LordŐs table; but herein we ordinarily abuse this His holy Name, not having like care to make good our vows unto God, as we have to make them.
(d) The fourth commandment concerns the time of GodŐs worship. We ourselves would have all times in our own disposing, and we think it hard to be restrained of any time; but this commandment restrains us of this desire, binding us in conscience to give one day in seven to the honour of God, in His public and solemn worship.
(e) The fifth commandment concerns the giving of honour and reverence to superiors; and it restrains us of our natural desire, which is to seek for, and to take honour unto ourselves alone; for this enjoineth us to give honour one to another, especially to them to whom it belongs, as to all superiors in authority, in gifts, or age. Let this be your honour, saith Paul (Rom. 13:7), to give honour to whom it belongs.
(f) The sixth commandment concerneth murder; and it restraineth our natural desire, which is upon small occasion, to conceive malice and to bear grudging against our brother, forbidding all thoughts, words, deeds, and gestures, which tend to the impairing or destroying of our neighbourŐs life and person.
(g) The seventh commandment concerneth chastity; and it restrains manŐs nature, which desires to take liberty in uncleanness and fornication both of heart and life; and it binds us to abstain from all speech, action or gesture which tends to the hindrance of our own, or of our neighbourŐs chastity; for God is holy and pure, and so ought our bodies and minds to be, which are temples of His blessed Spirit.
(h) The eighth commandment concerneth our neighbourŐs goods; and it restrains our corrupt nature, which desires to have liberty by all means good and bad to enrich ourselves. And it enjoineth us both in will and word, and in traffic also, to seek the common good; and the good of those with whom we live. Again, this also restrains our natural desire of abundance, enjoining us to seek only for necessaries, as food and raiment; for we may not seek to be rich, yet if God gives us more than things necessary in the labours of our calling, then we are to bless God for them, and to use them to His glory. This is a strait way to the worldly man, but it must stand, and we must walk in it, if we would enter into life.
(i) The ninth commandment concerns our neighbourŐs good name; and it restrains us of our natural desire, which is to conceive and speak unto others, as also to receive from others, evil report of our neighbour; and on the contrary, it enjoins us, by all good means to seek to preserve our neighbourŐs good name and credit.
(j) The tenth commandment is touching lust. Whenas we hurt no man in word or deed, then we take it for granted that we may think what we will, no laws restrain thought; that we hold to be free. But this commandment restrains the very first motions of our hearts, which tend to hurt our brotherŐs life, chastity, goods, or good name, though they never come into practice, yea, though we never give consent of will thereto.
And these are the restraints of the law, whereto we must conform ourselves, if we would enter into life.
(ii) Now follow the restraints of the gospel, which is a part of GodŐs Word touching remission of sins and salvation. By nature we desire to stand upright and righteous before God by some good thing in ourselves; as the rich man in the gospel, he demands of Christ, What good thing shall I do to be saved? (Matt. 19:16). Again, it is our nature not to look to be saved by anything out of ourselves; if we have nothing else, our good meaning and good hope must save us. But the gospel restrains us of these desires, and enjoineth us to renounce ourselves in the matter of salvation, and all that is in us; and to depend upon a righteousness out of ourselves in the Person of Christ, which is His obedience and suffering. Again, we naturally desire to enjoy GodŐs mercy by sense and feeling; but the gospel restrains us of this kind of assurance, which comes by sense and feeling, and enjoins us to hold and keep GodŐs mercy by believing only, both in life and death, though we have no sense thereof at all.
Further, the gospel renews the law for the manner of loving; for the moral law required that we should love another as we do ourselves, but the gospel requires us to love one another as Christ loved us; which is a greater measure of love than the law required. For Christ loved us more than Himself; for He gave Himself for us; and so ought we to love even our enemies. And thus we see how the gospel also restrains us from following our own natural desires, and enjoineth us to walk in the narrow way to life; whereto, as also to the restraints of the law, we must apply ourselves, our thoughts, words and deeds. So doing, we walk in the strait way that leadeth unto life. But if we any way exempt ourselves according to our natural desire from any of these restraints, we then walk in the broad way that leadeth to destruction.
(2) Seeing we must be content with the straitness of the way, we learn that when God lays any crosses or afflictions upon us, we must not repine or grudge, but bear the same with patience, and suffer God to break us of our own wills, resting contented in ourselves with the will of God alone; for this is grace, and a sure testimony that we walk in the strait way to life.
(3) In the case of confession and profession of true religion, when we be called thereto, we must be content to forsake goods, friends, yea, and life itself, rather than by enjoying them suffer ourselves to be driven out of this strait way to life. My life (saith Paul) is not dear unto me, so that I may fulfil my course with joy (Acts 20:24).
(4) Lastly, whosoever is puffed up with the pride of his own heart, is too stately to stoop under the strait door that leadeth to the way of life. He therefore that would walk in this strait way, must cast away all pride of heart, and humble himself for his own sins, making himself nothing in himself. Except you be converted and become as little children (who are not proud and haughty), ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. But he that humbleth himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3,4).
3. The third charge given us by our Saviour Christ concerning the strait way of life, is noted by St Luke: that we must strive to enter into it (Luke 13:24). From whence we are taught that our principal care must be above all things to come into the way of life everlasting; so much the word striving imports. It is said that when John first preached, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent took it by force (Matt. 11:12); that is, there was such forwardness and zeal in them that heard John preach, to procure to themselves the kingdom of heaven, that they strove most earnestly to get in. (Psa. 132: 1-5), David sware unto the Lord and vowed a vow unto the mighty God of Jacob, that he would not enter into the tabernacle of his house, nor come upon his bed, nor suffer his eyes to sleep, till he had found a place for GodŐs ark; where he with the rest of his people might come and pray unto the Lord, and receive answer from Him again. Now look what zeal was in them that heard John, and what care was in David for the outward place of GodŐs worship, the like must be in every one of us for the obtaining of reconciliation and life everlasting.
Use 1. Hereby many that live in the church of God may justly be reproved; for a number there be that though they may partake of the Word and sacraments, yet are most negligent of their salvation, using no means to obtain reconciliation with God, and to come by life everlasting. And this they do profess: that they will leave all to God, relying wholly on His mercy without using any means on their part to attain thereto. But these men sin most grievously, and are their own deadly enemies; for they ought to consider this commandment, which condemneth their security, and straitly enjoins everyone to strive to come into the strait way, and to walk therein.
And because this duty is so necessary, I will use some reasons to persuade them hereto.
(1) Consider this: When the Philistines were assembled, and had Samson in the midst among them to make sport, if they had known what he was about to do when he leaned to the pillars of the house where they sat, they would have pressed to the doors and windows, and there have striven to have got out, because of the imminent danger that was unto their bodily lives. Well, all those persons that are cold in their profession, and careless of religion, they have the wrath of God hanging over their heads; and while they walk thus dissolutely in the broad way, their condemnation sleepeth not, but makes post-haste upon them; and if they continue and go forward in this careless course, they shall as certainly perish in GodŐs wrath, as the Philistines did by the hand of Samson. And therefore as they desire to escape damnation, so let them be careful to cast off this damnable security.
(2) If an angel from heaven should come and assure us from God that life everlasting did belong to us; Oh, we would count it a blessed message. Well, look when we turn from the broad way, and walk in the strait way of life, we have as good security of our salvation, as if an angel from heaven should certify us thereof; for true repentance is an infallible note of a child of God, to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven. The consideration whereof ought to stir up all careless persons to return from their evil ways, and to strive to come into this strait way, and to walk therein unto the end.
And yet to induce them further to this duty, I will seek to take from them those excuses which they make to themselves:
(1) First, they say, God is merciful; and therefore they will rely thereon, and take no further care for their souls. Answer: God indeed is merciful, but His mercy is only found of them that strive to enter in at the strait gate. As for those that walk in the broad way, it belongs not to them (Deut. 29:19,20). (1 Pet. 4:18), And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly appear?
(2) Secondly, they say, at least in heart, that it is the easiest matter in the world to come by life everlasting. If they can call on God when they are dying, all is well. And therefore they will not lend their outward ears to hear, nor apply their minds to conceive and learn that which they may do by nature. And if they do come to the congregation, yet it is for custom or for fear of punishment, not for conscience. But these men deceive themselves. They consider not what Peter saith, that the righteous shall scarcely be saved; and what St Luke addeth to this exhortation of Christ (Luke 13:24), that many shall seek to enter into the door of life, and shall not be able; because they neglected the time of grace, and used not good means in due season.
(3) Thirdly, they make this common objection, that either they are elect or reprobate. If they be elect, then let them live as they list, they shall be saved; but if God have eternally rejected them, though they live never so religiously, yet they shall be condemned. And many deceive themselves with this reason. But they must know that they judge amiss of GodŐs decree, and the wickedness of this reason may appear by the like: God hath decreed the certain term of every manŐs life in this world, as well as his future estate after this life. Now if any man hereupon should reason thus: If God have decreed that I shall live longer, then I shall surely live; if He have decreed that I shall live no longer, then I shall surely die, for GodŐs decree must stand; and therefore I will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor use means to preserve my life. If any should thus do upon this ground, would not all men judge him to be a murderer of himself? And surely, he is no less a murderer of his soul, that upon GodŐs predestination, will take occasion of liberty to live as he list; for GodŐs decree of the end includes the ordinary means that bring thereto. Again, they are to know that there is a double will of God: His revealed will made known in His Word, and His secret or unrevealed will, whereby He hath determined with Himself what shall be the eternal estate of every person, which is not known unto us ordinarily, but by the event. The revealed will of God must be the rule of our obedience, and according to it must we frame and square our lives; but His secret will we must honour and reverence, not making any rules from it, whereby to frame our lives. Now these persons they have the written Word, and betake themselves to His unrevealed will, and out of it will make rules how they will live; but herein they sin greatly, in framing to themselves new rules, leaving His Word, whereby they should order and guide their lives. Thirdly, I answer that this reason hath in it a plain falsehood; for they that are predestinated to life, are chosen to live a godly life in faith, repentance, and obedience, that they might be like to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). And indeed, it is impossible that he which lives in wickedness all his life long, and so dies, should be saved; as also that he which lives a godly life unto the end should be condemned; for God hath decreed the means as well as the end.
Use 2. This charge of Christ, for striving to enter in at the strait door, correcteth also a second sort of men, which are of the better sort; for commonly the best men are too careless in regard of this duty of striving. And it may be said of us, as Christ said of the church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:15), We are neither hot nor cold; we strive not to go one before another in holy duties; worldly cares and pleasures do dull us and make us faint in this duty of striving. But we must take heed of security, and revive our obedience to this commandment, making this our principal care, to come to life eternal. And all worldly care must come under this; for consider the fearful judgment that hangs over such as are slack in this duty; it is destruction as well as to those that are profane. Because thou art neither hot nor cold; I will spue thee out of my mouth (v.16); for seeing that God continues His gospel unto us, we ought answerably to increase in knowledge, in faith, and in all obedience. David professeth that his heart brake in sunder for the desire that he had to GodŐs judgments always (Psa. 119:20). We commonly spend our wit and strength about worldly affairs, in matter of commodity and delight; but DavidŐs practice ought to be a pattern unto us; for our chiefest strife must be to attain eternal life.