Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil. I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
~ Proverbs 4:26-27, Proverbs 8:20, Isaiah 35:8, Jeremiah 6:16
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
~ Mark 8:34
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
~ Matthew 20:16
Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
~ Romans 9:32
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
~ Romans 12:2
Those That Are Saved Are Very Few, With Very Much Difficulty, by Thomas Shepard. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Five of his work, The Sincere Convert.
That those that are saved are very few; and that those that are saved are saved with very much difficulty.
“Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
~ Matt. vii. 14.
Here are two parts: –
The paucity of them that shall be saved: few find the way thither.
The difficulty of being saved: strait and narrow is the way and gate unto life.
Hence arise two doctrines: –
1. That the number of them that shall be saved is very small. (Luke xiii.24.) The devil hath his drove, and swarms to go to hell, as fast as bees to their hive. Christ hath his flock, and that is but a little flock; hence God’s children are called jewels, (Mal. iii. 17,) which commonly are kept secret, in respect of the other lumber in the house; hence they are called strangers and pilgrims, which are very few in respect of the inhabitants of the country through which they pass; hence they are called sons of God, (1 John iii. 2;) of the blood royal, which are few in respect of common subjects.
But see the truth of this point in these two things: –
First, look to all ages and times of the world; secondly, to all places and persons in the world; and we shall see few men were saved.
1. Look to all ages, and we shall find but a handful saved. As soon as ever the Lord began to keep house, and there were but two families in it, there was a bloody Cain living, and a good Abel slain. And as the world increased in number, so in wickedness. Gen. vi. 12, it is said, “All flesh had corrupted their ways,” and amongst so many thousand men, not one righteous but Noah and his family, and yet in the ark there crept in a cursed Cham.
Afterwards, as Abraham’s posterity increased, so we see their sin abounded. When his posterity was in Egypt, where, one would think, if ever men were good, now it would appear, being so heavily afflicted by Pharaoh, being by so many miracles miraculously delivered by the hand of Moses, yet most of these God was wroth with, (Heb. iii. 12,) and only two of them, Caleb and Joshua, went into Canaan, a type of heaven. Look into Solomon’s time, what glorious times? what great profession was there then? Yet, after his death, ten tribes fell to the odious sin of idolatry, following the command of Jeroboam, their king. Look further into Isaiah’s time, when there were multitudes of sacrifices and prayers, (Is. i. 11;) yet then there was but a remnant; nay, a very little remnant, that should be saved. And look to the time of Christ’s coming in the flesh, (for I pick out the best time of all.) when one would think, by such sermons he preached, such miracles he wrought, such a life as he led, all the Jews would have entertained him; yet it is said, “He came unto his own, and they received him not.” So few, that Christ himself admires at one good Nathaniel, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” In the apostles’ time, many, indeed, were converted, but few comparatively, and amongst the best churches many bad, as that at Philippi. (Phil. iii. 18.) Many had a name to live, but were dead, and few only kept their garments unspotted. And presently, after the apostles’ time, “Many grievous wolves came and devoured the sheep; “and so, in succeeding ages, (Rev. xii. 9,) all the earth wondered at the whore in scarlet.
And in Luther’s time, when the light began to arise again, he saw so many carnal gospellers, that he breaks out in one sermon into these speeches: “God grant I may never live to see those bloody days that are coming upon an ungodly world.” Latimer heard so much profaneness in his time, that he thought verily doomsday was just at hand. And have not our ears heard censuring those in the Palatinate, where (as it is reported) many have fallen from the glorious gospel to Popery, as fast as leaves fall in autumn? Who would have thought there had lurked such hearts under such a show of detesting Popery as was among them before? And at Christ’s coming, shall he find faith on the earth?
2. Let us look into all places and persons, and see how few shall be saved. The world is now split into four parts, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America; and the three biggest parts are drowned in a deluge of profaneness and superstition; they do not so much as profess Christ; you may see the sentence of death written on these men’s foreheads. But let us look upon the best part of the world, and that is Europe; how few shall be saved there! First, the Grecian church, how-soever, now in these days, their good patriarch of Constantinople is about a general reformation among them, and hath done much good, yet are they for the present, and have been for the most part of them, without the saving means of knowledge. They content themselves with their old superstitions, having little or no preaching at all. And for the other parts, as Italy, Spain, France, Germany, for the most part they are Popish; and see the end of these men. (2 Thess. ii. 9-12.) And now amongst them that carry the badge of honesty, I will not speak what mine ears have heard and my heart believes concerning other churches: I will come into our own church of England, which is the most flourishing church in the world; never had church such preachers, such means; yet have we not some chapels and churches stand as dark lanterns without light, where people are led with blind, or idle, or licentious ministers, and so both fall into the ditch?
Nay, even amongst them that have the means of grace, but few shall be saved. It may be sometimes amongst ninety-nine in a parish, Christ sends a minister to call some one lost sheep among them. (Matt, xiii.) Three grounds were bad where the seed was sown, and only one good. It is a strange speech of Chrysostom in his fourth sermon to the people of Antioch, where he was much beloved, and did much good. How many do you think, saith he, shall be saved in this city? It will be a hard speech to you, but I will speak it; though here be so many thousands of you, yet there can not be found a hundred that shall be saved, and I doubt of them too; for what villainy is there among youth! what sloth in old men! and so he goes on. So say I, Never tell me we are baptised, and are Christians, and trust to Christ; let us but separate the goats from the sheep, and exclude none but such as the Scriptures doth, and sets a cross upon their doors, with, Lord, have mercy upon them, and we shall see only a few in the city shall be saved.
Cast out all the profane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, liars, which the Scripture brands for black sheep, and condemns them in a hundred places.
Set by all civil men that are but wolves chained up, tame devils, swine in a fair meadow, that pay all they owe, and do nobody any harm, yet do none any great good; that plead for themselves, and say, Who can say, Black is mine eye? These are righteous men, whom Christ never came to call. “For he came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Cast by all hypocrites, that like stage players, in the sight of others, act the part of kings and honest men; when, look upon them in their trying house, they are but base varlets.
Formal professors and carnal gospellers, that have a thing like faith, and like sorrow, and like true repentance, and like good desires, but yet they be but pictures; they deceive others and themselves too. (2 Tim. iii. 5.)
Set by these four sorts, how few then are to be saved, even among them that are hatched in the bosom of the church!
First. Here, then, is a use of encouragement. Be not discouraged by the name of singularity. What! do you think yourself wiser than others? and shall none be saved but such as are so precise as ministers prate? Are you wiser than others, that you think none shall go to heaven but yourself? I tell you, if you would be saved, you must be singular men, not out of faction, but out of conscience. (Acts xxiv. 16.)
Secondly. Here is matter of terror to all those that be of opinion that few shall be saved; and therefore, when they are convinced of the danger of sin by the word, they fly to this shelter: If I be damned, it will be woe to many more beside me then; as though most should not be damned. O, yes, the most of them that live in the church shall perish; and this made a hermit which Theodoret mentions to live fifteen years in a cell in a desolate wilderness, with nothing but bread and water, and yet doubted, after all his sorrow, whether he should he saved or not. O, God’s wrath is heavy, which thou shalt one day bear.
Thirdly. This ministereth exhortation to all confident people, that think they believe, and say, they doubt not but to be saved, and hence do not much fear death. O, learn hence to suspect and fear your estates, and fear it so much that thou canst not be quiet until thou hast got some assurance thou shalt be saved. When Christ told his disciples that one of them should betray him, they all said, “Master, is it I? “But if he had said eleven of them should betray him, all except one, would they not all conclude, Surely, it is I? If the Lord had said, Only few shall be damned, every man might fear, It may be it is I; but now he says most shall, every man may cry out and say, Surely it is I. No humble heart but is driven to and fro with many stinging fears this way; yet there is a generation of presumptuous, brazen-faced, bold people, that confidently think of themselves, as the Jews of the Pharisees, (being so holy and strict,) that if God save but two in the world, they shall make one.
The child of God, indeed, is bold as a lion; but he hath God’s spirit and promise, assuring him of his eternal welfare. But I speak of divers that have no sound ground to prove this point, (which they pertinaciously defend,) that they shall be saved. This confident humour rageth most of all in our old professors at large, who think, that is a jest indeed, that having been of a good belief so long, that they now should be so far behindhand as to begin the work, and lay the foundation anew. And not only among these, but amongst divers sorts of people whom the devil never troubles, because he is sure of them already, and therefore cries peace in their ears, whose consciences never trouble them, because that hath shut its eyes; and hence they sleep, and sleeping dream that God is merciful unto them, and will be so; yet never see they are deceived, until they awake with the flames of hell about their ears; and the world troubles them not; they have their hearts’ desire here, because they are friends to it, and so enemies to God. And ministers never trouble them, for they have none such as are fit for that work near them; or if they have, they can sit and sleep in the church, and choose whether they will believe him. And their friends never trouble them, because they are afraid to displease them. And God himself never troubles them, because that time is to come hereafter. This one truth, well pondered and thought on, may damp thine heart, and make thy conscience fly in thy face, and say, “Thou art the man;” it may be there are better in hell than thyself, that art so confident; and therefore tell me, what hast thou to say for thyself, that thou shalt be saved? In what thing hast thou gone beyond them that “think they are rich and want nothing, who yet are poor, blind, miserable, and naked? ”
Thou wilt say, haply, first, I have left my sins I once lived in, and am now no drunkard, no swearer, no liar, &c. I answer, Thou mayest be washed from thy mire, (the pollution of the world,) and yet be a swine in God’s account, (2 Pet. ii. 20;) thou mayest live a blameless, innocent, honest, smooth life, and yet be a miserable creature still. (Phil. Hi. 6.)
But I pray, and that often. This thou mayest do, and yet never be saved. (Is. i. 11.) To what purpose is your multitude of sacrifices? Nay, thou mayest pray with much affection, with a good heart, as thou thinkest, yet a thousand miles off from being saved. (Prov. i. 28.)
But I fast sometimes, as well as pray. So did the scribes and Pharisees, even twice a week, which could not be public, but private fasts. And yet this righteousness could never save them.
But I hear the word of God, and like the best preachers. This thou mayest do too, and yet never be saved. Nay, thou mayest so hear, as to receive much joy and comfort in hearing, nay, to believe and catch hold on Christ, and so say and think he is thine, and yet not be saved; as the stony ground did, (Matt, xiii.,) who heard the word with joy, and for a season believed.
I read the Scriptures often. This you may do too, and yet never be saved; as the Pharisees, who were so perfect in reading the Bible, that Christ needed but only say, “It hath been said of old time;” for they knew the text and place well enough without intimation.
But I am grieved and am sorrowful, and repent for my sins past. Judas did thus, (Matt, xxvii. 3;) he repents himself with a legal repentance for fear of hell, and with a natural sorrow for dealing so unkindly with Christ, in betraying not only blood, but innocent blood. True humiliation is ever accompanied with hearty reformation.
O, but I love good men and their company. So did the five foolish virgins love the company, and (at the time of extremity) the very oil and grace of the wise; yet they were locked out of the gates of mercy.
But God hath given me more knowledge than others, or than I myself had once. This thou mayest have, and be able to teach others, and think so of thyself too, and yet never be saved.
But I keep the Lord’s day strictly. So did the Jews, whom yet Christ condemned, and were never saved.
I have very many good desires and endeavours to get to heaven. These thou and thousands may have, and yet miss of heaven.
Many shall seek to enter in at that narrow gate, and not be able. True, thou wilt say, Man)’ men do many duties, but without any life or zeal; I am zealous. So thou mayest be, and yet never be saved, as Jehu. Paul was zealous when he was a Pharisee, and if he was so for a false religion, and a bad cause, why, much more mayest thou be for a good cause; so zealous as not only to cry out against profane-ness in the wicked, but civil honesty of others, and hypocrisy of others, yea, even of the coldness of the best of God’s people; thou mayest be the fore horse in the team, and the ringleader of good exercises amongst the best men, (as Joash, a wicked king, was the first that complained of the negligence of his best officers in not repairing the temple,) and so stir them up unto it; nay, thou mayest be so forward as to be persecuted, and not yield an inch, nor shrink in the wetting, but mayest manfully and courageously stand it out in time of persecution, as the thorny ground did: so zealous thou mayest be, as to like best of and to flock most unto the most zealous preachers, that search men’s consciences best, as the whole country of Judea came flocking to John’s ministry, and delighted to hear him for a sea-son; nay, thou mayest be zealous as to take sweet delight in doing of all these things. (Is. lviii. 2, 3,) “They delight in approaching near unto God,” yet come short of heaven.
But thou wilt say, True, many a man rides post that breaks his neck at last; many a man is zealous, but his fire is soon quenched, and his zeal is soon spent; they hold not out; whereas I am constant, and persevere in godly courses.
So did that young man; yet he was a graceless man. (Matt. xix. 20,) “All these things have I done from my youth; what lack I yet? ”
It is true, hypocrites may persevere; but they know themselves to be naught all the while, and so deceive others; but I am persuaded that I am in God’s favour, and in a safe and happy estate, since I do all with a good heart for God.
This thou mayest verily think of thyself, and yet be deceived and damned, and go to the devil at last. “There is a way,” saith Solomon, “that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.” For he is a hypocrite not only that makes a seeming outward show of what he hath not, but also that hath a true show of what indeed there is not. The first sort of hypocrites deceive others only; the latter, having some inward yet common work, deceive themselves too. (James i. 26,) “If any man seem to be religious,” (so many are, and so deceive the world;) but it is added, “deceiving his own soul.” Way, thou mayest go so fairly, and live so honestly, that all the best Christians about thee may think well of thee and never suspect thee, and so mayest pass through the world, and die with a deluded comfort that thou shalt go to heaven and be canonised for a saint in thy funeral sermon, and never know thou art counterfeit till the Lord brings thee to thy strict and last examination, and so thou receivest that dreadful sentence, “Go, ye cursed.” So it was with the five foolish virgins, that were never discovered by the wise, nor by themselves, until the gate of grace was shut upon them. If thou hast, therefore, no better evidences to show for thyself, that thine estate, is good, than these, I will not give a pin’s point for all thy nattering false hopes of being saved. But it may be thou hast never yet come so far as to this pitch; and if not, Lord, what will become of thee? Suspect thyself much, and when, in this shipwreck of souls, thou seest so many thousands sink, cry out, and conclude, It is a wonder of wonders, and a thousand and a thousand to one, if ever thou comest safe to shore.
O, strive, then, to be one of them that shall be saved, though it cost thee thy blood and the loss of all that thou hast; labour to go beyond all those that go so far and yet perish at the last. Do not say that, seeing so few shall be saved, therefore this discourageth me from seeking, because all my labour may be in vain. Consider that Christ here makes another and a better use of it. (Luke iii 21.) Seeing that “many shall seek and not enter, therefore,” saith he, “strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Venture, at least, and try what the Lord will do for thee.
Wherein doth the child of God, and so how may I, go beyond these hypocrites that go so far?
In three things principally.
First. No unregenerate man, though he go never so far, let him do never so much, but he lives in some one sin or other, secret or open, little or great. Judas went far, but he was covetous. Herod went far, but be loved his Herodias. Every dog hath his kennel; every swine hath his swill, and every wicked man his lust. For no unregenerate man hath fruition of God to content him, and there is no man’s heart but it must have some good to content it; which good is to be found only in the fountain of all good, and that is God, or in the cistern, and that is in the creatures. Hence, a man having lost full content in God. he seeks for and feeds upon contentment in the creature which he makes a god to him; and here lies his lust or sin, which be must needs live in. Hence, ask those men that go very far, and take their penny for good silver, and commend themselves for their good desires – I say, ask them if they have no sin. Yes, say they; who can live without sin? And so they give way to sin, and therefore live in sin. Nay, commonly, all the duties, prayers, care, and zeal of the best hypocrites are to hide a lust, as the whore in the Proverbs, that wipes her mouth, and goes to the temple, and pays her vows; or to feed a lust, as Jehu his zeal against Baal was to get a kingdom. There remains a root of bitterness in the best hypocrites, which, howsoever it be lopped off sometimes by sickness or horror of conscience, and a man hath purposes never to commit again, yet there it secretly lurks; and, though it seemeth to be bound and conquered by the word, or by prayer, or by outward crosses, or while the hand of God is upon a man, yet the inward strength and power of it remains still; and therefore, when temptations, like strong Philistines, are upon this man again, he breaks all vows, promises, bonds of God, and will save the life of his sin.
Secondly. No unregenerate man or woman ever came to be poor in spirit, and so to be carried out of all duties unto Christ. If it were possible for them to forsake and break loose forever from all sin, yet here they stick, as the scribes and Pharisees; and so, like zealous Paul before his conversion, they fasted and prayed, and kept the Sabbath, but they rested in their legal righteousness, and in the performance of these and the like duties. Take the best hypocrite, that hath the most strong persuasions of God’s love to him, and ask him why he hopes to be saved. He will answer, I pray, read, hear, love good men, cry out of the sins of the time. And tell him again that a hypocrite may climb these stairs and go as far, he will reply, True, indeed; but they do not what they do with a sound heart, but to be seen of men. Mark, now, how these men feel a good heart in themselves and in all things they do; and therefore feel not a want of all good, which is poverty of spirit; and therefore here they fall short. (Is. lxvi. 2.) There were divers hypocrites forward for the worship of God in the temple; but God loathes these, because not poor in spirit; to them only, it is said, the Lord will look. I have seen many professors very forward for all good duties, but as ignorant of Christ, when they are sifted, as blocks. And if a man (as few do) know not Christ, he must rest in his duties, because he knows not Christ, to whom he must go and be carried if ever he be saved. I have heard of a man that, being condemned to die, thought to escape the gallows, and to save himself from hanging, by a certain gift he said he had of whistling. So men seek to save themselves by their gifts of knowledge, gifts of memory, gifts of prayer; and when they see they must die for their sins, this is the ruin of many a soul, that, though he forsake Egypt and his sins and flesh pots there, and will never be so as he hath been, yet he never cometh into Canaan, but loseth himself and his soul in a wilderness of many duties, and there perisheth.
Thirdly. If any unregenerate man come unto Christ, he never gets into Christ, that is, never takes his eternal rest and lodging in Jesus Christ only. (Heb. iv, 4.) Judas followed Christ for the bag; he would have the bag and Christ too. The young man came unto Christ to be his disciple; but he would have Christ and the world too. They will not content themselves with Christ alone, nor with the world alone, but make their markets out of both, like whorish wives, that will please their husbands and others too. Men in distress of conscience, if they have comfort from Christ, they are contented; if they have salvation from hell by Christ, they are contented; but Christ himself contents them not. Thus far a hypocrite goes not. So much for the first doctrine observed out of the text.