SAINTS SAVED WITH DIFFICULTY, AND THE CERTAIN PERDITION OF SINNERS.
" And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear I"—1 Peter, iv. 18.
This text may sound in your ears like a message from the dead; for it is at the request of our deceased friend*
* The person was Mr. James Hooper; the sermon is dated August, 21, 1156.
that I now insist upon it. He knew so much from the trials he made in life, that if he should be saved at all, it would be with great difficulty, and if he should escape destruction at all, it would be a very narrow escape; and he also knew so much of this stupid, careless world, that they stood in need of a solemn warning on this head; and therefore desired that his death should give occasion to a sermon on this alarming subject. But now the unknown wonders of the invisible world lie open to his eyes; and now also he can take a full review of this passage through this mortal life; now he sees the many unsuspected dangers he narrowly escaped, and the many fiery darts of the devil which the shield of faith repelled; now, like a ship arrived at port he reviews the rocks and shoals he passed through, many of which lay under water and out of sight; and therefore now he is more fully acquainted with the difficulty of salvation than ever. And should he now rise and make his appearance in this assembly in the solemn and dreadful attire of an inhabitant of the world of spirits, and again direct me to a more proper subject, methinks he would still stand to his choice, and propose it to your serious thoughts, that if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear.
The apostle's principal design in the context seems to be to prepare the Christians for those sufferings which he saw coming upon them, on account of their religion. Them that obey not the gospel of God, is a description of the unbelieving Jews, to whom it was peculiarly applicable. But I see no reason for confining the apostle's view entirely to the temporal destruction of the Jews; he seems to refer further to that still more terrible destruction that awaits all that obey not the gospel in the eternal world; that is to say, if the children are so severely chastised in this world, what shall become of rebels in the world to come, the proper state of retribution ? How much more tremendous must be their fate !
In the text he carries on the same reflection. If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear. The righteous is the common character of all good, men or true Christians; and the ungodly and sinners are characters which may include the wicked of all nations and ages. Now, says he, "if the righteous be but scarcely saved, saved with great difficulty, just saved and no more, where shall the idolaters and vicious sinners appear, whose characters are so opposite ?"
The abrupt and pungent form of expression is very emphatical. Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear ? I need not tell you, your own reason will inform you: I appeal to yourselves for an answer, for you are all capable of determining upon so plain a case. Wliere shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Alas! it strikes me dumb with horror to think of it; it is so shocking and terrible that I cannot bear to describe it. Now they are gay, merry, and rich ; but when I look a little forward, I see them appear in very different circumstances, and the horror of the prospect is hardly supportable.
The method in which I intend to prosecute our subject is this:
I. I shall point out the principal difficulties which even the righteous meet with in the way to salvation.
II. I shall mention those things in the condition and character of the righteous, which render his salvation so promising and seemingly easy, and then show you that, if with all these favorable and hopeful circumstances he is not saved but with great difficulty and danger, those who are of an opposite character, and whose condition is so evidently and apparently desperate, cannot be saved at all.
I. I am to point out the principal difficulties which even the righteous meet with in the way to salvation.
Here I would premise, that such who have become truly religious, and persevered in the way of holiness and virtue to the last, will meet with no difficulty at all to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven. The difficulty does not lie here, for the same apostle Peter assures us, that if we give all diligence to make our calling and election sure, we shall never fall; but so an entrance shall he administered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.—2 Peter, i. 10, 11. But the difficulty lies in this, that, all things considered, it is a very difficult thing to obtain, and persevere in real religion in the present corrupt state of things, where we meet with so many temptations and such powerful opposition. Or, in other words, it is difficult in such a world as this to prepare for salvation; and this renders it difficult to be saved, because we cannot be saved without preparation.
The enemies that oppose our religious progress are the devil, the world, and the flesh. These form a powerful alliance against our salvation, and leave no artifice untried to obtain it.
The things of the world, though good in themselves, are temptations to such depraved hearts as ours. Riches, honors, and pleasures spread their charms, and tempt us to the pursuit of flying shadows, to the neglect of the one thing needful. These engross the thoughts and concerns, the affections and labors of multitudes. They engage with such eagerness in an excessive hurry of business and anxious care, or so debauch and stupefy themselves with sensual pleasures, that the voice of God is not heard, the clamors of conscience are drowned, the state of their souls is not inquired into, the interests of eternity are forgotten, the eternal God, the joys of heaven, and the pains of hell are cast out of the mind and disregarded; and they care not for any or all of these important realities, if they can but gratify the lust of avarice, ambition, and sensuality. And are such likely to perform the arduous work of salvation? No; they do not so much as seriously attempt it. Now these things, which are fatal to multitudes, throw great difficulties in the way even of the righteous man. He finds it hard to keep his mind intent upon this great concern in the midst of such labors and cares he is obliged to engage in; and frequently he feels his heart estranged from God and ensnared into the ways of sin, his devotion cooled, and his whole soul disordered by these allurements. In short, he finds it one of the hardest things in the world to maintain a heavenly mind in such an earthly region, a spiritual temper among so many carnal objects.
But the greatest difficulty in our way arises from the corruption and wickedness of our own hearts. This is an enemy within; and it is that betrays us into the hands of our enemies without. When we turn our eyes to this quarter, what vast difficulties rise in our way! difficulties which are impossibilities to us, unless the Almighty Power enables us to surmount them. Such are a blind mind, ignorant of divine things, or that can speculate only upon them, but does not see their reality and dread importance; a mind empty of God and full of the lumber and vanities of this world. Such are a hard heart, insensible of sin, insensible of the glory of God, and the beauties of holiness, and the infinite moment of eternal things. And how strangely does this
inward corruption indispose men for religion! Hence their ignorance, their security, carelessness, presumptuous hopes, and impenitence. Hence their unwillingness to admit conviction, their resistance to the Holy Spirit and their own consciences, their love of ease and impatience of sorrow for sin, and of solicitude about their eternal state. Hence their contempt of the gospel, their disregard to all religious instructions, their neglect of the means of grace, and the ordinances of Christ, or their careless, formal, lukewarm attendance upon them. Hence it is so difficult to awaken them to a just sense of their spiritual condition, and to suitable earnestness in their religious endeavors; and hence their fickleness and inconstancy, their relapses and backslidings, when they have been a little alarmed. In short, hence it is that so many thousands perish amidst the means of salvation. These difficulties prove eventually insuperable to the generality, and they never surmount them. But even the righteous, who is daily conquering them by the aid of divine grace, and will at last be more than a conqueror, he still finds many hinderances and discouragements from this quarter. The remains of these innate corruptions still cleave to him in the present state, and these render his progress heavenward so slow and heavy. These render his life a constant warfare, and he is obliged to fight his way through. These frequently check the aspirations of his soul to God, cool his devotion, damp his courage, ensnare his thoughts and affections to things below, and expose him to the successful attacks of temptation. And such of you as do not know this by experience, know nothing at all of true experimental Christianity.
See, my brethren, see the way in which you must walk if you would enter into the kingdom. In this rugged road they have walked who are now safe arrived at their journey's end, the land of rest. They were saved, but it was with great difficulty; they escaped the fatal rocks and shoals, but it was a very narrow escape: and methinks it is with a kind of pleasing horror they now review the numerous dangers through which they passed, many of which they did not perhaps suspect till they were over. And is this the way in which you are walking ? Is your religion a course of watchfulness, labor, conflict, and vigorous exertion ? Are you indeed earnest in it above all things in this world ? Or are not many of you lukewarm Laodiceans and indifferent Gallios about these things ? If your religion is a course of security, carelessness, sloth, and formality; alas! if all the vigor and exertion of the righteous man be but just sufficient for his salvation, where, O where shall you appear ? Which leads me,
II. To mention those things in the character and condition of the righteous, which renders his salvation so promising and seemingly easy, and then show that if with all those hopeful circumstances he shall not be saved but with great difficulty, that they whose character is directly opposite, and has nothing encouraging in it, cannot possibly be saved at all. And this head I shall cast into such a form as to exemplify the text.
1. If those that abstain from immorality and vice be but scarcely saved, where shall the vicious, profligate sinner appear ?
It is the habitual character of a righteous man to be temperate and sober, chaste, just, and charitable; to revere the name of God, and every thing sacred, and religiously observe the holy hours devoted to the service of God. And if such shall scarcely be saved, where shall those of the opposite character appear ? Where shall the brute of a drunkard, the audacious swearer, the scoffer, the thief, the extortioner, the liar, the Sabbath-breaker, the reveler, where shall those appear ? Are these likely to stand in the congregation of the righteous, or to appear in the presence of God with joy ? Is there the least likelihood that such shall be saved ? If you will regard the authority of an inspired apostle in the case, I can direct you to the place where you may find his express determination. 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10: Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God! Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
2. If those that conscientiously performed the duties of religion be scarcely saved, where shall the neglecters of them appear ?
The righteous are characterized as persons that honestly endeavor to perform all the duties they owe to God. They devoutly read and hear his word, and make divine things their study: they are no strangers to the throne of grace; tbey live a life of prayer in their retirements, and in a social capacity. They make their families little churches, in which divine worship is solemnly performed. Now if persons of this character are but scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly appear, who persist in the willful neglect of these known duties of religion ? Can they be saved, who do not so much as use the means of salvation? Can those who do not study their Bible, the only directory to eternal life, expect to find the way thither ? Can prayerless souls receive answers to prayer ? Will all the bliss of heaven be thrown away upon such as do not think it worth their while importunately to ask it ?
3. If they that are more than externally moral and religious in their conduct; that have been born again, created in Christ Jesus to good works, as every man that is truly righteous has been; if such, I say, be but scarcely saved, where shall they appear who rest in their mere outward morality, their proud self-righteous virtue, and their religious formalities, and have never been made new creatures, never had the inward principle of action changed by the power of God, and the inbred disorders of the heart rectified ? Where shall they appear who have nothing but a self-sprung religion, the genuine offspring of degenerate nature, and never had a supernatural principle of grace implanted in their souls ? Can men flatter themselves they shall be saved by the Christian religion, in opposition to the plain, strong, and repeated declarations of the Christian revelation ?
4. If they that are striving to enter in at the strait gate, and pressing into the kingdom of heaven, do but just obtain admission; if they who forget things that are behind, and reach after those that are before, and press with all their might towards the goal, do scarcely obtain the prize, what shall become of those lukewarm, careless, formal, presumptuous professors of Christianity who are so numerous among us ? If those whose hearts are habitually solicitous about their eternal state, who labor in earnest for the immortal bread, who in short make the care of their souls the principal business of their life, if such are but scarcely saved, where shall they appear who are at ease in Zion ?
I shall now conclude with a few reflections. 1. You may hence see the work of salvation is not that easy, trifling thing which many take it to be. They think they can never be too much in earnest, or too laborious in the pursuit of earthly things; but religion is a matter by the by with them; only the business of an hour once a week: this is not the religion of the Bible: this is not the way to life laid out by God, but it is the smooth downward road to destruction. Therefore,
2. Examine yourselves to which class you belong, whether to that of the righteous, who shall be saved, though with difficulty, or to that of the ungodly and the sinner, who must appear in a very different situation. To determine this important inquiry, recollect the sundry parts of the righteous man's character which I have briefly described, and see whether they belong to you. Do you carefully abstain from vice and immorality ? Do you make conscience of every duty of religion? Have you ever been born again of God, and made more than externally religious? Are you sensible of the difficulties in your way from Satan, the world, and the flesh ? Do you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and press into the kingdom of God? Are you true believers, penitents, and lovers of God ? Are these, on the contrary, the constituents of your habitual character ? I pray you make an impartial trial, for much depends upon it.
3. K this be your habitual character, be of good cheer, for you shall be saved, though with difficulty. Be not discouraged when you fall into fiery trials, for they are no strange things in the present state. All that have walked in the same narrow road before you have met with them, but now they are safe arrived in their eternal home. Let your dependence be upon the aids of divine grace to bear you through, and you will overcome at last. But,
4. If your character be that of the ungodly and the sinner, pause and think where shall you appear at last! When, like our deceased friend, you leave this mortal state, and launch into regions unknown, where will you then appear? Must it be in the region of sin, which is your element now ? in the society of devils, whom you resemble in temper, and imitate in conduct ? among the trembling criminals at the left hand of the Judge, where the ungodly and sinners shall all be crowded ? If you continue such as you now are, have you any reason at all to hope for a more favorable doom ?
I shall conclude with a reflection to exemplify the context in another view, and that is, "If judgment begin at the house of God, what shall be the end of them that obeynot the gospel ?" If the righteous, the favorites of Heaven, suffer so much in this world, what shall sinners, with whom God is angry every day, and who are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, what shall they suffer in the eternal world, the proper place for rewards and punishments, and where an equitable Providence deals with every man according to his works ? If the children are chastised with various calamities, and even die in common with the rest of mankind, what shall be the doom of enemies and rebels ? If those meet with so many difficulties in the pursuit of salvation, what shall these suffer in enduring damnation ? If the infernal powers are permitted to wrong Christ's sheep, how will they rend and tear the wicked as their proper prey ? O that you may in this your day know the things that belong to your peace, before they are for ever hid from your eyes.—Luke, xix. 42.