Of the Small Number of Those that are Saved
FIRST POINT. Our Faith teacheth us that but few shall be saved.Edit
Consider that the Number of those who shall be Saved is very small, not only in Comparison of above Two Thirds of Mankind, who live in Infidelity; but even in Comparison of that vast Multitude, who are lost in the true Religion. There are few Doctrines of our Faith more clearly revealed than this; strive to enter in at the Strait Gate, (saith our Saviour) for wide is the Gate, and broad is the Way, that leadeth to Destruction, and many there be that go in thereat; but strait is the Gate, and narrow is the Way, that leadeth to Life, and few there be that find it.
And in another Place he tells us, That many are called, but few are chosen, even of those that are called; which he repeats in the same Terms on another Occasion; And the Apostle speaking by the Spirit of Christ, compares the Body of Christians to those who run a Race, where many run, but one only gains the Prize; to whom he likens those that are saved. And to let us see that he speaks of Believers, he cites the Example of the Israelites; You know, my Brethren, (says he) that our Fathers were all under a Cloud, and all passed through the Red Sea with Moses; that they did all cut the same Spiritual Meat. All these miracles were wrought only for their safe Passage to the promised Land, yet how few of them arrived in it? Of eighteen hundred thousand Souls that came out of Egypt, none but Joshua and Caleb entered into Canaan.
[?] compares the Elect to those few Olives that are left here and there upon the trees after the Gathering; and to that few Number of Grapes that remain after the diligent Gleaning of the Vineyard.
Besides these Examples and Comparisons which the Scripture uses to convince us of this terrible Truth, we have the Examples of all the World: There was but one family preserved from the Deluge; of Five Great Cities only Four Persons were saved from Destruction, and we find but one Sick Man cured of the Palsy among the Crowd of Paralytics that flocked to the Pool of Bethesda. This dreadful Truth, which our Lord repeated so often to his Disciples, gave Occasion to that Question, Lord are there few that shall be saved? To which our Saviour waving the Question, lest he should terrify them, answers, Strive to enter in at the Strait Gate.
This is certainly the most awakening and terrible Doctrine of our Religion, and yet how little are we affected with it?
Were I sure that but one of ten thousand should be damned, I ought to fear and tremble lest it should be my Case; but alas! among ten thousand perhaps there will hardly one saved, and yet I am unconcerned and fear nothing. Is not my Security a sufficient Cause to fear? Does it not proceed from the Blindness and Hardness of my Heart? Which renders me insensible of my Danger, and thereby less capable of preventing or avoiding it.
The News of one Ship lost among ten thousand affrights many, every one that has Concerns at Sea apprehends for himself; but though we know that the greatest Part of Mankind shall be lost, that very few will arrive at the Port of Eternal Happiness, how little are we solicitous for ourselves? And who has told us that we shall arrive there?
If Jesus Christ had promised Heaven to the Christians as positively as he has declared that his Elect are but few, we could not be more unconcerned than we are. And will this Insensibility render us less miserable? Alas! If we had no other, this very Tranquility is a sufficient Cause to make us doubt of our Salvation.
We don't think of it; what is it employs our Thoughts if Eternity does not? Do we believe it? Can we believe it, and not fear it? And how can we fear it without thinking of it?
How can we be unconcerned at the Sight of so great a Danger? The greatest Saints were always afraid. S. Paul himself was never exempt from this saving Fear, yet we are free from it; for it is impossible to fear only, and not mend our Lives.
We sacrifice our Goods to preserve ourselves from Shipwreck; a Merchant makes a Difficulty to throw his most precious [property,] the Fruits of many Years Labour, overboard to save himself; but we will rather hazard all than part with anything to secure us from Damnation.
If the Infection be in the City everybody is afraid; with what Earnestness do we seek Preservatives? With what Care do we shun the best Companies, and condemn ourselves to Solitude, and all this because we are afraid to die. Are we not afraid of being damned? We believe that the greatest Part of the World will be lost, and yet we are unwilling to spare one Day for Retreat, we will do nothing to make sure of Heaven.
Do we rely upon our Vocation, upon the Sanctity of our Condition, upon the Talents God hath given us, or upon the Means of Salvation which he affords us. Alas! Remember Saul had a true Vocation to the Kingdom, Judas to the Dignity of an Apostle, yet Saul was rejected and Judas lost, even in Christ's Family. Solomon the wisest of Men, hath with all his knowledge left us in doubt of his Salvation and an infinite Number of Christian Heroes, who were exemplary for their Piety during the greatest Part of their Lives have fallen at last. Their too much Security hath ruined them in the End of their Lives, and they are damned with all the pretended Merits.
And yet, O my God, can I be without Fear? This Want of saving Fear should make me fear all things; I am certainly lost if I be not afraid of being lost, and can I fear anything so much as Eternal Perdition?
O my dear Saviour, who hast Redeemed me with thy precious Blood, and who art graciously pleased to make me sensible of my Danger, suffer me not to be lost forever. My God, let me not be found among the Reprobates. I confess that I have hitherto walked in the broad Way, but behold, O Lord, I will now go into the narrow Way, and will strive with all my might to enter into the strait Gate.
Let others run in Crowds to Hell: were there to be but One saved in this Place I am resolved to be he, and I depend on thy Grace; I know it is my own Fault if I be not One of the Elect. I have Abused thy former Graces, but I have Ground to hope that this shall be Effectual; for I am resolved, let the Number of the Elect be never so small, I will be One of that little Flock whatever it cost me; and I am persuaded it is thy Will as well as mine, since I could not form this Resolution if thou hadst not inspired it.
SECOND POINT. Our Reason convinces us that but few shall be Saved.Edit
Consider that if our Faith did not teach us this terrible Truth, our own Reason would convince us of it; we need only reflect on what is required of us, and on our Manner of Performing it, and we shall presently Conclude that there will be but few saved.
If we would be saved we must live up to the Rules of the Gospel; are there many that observe them? We must profess ourselves openly to be Followers of Christ; is not the greatest Part of Mankind ashamed of that Profession? If we would be Saved we must either Actually, or in Affection, renounce the World, and all we have in it, and bear our Saviour's Cross daily.
The Pharisees had all the Appearances of Piety, they were extremely Mortified and their Lives were unblameable in the Sight of Men; and yet if our Virtue be not more Solid, and more Perfect than theirs, we shall never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
'Tis a great Matter to stifle our Revenge, it is yet greater to forgive Injuries, but this is not sufficient to obtain Salvation; if we would be Saved, we must love even those who Persecute us. It is not enough to abhor all wicked Actions, we must abhor the least ill Thought; we are not only obliged not to covet our Neighbor's Goods; we must bestow our own on those who are in Want. True Humility, which is the essential Character of a Christian, will not admit of Ambition or Vanity: Though you Labour never so much, if God be not indeed the End of your Labour, you will have no Thanks for your Pains to all Eternity. Be as regular as you please, God is not content with an outward Show; he requires the Heart, and that you should serve him in Spirit and in Truth; that is, sincerely and uprightly. One mortal Sin effaces in a Moment all the Merits of the longest and best Life; and One Hundred Thousand Millions of Years in Hell will not be a sufficient Punishment for the Sin of One Moment?
It is an Article of Faith, that neither the Proud, the Covetous, the Deceiver, the Slanderer, nor the Unchaste, shall ever enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; he that enters there must either have always preserved this Innocence, or recovered it by a sincere Repentance; and do we find many who offer continual Violence to their Inclination? Without which we can never come there. Where is that exact Purity? Where is that continual Penance, that Hatred of Sin, and that ardent Charity, which is the Character of the Elect? What is become of the Primitive Simplicity? Does not Interest govern? And is not Religion itself made subservient to it? Is not the general Example the Rule of most Men's Actions? Who look upon it as a Maxim that we must act like Men while we live among Men; but we must act like Christians if we will be Saved: We must lead a Christian Life in the midst of those who have only the Name.
'Tis likewise certain, that the Work of Salvation is our greatest Business; that we are sent into the World for this End alone; that we must employ our whole Lives in it, and that, after all, we cannot be sure of it; yet how few Christians do indeed make this their great and only Business?
We can never be Saved without Final Grace; 'tis an Article of our Faith, that we can never merit that Grace; that God might without Injustice refuse it to the most perfect Saints; what Reason then have we to expect it, who are so imperfect and so lukewarm in the Service of God?
These are not Counsels only, they are the Maxims of Jesus Christ; the irrevocable Laws, and indispensable Conditions of Salvation, which is not promised to the Knowledge, but to the Observation of them; to so exact an Observation, that the Neglect of any one damns us to Eternity: Let us now call to Mind at what rate Men Live, and then judge whether many can be Saved. Let us examine ourselves, and see whether we have any Reason to hope to be of that little Number.
Hear what S. Chrysostom says to the great City of Constantinople; how many (says he) do you think will be Saved out of this vast City? (one of the greatest and most populous in the World) I shall terrify you by my answer, and yet I am bound to tell you, that of so many Thousand Inhabitants there will hardly be One Hundred Saved; nay, I doubt even of the Salvation of these.
And yet this Imperial City was then as well regulated as any of those wherein we live, full of those we call honest Men; its inhabitants were reputed devout, frequented the Sacraments, and lived as we generally do: Let this great Saint's Decision, who would never have spoken so positively without an extraordinary Light, give us an idea of the small Number of the Elect.
Is it possible that we can cheat ourselves so grossly as not to see that we are running headlong to Damnation? And that if we continue to live at our usual Rate, our Religion obliges us to believe we shall be damned.
And certainly we could not believe our Religion true, if after having laid down such strict Rules, it allowed us to hope to be Saved in the Violation of them; this would be to impose upon the World: But blessed be God our Religion condemns most severely such an irregular Conduct; and careless, loose, Christians will not be excused because of their great Number.
It is an Article of Faith, that unless we be like our Redeemer we cannot be Saved; to be like him we must conform our Wills to his, we must hate what he hates, and love what he loves: Are there many who resemble this great Pattern? How little do we ourselves resemble him? And what will become of us if we continue so unlike him?
Now-a-days Men content themselves with some outward Appearances of Religion, with a Shew of Virtue; every Man makes to himself a false System of Conscience, with which he rests satisfied as to what concerns his Salvation; yet we believe that Heretics are lost, who have their Systems too, and who are as exact Observers of the External Part of Religion as we and have very often all the Qualities of meek, honest Men: What Ground have we for this imaginary Assurance? Have we any new Revelation or particular Gospel? Do we build our Hopes upon the Profession of the true Faith which Heretics have not? Surely, unless we take Pleasure to deceive ourselves, we must own that he who believes little of what he ought to do, is in a much better Condition than the Man who does little or nothing of what he believes.
If believing were sufficient, the Number of the Predestined would not be small; if we had Liberty to live as we pleased, we should make no Difficulty of believing anything; but Faith without Works is dead. Though you believe never so well, you can never hope for Salvation if you neglect to practice what you believe. The Devils believe more than we, but their Faith is only speculative; and Woe be to us if ours be no more than speculative.
Are the sublime Sanctity of Our Holy Religion, the admirable Example of the Son of God, the Shedding of His Blood, the Efficacy of His Sacraments, the Communications of His Grace, designed only to keep some measures, which serve only to encourage us to sin more boldly, by disguising those Faults which are common to us with the Pagans? Were the Saints Men of another Condition than we are? Were they excepted in the universal Redemption of Mankind? Was not the Way to Heaven discovered in their Time? Did they expect any other Recompense? How comes it that we are so very unlike them? They resolved to be Saints, what do we resolve to be? And can we hope to be Saints without following their Example? What Grounds have we to rely on the Mercy of God when we make sure of that Mercy to hinder our Conversion? Jesus Christ has expressly condemned lukewarm Souls, yet does not this Tepidity reign among Christians?
Am I convinced that the Number of the Elect is so small? And shall I do nothing to be of that Number? Yes, my God, were there to be but one Soul saved since it depends on my Will to be that Soul, I am resolved to be Saved.
I acknowledge that I have done nothing for thy Service which can make me hope, but my Confidence is founded on what thou art doing now for me.
Thy Design in giving me this Opportunity, and in exciting me to this Resolution, was not to increase my Guilt: I have no Need of any other Argument to convince me that thou desirest my Salvation, than this very Fear which thou hast imprinted in my Soul, left I should not be of the Number of thy Chosen.
I have often rendered my best Thoughts useless, but, my God, I have Reason to hope that this Resolution which I now make to work out my Salvation with all the Earnestness in the World shall be effectual. And because I have had too much Experience that these Pious Designs are easily forgotten, I will begin this Moment to turn to thee, and to devote myself entirely to they Service, and I rely upon they Goodness for Strength to persevere.