We have here,
I. A question put to our Lord Jesus. Who it was that put it we are not told, whether a friend or a foe; for he both gave a great liberty of questioning him and returned answers to the thoughts and intents of the heart. The question was, Are there few that are saved? Luke 13:23: ei oligoi hoi sozomenoi—“If the saved be few? Master, I have heard thou shouldest say so; is it true?” 1. Perhaps it was a captious question. He put it to him, tempting him, with a design to ensnare him and lessen his reputation. If he should say that many would be saved, they would reproach him as too loose, and making salvation cheap; if few, they would reproach him as precise and strait-laced. The Jewish doctors said that all Israel should have a place in the world to come; and would he dare to contradict that? Those that have sucked in a corrupt nation are ready to make it the standard by which to measure all men’s judgments; and in nothing do men more betray their ignorance, presumption, and partiality, than in judging of the salvation of others. 2. Perhaps it was a curious question, a nice speculation, which he had lately been disputing upon with his companions, and they all agreed to refer it to Christ. Note, Many are more inquisitive respecting who shall be saved, and who not, than respecting what they shall do to be saved. It is commonly asked, “May such and such be saved?” But it is well that we may be saved without knowing this. 3. Perhaps it was an admiring question. He had taken notice how strict the law of Christ was, and how bad the world was, and, comparing these together, cries out, “How few are there that will be saved!” Note, We have reason to wonder that of the many to whom the word of salvation is sent there are so few to whom it is indeed a saving word. 4. Perhaps it was an enquiring question: “If there be few that be saved, what then? What influence should this have upon me?” Note, It concerns us all seriously to improve the great truth of the fewness of those that are saved.
II. Christ’s answer to this question, which directs us what use to make of this truth. Our Saviour did not give a direct answer to this enquiry, for he came to guide men’s consciences, not to gratify their curiosity. Ask not, “How many shall be saved?” But, be they more or fewer, “Shall I be one of them?” Not, “What shall become of such and such, and what shall this man do?” But, “What shall I do, and what will become of me?” Now in Christ’s answer observe,
1. A quickening exhortation and direction: Strive to enter in at the strait gate. This is directed not to him only that asked the question, but to all, to us, it is in the plural number: Strive ye. Note, (1.) All that will be saved must enter in at the strait gate, must undergo a change of the whole man, such as amounts to no less than being born again, and must submit to a strict discipline. (2.) Those that would enter in at the strait gate must strive to enter. It is a hard matter to get to heaven, and a point that will not be gained without a great deal of care and pains, of difficulty and diligence. We must strive with God in prayer, wrestle as Jacob, strive against sin and Satan. We must strive in every duty of religion; strive with our own hearts, agonizesthe—“Be in an agony; strive as those that run for a prize; excite and exert ourselves to the / utmost.”
2. Divers awakening considerations, to enforce this exhortation. O that we may be all awakened and quickened by them! They are such considerations as will serve to answer the question, Are there few that shall be saved?
(1.) Think how many take some pains for salvation and yet perish because they do not take enough, and you will say that there are few that will be saved and that it highly concerns us to strive: Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able; they seek, but they do not strive. Note, The reason why many come short of grace and glory is because they rest in a lazy seeking of that which will not be attained without a laborious striving. They have a good mind to happiness, and a good opinion of holiness, and take some good steps towards both. But their convictions are weak; they do not consider what they know and believe, and, consequently, their desires are cold, and their endeavours feeble, and there is no strength or steadiness in their resolutions; and thus they come short, and lose the prize, because they do not press forward. Christ avers this upon his own word: I say unto you; and we may take it upon his word, for he knows both the counsels of God and the hearts of the children of men.
(2.) Think of the distinguishing day that is coming and the decisions of that day, and you will say there are a few that shall be saved and that we are concerned to strive: The Master of the house will rise up, and shut to the door, Luke 13:25. Christ is the Master of the house, that will take cognizance of all that frequent his house and are retainers to it, will examine comers and goers and those that pass and repass. Now he seems as if he left things at large; but the day is coming when he will rise up, and shut to the door. What door? [1.] A door of distinction. Now, within the temple of the church there are carnal professors who worship in the outer-court, and spiritual professors who worship within the veil; between these the door is now open, and they meet promiscuously in the same external performances. But, when the Master of the house is risen up, the door will be shut between them, that those who are in the outer-court may be kept out, and left to be trodden underfoot by the Gentiles, Rev. 11:2. As to those that are filthy, shut the door upon them, and let them be filthy still; that those who are within may be kept within, that those who are holy may be holy still. The door is shut to separate between the precious and the vile, that sinners may no longer stand in the congregation of the righteous. Then you shall return, and discern betwixt them. [2.] A door of denial and exclusion. The door of mercy and grace has long stood open to them, but they would not come in by it, would not be beholden to the favour of that door; they hoped to climb up some other way, and to get to heaven by their own merits, and therefore when the Master of the house is risen up he will justly shut that door; let them not expect to enter by it, but let them take their own measures. Thus, when Noah was safe in the ark, God shut the door, to exclude all those that depended upon shelters of their own in the approaching flood.
(3.) Think how many who were very confident that they should be saved will be rejected in the day of trial, and their confidences will deceive them, and you will say that there are few that shall be saved and that we are all concerned to strive. Consider,
[1.] What an assurance they had of admission, and how far their hope carried them, even to heaven’s gate. There they stand and knock, knock as if they had authority, knock as those that belong to the house, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us, for we think we have a right to enter; take us in among the saved ones, for we joined ourselves to them.” Note, Many are ruined by an ill-grounded hope of heaven, which they never distrusted or called in question, and therefore conclude their state is good because they never doubted it. They call Christ, Lord, as if they were his servants; nay, in token of their importunity, they double it, Lord, Lord; they are desirous now to enter in by that door which they had formerly made light of, and would now gladly come in among those serious Christians whom they had secretly despised.
[2.] What grounds they had for this confidence. Let us see what their plea is, Luke 13:26. First, They had been Christ’s guests, had had an intimate converse with him, and had shared in his favours: We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, at thy table. Judas ate bread with Christ, dipped with him in the dish. Hypocrites, under the disguise of their external profession, receive the Lord’s supper, and in it partake of the children’s bread, as if they were children. Secondly, They had been Christ’s hearers, had received instruction from him, and were well acquainted with his doctrine and law: “Thou hast taught in our streets—a distinguishing favour, which few had, and surely it might be taken as a pledge of distinguishing favour now; for wouldest thou teach us, and not save us?”
[3.] How their confidence will fail them, and all their pleas be rejected as frivolous. Christ will say to them, I know you not whence you are, Luke 13:25. And again (Luke 13:27), I tell you, I know you not, depart from me. He does not deny that what they pleaded was true; they had eaten and drunk in his presence, by the same token that they had no sooner eaten of his bread than they lifted up the heel against him. He had taught in their streets, by the same token that they had despised his instruction and would not submit to it. And therefore, First, He disowns them: “I know you not; you do not belong to my family.” The Lord knows them that are his, but them that are not he does not know, he has nothing to do with them: “I know you not whence you are. You are not of me, you are not from above, you are not branches of my house, of my vine.” Secondly, He discards them: Depart from me. It is the hell of hell to depart from Christ, the principal part of the misery of the damned. “Depart from my door, here is nothing for you, no, not a drop of water.” Thirdly, He gives them such a character as is the reason of this doom: You are workers of iniquity. This is their ruin, that, under a pretence of piety, they kept up secret haunts of sin, and did the devil’s drudgery in Christ’s livery.
[4.] How terrible their punishment will be (Luke 13:28): There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, the utmost degree of grief and indignation; and that which is the cause of it, and contributes to it, is a sight of the happiness of those that are saved: You shall see the patriarchs and prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. Observe here, First, That the Old-Testament saints are in the kingdom of God; those had benefit by the Messiah who died before his coming, for they saw his day at a distance and it reflected comfort upon them. Secondly, That New-Testament sinners will be thrust out of the kingdom of God. It intimates that they will be thrusting in, and will presume upon admission, but in vain; they shall be thrust out with shame, as having no part or lot in the matter. Thirdly, That the sight of the saint’s glory will be a great aggravation of sinner’s misery; they shall thus far see the kingdom of God that they shall see the prophets in it, whom they hated and despised, and themselves, though they thought themselves sure of it, thrust out. This is that at which they will gnash their teeth, Ps. 112:10.
(4.) Think who are they that shall be saved, notwithstanding: They shall come from the east and the west; and the last shall be first, Luke 13:29, 30. [1.] By what Christ said, it appears that but few shall be saved of those whom we think most likely, and who bid fairest for it. Yet do not say then that the gospel is preached in vain; for, though Israel be not gathered, Christ will be glorious. There shall come many from all parts of the Gentile world that shall be admitted into the kingdom of grace in this world, and of glory in the other. Plainly thus, when we come to heaven, we shall meet a great many there whom we little thought to have met there, and miss a great many thence whom we verily expected to have found there. [2.] Those who sit down in the kingdom of God are such as had taken pains to get thither, for they came from far—from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south; they had passed through different climates, had broken through many difficulties and discouragements. This shows that they who would enter into that kingdom must strive, as the queen of Sheba, who came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. They who travel now in the service of God and religion shall shortly sit down to rest in the kingdom of God. [3.] Many who stood fair for heaven came short, and others who seemed cast behind, and thrown quite out of the way, will win and wear this prize, and therefore it concerns us to strive to enter. Let us be provoked, as Paul desires the Jews might be, to a holy emulation, by the zest an forwardness of the Gentiles, Rom. 11:14. Shall I be outstripped by my juniors? Shall I, who started first, and stood nearest, miss of heaven, when others, less likely, enter into it? If it be got by striving, why should not I strive?