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Thoughts upon Striving to enter at the strait Gate.
AS certainly as we are here now, it is not long but we shall all be in another World, either in a World of Happiness, or else in a World of Misery, or if you will, either in Heaven or in Hell. For these are the two only places which all Mankind from the beginning of the World to the end of it, must live in for evermore, some in the one, some in the other, according to their carriage and behaviour here; and therefore it is worth the while to take a view and prospect now and then of both these places, and it will not be amiss if we do it now; for which end, I desire the Reader in his serious and composed Thoughts to attend me first into the celestial Mansions, above yonder glorious Sun and the Stars themselves, where not only the Cherubins and Seraphins, Angels and Archangels, but many also of our Brethren, the Sons of Men, at this very moment are enjoying the Presence, and singing forth the Praises of the most high God. There are the Spirits of just Men made perfect, perfect in themselves, and perfect in all their Actions, perfectly free from all both Sin 201and and Misery, perfectly full of all true Grace and Glory, all their Faculties being reduced to that most perfect and excellent frame and constitution, that their Understandings are continually taken up with the contemplations of the supreme Truth, and their wills in the embracement of the chiefest Good; so that all the Inclinations of their Souls rest in God as in their proper Centre, in whom by consequence they enjoy as much at they can desire, yea as much as they can be made capable of desiring. For all those infinite Perfections that are concentred in God himself, are now in their possession, to solace and delight themselves in the full and perfect enjoyment of them; by which means they are as happy as God himself can make them, insomuch that at this very moment methinks we may all behold them so ravished, so transported with their celestial Joys, that it may justly strike us into admiration, how ever Creatures which once were sinful, could be made so pure, so perfect, and altogether so happy as they are. And could we but leave our Bodies for a while below, and go up to take a turn in the new Jerusalem that is above, we could not but be ravish’d and transported at the very sight both of the Place and Inhabitants, every one being far more glorious than the greatest Emperors 202of this World, with nothing less than Crowns of Glory on their Heads, and Scepters of Righteousness in their Hands, where they think of nothing but of the Glory of God, discourse of nothing but praising him, do nothing but adore and worship him; in a word, whatsoever is agreeable to our Natures, whatsoever is desirable to our Souls, whatsoever can any way conduce to make Men happy, is fully, perfectly, eternally enjoyed, by all and every Person that is in Heaven. Whereas on the other side, if we bring down our thoughts from Heaven, and send them as low as Hell, to consider the most deplorable estate and condition of those who inhabit the Regions of Darkness, them we shall find as miserable as the other are happy; not only in that they are deprived of the Vision and fruition of the chiefest good, but likewise in that they are in continual pain and torment, as great as infinite Justice can adjudge them to, and infinite Power inflict upon them; insomuch, that could we lay our Ear to the entrance of that bottomless Pit, what howlings and shriekings should we hear, what weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the midst of those infernal Flames, where, as our Saviour himself tells us, The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, Mar. ix. 44. That is, 203where their Consciences are always gnawed and tormented with the remembrance of their former Sins, and the Fire of God’s Wrath is continually burning in them, never to be quenched or abated. For certainly as the smiles and favour of the eternal God, constitute the Joys of Heaven, so do his frowns and anger make up the Flames of Hell. To see him that made us displeased with us, to see Mercy it self to frown upon us, to see the great and all-glorious Creator of the World, the chiefest Good to look angrily upon us, and to mean himself offended at us, and incensed against us! Methinks the very thoughts of it are sufficient to make the stoutest Heart amongst us tremble: But then what shall we think of those poor Souls that see and feel it? What shall we think of them? Questionless they are more miserable than we are able to think them to be. For we cannot possibly conceive either the greatness of Heavens Glory, or the sharpness of Hell Torments, only this we know, and may be certain of, that whatsoever is ungrateful to their Minds, whatsoever is troublesome to their Thoughts, whatsoever is contrary to their Desires, whatsoever is painful to their Bodies, or whatsoever is or can be destructive and tormenting to 204their Souls, that all they who are once in Hell, shall fear and feel that for ever.
BUT this is too sad and doleful a Subject to insist on long, neither should I have mentioned it, but for our own Good; and to prepare us the better, both for the understanding and improving the Advice of out Saviour, Matth. vii. 13, 14. Enter ye in at the streight Gate, &c. The meaning of which Words, in brief, may be reduced to these three Heads.
FIRST, that it is an easy matter to go to Hell, that Place of Torments we have now been describing, and by Consequence that many go thither; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leadeth thither.
SECONDLY, that it is a hard and difficult thing to get to Heaven, that Place of Joys we before spake of, and by Consequence that but few get thither, For strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to it.
LASTLY, howsoever difficult it is, our Saviour would have us strive to get to Heaven, so as to press through that strait gate, and walk in that narrow way that leadeth into life.
AS for the first, that the gate is wide, and the way broad, that leads to Hell, or that it is an easy matter to go thither, I 205need not use many Words to prove it. For though there be but few that mind it, dare say there is scarce any one but believes it, yea and hath oftentimes found it too true by Experience, even that it is an easy matter to sin, and that, we know, is the broad way that leads to Hell; so broad, that they that walk in it can find no Bounds or Limits in it, wherewithin to contain themselves; neither are they ever out of their way, but go which way they will, they are still in the ready way to Ruine and Destruction. And usually it is as plain as broad, so that Men rarely meet with any Roughness or Trouble in it, but rather with all the Pleasures and Delights which they desire, who look no higher than to please the Flesh; yea whatsoever it is that they naturally desire, they still meet with it in the Road to Hell; and whatsoever is ungrateful irksome to them, they are never troubled with it in the ways of Sin. There are no Crosses to be taken up, no self to be denyed; but rather indulged and gratifyed; there are no such tedious and troublesome things as examining our Hearts, and mortifying our Lusts, as praying or hearing, as fasting or watching: These are only to be found in the narrow Path that leads to Heaven, the broad way to Hell is altogether 206unacquainted with them, being strewed all along with carnal Pleasures and sensual Delights, with popular Applause, and earthly Riches, and such fine things as silly Mortals use to be taken with.
AND hence it is, that as our Saviour tells us, many there be which find this way, and go in at this wide Gate that leads to Ruin, because they see not whither it leads, but they see the Baits and Allurements which are in it, which they cannot but crowd about as Fishes about the Hook, or as Flies about a Candle, till they be destroyed. Yea, this way to Destruction is so broad, that almost all the World is continually walking in it; the Gate so wide that thousands at a time pass through it. And therefore we may well conclude it is an easy thing to go to that Place of Torments which even now we spake of, or rather that it is an hard, a difficult matter to keep out of it; the way being so narrow that carries from it that it is a difficult thing to find it, and the way so broad that leads unto it that none can miss of it that hath but a mind to walk in it.
BUT I hope none of my Readers have so, God forbid they should have a mind to go to Hell; their taking religious Books into their Hands is rather an Argument that they have a mind to go to Heaven, 207and read on purpose to learn the way thither. And we do well to take all Opportunities of finding out the way to Bliss; for we may assure our selves it is a very narrow one, it is hard to find it out, but touch more hard to walk in it; for it is a way very rarely trodden, so that there is scarce any Path to be seen, most People going either on one side, or else on the other side of it; some running into the By-paths of Error, Heresy, or Schism, others into the broad way of Profaneness or Security: Insomuch that there are but very few that hit upon the right Path that leads directly to the New Hierusalem, the Place of rest. I speak not this of my self; no, Christ himself, that came from Heaven to Earth, on purpose to shew us the way from Earth to Heaven, saith, That strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
AND let not any think that Christ spoke these Words in vain, or that it is no great matter whether we believe what he said or no. For questionless, one great Reason why so few ever come to Heaven, is because most think it so easy to get thither that they need not take any Care or Pains about it. For even amongst our selves, to whom the Gospel is so clearly revealed, 208Men generally think if they do but read the Scriptures, and hear Sermons, and live honestly with their Neighbours so as to harm no body, but pay every one their own, then they shall as surely come to Heaven as if they were there already; nay, many are so simple as to think that their Separation from the Church Militant on Earth is the way to bring them to the Church Triumphant in Heaven; and others so ridiculous as to believe that a Death-bed Repentance is sufficient to entitle them to eternal Life. But stay a while: It is not so easy a matter to get to Heaven. Indeed to me it seems one of the greatest Mysteries in the World, that ever any Man or Woman should come thither, that such sinful Worms as we are, who are born in Sin, and live so long in Sin and Rebellion against the great Creator of the World, should ever be received so far into his Grace and Favour as to enjoy Life and eternal Happiness in him. And did we look no farther than our selves, we might justly despair of ever obtaining so transcendent Glory which we are so altogether unworthy of. But the Goodness of God both is and hath been so great to Mankind, that there is none of us but in and through the Merits of Christ Jesus, is in a Capacity of it. But we must not think that 209it is so easy a thing to come to Heaven, as the Devil, the World, and our own base Hearts, would persuade us it is: if we do, we are never likely to come thither; no, we may assure our selves, as Heaven is the greatest Good that we can attain, so doth it require our greatest Care and Study imaginable to attain it.
THIS therefore is that which I shall endeavour to convince Men of, and account my self happy if I can do it. For, I dare say, there is none of us but desire to see Christ in Glory, and to be happy with him and in him for ever; but that we can never be, unless we do whatsoever is required of us in order to it; and if we think it is so easy a matter to do whatsoever is required of us, I have just Cause to suspect that we never yet made tryal of it, nor set our selves seriously upon the Performance of those Duties which are enjoyned us here in Reference to our being happy for ever. For if we have set upon it in good earnest, we cannot but have found it very hard and difficult, by reason of our natural averseness from what is Good, and inclinations unto Evil. For we all know, that without Holiness no Man shall see the Lord, Heb. xii. 14. So that Holiness is the way, the direct and only way that leads to Heaven neither is there any way imaginable 210of being happy hereafter but by being holy here. And though it be an easy thing to profess Holiness, and to perform some external Acts of it; yet to be truly pious and holy indeed, so as we must be if ever we would go to Heaven, this is every whit as difficult as the other is easy.
FOR, first, I suppose, all will grant that he is not truly holy that lives in any known Sin, as the Apostle also intimates, saying, He that is born of God doth not commit sin, 1 Joh. iii. 9. And therefore he that still indulgeth himself in the Commission of any known Sin, he is not yet regenerate or born of God, he is not truly holy. So that to our being so holy here, as that we may be happy hereafter, it is absolutely and indispensably necessary that we forsake and avoid to the utmost of our Power whatsoever is offensive unto God and contrary to his Laws. But it is as difficult as it is necessary to forsake Sin as we ought to do. It is an easy matter, I confess, to rail at Sin, to backbite others, or blame our selves for it. But that is not the Business; but to loath our Sins as much as ever we loved them, to abhor as much as ever we desired them, and to be as much averse from them as ever we were inclined to them, to forsake Sin as Sin, and by consequence all Sin whatsoever, one as well as 211another; so as to deny our selves all that Pleasure we were wont to take in any Sin, and all that seeming Profit which we used to receive by it, and that too, out of love to God and fear of his Displeasure. This is to forsake Sin indeed, but it is sooner spoken of than done; and it requires a great deal of time and skill, and pains to get so great a Conquest over our selves as this is, to cut off our Right Hand, pluck out our Right Eye, and cast it from us; even renounce and forsake those very beloved and darling Sins, which the Temper and Constitution of our Bodies, the Corruption of our Hearts, and constant Custom and Practice hath made in a manner natural to us. So that our very Natures must be changed, before we can ever leave them. And therefore it must needs be a matter of as great Difficulty as it is of Moment, to master and subdue those Sins and Lusts that have been long predominant in us, which I dare say many of us have found by their own sad and woful Experience, having struggled perhaps many Years against some Corruption, and yet to this Day have not got it under, nor totally subdued it. And it is such, and such alone, who are competent Judges in this Case; for they that never strove against their Sins, cannot know how strong they are, nor how 212hard it is to conquer them. And therefore it is to those who have made it their Business to destroy and mortify their Lusts, that I appeal, Whether it be not hard to do it. I am confident they cannot but have found it, and therefore must needs acknowledge it to be so; and by Consequence that it is no easy matter to get to Heaven, seeing it is so hard to keep out of Hell, and to avoid those Sins which otherwise will certainly bring us thither; every Sin unrepented of having eternal Punisment entailed upon it.
AND if it be so hard to forsake Sin, how difficult must it needs be to perform all those Duties, and to exert all those Graces which are necessarily required, in order to our attaining everlasting Happiness. It is true, praying and hearing, which are the ordinary means for the obtaining true Grace and Holiness, are Duties very common and customary amongst us, but they are never the easier because they are common, but rather far more difficult. For we being accustomed to a careless and perfunctory performing these Duties, cannot but find it an hard and difficult matter to keep our Hearts so close unto them, as to perform them as we ought to do, and so as that we may be really said to do them. For we must not think that fitting 213at Church while the word of God is preached, is hearing the word of God, or that being prefect there whilst Prayers are read, is real praying. No, no, there is a great deal more required than this to our praying to the great God aright; insomuch that for mine own part, I really think that Prayer, as it is the highest, so is it the hardest Duty that we can be engaged in. All the faculties of our Souls, as well as members of our Bodies, being obliged to put forth themselves in their several Capacities, to the due performance of it.
AND as for those several Graces and Virtues which our Souls must be adorned withal, before ever they can come to Heaven, though it be easie to talk of them, it is not so to act them, I shall instance only in some few; as to love God above all things, and other things only for God’s sake, to hope on nothing but God’s Promises, and to fear nothing but his Displeasure; to love other Mens Persons, so as to hate their Vices, and so to hate their Vices as still to love their Persons; not to covet Riches when we have them not, nor trust on them when we have them; to deny our selves that we may please God, and to take up our Cross that we may follow Christ; to live above the World whilst we are in it, and to despise it while we use it; to be always 214upon our watch and guard, strictly observing not only the outward Actions of our Life, but the inward Motions of our Hearts; to hate those very Sins which we used to love, and to love those very Duties which we used to hate; to chuse the greatest Affliction before the least Sin, and to neglect the getting of the greatest gain, rather than the performing of the smallest Duty; to believe Truths which we cannot comprehend, merely upon the testimony of one whom we never saw; to submit our wills to God’s, and delight out selves in obeying him; to be patient under sufferings, and thankful for all the troubles we meet with here below; to be ready and willing to do or suffer any thing we can for him, who hath done and suffered so much for us, to cloath the naked, feed the hungry, relieve the indigent, and rescue the oppressed to the utmost of our power: In a word, to be every way as pious towards God, as obedient to Christ, as loyal to our Prince, as faithful to our Friends, as loving to our Enemies, as charitable to the Poor, as just in our Dealings, as eminent in all true Grace and Virtue, as if we were to be saved by it, and yet have no confidence in it, but still look upon our selves as unprofitable Servants, and depend upon Christ; 215and and Christ alone for Pardon and Salvation.
I suppose I need not tell any one that it is hard and difficult to perform such Duties, and to act such Graces as these are; but this let me tell the Reader, that how hard, how difficult soever it is, it must be done if ever we desire to come to Heaven, and by consequence it is no easie matter to come thither. Seeing therefore the way that leads to Heaven is thus narrow, and hard, it is no wonder that there are but few that walk in it, or indeed that find it out, as our Saviour himself assures us; for People generally love to swim with the Stream, to run with the Multitude, though it be into the Gulph of Sin and Misery. It is very rare to find one walking in the narrow way, and keeping himself within those bounds and limits wherewith it is enclosed; and this seems to have been the occasion of these words the Gospel of St. Luke, where one said unto Christ, Lord, are there few that be saved? and our Saviour answered in these words, Strive to enter in at the strait Gate. For many I say unto you will seek to enter in, and shall not be able, Luk. xiii. 23, 24. Intimating not only that there are but few that shall be saved, but likewise that many of those that seek to be saved shall not attain 216it; not as if any of those who really and cordially made it their business to look after Heaven, can never miss of it; but that many of those who presuming upon their seeming Obedience and good Works, shall think and seek that way to enter into the Kingdom of God, shall not be able. For many will say unto me at that Day, saith he, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you, Depart from me ye that work iniquity, Mat. vii. 22, 23. And if many of those who are great Professors of Religion, and make a plausible shew of Piety in the World, than notwithstanding come short of eternal Happiness, and if of those many which are called there are but few chosen, Mat. xx. 16. we may well conclude there are but few, but very few indeed that walk in the narrow path that leads to Life, in comparison of those innumerable multitudes that continually flock together in the broad way that leads to Ruin and Destruction. One great reason whereof is because Men generally, though they desire to go to Heaven, yet will not believe it to be so hard a thing as really it is, to get thither and therefore setting aside the superficial performance of some few external Duties, they give themselves 217no trouble, nor take any pains about it; as if Heaven was so contemptible a thing, that it is not worth their while to look after it; or howsoever, as if it was so easie a thing to attain it, that they cannot miss of it whether they look after it or no. Whereas questionless, as Heaven is the greatest Happiness that we are capable of, so is it the hardest matter in the World for any of us to attain it.
I say not this to discourage any one, bur rather to excite and encourage all to a greater care and diligence in the prosecution of eternal Happiness, than ordinarily Men seem to have. It is my hearty Desire and Prayer that every Soul among us may live and be happy for ever; but that we can never be, unless we be serious, earnest and constant in looking after it, more than after all things in the World besides. And therefore it is that I have endeavoured to convince Men that it is not so easie a thing as they seem to make it to go to Heaven, the Path being so exceeding narrow that leads unto it: Which 1 hope by this time we are all persuaded of, so as to be resolved within our selves to play no longer with Religion, but to set upon it in good earnest, so as to make it not only our great but our only business and design in this World, to prepare for another, and to 218work out our Salvation with fear and trembling, and by consequence to walk in that narrow way of true Piety and Virtue that leads to Heaven, without going aside into the Vices on either hand, or howsoever to use the utmost of our endeavour to observe the Rules which Christ hath prescribed us, in order to our living with him for ever. And oh that I knew what Words to take unto my self, and what Arguments to use, whereby to prevail with every Soul of us, to make it our business to get to Heaven; and by consequence to walk directly in the narrow way, and through the strait Gate that leads unto it. What influence or effect they may have upon the Readers, I know not, howsoever I shall endeavour to present them with some such Considerations, as I hope by the blessing of God, and the Assistance of his Grace, may be so forcible and prevalent upon them, if seriously. weighed, that they should not methinks be able to resist them.
LET us consider therefore in the first place, that though it be never so hard to get to Heaven, yet it is possible; and tho’ there be but few that come thither, yet there are some; and why may not you and I be in the number of those few as well as others? There are many perfect and most glorious Saints in Heaven at this moment, 219which once were sinful Creatures upon Earth as we now are; but it seems the way thither was not so narrow but they could walk in it, nor the Gate so strait but they could pass through it, and why may not we as well as they? We have the same Natures whereby we are capable of Happiness as they had, we have the same Scriptures to direct us to it as they had, we have the same Promises of Assistance as they had, we have the same Saviour as they had, and why then may not we get to the same place where they are? Is the Way more narrow, and the Gate more strait to us than it was to them? No surely, it is every way the same, why then should we despair of ever attaining everlasting Glory, seeing we are as capable of it as any one who hath yet attained it: It is true, if no mortal Men had ever got to Heaven, or God had said none should e’er come thither, then indeed it would be in vain for us to expect it, or to use any means to attain unto, it; but seeing many of our Brethren are already there, and many more will follow after them, and we are as capable of coming to them as any other, the straitness of the Gate, the narrowness of the Way, or the difficulty of getting thither, should never discourage us from endeavouring after it, go more than it did them, but rather make 220us the more diligent in the prosecution of it: Especially considering in the next place, that we are not only as yet in a capacity of getting to Heaven, but we are all invited thither, and that by God himself; for he would have all Men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim. ii. 4. Yea, he hath sworn by himself, saying, As I live saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live; and therefore calls upon us all, Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Ezek. xxxiii. 11. Hence it is that he sent his Prophets to invite us, Ho every one that thirsteth come ye to the waters, Isa. lv. 1. Yea he came down in his own Person to Earth, on purpose to invite us to Heaven, and to direct us the way thither, Come to me, saith he, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, Mat. xi. 29. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, Joh. iii. 16. Whence we may observe, that there is no exceptions made against any Person whatsoever, nor by consequence against any of us. It is the will, yea and command of God too, that we all turn from our evil ways and live, and that every 221Soul amongst us walk in that narrow way that leads unto eternal Bliss; and therefore if any of us do perish, Our blood will be upon our own heads, our destruction is from our selves, Hos. xiii. 9. For it is nothing but the perverseness of our own Wills, and the hardness, pride and obstinacy of our own Hearts, that can keep any Soul of us out of Heaven, howsoever difficult it is to come thither. For God hath shewn how desirous he is to have our Company there, in that he is still pleased to grant us both the space and means of Repentance. If he had no mind to have us saved, he could have shut us up long ago in Hell; but he is so far from that, that he doth not only as yet continue our abode on Earth, and lengthen our Tranquillity here, but he still vouchsafes unto us whatsoever is necessary, yea whatsoever can any ways conduce to our eternal Happiness; we have his Scriptures, we have his Sabbaths, we have his Ordinances, we have his Sacraments, we have his Ministers, we have the promise of his Spirit, we have the overtures of Christ, and of all the merits of his Death and Passion made unto us, and what can be desired more to make Men happy? And yet as if all this had not been enough, he still continues calling upon us, exhorting, commanding, yea and beseeching us most affectionately 222to turn that our Souls may live; for we his Ministers, are Embassadors to Mankind for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; We pray you in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God, 2 Cor. v. 20. And he hath sent me unto you that read this in a particular manner at this time, to call you back out of the broad way that leads to Death, into the narrow way that leads to Life and Happiness; In his name therefore I exhort, yea and beseech you by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service, Rom. xii. 1. Strive to enter in at the strait gate, and never leave until you have got possession of eternal Glory.
NOR let us be discouraged at any difficulties that we meet with in the way, for they will soon be over howsoever hard and difficult any Duty may seem at first, by Use and Custom it will soon grow easy. The worst is at first setting out, when once we have been used a while to walk in this narrow way, we shall find it to be both easy and pleasant: For as the wise Man tells us, The ways of Wisdom or true Piety, are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace, Prov. iii. 17. Though it be rough at first, by treading it will soon grow plain, we shall soon find the words of Christ to be 223true, that his yoke is easy, and his burden light, Matt. xi. 39. All is, but to be willing and obedient, and resolved upon it, to press through all Duties and Difficulties whatsoever to get to Heaven, and then by the Merits of Christ’s Passion, and the Assistance of his Grace, we need not fear but we shall come thither.
AND verily although the way to Heaven should prove not only narrow, but hedg’d in with Bryars and Thorns, so that we should meet with nothing but Crosses and Troubles in our going to it, yet Heaven will make amends for all. For we may well reckon with the Apostle, that the sufferings of this Life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that idea be revealed in us, Rom. viii. 18. So that whatsoever Pains we are at, whatsoever Trouble we suffer in order to our attaining everlasting Happiness, bears no proportion at all to the Happiness we attain by it; which is so great, so exceeding great that our Tongues can neither express, nor our Minds as yet conceive it, consisting not only in the freedom from all Evil, but also in the enjoyment of whatsoever is really and truly Good; even whatsoever can any way conduce to the making us perfectly and completely happy: So that no Duty can be too great to undertake, no Trouble too heavy 224to undergo for it. Wherefore, that I may use the words of the Apostle to my Readers, my beloved Brethren, be ye stedfast and immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your Labour shall not be in vain in the Lord, 1 Cor. xv. 58.
BY this time I hope we are all resolved within our selves, to follow our Saviour’s Counsel and Advice, even to strive to enter in at the strait Gate, and to walk in that narrow way that leads to Life. If we be not we have just cause to suspect our selves to be in the Gall of Bitterness and in the Bond of Iniquity; but if we be resolved in good earnest, we cannot but be very solicitous to know what we must do in order to it? or how everyone of us may enter in at the strait Gate, so as to be happy for ever? A Question of the highest importance imaginable: So that it is absolutely necessary for every Soul amongst us to be throughly resolved in it; for it concerns our Life, our immortal and eternal Life, and therefore I shall endeavour to resolve it in as few and perspicuous terms as portably I can, that the meanest Capacity may understand it. But I must take leave to say beforehand, that our knowing of it will signify nothing, unless we practice it, neither will you be ever the nearer Heaven 225because you know the way to it, unless you also walk in it.
AND therefore the first thing that I shall propound, in order to our eternal Salvation, is, that we would resolve immediately in the Presence of Almighty God, that we will for the future make it our great care, study and business in this World, to seek the Kingdom of God and the Righteousness thereof in the first place, according to our Saviour’s advice and command, Matth.. vi. 33. that we would not halt any longer between two Opinions, and think to seek Heaven and Earth together, things diametrically opposite to one another. If we really think Earth to be better than Heaven, what need we trouble our selves any farther, than to heap up the Riches, and to enjoy the Pleasures of this World: But if we really think Heaven to be better than Earth, as all wise Men must needs do, then let us mind that, and concern not our selves about this. We know what our Saviour told us long ago, No Man can serve two Masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold with the one and despise the other: you cannot serve God and Mammon, Matth. vii. 24. that is, in plain English, we cannot mind Heaven and Earth both together; for we can have but one grand and principal design in 226the World, and therefore if our principal design be to get Wealth or any earthly Enjoyment, we deceive our selves, if we think that we mind Heaven at all. For that we can never properly be said to do, until we mind it before all things whatsoever in the World besides; and let us not say, or think within our selves, that this is an hard saying, for we may assure our selves it is no more than what we shall all find to be really true, and that never a Soul of us shall ever know what Heaven is, that doth not first prefer it before all things here below, and by consequence make it his principal, if not only design to get thither.
SUPPOSING us, therefore to be thus resolved within our selves, my next Advice is, that we break off our former Sins by Repentance and shewing Mercy to the Poor, and that for the future we live not in the wilful commission of any known Sin, nor yet in the wilful neglect of any known Duty. Where it is evident I advise to no more than what all Men know themselves to be obliged to do; for I dare say, there is none of us knows so little, but what if he would but live up to what he knows, he could not but be both holy and happy. Let us but avoid what we our selves know to be Sin, and do what we know to be our Duty, and though our knowledge may not 227be so great as others, yet our Piety may be greater and our Condition better. But we must still remember, that one Sin will keep us out of Heaven as well as twenty; and therefore if we ever desire to come thither, we must not only do some or many things, but all things whatsoever is required of us, to the best of our knowledge. I speak not this of my self, but Christ himself hath told us the same before, even that we must keep the Commandments, all the Commandments, if we desire to enter into eternal Life, Matth. xix. 16, 17. Not as if it was indispensably necessary to observe every Punctilio and Circumstance of the Moral Law, for then no Man could be saved; but that it must be both our stedfast Resolution, and our chief Study and Endeavour to avoid whatsoever we know to be forbidden, and to perform whatsoever we know to be commanded by God.
AND though by this we shall make a fair progress in the narrow way to Life, yet there is still another step behind, before we can enter in at the strait Gate, and that is to believe in Jesus Christ, as our Saviour himself hath taught us, Matth. xix. 21. The sum of which Duty in brief is this, That when we have done all we can in obedience to the Moral Law, yet we must still look upon our selves as unprofitable 228Servants, and not expect to be justified or Caved by vertue of that Obedience, but only by the Merits of Christ’s Death and Passions; humbly confiding, that in and through him, the defects of our Obedience shall be remitted, our Persons accepted, our Natures cleansed, and our Souls eternally saved. This is not only the principal but the only thing which Paul and Silas directed the Keeper of the Prison to, in order to his Salvation, as comprehending all the rest under it, or at least supposing them, Acts xvi. 31.
THUS therefore though Obedience be the way, Faith is the Gate through which we must enter into Life. But seeing the Gate is strait as well as the Way narrow, and it is as hard to believe in Christ as to observe the Law, we must not think to do either by our own strength, but still implore the Aid and Assistance of Almighty God, and depend upon him for it. For Christ himself saith, No Man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him, John vi. 44. But we can never expect that he should draw us, unless we desire it of him. And therefore it must be our daily Prayer and Petition at the Throne of Grace, that God would vouchsafe us his especial Grace and Assistance, without which I cannot see how any one that knows his own Heart, 229can expect to be saved. But our Comfort is, if we do what we can God will hear our Prayers, and enable us to do what otherwise we cannot; for he never yet did, nor ever will fail any Man that sincerely endeavours to serve and honour him.
LASTLY, Although we are to trust in God for the answer of our Prayers in this particular, yet we must not expect that he should do it immediately from himself, but we must use those means which himself hath appointed whereby to work Faith, and by consequence all other Graces in us. Now the Scriptures tell us that Faith comes by hearing, Rom. x. 17. Wherefore if we desire to believe, so as to be saved, we must wait upon God in his publick Ordinances, and there expect such influences of his Grace and Spirit, whereby we may be enabled to walk in the narrow way, and enter in at the strait Gate that leads to life.
THUS I have shewn you in few terms, how to do the great Work which you came into the World about, even how to get to Heaven. For howsoever hard it is to come thither, let us but resolve, as we have seen, to mind it before all things else, fear God and keep his Commands to the utmost of our Power, believe in Christ for the pardon of our Sins, and the acceptance both of our Persons and Performances; pray sincerely 230unto God, and wait diligently upon him for the assistance of his Grace, to do what he requires from us. Let us do this and we need not fear but our Souls shall live. If we leave this undone we our selves shall be undone for ever. And therefore let me advise all to dally no longer in a matter of such consequence as this is, but now we know the way to Heaven to turn immediately into it, and walk constantly in it. Though the way be narrow it is not long, and though the Gate be strait, it opens into eternal Life. And therefore to conclude. Let us remember we have now been told how to get to Heaven, it is not in my power to force Men thither whether they will or no, I can only shew them the way. It is their Interest as well as Duty to walk in it, which if they do I dare assure them, in the name of Christ, it is not long but they will be admitted into the Choir of Heaven, to sing Halleluja’s for evermore.231
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