The  Strait  Gate   Part I
by John Bunyan  (1628-1688)

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." -Luke 13:24

    These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are, therefore, in especial manner to be heeded; besides, the subject matter of the words is the most weighty, to wit, how we should attain salvation, and therefore also to be heeded.

The occasion of the words was a question which one that was at this time in the company of the disciples put to Jesus Christ; the question was this, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (verse 23) A serious question, not such as tended to the subversion of the hearers, as too many now-a-days do; but such as in its own nature tended to the awakening of the company to good, and that called for such an answer that might profit the people also. This question also well pleased Jesus Christ, and he prepareth and giveth such an answer as was without the least retort, or show of distaste; such an answer, I say, as carried in it the most full resolve to the question itself, and help to the persons questioning. “And he said unto them, Strive to enter in,” &c. The words are an answer, and an instruction also. First. An answer, and that in the affirmative; the gate is strait—many that seek will not be able, therefore but few shall be saved. Second. The answer is an instruction also; “strive to enter in,” &c., good counsel and instruction; pray God help me, and my reader, and all that love their own salvation, to take it.

My manner of handling the words will be—[FIRST], By way of explication; and then [SECOND], By way of observation.


The words are to be considered, [FIRST], with reference to their general scope; and then [SECOND], with reference to their several phrases.

FIRST. The general scope of the text is to be considered, and that is that great thing—salvation; for these words do immediately look at, point to, and give directions about salvation: “Are there few that be saved? Strive to enter in at the strait gate.”

The words, I say, are to direct us not only to talk of, or to wish for, but to understand how we shall, and to seek that we may be, effectually saved, and therefore of the greatest importance. To be saved! what is like being saved? To be saved from sin, from hell, from the wrath of God, from eternal damnation, what is like it? To be made an heir of God, of his grace, of his kingdom, and eternal glory, what is like it? and yet all this is included in this word saved, and in the answer to that question, “Are there few that be saved?” Indeed this word SAVED is but of little use in the world, save to them that are heartily afraid of damning. This word lies in the Bible as excellent salves lie in some men’s houses, thrust into a hole, and not thought on for many months, because the household people have no wounds nor sores. In time of sickness, what so set by as the doctor’s glasses and gally-pots full of his excellent things? but when the person is grown well, the rest is thrown to the dunghill. [1]

O when men are sick of sin, and afraid of damning, what a text is that where this word saved is found! Yea, what a word of worth, and goodness, and blessedness, is it to him that lies continually upon the wrath of a guilty conscience? “But the whole need not a physician”; he therefore, and he only, knows what saved means, that knows what hell, and death, and damnation means. “What shall I do to be saved?” is the language of the trembling sinner. “Lord save me,” is the language of the sinking sinner; and none admire the glory that is in that word saved, but such as see, without being saved, all things in heaven and earth are emptiness to them. They also that believe themselves privileged in all the blessedness that is wrapt up in that word, bless and admire God that hath saved them. Wherefore, since the thing intended, both in the question and the answer, is no less than the salvation of the soul, I beseech you to give the more earnest heed. (Heb 12) But,

SECOND. To come to the particular phrases in the words, and to handle them orderly, in the words I find four things. First. An intimation of the kingdom of heaven. Second. A description of the entrance into it. Third. An exhortation to enter into it. And, Fourth, A motive to enforce that exhortation.


First. An intimation of the kingdom of heaven; for when he saith, “Strive to enter in,” and in such phrases, there is supposed a place or state, or both, to be enjoyed. “Enter in”; enter into what, or whither, but into a state or place, or both? and therefore when you read this word, “enter in,” you must say there is certainly included in the text that good thing that yet is not expressed. “Enter in”; into heaven, that is the meaning, where the saved are, and shall be; into heaven, that place, that glorious place, where God, and Christ, and angels are, and the souls or spirits of just men made perfect. “Enter in”; that thing included, though not expressed in the words, is called in another place, the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven. (Heb 12:23) And therefore the words signify unto us, that there is a state most glorious, and that when this world is ended; and that this place and state are likewise to be enjoyed, and inherited by a generation of men for ever. Besides, this word, “enter in,” signifieth that salvation to the full is to be enjoyed only there, and that there only is eternal safety; all other places and conditions are hazardous, dangerous, full of snares, imperfections, temptations, and afflictions, but there all is well; there is no devil to tempt, no desperately wicked heart to deliver us up, no deceitful lust to entangle, nor any enchanting world to bewitch us. There all shall be well to all eternity. Further, all the parts of, and circumstances that attend salvation, are only there to be enjoyed; there only is immortality and eternal life; there is the glory and fulness of joy, and the everlasting pleasures; there is God and Christ to be enjoyed by open vision, and more; there are the angels and the saints; further, there is no death, nor sickness, no sorrow nor sighing for ever; there is no pain, nor persecutor, nor darkness, to eclipse our glory. O this Mount Zion! O this heavenly Jerusalem! (2 Cor 5:1-4, Psa 16:11, Luke 20:35,36, Heb 12:22- 24)

Behold, therefore, what a great thing the Lord Jesus hath included by this little word, “IN.” In this word is wrapt up a whole heaven and eternal life; even as there is also by other little words in the holy Scriptures of truth: as where he saith, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” and “the election hath obtained it.” This should teach us, not only to read, but to attend in reading; not only to read, but to lift up our hearts to God in reading; for if we be not heedful, if he gives us not light and understanding, we may easily pass over, without any great regard, such a word as may have a glorious kingdom and eternal salvation in the bowels of it; yea, sometimes, as here, a whole heaven is intimated, where it is not at all expressed. The apostles of old did use to fetch great things out of the Scriptures, even out of the very order and timing of the several things contained therein. See Romans 4:9-11, Galatians 3:16,17, Hebrews 8:13. But,


Second. As we have here an intimation of the kingdom of heaven, so we have a description of the entrance into it, and that by a double similitude: I. It is called a gate; II. A strait gate— “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.”

[It is called a gate.]

I. It is set forth by the similitude of a gate. A gate, you know, is of a double use. It is to open and shut, and so, consequently, to let in or to keep out; and to do both these at the season; as he said, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot”; and again, “I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath.” (Neh 7:3, 13:19,20) And so you find of this gate of heaven, when the five wise virgins came, the gate was opened; but afterwards came the other virgins, and the door was shut. (Matt 25) So then, the entrance into heaven is called a gate, to show there is a time when there may be entrance, and there will come a time when there shall be none; and, indeed, this is a chief truth contained in the text—“Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” I read in the Scriptures of two gates or doors, through which they that go to heaven must enter. [2]

1. There is the door of faith, the door which the grace of God hath opened to the Gentiles. This door is Jesus Christ, as also himself doth testify, saying, “I am the door,” &c. (John 10:9, Acts 14:27) By this door men enter into God’s favour and mercy, and find forgiveness through faith in his blood, and live in hope of eternal life; and therefore himself also hath said, “I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved”; that is, received to mercy, and inherit eternal life. But,

2. There is another door or gate—for that which is called in the text a gate, is twice in the next verse called a door—there is, I say, another gate, and that is the passage into the very heaven itself; the entrance into the celestial mansion-house, and that is the gate mentioned in the text, [3] and the door mentioned twice in the verse that follows. And this Jacob called it, when he said, Bethel was the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven; that is, the entrance, for he saw the entrance into heaven. One end of Jacob’s ladder stands in Bethel, God’s house, and the other end reacheth up to the gate of heaven. (Gen 28:10-17) Jacob’s ladder was the figure of Christ, which ladder was not the gate of heaven, but the way from the church to that gate which he saw above at the top of the ladder. (Gen 28:12, John 1:51) But again, that the gate in the text is the gate or entrance into heaven, consider—

(1.) It is that gate that letteth men into, or shutteth men out of that place or kingdom where Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob is, which place is that paradise where Christ promised the thief that he should be that day, that he asked to be with him in his kingdom; it is that place into which Paul said he was caught, when he heard words unlawful or impossible for a man to utter. (Luke 13:28, 23:42, 2 Cor 12:1-6)

Quest. But is not Christ the gate or entrance into this heavenly place?

Answ. He is he without whom no man can get thither, because by his merits men obtain that world, and also because he, as the Father, is the donor and disposer of that kingdom to whom he will. Further, this place is called his house, and himself the Master of it—“When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door.” (Luke 13:25) But we use to say, that the master of the house is not the door. Men enter into heaven, then, by him, not as he is the gate, or door, or entrance, into the celestial mansion-house, but as he is the giver and disposer of that kingdom to them whom he shall count worthy, because he hath obtained it for them.

(2.) That this gate is the very passage into heaven, consider the text hath special reference to the day of judgment, when Christ will have laid aside his mediatory office, which before he exercised for the bringing to the faith his own elect; and will then act, not as one that justifieth the ungodly, but as one that judgeth sinners. He will now be risen up from the throne of grace, and shut up the door against all the impenitent, and will be set upon the throne of judgment, from thence to proceed with ungodly sinners.

Object. But Christ bids strive: “Strive” now “to enter in at the strait gate”; but if that gate be as you say, the gate or entrance into heaven, then it should seem that we should not strive till the day of judgment, for we shall not come at that gate till then.

Answ. Christ, by this exhortation, Strive, &c., doth not at all admit of, or countenance delays, or that a man should neglect his own salvation; but putteth poor creatures upon preparing for the judgment, and counselleth them now to get those things that will then give them entrance into glory. This exhortation is much like these: “Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.—And they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” (Matt 24:44, 25:10)

So that when he saith, “Strive to enter in,” it is as if he should say, Blessed are they that shall be admitted another day to enter into the kingdom of heaven; but they that shall be counted worthy of so unspeakable a favour, must be well prepared and fitted for it beforehand. Now, the time to be fitted is not the day of judgment, but the day of grace; not then, but now. Therefore, strive now for those things that will then give you entrance into the heavenly kingdom. But,

[It is called a strait gate.]

II. As it is called a gate, so it is called a strait gate—“Strive to enter in at the strait gate.”

The straitness of this gate is not to be understood carnally, but mystically. You are not to understand it, as if the entrance into heaven was some little pinching wicket; no, the straitness of this gate is quite another thing. This gate is wide enough for all them that are the truly gracious and sincere lovers of Jesus Christ, but so strait, as that not one of the other can by any means enter in: “Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord: this gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.” (Psa 118:19,20) By this word, therefore, Christ Jesus hath showed unto us, that without due qualifications there is no possibility of entering into heaven; the strait gate will keep all others out. When Christ spake this parable, he had doubtless his eye upon some passage or passages of the Old Testament, with which the Jews were well acquainted. I will mention two, and so go on.

1. The place by which God turned Adam and his wife out of paradise. Possibly our Lord might have his eye upon that; for though that was wide enough for them to come out at, yet it was too strait for them to go in at. But what should be the reason of that? Why, they had sinned; and therefore God “placed at the east of that garden cherubims, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24) The cherubims, and the flaming sword, they made the entrance too strait for them to enter in. Souls, there are cherubims and a flaming sword at the gates of heaven to keep the way of the tree of life; therefore none but them that are duly fitted for heaven can enter in at this strait gate; the flaming sword will keep all others out. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9,10)

(2.) Perhaps our Lord might have his eye upon the gates of the temple when he spoke this word unto the people; for though the gates of the temple were six cubits wide, yet they were so strait, that none that were unclean in anything might enter in thereat (Eze 40:48), because there were placed at these gates, porters, whose office was to look that none but those that had right to enter might go in thither. And so it is written, Jehoiada set “porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in anything should enter in.” (2 Chron 23:19) Souls, God hath porters at the gates of the temple, at the gate of heaven; porters, I say, placed there by God, to look that none that are unclean in anything may come in thither. In at the gate of the church, none may enter now that are openly profane, and scandalous to religion; no, though they plead they are beloved of God: “What hath my beloved to do in mine house,” saith the Lord, “seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many?” (Jer 11:15)

I say, I am very apt to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ had his thoughts upon these two texts, when he said the gate is strait: and that which confirms me the more in the things is this, a little below the text he saith, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28) Thrust out, which signifieth a violent act, resisting with striving those that would—though unqualified—enter. The porters of the temple were, for this very thing, to wear arms, if need were, and to be men of courage and strength, lest the unsanctified or unprepared should by some means enter in. We read, in the book of Revelations, of the holy city, and that it had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; but what did they do there? Why, amongst the rest of their service, this was one thing, that there might “in no wise enter in to it any thing that defileth, or worketh abomination, or that maketh a lie.” (Rev 21:27)

[Three things that make this gate so strait.]

But more particularly, to show what it is that maketh this gate so strait. There are three things that make it strait—1. There is sin. 2. There is the word of the law. 3. There are the angels of God.

1. There is sin; the sin of the profane, and the sin of the professor.

(1.) The sin of the profane. But this needs not be enlarged upon, because it is concluded upon at all hands, where there is the common belief of the being of God, and the judgment to come, that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psa 9:17)

(2.) But there is the sin of professors; or take it rather thus, there is a profession that will stand with an unsanctified heart and life. The sin of such will overpoise the salvation of their souls, the sin end being the heaviest end of the scale; I say, that being the heaviest end which hath sin in it, they tilt over, and so are, notwithstanding their glorious profession, drowned in perdition and destruction; for none such hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; therefore “let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience”; neither will a profession be able to excuse them. (Eph 5:3-6) The gate will be too strait for such as these to enter in thereat. A man may partake of salvation in part, but not of salvation in whole. God saved the children of Israel out of Egypt, but overthrew them in the wilderness:—“I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” (Jude 5) So we see that, notwithstanding their beginning, “they could not enter in, because of unbelief.” (Heb 3:19)

2. There is the word of the law, and that will make the gate strait also. None must go in thereat but those that can go in by the leave of the law; for though no man be, or can be, justified by the works of the law, yet unless the righteousness and holiness by which they attempt to enter into this kingdom be justified by the law, it is in vain once to think of entering in at this strait gate. Now the law justifieth not, but upon the account of Christ’s righteousness; if therefore thou be not indeed found in that righteousness, thou wilt find the law lie just in the passage into heaven to keep thee out. Every man’s work must be tried by fire, that it may be manifest of what sort it is. There are two errors in the world about the law; one is, when men think to enter in at the strait gate by the righteousness of the law; the other is, when men think they may enter into heaven without the leave of the law. Both these, I say, are errors; for as by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified; so without the consent of the law, no flesh shall be saved. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, before one jot or tittle of the law shall fail, till all be fulfilled.” He therefore must be damned that cannot be saved by the consent of the law. And, indeed, this law is the flaming sword that turneth every way; yea, that lieth to this day in the way to heaven, for a bar to all unbelievers and unsanctified professors; for it is taken out of the way for the truly gracious only. It will be found as a roaring lion to devour all others. Because of the law, therefore, the gate will be found too strait for the unsanctified to enter in. When the apostle had told the Corinthians that “the unrighteous should not inherit the kingdom of God,” and that such were some of them, he adds, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11) Closely concluding, that had they not been washed, and sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, the law, for their transgressions, would have kept them out; it would have made the gate too strait for them to enter in.

3. There are also the angels of God, and by reason of them the gate is strait. The Lord Jesus calleth the end of the world his harvest; and saith, moreover, that the angels are his reapers. These angels are therefore to gather his wheat into his barn, but to gather the ungodly into bundles to burn them. (Matt 13:39,41,49) Unless, therefore, the man that is unsanctified can master the law, and conquer angels; unless he can, as I may say, pull them out of the gateway of heaven, himself is not to come thither for ever. No man goeth to heaven but by the help of the angels—I mean at the day of judgment. For the Son of man “shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt 24:31) If those that shall enter in at the strait gate shall enter in thither by the conduct of the holy angels, pray when do you think those men will enter in thither, concerning whom the angels are commanded to gather them, to “bind them in bundles to burn them?” This, therefore, is a third difficulty. The angels will make this entrance strait; yea, too strait for the unjustified and unsanctified to enter in thither.


Third. I come not to the exhortation, which is, to strive to enter in. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” These words are fitly added; for since the gate is strait, it follows that they that will enter in must strive.

“Strive.” This word strive supposeth that great idleness is natural to professors; they think to get to heaven by lying, as it were, on their elbows. It also suggesteth that many will be the difficulties that professors will meet with, before they get to heaven. It also concludeth that only the labouring Christian, man or woman, will get in thither. “Strive,” &c.

Three questions I will propound upon the word, an answer to which may give us light into the meaning of it: I. What doth this word strive import? [4]

II. How should we strive? III. Why should we strive?

[Import of the word STRIVE.]

I. What doth this word strive import? Answer,

1. When he saith, Strive, it is as much as to say, Bend yourselves to the work with all your might. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl 9:10) Thus Samson did when he set himself to destroy the Philistines; “He bowed himself with all his might.” (Judg 16:30) Thus David did also, when he made provision for the building and beautifying of the temple of God. (1 Chron 29:2) And thus must thou do, if ever thou enterest into heaven.

2. When he saith, Strive, he calleth for the mind and will, that they should be on his side, and on the side of the things of his kingdom; for none strive indeed, but such as have given the Son of God their heart; of which the mind and will are a principal part; for saving conversion lieth more in the turning of the mind and will to Christ, and to the love of his heavenly things, than in all knowledge and judgment. And this the apostle confirmeth, when he saith, “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving,” &c. (Phil 1:27)

3. And, more particularly, this word strive is expressed by several other terms; as, (1.) It is expressed by that word, “So run that ye may obtain.” (1 Cor 9:24,25) (2.) It is expressed by that word, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Tim 6:12) (3.) It is expressed by that word, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” (John 6:27) (4.) It is expressed by that word, “We wrestle - with principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world.” (Eph 6:12) Therefore, when he saith, Strive, it is as much as to say, Run for heaven, Fight for heaven, Labour for heaven, Wrestle for heaven, or you are like to go without it.

[How should we strive?]

II. The second question is, How should we strive?

Answ. The answer in general is, Thou must strive lawfully. “and if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim 2:5) But you will say, What is it to strive lawfully? [I] answer—

1. To strive against the things which are abhorred by the Lord Jesus; yea, to resist to the spilling of your blood, striving against sin. (Heb 12:4) To have all those things that are condemned by the Word; yea, though they be thine own right hand, right eye, or right foot, in abomination; and to seek by all godly means the utter suppressing of them. (Mark 9:43,45,47)

2. To strive lawfully, is to strive for those things that are commanded in the Word.—“But thou, O man of God, flee the world, and follow after,” that is, strive for, “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life,” &c. (1 Tim 6:11,12)

3. He that striveth lawfully, must be therefore very temperate in all the good and lawful things of this life. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” (1 Cor 9:25) Most professors give leave to the world and the vanity of their hearts, to close with them, and to hang about their necks, and make their striving to stand rather in an outcry of words, than a hearty labour against the lusts and love of the world, and their own corruptions; but this kind of striving is but a beating of the air, and will come to just nothing at last. (1 Cor 9:26)

4. He that striveth lawfully, must take God and Christ along with him to the work, otherwise he will certainly be undone. “Whereunto,” said Paul, “I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Col 1:29) And for the right performing of this, he must observe these following particulars:—

(1.) He must take heed that he doth not strive about things, or words, to no profit; for God will not then be with him. “Of these things,” saith the apostle, “put them in remembrance; charging them before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” (2 Tim 2:14) But, alas! how many professors in our days are guilty of this transgression, whose religion stands chiefly, if not only, in a few unprofitable questions and vain wranglings about words and things to no profit, but to the destruction of the hearers!

(2.) He must take heed that whilst he strives against one sin, he does not harbour and shelter another; or that whilst he cries out against other men’s sin, he does not countenance his own.

(3.) In the striving, strive to believe, strive for the faith of the gospel; for the more we believe the gospel, and the reality of the things of the world to come, with the more stomach and courage shall we labour to possess the blessedness. (Phil 1:27) “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Heb 4:11)

(4.) As we should strive for, and by faith, so we should strive by prayer, by fervent and effectual prayer. (Romans 15:30) O the swarms of our prayerless professors! What do they think of themselves? Surely the gate of heaven was heretofore as wide as in these our days; but what striving by prayer was there then among Christians for the thing that gives admittance into this kingdom, over [what] there is in these latter days!

(5.) We should also strive by mortifying our members that are upon the earth. “I therefore so run,” said Paul, “not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached the gospel to others, I myself should be a cast-away.” (1 Cor 9:26,27) But all this is spoken principally to professors; so I would be understood.

[Why should we strive?]

III. I come now to the third question, namely, But why should we strive? Answer—

1. Because the thing for which you are here exhorted to strive, it is worth the striving for; it is for not less than for a whole heaven, and an eternity of felicity there. How will men that have before them a little honour, a little profit, a little pleasure, strive? I say again, how will they strive for this? Now they do it for a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. Methinks this word heaven, and this eternal life, ought verily to make us strive, for what is there again either in heaven or earth like them to provoke a man to strive?

2. Strive, because otherwise the devil and hell will assuredly have thee. He goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) These fallen angels, they are always watchful, diligent, unwearied; they are also mighty, subtle, and malicious, seeking nothing more than the damnation of thy soul. O thou that art like the artless dove, strive!

3. Strive, because every lust strives and wars against thy soul. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” (Gal 5:17) “Dearly beloved, I beseech you,” said Peter, “as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) It is a rare thing to see or find out a Christian that indeed can bridle his lusts; but no strange thing to see such professors that are “not only bridled, but saddled too,” yea, and ridden from lust to sin, from one vanity to another, by the very devil himself, and the corruptions of their hearts.

4. Strive, because thou hast a whole world against thee. The world hateth thee if thou be a Christian; the men of the world hate thee; the things of the world are snares for thee, even thy bed and table, thy wife and husband, yea, thy most lawful enjoyments have that in them that will certainly sink thy soul to hell, if thou dost not strive against the snares that are in them. (Rom 11:9)

The world will seek to keep thee out of heaven with mocks, flouts, taunts, threatenings, jails, gibbets, halters, burnings, and a thousand deaths; therefore strive! Again, if it cannot overcome thee with these, it will flatter, promise, allure, entice, entreat, and use a thousand tricks on this hand to destroy thee; and observe, many that have been stout against the threats of the world, have yet been overcome with the bewitching flatteries of the same. [5]

There ever was enmity betwixt the devil and the church, and betwixt his seed and her seed too; Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels, these make war continually. (Gen 3, Rev 12) There hath been great desires and endeavours among men to reconcile these two in one, to wit, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, but it could never yet be accomplished. The world says, they will never come over to us; and we again say, by God’s grace, we will never come over to them. But the business hath not ended in words; both they and we have also added our endeavours to make each other submit, but endeavours have proved ineffectual too. They, for their part, have devised all manner of cruel torments to make us submit, as slaying with the sword, stoning, sawing asunder, flames, wild beasts, banishments, hunger, and a thousand miseries. We again, on the other side, have laboured by prayers and tears, by patience and long- suffering, by gentleness and love, by sound doctrine and faithful witness-bearing against their enormities, to bring them over to us; but yet the enmity remains; so that they must conquer us, or we must conquer them. One side must be overcome; but the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.

5. Strive, because there is nothing of Christianity got by idleness. Idleness clothes a man with rags, and the vineyard of the slothful is grown over with nettles. (Prov 23:21, 24:30-32) Profession that is not attended with spiritual labour cannot bring the soul to heaven. The fathers before us were “not slothful in business,” but “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Therefore “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Rom 12:11, Heb 6:12)

“Strive to enter in.” Methinks the words, at the first reading, do intimate to us, that the Christian, in all that ever he does in this world, should carefully heed and regard his soul—I say, in all that ever he does. Many are for their souls by fits and starts; but a Christian indeed, in all his doing and designs which he contriveth and manageth in this world, should have a special eye to his own future and everlasting good; in all his labours he should strive to enter in: “Wisdom [Christ] is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Prov 4:7) Get nothing, if thou canst not get Christ and grace, and further hopes of heaven in that getting; get nothing with a bad conscience, with the hazard of thy peace with God, and that in getting it thou weakenest thy graces which God hath given thee; for this is not to strive to enter in. Add grace to grace, both by religious and worldly duties; “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8-11) Religious duties are not the only striving times; he that thinks so is out. Thou mayest help thy faith and thy hope in the godly management of thy calling, and mayest get further footing in eternal life, by studying the glory of God in all thy worldly employment. I am speaking now to Christians that are justified freely by grace, and am encouraging, or rather counselling of them to strive to enter in; for there is an entering in by faith and good conscience now, as well as our entering in body and soul hereafter; and I must add, that the more common it is to thy soul to enter in now by faith, the more steadfast hope shalt thou have of entering in hereafter in body and soul.

“Strive to enter in.” By these words also the Lord Jesus giveth sharp rebuke to those professors that have not eternal glory, but other temporal things in their eye, by all the bustle that they make in the world about religion. Some there be, what a stir they make, what a noise and clamour, with their notions and forms, and yet perhaps all is for the loaves; because they have eaten of the loaves, and are filled. (John 6:26) These strive indeed to enter, but it is not into heaven; they find religion hath a good trade at the end of it, or they find that it is the way to credit, repute, preferment, and the like, and therefore they strive to enter into these. But these have not the strait gate in their eye, nor yet in themselves have they love to their poor and perishing souls; wherefore this exhortation nippeth such, by predicting of their damnation.

“Strive to enter in.” These words also sharply rebuke them who content themselves as the angel of the church of Sardis, did, to wit, “to have a name to live, and be dead” (Rev 3:1), or as they of the Laodiceans, who took their religion upon trust, and were content with a poor, wretched, lukewarm profession; for such as these do altogether unlike to the exhortation in the text, that says, Strive, and they sit and sleep; that says, Strive to enter in, and they content themselves with a profession that is never like to bring them thither.

“Strive to enter in.” Further, these words put us upon proving the truth of our graces now; I say, they put us upon the proof of the truth of them now; for if the strait gate be the gate of heaven, and yet we are to strive to enter into it now, even while we live, and before we come thither, then doubtless Christ means by this exhortation, that we should use all lawful means to prove our graces in this world, whether they will stand in the judgment or no. Strive to enter in; get those graces now that will prove true graces then, and therefore try those you have; and if, upon trial, they prove not right, cast them away, and cry for better, lest they cast thee away, when better are not to be had. “Buy of me gold tried in the fire”; mark that. (Rev 3:18) Buy of me faith and grace that will stand in the judgment; strive for that faith; buy of me that grace, and also white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, that the shame of thy wickedness doth not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. Mind you this advice; this is right striving to enter in.

But you will say, How should we try our graces? Would you have us run into temptation, to try if they be sound or rotten? Answ. You need not run into trials; God hath ordained that enough of them shall overtake thee to prove thy graces either rotten or sound before the day of thy death; sufficient to the day is the evil thereof, if thou hast but a sufficiency of grace to withstand. I say, thou shalt have trials enough overtake thee, to prove thy grace sound or rotten. Thou mayest, therefore, if God shall help thee, see how it is like to go with thee before thou goest out of this world, to wit, whether thy graces be such as will carry thee in at the gates of heaven or no.

But how should we try our graces now? Answ. (a.) How dost thou find them in outward trials? See Hebrews 11:15,16. (b.) How dost thou find thyself in the inward workings of sin? (Rom 7:24) (c.) How dost thou find thyself under the most high enjoyment of grace in this world? (Phil 3:14)

But what do you mean by these three questions? I mean graces show themselves at these their seasons, whether they be rotten or sound.

(a.) How do they show themselves to be true under the first of these? Answ. By mistrusting our own sufficiency, by crying to God for help, by desiring rather to die than to bring any dishonour to the name of God, and by counting that, if God be honoured in the trial, thou hast gained more than all the world could give thee. (2 Chron 20:12, 14:11, Acts 4, 20:22, 2 Cor 4:17,18, Heb 11:24,25)

(b.) How do they show themselves to be true under the second? Answ. By mourning, and confessing, and striving, and praying, against them; by not being content, shouldst thou have heaven, if they live, and defile thee; and by counting of holiness the greatest beauty in the world; and by flying to Jesus Christ for life. (Zech 12:10, John 19, Heb 12:14, Psa 19:12)

(c.) How do they show themselves to be true under the third? Answ. By prizing the true graces above all the world, by praying heartily that God will give thee more; by not being content with all the grace thou canst be capable of enjoying on this side heaven and glory. (Psa 84:10, Luke 17:5, Phil 3)

“Strive to enter in.” The reason why Christ addeth these words, “to enter in,” is obvious, to wit, because there is no true and lasting happiness on this side heaven; I say, none that is both true and lasting, I mean, as to our sense and feeling as there shall [be]; “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Heb 13:14) The heaven is within, strive therefore to enter in; the glory is within, strive therefore to enter in; the Mount Zion is within, strive therefore to enter in; the heavenly Jerusalem is within, strive therefore to enter in; angels and saints are within, strive therefore to enter in; and, to make up all, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that glorious Redeemer, is within, strive therefore to enter in.

“Strive to enter in.” “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Without are also the devils, and hell, and death, and all damned souls; without is howling, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; yea, without are all the miseries, sorrows, and plagues that an infinite God can in justice and power inflict upon an evil and wicked generation; “Strive therefore to enter in at the strait gate.” (Rev 22:15, Matt 25:41, Rev 12:9, Is 65:13,14, Matt 22:13, Deu 29:18-20)

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”


Fourth. We are come now to the motive which our Lord urges to enforce his exhortation.

He told us before that the gate was strait; he also exhorted us to strive to enter in thereat, or to get those things now that will further our entrance then, and to set ourselves against those things that will hinder our entering in.

In this motive there are five things to be minded.

1. That there will be a disappointment to some at the day of judgment; they will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

2. That not a few, but many, will meet with this disappointment; “For many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

3. This doctrine of the miscarriage of many then, it standeth upon the validity of the word of Christ; “For many, I say, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

4. Professors shall make a great heap among the many that shall fall short of heaven; “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

5. Where grace and striving are wanting now, seeking and contending to enter in will be unprofitable then; “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

But I will proceed in my former method, to wit, to open the words unto you.

[Import of the words FOR MANY.]

“For many,” &c. If he had said, For some will fall short, it had been a sentence to be minded; if he had said, For some that seek will fall short, it had been very awakening; but when he saith, Many, many will fall short, yea, many among professors will fall short, this is not only awakening, but dreadful!

[Various applications of the word MANY.]—“For many,” &c. I find this word many variously applied in Scripture.

1. Sometimes it intendeth the open profane, the wicked and ungodly world, as where Christ saith, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” (Matt 7:13) I say, by the many here, he intends those chiefly that go on in the broad way of sin and profaneness, bearing the “tokens” of their damnation in their foreheads, those whose daily practice proclaims that their “feet go down to death, and their steps take hold on hell.” (Job 21:29,30, Isa 3:9, Prov 4)

2. Sometimes this word many intendeth those that cleave to the people of God deceitfully, and in hypocrisy, or, as Daniel hath it, “Many shall cleave to them with flatteries.” (Dan 11:34) The word many in this text includeth all those who feign themselves better than they are in religion; it includeth, I say, those that have religion only for a holiday suit [6] to set them out at certain times, and when they come among suitable company.

3. Sometimes this word many intendeth them that apostatize from Christ; such as for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away; as John saith of some of Christ’s disciples: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66)

4. Sometimes this word many intendeth them that make a great noise, and do many great things in the church, and yet want saving grace: “Many,” saith Christ, “will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt 7:22) Mark, there will be many of these.

5. Sometimes this word many intendeth those poor, ignorant, deluded souls that are led away with every wind of doctrine; those who are caught with the cunning and crafty deceiver, who lieth in wait to beguile unstable souls: “And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” (2 Peter 2:2)

6. Sometimes this word many includeth all the world, good and bad: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2) Compare with John 5:28,29.

7. Lastly. Sometimes this word many intendeth the good only, even them that shall be saved. (Luke 1:16, 2:34)

[How MANY is applied in the text.] Since then that the word is so variously applied, let us inquire how it must be taken in the text. And,

1. It must not be applied to the sincerely godly, for they shall never perish. (John 10:27,28) 2. It cannot be applied to all the world, for then no flesh should be saved. 3. Neither is it to be applied to the open profane only, for then the hypocrite is by it excluded. 4. But by the many in the text our Lord intendeth in special the professor; the professor, I say, how high soever he seems to be now, that shall be found without saving grace in the day of judgment.

Now that the professor is in special intended in this text, consider, so soon as the Lord had said, “Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,” he pointeth, as with his finger, at the many that then he in special intendeth; to wit, them among whom he had taught; them that had eat and drunken in his presence; them that had prophesied, and cast out devils in his name, and in his name had done many wonderful works. (Luke 13:26, Matt 7:22) These are the many intended by the Lord in this text, though others also are included under the sentence of damnation by his word in other places. “For many,” &c. Matthew saith, concerning this strait gate, that there are but few that find it. But it seems the cast-always in my text did find it; for you read, that they knocked at it, and cried, “Lord, open unto us.” So then, the meaning may seem to be this—many of the few that find it will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. I find, at the day of judgment, some will be crying to the rocks to cover them, and some at the gates of heaven for entrance. Suppose that those that cry to the rocks to cover them, are they whose conscience will not suffer them once to look God in the face, because they are fallen under present guilt, and the dreadful fears of the wrath of the Lamb. (Rev 6:16) And that those that stand crying at the gate of heaven, are those whose confidence holds out to the last,—even those whose boldness will enable them to contend even with Jesus Christ for entrance; them, I say, that will have profession, casting out of devils, and many wonderful works, to plead; of this sort are the many in my text: “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Could we compare the professors of the times with the everlasting word of God, this doctrine would more easily appear to the children of men. How few among the many, yea, among the swarms of professors, have heart to make conscience of walking before God in this world, and to study his glory among the children of men! How few, I say, have his name lie nearer their hearts than their own carnal concerns! Nay, do not many make his Word, and his name, and his ways, a stalking-horse to their own worldly advantages? [7]

God calls for faith, good conscience, moderation, self-denial, humility, heavenly-mindedness, love to saints, to enemies, and for conformity in heart, in word, and life, to his will: but where is it? (Mark 11:22, 1 Peter 3:16, Heb 13:5, Phil 4:5, Matt 10:37- 39, Col 3:1- 4, Micah 6:8, Rev 2:10, John 15:17, 1 John 4:21, Matt 5:44, Prov 23:26, Col 4:6)

[Import of the words I SAY UNTO YOU.]

“For many, I say unto you.” These latter words carry in them a double argument to prove the truth asserted before: First, in that he directly pointeth at his followers: “I say unto you”: Many, I say unto you, even to you that are my disciples, to you that have eat and drunk in my presence. I know that sometimes Christ hath directed his speech to his disciples, not so much upon their accounts, as upon the accounts of others; but here it is not so; the “I say unto you,” in this place, it immediately concerned some of themselves: I say unto you, ye shall begin to stand without, and to knock, “saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us, and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are; then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity”; it is you, you, YOU, that I mean! “I say unto you.” It is common with a professing people, when they hear a smart and a thundering sermon, to say, Now has the preacher paid off the drunkard, the swearer, the liar, the covetous, and adulterer; forgetting that these sins may be committed in a spiritual and mystical way. There is spiritual drunkenness, spiritual adultery, and a man may be a liar that calls God his Father when he is not, or that calls himself a Christian, and is not. [8]

Wherefore, perhaps all these thunders and lightnings in this terrible sermon may more concern thee than thou art aware of: “I say unto you”; unto you, professors, may be the application of all this thunder. (Rev 2:9, 3:9)

“I say unto you!” Had not the Lord Jesus designed by these words to show what an overthrow will one day be made among professors, he needed not to have you’d it at this rate, as in the text, and afterwards, he has done; the sentence had run intelligible enough without it; I say, without his saying, “I say unto you.” But the truth is, the professor is in danger; the preacher and the hearer, the workers of miracles, and workers of wonders, may all be in danger of damning, notwithstanding all their attainments. And to awaken us all about this truth, therefore, the text must run thus: “For many, I say unto YOU, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

See you not yet that the professor is in danger, and that those words, “I say unto you,” are a prophecy of the everlasting perdition of some that are famous in the congregation of saints? I say, if you do not see it, pray God your eyes may be opened, and beware that thy portion be not as the portion of one of those that are wrapped up in the 28th verse of the chapter: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves thrust out.”

“For many, I say unto you.” These words, I told you, carry in them a double argument for confirmation of the truth asserted before: first, that professors are here particularly pointed at; and, secondly, it is the saying of the Truth himself: for these words, “I say,” are words full of authority; I say it, I say unto you, says Christ, as he saith in another place, “It is I that speak; behold it is I!” The person whose words we have now under consideration was no blundering raw- headed preacher, [9] but the very wisdom of God, his Son, and him that hath lain in his bosom from everlasting, and consequently had the most perfect knowledge of his Father’s will, and how it would fare with professors at the end of this world. And now hearken what himself doth say of the words which he hath spoken; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matt 24:35)

“I say unto you.” The prophets used not to speak after this manner, nor yet the holy apostles; for thus to speak, is to press things to be received upon their own authority. They used to say, Thus saith the Lord, or Paul, or Peter, an apostle, or a servant of God. But now we are dealing with the words of the Son of God; it is HE that hath said it; wherefore we find the truth of the perishing of many professors asserted, and confirmed by Christ’s own mouth. This consideration carrieth great awakening in it; but into such a fast sleep are many now- a-days fallen, that nothing will awaken them but that shrill and terrible cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.”

[Two things that befall Professors.]

“I SAY UNTO YOU.” There are two things upon which this assertion may be grounded—1. There is in the world a thing like grace, that is not. 2. There is a sin called the sin against the Holy Ghost, from which there is no redemption. And both these things befall professors.

1. There is in the world a thing like grace, that is not. (1.) This is evident, because we read that there are some that not only “make a fair show in the flesh,” that “glory in appearance,” that “appear beautiful outward,” that do as God’s people, but have not the grace of God’s people. (Gal 6:12, 2 Cor 5:12, Matt 23:27, Isa 57:3,4) (2.) It is evident also from those frequent cautions that are everywhere in the Scriptures given us about this thing: “Be not deceived: Let a man examine himself: Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.” (Gal 6:7, 1 Cor 11:28, 2 Cor 13:5) All these expressions intimate to us that there may be a show of, or a thing like grace, where there is no grace indeed. (3.) This is evident from the conclusion made by the Holy Ghost upon this very thing: “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” (Gal 6:3) The Holy Ghost here concludeth, that a man may think himself to be something, may think he hath grace, when he hath none; may think himself something for heaven and another world, when indeed he is just nothing at all with reference thereto. The Holy Ghost also determines upon this point, to wit, that they that do so deceive themselves: “For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself”; he deceiveth his own soul, he deceiveth himself of heaven and salvation. So again: “Let no man beguile you of your reward.” (Col 2:18) (4.) It is manifest from the text; “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Alas! great light, great parts, great works, and great confidence of heaven, may be where there is no faith of God’s elect, no love of the Spirit, no repentance unto salvation, no sanctification of the Spirit, and so consequently no saving grace. But,

2. As there is a thing like grace, which is not, so there is a sin, called the sin against the Holy Ghost, from which there is no redemption; and this sin doth more than ordinarily befall professors.

There is a sin, called the sin against the Holy Ghost, from which there is no redemption. This is evident both from Matthew and Mark: “But whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” (Matt 12:32, Mark 3:29) Wherefore, when we know that a man hath sinned this sin, we are not to pray for him, or to have compassion on him. (1 John 5:16, Jude 22)

This sin doth most ordinarily befall professors; for there are few, if any, that are not professors, that are at present capable of sinning this sin. They which “were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” of this sort are they that commit this sin. (Heb 6:4,5) Peter also describes them to be such, that sin the unpardonable sin. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” (2 Peter 2:20) The other passage in the tenth of Hebrews holdeth forth the same thing. “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Heb 10:26,27) THESE, therefore, are the persons that are the prey for this sin; this sin feedeth upon PROFESSORS, and they that are such do very often fall into the mouth of this eater. Some fall into the mouth of the sin by delusions and doctrines of devils; and some fall into the mouth of it by returning with the dog to his own vomit again, and with the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Peter 2:22) I shall not here give you a particular description of this sin—that I have done elsewhere; [10] but such a sin there is, and they that commit it shall never have forgiveness. And I say again, there be professors that commit this unpardonable sin, yea, more than most are aware of. Let all, therefore, look about them. The Lord awaken them that they may so do; for what with a profession without grace, and by the venom of the sin against the Holy Ghost, many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

[Import of the words WILL SEEK TO ENTER IN.]

“Will seek to enter in.” This kingdom, at the gate of which the reprobate will be stopped, will be, at the last judgment, the desire of all the world; and they, especially THEY in my text, will seek to enter in; for then they will see that the blessedness is to those that shall get into this kingdom, according to that which is written, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Rev 21:14) To prove that they will seek, although I have done it already, yet read these texts at your leisure—Matthew 25:11, 7:22, Luke 13:28. And, in a word, to give you the reason why they will seek to enter in.

[Why they will seek to enter in.]

1. Now they will see what a kingdom it is, what glory there is in it, and now they shall also see the blessedness which they shall have that shall then be counted worthy to enter in. The reason why this kingdom is so little regarded, it is because it is not seen; the glory of it is hid from the eyes of the world. “Their eye hath not seen, nor their ear heard,” &c. Aye, but then they shall hear and see too; and when this comes to pass, then, even then, he that now most seldom thinks thereof will seek to enter in.

2. They will now see what hell is, and what damnation in hell is, more clear than ever. They will also see how the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. O the sight of the burning fiery furnace, which is prepared for the devil and his angels! This, this will make work in the souls of cast-always at that day of God Almighty, and then they will seek to enter in.

3. Now they will see what the meaning of such words as these are, hell-fire, everlasting fire, devouring fire, fire that never shall be quenched. Now they will see what “for ever” means, what eternity means; now they will see what this word means, “the bottomless pit”; now they will hear roaring of sinners in this place, howling in that, some crying to the mountains to fall upon them, and others to the rocks to cover them; now they will see blessedness is nowhere but within!

4. Now they will see what glory the godly are possessed with; how they rest in Abraham’s bosom, how they enjoy eternal glory, how they walk in their white robes, and are equal to the angels. O the favour, and blessedness, and unspeakable happiness that now God’s people shall have! and this shall be seen by them that are shut out, by them that God hath rejected for ever; and this will make them seek to enter in. (Luke 16:22,23, 13:28)

[How will they seek to enter in.]

“Will seek to enter in.” Quest. But some may say, How will they seek to enter in? [I] answer,

1. They will put on all the confidence they can, they will trick and trim up their profession, and adorn it with what bravery they can. Thus the foolish virgins sought to enter in; they did trim up their lamps, made themselves as fine as they could. They made shift to make their lamps to shine awhile; but the Son of God discovering himself, their confidence failed, their lamps went out, the door was shut upon them, and they were kept out. (Matt 25:1-12)

2. They will seek to enter in by crowding themselves in among the godly. Thus the man without the wedding garment sought to enter in. He goes to the wedding, gets into the wedding chamber, sits close among the guests, and then, without doubt, concluded he should escape damnation. But, you know, one black sheep is soon seen, though it be among a hundred white ones. Why, even thus it fared with this poor man. “And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man that had not on a wedding garment.” He spied him presently, and before one word was spoken to any of the others, he had this dreadful salutation, “Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment? [11]

And he was speechless”; though he could swagger it out among the guests, yet the master of the feast, at first coming in, strikes him dumb; and having nothing to say for himself, the king had something to say against him. “Then the king said to the servants,” the angels, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 22:11-13)

3. They will seek to enter in by pleading their profession and admittance to the Lord’s ordinances when they were in the world. “Lord, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets”; we sat at thy table, and used to frequent sermons and Christian assemblies; we were well thought of by thy saints, and were admitted into thy churches; we professed the same faith as they did; “Lord, Lord, open unto us.”

4. They will seek to enter in by pleading their virtues; how they subjected [themselves] to this ministry, how they wrought for him, what good they did in the world, and the like, but neither will this help them; the same answer that the two former had, the same have these—“Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt 7:22)

5. They will seek to enter in by pleading excuses where they cannot evade conviction. The slothful servant went this way to work, when he was called to account for not improving his Lord’s money. “Lord,” says he, “I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed, and I was afraid,” &c., either that I should not please in laying out thy money, or that I should put it into hands out of which I should not get it again at thy need, “and I went a hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that is thine”; as if he had said, True, Lord, I have not improved, I have not got; but consider also I have not embezzled, I have not spent nor lost thy money; lo, there thou hast what is thine. (Matt 25:24-28) There are but few will be able to say these last words at the day of judgment. The most of professors are for embezzling, misspending, and slothing away their time, their talents, their opportunities to do good in. But, I say, if he that can make so good an excuse as to say, Lo, there thou hast that is thine; I say, if such an one shall be called a wicked and slothful servant, if such an one shall be put to shame at the day of judgment, yea, if such an one shall, notwithstanding this care to save his Lord’s money, be cast as unprofitable into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, what will they do that have neither taken care to lay out, nor care to keep what was committed to their trust?

6. They will seek to enter in by pleading that ignorance was the ground of their miscarrying in the things wherein they offended. Wherefore, when Christ charges them with want of love to him, and with want of those fruits that should prove their love to be true—as, that they did not feed him, did not give him drink, did not take him in, did not clothe him, visit him, come unto him, and the like—they readily reply, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?” (Matt 25:44) As who should say, Lord, we are not conscious to ourselves that this charge is worthily laid at our door! God forbid that we should have been such sinners. But, Lord, give an instance; when was it, or where? True, there was a company of poor sorry people in the world, very inconsiderable, set by with nobody; but for thyself, we professed thee, we loved thee, and hadst thou been with us in the world, wouldst thou have worn gold, wouldst thou have eaten the sweetest of the world, we would have provided it for thee; and therefore, Lord, Lord, open to us! But will the plea do? No. Then shall he answer them, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these” my brethren, “ye did it not to me.” This plea, then, though grounded upon ignorance, which is one of the strangest pleas for neglect of duty, would not give them admittance into the kingdom. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”

I might add other things by which it will appear how they will seek to enter in. As,

1. They will make a stop at this gate, this beautiful gate of heaven. They will begin to stand without at the gate, as being loath to go any further. Never did malefactor so unwillingly turn off the ladder when the rope was about his neck, as these will turn away in that day from the gates of heaven to hell.

2. They will not only make a stop at the gate; but there they will knock and call. This also argueth them willing to enter. They will begin to stand without, and to knock at the gate, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. This word, Lord, being doubled, shows the vehemency of their desires, “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” The devils are coming; Lord, Lord, the pit opens her mouth upon us; Lord, Lord, there is nothing but hell and damnation left us, if, Lord, Lord, thou hast not mercy upon us; “Lord, Lord, open unto us!”

3. Their last argument for entrance is their tears, when groundless confidence, pleading of virtues, excuses, and ignorance, will not do; when standing at the gate, knocking, and calling, “Lord, Lord, open unto us,” will not do, then they betake themselves to their tears. Tears are sometimes the most powerful arguments, but they are nothing worth here. Esau also sought it carefully with tears, but it helped him nothing at all. (Heb 12:17) There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; for the gate is shut for ever, mercy is gone for ever, Christ hath rejected them for ever. All their pleas, excuses, and tears will not make them able to enter into this kingdom. “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

[Import of the words SHALL NOT BE ABLE.]

I come now to the latter part of the words, which closely show us the reason of the rejection of these many that must be damned; “They will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

A hypocrite, a false professor, may go a great way; they may pass through the first and second watch, to wit, may be approved of Christians and churches; but what will they do when they come at this iron gate that leadeth into the city? “There the workers of iniquity are fallen, they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise!” (Psa 36:12)

“And shall not be able.” The time, as I have already hinted, which my text respecteth, it is the day of judgment, a day when all masks and vizards shall be taken off from all faces. It is a day wherein God “will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsel of the hearts.” (1 Cor 4:5) It is also the day of his wrath, the day in which he will pay vengeance, even a recompence to his adversaries.

At this day, those things that now these “many” count sound and good, will then shake like a quagmire, even all their naked knowledge, their feigned faith, pretended love, glorious shows of gravity in the face, their holiday words and specious carriages, will stand them in little stead. I call them holiday ones, for I perceive that some professors do with religion just as people do with their best apparel—hang it against the wall all the week, and put it on on Sundays. For as some scarce ever put on a suit but when they go to a fair or a market, so little house religion will do with some; they save religion till they go to a meeting, or till they meet with a godly chapman. O poor religion! O poor professor! What wilt thou do at this day, and the day of thy trial and judgment? Cover thyself thou canst not; go for a Christian thou canst not; stand against the Judge thou canst not! What wilt thou do? “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” [12] “And shall not be able.” The ability here intended is not that which standeth in carnal power or fleshly subtlety, but in the truth and simplicity of those things for the sake of which God giveth the kingdom of heaven to his people.

There are five things, for the want of which this people will not be able to enter.

1. This kingdom belongs to the elect, to those for whom it was prepared from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34) Hence Christ saith, when he comes, he will send forth his angels with a great sound of trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another. (Matt 24:31) And hence he saith again, “I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains, and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.” “They shall deceive, if it were possible, the very elect.” “But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” (Rom 11:7)

2. They will not be able to enter, because they will want the birthright. The kingdom of heaven is for the heirs—and if children, then heirs; if born again, then heirs. Wherefore it is said expressly, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” By this one word, down goes all carnal privilege of being born of flesh and blood, and of the will of man. Canst thou produce the birthright? But art thou sure thou canst? For it will little profit thee to think of the blessed kingdom of heaven, if thou wantest a birthright to give thee inheritance there. Esau did despise his birthright, saying, What good will this birthright do me? And there are many in the world of his mind to this day. “Tush,” say they, “they talk of being born again; what good shall a man get by that? They say, no going to heaven without being born again. But God is merciful; Christ died for sinners; and we will turn when we can tend it, [13] and doubt not but all will be well at last.” But I will answer thee, thou child of Esau, that the birthright and blessing go together; miss of one, and thou shalt never have the other! Esau found this true; for, having first despised the birthright, when he would afterwards “have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Gen 25, Heb 12:16,17)

3. They shall not be able to enter in who have not believed with the faith of God’s operation; the faith that is most holy, even the faith of God’s elect. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36) But now this faith is the effect of electing love, and of a new birth. (John 1:11-13) Therefore, all the professors that have not faith which floweth from being born of God, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

4. They shall not be able to enter in that have not gospel- holiness. Holiness that is the effect of faith is that which admits into the presence of God, and into his kingdom too. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection, on such the second death,” that is, hell and eternal damnation, “hath no power.” (Rev 20:6,14) Blessed and holy, with the holiness that flows from faith which is in Christ; for to these the inheritance belongs. “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified, by faith,” saith Christ, “that is in me.” (Acts 26:18) This holiness, which is the natural effect of faith in the Son of God, Christ Jesus the Lord will, at this day of judgment, distinguish from all other shows of holiness and sanctity, be they what they will, and will admit the soul that hath this holiness into his kingdom, when the rest will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

5. They shall not be able to enter in that do not persevere in this blessed faith and holiness; not that they that have them indeed can finally fall away, and everlastingly perish; but it hath pleased Jesus Christ to bid them that have the right to hold fast that they have: to endure to the end; and then tells them they shall be saved—though it is as true that none is of power to keep himself; but God worketh together with his children, and they are “kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation,” which is also laid up in heaven for them. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

“The foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” (Psa 5:5) The foolish are the unholy ones, that neither have faith, nor holiness, nor perseverance in godliness, and yet lay claim to the kingdom of heaven; but “better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right.” (Prov 16:8) What is it for me to claim a house, or a farm, without right? or to say, all this is mine, but have nothing to show for it? This is but like the revenues of the foolish; his estate lieth in his conceit. He hath nothing by birthright and law, and therefore shall not be able to inherit the possession. “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

Thus you see, that the non-elect shall not be able to enter, that he that is not born again shall not be able to enter, that he that hath not saving faith, with holiness and perseverance flowing therefrom, shall not be able to enter; wherefore consider of what I have said.


I come now to give you some observations from the words, and they may be three.

FIRST. When men have put in all the claim they can for heaven, but few will have it for their inheritance. “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” SECOND. Great, therefore, will be the disappointment that many will meet with at the day of judgment: “For many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” THIRD. Going to heaven, therefore, will be no trivial business; salvation is not got by a dream; they that would then have that kingdom must now strive lawfully to enter: “For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

FIRST. I shall speak chiefly, and yet but briefly, to the first of these observations; to wit, That when men have put in all the claim they can to the kingdom of heaven, but few will have it for their inheritance. The observation standeth of two parts. First. That the time is coming, when every man will put in whatever claim they can to the kingdom of heaven. Second. There will be but few of them that put in claim thereto, that shall enjoy it for their inheritance.

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1 However homely this illustration, yet how striking. No family has been many years without that uneasy anxiety—earnest seeking the doctor to alleviate their sufferings, or those of a beloved relative, and then the trembling hope that “his excellent things” may produce the desired effect. Reader, have you had, at any time, equal anxiety for your soul’s health and salvation? What has been the result?—Ed. [back]

2 How delightfully but solemnly is this illustrated in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The wicket-gate, at the head of the way, at which the poor burdened sinner must knock and obtain an entrance by Christ the door. It may be like Mercy, with a trembling but sure hope. And then the glorious entrance into the Celestial City itself, after crossing the river which has no bridge. This was opened to Christian, but shut against Ignorance and against Turnaway of the Town of Apostasy.— Ed. [back]

3 Much confusion appears to exist in the minds of many in reference to the “strait gate” mentioned in the text, as this passage is frequently introduced into exhortations to the unconverted. It is addressed exclusively to professors of religion—to those who profess to have set out for the Celestial City, and seems to say, Beware of the form of godliness without its power—of the profession without the possession! For, as old Mason truly said, “They fall deepest into hell that fall backward.” The “striving” here alluded to refers to the whole course of the believers’ life, with its end in view—“We labour to be accepted of him” “Give diligence,” by adding to faith virtue, &c., “to make your calling and election sure; for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11) [back]

4 How well does our unlettered author give the meaning of strive, agonize.—Ed. [back]

5 Reader, while we bless God for being mercifully relieved from those bodily privations and sufferings through which our pilgrim fathers passed, forget not that Satan plies all his arts to allure our souls from the narrow path. If we are saved from tedious imprisonments in damp dungeons—if Antichrist has lost much of his power, the flatterer is ever at hand to entangle us in his net—the atheist is ever ready, by his derision and scorn, to drive us back to the City of Destruction.—Ed. [back]

6 In the edition printed 1692, “an holiday saint” is used. Saints’ days were holidays upon which the gayest dress was put on; but the outward affectation of religion in pious company is better expressed by “holiday suit,” and I have followed all the modern editors in concluding that the word “saint” is a typographical error.—Ed. [back]

7 See the character of By-ends and his companions in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” [back]

8 O how few professors feel that the judgment of man is as nothing in comparison with that of a heart-searching God. Thousands would tremble at the thought of outwardly committing these great crimes, but who inwardly, in spirit, are daily guilty of them before God. He who is kept by Divine power from spiritual sins, is alone safe from the commission of carnal sins.—Ed. [back]

9 It is an awful fact that in every age of the church these “blundering raw-headed preachers” have abounded. It is a singular appellation to make use of to those who strut in black, and vainly pride themselves upon being descended from the apostles. Alas! how many are those whose hearts and heads are raw indeed as to any influences of vital religion, and whose whole ministry is calculated to mislead the souls of their fellow-sinners as to their eternal hopes. Reader, how solemn is our duty to examine what we hear by the unerring Word—to try all things, and hold fast that only which is good.—Ed. [back]

10 More particularly in the “Jerusalem Sinner Saved”—“He that would be saved by Jesus Christ, through faith in his blood, cannot be counted for such,” &c. The sin against the Holy Ghost is an abandonment of Christianity—“to crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Heb 6:6) Poor trembler, wouldst thou crucify the Son of God afresh? If thy conscience says, Never! never! thou hast not committed this unpardonable sin.—Ed. [back]

11 The wedding garments being provided by the host, this man must have refused it, and insults his King by sitting among the guests in his ordinary apparel. O reader, before you take a seat at the Lord’s table, take prayerful care to be clothed with the robe of righteousness, otherwise you will eat to your utter condemnation and may, after all, be cast into outer darkness.— Ed. [back]

12 May these searching words make an indelible impression upon the heart of every reader. How striking, and alas! how true, is this delineation of character. Religious when in company with professors—profane when with the world; pretending to be a Christian on a Sunday; striving to climb with Christian the Hill Difficulty—every other day running down the hill with Timorous and Mistrust. Such may get to the bottom of the hill, and hide themselves in the world; but they can never lie concealed from God’s anger, either in this world, or in the bottomless pit, whither they are hurrying to destruction. [back]

Sinner, O why so thoughtless grown? Why in such dreadful hast to die?”—Ed.

13 “Tend it,” or attend to it. What madness does sin engender and foster! The trifles of time entirely occupy the attention, while the momentous affairs of eternity are put off to a more convenient opportunity.—Ed. [back]

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