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THOUGHTS UPON STRIVING TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE.
As certainly as we are here now, it is not long but we shall all be in another world: either in a world of happiness, or else in a world of misery; or, if you will, either in heaven or in hell. For these are the two only places which all mankind, from the beginning of the world to the end of it, must live in for evermore, some in the one, some in the other, according to their carriage and behaviour here; and therefore it is worth the while to take a view and prospect now and then of both these places, and it will not be amiss if we do it now; for which end, I desire the reader, in his serious and composed thoughts, to attend me first into the celestial mansions, above yonder glorious sun and the stars themselves, where not only the cherubims and seraphims, angels and archangels, but many also of our brethren, the sons of men, at this very moment are enjoying the presence, and singing forth the praises of the most high God. There are the spirits of just men made perfect, perfect in themselves, and perfect in all their actions, perfectly free from all both sin and misery, perfectly free of all true grace and glory, all their faculties being reduced to that most perfect and excellent frame of constitution, that their understandings are continually taken up with the contemplations of the supreme truth, and their wills in the embracement of their chiefest good; so that all the inclinations of their souls rest in God as in their proper
centre, in whom by consequence they enjoy as much as they can desire, yea as much as they can be made capable of desiring; for all those infinite perfections that are concentered in God himself, are now in their possession, to solace and delight themselves in the full and perfect enjoyment of them; by which means they are as happy as God himself can make them; insomuch that at this very moment methinks we may all behold them so ravished, so transported with their celestial joys, that it may justly strike us into admiration, how ever creatures which were once sinful, could be made so pure, so perfect, and altogether so happy as they are. And could we but leave our bodies for a while below, and go up to take a turn in the New Jerusalem that is above, we could not but be ravished and transported at the very sight both of the place and inhabitants, every one being far more glorious than the greatest emperors of this world, with nothing less than crowns of glory on their heads, and sceptres of righteousness in their hands; where they think of nothing but the glory of God, discourse of nothing but praising him, do nothing but adore and worship him in a word, whatsoever is agreeable to our natures, whatsoever is desirable to our souls, whatsoever can any way conduce to make men happy, is fully, perfectly, eternally enjoyed, by all and every person that is in heaven. Whereas on the other side, if we bring down our thoughts from heaven, and send them as low as hell, to consider the most deplorable estate and condition of those who inhabit the regions of darkness, them we shall find as miserable as the others are happy; not only in that they are deprived of the vision and fruition of the chiefest
good, but likewise in that they are in continual pain and torment, as great as infinite justice can adjudge them to, and infinite power inflict upon them, insomuch that could we lay our ear to the entrance of that bottomless pit, what howlings and shriekings should we hear, what weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth in the midst of those infernal flames, where, as our Saviour himself tells us, 'The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.' That is, where the consciences are always gnawed and tormented with the remembrance of their former sins, and the fire of God's wrath is continually burning in them, never to be quenched or abated: for certainly as the smiles and favour of the eternal God constitute the joys of heaven, so do his frowns and anger make up the flames of hell. To see him that made us displeased with us, to see mercy itself to frown upon us, to see the great and all-glorious Creator of the world, the chiefest good, to look angrily upon us, and to show himself offended at us, and incensed against us! Methinks the very thoughts of it are sufficient to make the stoutest heart amongst us tremble. But then what shall we think of those poor souls that see and feel it? What shall we think of them? Questionless they are more miserable than we are able to think them to be. For we cannot possibly conceive either the greatness of heaven's glory, or the sharpness of hell's torments; only this we know, and may be certain of, that whatsoever is ungrateful to their minds, whatsoever is troublesome to their thoughts, whatsoever is contrary to their desires, whatsoever is painful to their
1 Mark, ix. 44.
bodies, or whatsoever is or can be destructive and tormenting to their souls, that, all they who are once in hell shall fear and feel, and that for ever.
But this is too sad and doleful a subject to insist on long, neither should I have mentioned it, but for our own good, and to prepare us the better, both for the understanding and improving the advice of our Saviour, 'Enter ye in at the strait gate,'' &c. The meaning of which words, in brief, may be reduced to these three heads :
First, That it is an easy matter to go to hell, that place of torments we have now been describing, and by consequence that many go thither; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leadeth thither.
Secondly, That it is a hard and difficult thing to get to heaven, that place of joys we before spake of, and by consequence that but few get thither; For strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to it.'
Lastly, Howsoever difficult it is, our Saviour would have us strive to get to heaven, so as to pass through that strait gate, and walk in that narrow way that leadeth unto life.
As for the first, that the gate is wide, and the way broad that leads to hell, or that it is an easy matter to go thither, I need not use many words to prove it. For though there be but few that mind it, I dare say there is scarce any one but believes it, yea, and hath oftentimes found it to be true by experience, even that it is an easy matter to sin, and that, we know, is the broad way that leads to hell; so broad, that they who walk in it can find no
1 Matt. vii. 13, 14.
bounds or limits in it, wherewithin to contain themselves; neither are they ever out of their way, but go which way they will, they way they will, they are still in the ready way to ruin and destruction. And usually it is as plain as broad, so that men rarely meet with any roughness or trouble in it, but rather with all the pleasures and delights which they desire, who look no higher than to please the flesh; yea, whatsoever it is that they naturally desire they still meet with it in the road to hell; and whatsoever is ungrateful and irksome to them, they are never troubled with it in the ways of sin. There are no crosses to be taken up, no self to be denied, but rather indulged and gratified; there are no such tedious and troublesome things as examining our hearts, and mortifying our lusts, as praying or hearing, as fasting or watching; these are only to be found in the narrow path that leads to heaven; the broad way to hell is altogether unacquainted with them, being strewed all along with carnal pleasures and sensual delights, with popular applause, and earthly riches, and such fine things as silly mortals use to be taken with.
And hence it is, that our Saviour tells us, many there be which find this way, and go in at this wide gate that leads to ruin, because they see not whither it leads, but they see the baits and allurements which are in it, which they cannot but crowd about as fishes about the hook, or as flies about a candle, till they be destroyed. Yea, this way to destruction is so broad, that almost all the world is continually walking in it; the gate so wide, that thousands at a time pass through it. And therefore we may well conclude it is a very easy thing to go to that place of torments, which even now we speak