Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
The thing that I will chiefly labour in, is (according to the drift of the place) to show what things ought of necessity to be in every one that would be saved. It will be excellent matter of direction to all those that are yet unconverted, and of resolution and confirmation to such as have truly cared to walk the way that leadeth unto life.
1. The first thing which by authority of this text of Scripture ought to be in every one that desireth salvation, is a right understanding and a true acknowledgment of his own wandering. Reason itself must needs yield to this in other things, and it must needs be true in this. How shall I persuade a man to enter into the strait gate, if he do not feel and perceive himself to be in a way in which it is not safe for him to continue? If we look into the Scripture we shall see good proof for this point, namely, that the acknowledgment of our by-past error is the very first degree unto sound conversion. Deceive we not ourselves, either we must begin here at the sight of our old errors, or else we can never tread the path that leadeth unto life.
2. The next thing which by the rule of my text must be in every one that would be saved, is, care to seek out the true way, and that path, which leadeth and bringeth the goers in it unto life. This is plain also (as to me seemeth) by this Scripture; for as the light of a man's ancient wandering must go before his entrance into a new course, so of necessity when he perceiveth his errors, the right way must be sought outs and certainly understood, before he can enter there into; so that He which bids me enter into the gate of life, bids me withal to seek where that gate is, for otherwise my desire of entrance is in vain. If a master do will his servant to go to such a house, it is presupposed that either he cloth know the way to it, or else must make inquiry for it. And this care to inquire out the true way in this particular, is the plain doctrine of the Scripture (Jeremiah 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; Acts 17:11; 1 Kings 18:21).
3. The third thing which this text necessarily commendeth unto us, if we would be saved, is a resolution when we have felt our error, and found the right way and the true gate, all delays laid aside to make a present entry. If you ask how I prove this by my text, I thus make it manifest. So here, the commandment and charge being given indefinitely, without any express limitation of any set time, it fol-loweth that it is presently to be performed. Our Saviour saith not, enter hereafter when thou art more at leisure; or to the young man, enter when thou art old; or to the old man, enter when thou art a-dying; or to the covetous man, enter when thou hast glutted thy desire with wealth; or to the drunkard, enter when thou art utterly disabled that thou canst be drunk no longer: but He saith to all, at the instant "Enter"; do it presently, do it straightway, defer not to do it. And this is also the plain doctrine of the Scripture — "I made haste," saith David, "and I delayed not to keep Thy commandments." It is commended in Peter and Andrew, that when Christ called them, they left their nets straightway. When Christ called Zaccheus, the text saith, that he "came down hastily." The reason why there must be a resolution of present entrance is, because as there is a time of grace, in the which the gate of mercy stands open, so there is a time of judgment, in which this gate mill be shut up, and all hope of entry utterly removed.
4. The fourth thing which now followeth to be treated of, is the entrance itself; our former wandering must be felt, the right and true way must be sought for; when it is found, a resolution of present entrance must be put on; and then next we must put forward. "Enter in at the strait gate." To this act of entrance there are two things required, the first is (that I may use terms agreeable to my text) stooping; the second, a stripping of ourselves of whatsoever may hinder our entrance. First, there must be a kind of stooping, because the coming in is low. It is said of heaven in the Scripture, that "it is a house not made with hands." Now, as in the matter thereof it is differing from our earthly buildings, so is it in the framing and contriving of it. In great men's houses, it is a great eyesore to see a little, low, and pinching entry to a large and spacious dwelling; but to the end all things may be answerable, as the house is of great receipt, so the gates must be high and lofty, and the coming in according. But now in this house which is eternal in the heavens it is otherwise. Indeed it is large within, "For in My Father's house" (saith Christ) "are many mansions"; but yet the gate unto it is exceeding low, the entry narrow, the passing in very strait. It is the gate of humility. Well, it followeth, together with this stooping, there must go (as I said) a certain stripping of ourselves also; he that would go through a strait way, a narrow entry, it is no wisdom for him to clog himself with many things about him; he had need rather to lighten himself, that he may go through with the greater ease. The covetous man with his bags, the swearer with his great oaths, that malicious man that swells with his malice, the ambitious with his high thoughts, the vicious with his minions, the drunkard with his full cups; these and the like to these can never enter here with their dependances. What sin soever thou hast formerly delighted in, if it were to thee as thy right hand, or thy right eye, thou must cut it off and cast it from thee, thou must strive to strip thyself of it, or else this gate is much too little for thee to go in at. This is like the hole the snake creepeth through, where he leaves his old skin behind him. If thou mean to come here, thou must then say with St. Peter, "It is enough for me that I have spent the time past of my life, after the lusts of the Gentiles, walking in wantonness, lusts, drunkenness, gluttony, drinkings, and in abominable idolatries." Other things, better things, are now expected of me; even that henceforth, "I should live, not after the lusts of men, but after the will of God." It is an excellent place. I could bring in a cloud of witnesses to make good this point, that old sins must be stripped off, when we once put our foot to the threshold of this strait gate.
5. The fifth thing, then, which by the authority and strength of this text ought to be in every one that desireth salvation, is a continual proceeding and going on in good things. I doubt not but you shall see this plainly proved to be comprehended in the text. Our Saviour here compareth heaven to a place from which by nature we are all estranged; true religion is the way leading unto it, humility (the denial of ourselves, and the renouncing the bypast pleasures of sin) is the gate entering us into this way. Now the use, you know, of a way, is for travellers, not for idle loiterers, or vain gazers, or time-deluding triflers; such is this spiritual way, it is a way leading to life, and therefore requireth a continual proceeding, from step to step, from grace to grace, without desisting, without tiring, until the journey's end be reached unto: and this is the express doctrine of the Scripture. The enterers into this gate of life must not stand (as it were) about the door, and sit them down as soon as they have begun to taste of good things, but there is a way before them to be travelled in; and, as through the necessity of nature, they come every day nearer to the end of their days, so by the power of grace they must strive to come every day nearer to the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls. Let us apply it.
(1) To reprove that which hath been reproved often, but is not yet reformed, and that is our slackness, and our sluggishness in spiritual things.
(2) Well, for a second use; if it be so dangerous a thing not to go forward, what is it, think we, to go backward, to decay, and grow cold in our love to good things. "Their last state" (saith our Saviour) "will be worse than their first." And, "it is better not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known, to turn from the holy commandment given unto them." The evil spirit that is once cast out, bringeth with him "seven devils worse than himself." Now to this going on and proceeding in the way to life there are sundry things belonging which it is very meet that we should be made acquainted with; they are impertinent neither to the matter nor to the text.
1. The first is, continual guidance and direction. A man that is to journey in a way unknown will not be satisfied with this alone that he is set into the right way, but considering the possibility of erring, he will furnish himself with as many directions as he can, glad he will be of any man's company that understandeth the way; sometime he will be at the charge rather than fail to hire a man that may conduct him. The way of peace which leadeth unto happiness, is a way which flesh and blood is not acquainted with, and the nature of man is of itself very subject to mistaking; therefore his duty that would grow in godliness is to get unto him the direction of some sure guide, which will not deceive him, that so he may not fail of the end and mark which he desireth. The head guide is the Lord Jesus, He hath recommended His directions unto us in His Word; and for the common benefit and instruction of His Church, He hath given gifts unto men, and enabled them to lay open the mystery of the Scripture, and by this His ordinance He guides and directs those that are in His eternal counsel ordained unto life.
2. The second thing that must accompany our purpose of going on in the way to happiness, is circumspection and an earnest heeding of our course. So much is very manifest by the text. You see here, that as the gate of entrance is termed "strait," so the way of progress is called "narrow." Now a narrow way requireth heedfulness, a little slipping, or going to this side or that, may breed a great deal of inconvenience. And if we examine the Scripture we shall see the like heed-taking required in this spiritual journey. The third thing which must accompany our purpose of going on in the way of happiness is a resolution and preparation for such encumbrances as may meet us on the way. It is wisdom, we know, in travelling to be prepared for the weather, to be armed against such as lie in wait to spoil, and do many times make a prey of the goods, nay even of the lives, of the passersby, so in this case, inasmuch as a man intending to proceed in the ways of God shall be assaulted with many grievances, it is good policy both to put on a resolution to wrestle with them, and to be armed so that he may prevail against them. The last thing which must accompany our purpose of going on, is an often calling the course passed to an account, to see whether it be right and straight, yea or no; he who journeyeth in a way which he is not acquainted with, it is wisdom for him ever and anon to be mindful of the directions which were given him, and to remember the marks which were told him, the turnings and the by-paths which he was warned of, to the end that by thinking hereupon, if he finds he is right, he may proceed with comfort; if he be deceived, he may return quickly before he has wandered too far and erred overmuch. So it must be in this way.
Parallel VersesKJV: Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.