Saints Saved with Difficulty; and the Certain Perdition of the Wicked
Adapted from a funeral sermon by Samuel Davies, August 21, 1756
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (18) And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 1 Peter 4:17-18
I have adapted what follows from a sermon Mr. Davies preached at the request of a friend of his congregation who had recently gone to be with the Lord. He tells them, how this friend knew so much from the trials he had in life, that if he would 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 senseless, careless world that they stood in need of a solemn warning about this; and, therefore, he wanted his death to give occasion to a sermon on this alarming subject. And now, so many years later, we too will hear, and I hope benefit from, this sermon first preached at the request of one who cared for the souls of others.
The apostle's main purpose in the context seems to be to prepare the Christians for those sufferings which he saw coming to them on account of their religion. "Beloved," he says, "do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you;" (v.12), "but rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings." It is no strange thing that you should suffer on account of your religion, in such a wicked world as this, for Christ, the founder of your religion, met with the same treatment; and it is to be expected that the servant will be treated as his master was. Only, he advises them, that if they must suffer, that they did not suffer as wrongdoers but only for the name of Christ. (v14, 15) "Yet," he says, "if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed;" (v. 16) "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God".
He seems to have particularly in view the cruel persecutions that a little after this was raised against the Christians by the tyrant Nero, and more directly to that which was raised against them everywhere by the rebellious Jews, who were the most hardened enemies of Christianity. The dreadful destruction of Jerusalem, which was plainly foretold by Christ in the hearing of Peter was now at hand. And from the sufferings which Christians, the favorites of heaven, endured, he deduces how much more dreadful the vengeance would be which should fall upon their enemies, the infidel Jews. If judgment begins at the house of God, his church, then what shall be the doom of the camp of rebels? If it begins at us Christians who obey the gospel, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Indeed, what shall become of them?
"Those who do not obey the gospel of God", is a description of the unbelieving Jews, to whom it was peculiarly applicable; and the apostle may primarily be referring to the dreadful destruction of their city and nation which was much more severe than all the sufferings the persecuted Christians had endured until then. But there is no reason for confining the apostle's view entirely to this temporal destruction of the Jews; he seems to refer farther to that still more terrible destruction that awaits all who do not obey 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? How much more tremendous must be their fate! In the text he carries on the same reflection. " If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" The righteous is the common character of all godly people or true Christians; and the ungodly and sinner are characters which may include the wicked of all nations and ages.
Now, says the apostle, if the righteous are only scarcely saved, saved with great difficulty, just saved, and no more, then what will become of the idolaters and wicked sinners, whose characters are so entirely opposite? The abrupt and powerful form of expression is very emphatic. "What will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" I need not tell you, your own reason tells you! I appeal to you yourselves, for, in so plain a case, you can all plainly see the answer.
"What will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Truly! When I stop to think about it, and press the reality of it on my own mind, it frightens me to think of it! It is so shocking and terrible that it is hard to describe it. Now they are joyful, merry, and rich; but when I look a little into the future, I see them appear in very different circumstances, and the horror of the prospect is practically unbearable!
Peter here supposes that there is something in the condition and character of a righteous man, which makes his salvation comparatively easy; something from where we might expect that he will certainly be saved, and that, without much difficulty: and on the other hand, that there is something in the opposite character and condition of the ungodly and the sinner, which gives us reason to conclude that there is no probability at all of their salvation while they continue as they are.
But he asserts that even the righteous, whose salvation seems so likely and comparatively easy, is not saved without great difficulty; he is just saved, and that is all. What then shall we conclude of the ungodly and the sinner, whose character gives no ground for favorable expectations at all? If our hopes are but just accomplished, with regard to the most promising of us, what shall become of those whose case is evidently hopeless? Sadly, and shockingly! “What will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
The path we will follow in examining our subject is this:
I. First, we will consider the main difficulties, which even the righteous meet with in the way to salvation.
II. And in the second place we will consider the character of the righteous and unbelievers and their respective end.
That is, we will look into those things in the condition and character of the righteous, which make his salvation so promising and seemingly easy; and then see that, if with all these favorable and hopeful circumstances, he is saved only with great difficulty and danger; then those who are of an opposite character, and whose condition is so evidently and apparently desperate, cannot be saved at all.
I. And so, in the first place, let us consider the main difficulties which even the righteous meet with in the way to salvation.
Now we should realise however, that those who have become truly pious, and persevered in the way of holiness and virtue to the end, 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 then we shall never fall. "There will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" (2 Pet 1:10, 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 come face to face 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 makes it difficult to be saved, because we cannot be saved without this preparation.
It must also be observed, that a pious life comes with the most pure and solid pleasures even in this world; and those who choose it, act the most wisely even with respect to this present life: they are really the happiest people on earth. Yet, were it otherwise, the blessed consequences of a pious life in the eternal world would make up for all, and still make this the best choice, notwithstanding the greatest difficulties and the severest sufferings that might come with it.
But notwithstanding this concession, the Christian way of life is full of hardships, oppositions, trials, and discouragements. This we may learn from the metaphors used to represent it in the Scriptures, which strongly imply that it comes with difficulties which require the utmost exertion of all our powers to surmount! It is called a warfare, (1 Tim 1:18) and fighting. (2 Tim4:7) The graces of the Christian, and the means of producing and nourishing them, are called weapons of war. There is the shield of faith; the hope of salvation, which is the helmet; the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and so on. (2 Cor 10:4, Eph 6:13, 17) The end of the Christian's course is victory after conflict in the book of Revelation. (Rev 2:7) And Christians are described as soldiers who must endure hardships. (2 Tim 2:3) Now a military life, as you can imagine, is a scene of labor, hardships and dangers; and, therefore, so is the Christian life.
The Christian life is also compared: to a race, (Heb 12:1, 2) to wrestling and the other strenuous exercises of the Olympic games, (Eph 6:12; Luk 13:24) and to walking in a difficult and narrow way. (Matt 7:14, Luk 13:24)
This, and this alone is the way to salvation. And is this the way in which you are walking? Or is it the smooth, easy downward road to destruction? You may slide along there without effort or difficulty, like a dead fish floating with the stream; but look! Look ahead, and see where it leads!
The enemies that oppose our Christian progress are the devil, the world, and the flesh. These form a powerful alliance against our salvation, and leave no device untried to obstruct it.
The things of the world, though good in themselves, are temptations to such depraved hearts as ours. Riches, honors, pleasure, spread their charms, and tempt us to pursue 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 debase and daze themselves with sensual pleasures that the voice of God is not heard; the shouts of conscience are drowned; the state of their souls is not examined; the things 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 do not care for any of these important realities, if they can but gratify the lust of greed, ambition, and sensuality.
And are such people likely to apply themselves to the difficult 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 righteous people! They find it hard to keep their mind focused on their great concern in the midst of such labors and cares as they are required to engage in. And frequently they feel their heart estranged from God and ensnared into the ways of sin, their devotion cooled, and their whole soul disordered by these enticements. In short, they find 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.
The people of this world also increase their difficulties. Their vain, trifling, or wicked conversation, their ensnaring examples, their persuasions, false reasonings, reproaches, threats, and all their arts of flattery and terror sometimes have an effect on the godly. These would draw them into some guilty compliances, dampen their courage, and tempt them to apostatize were they not always on their guard! And sometimes in an inadvertent hour they feel they fall prey to them.
As for the generality of people they are quick to yield themselves up to these temptations, and make little or no resistance; and so are carried down the stream into the infernal pit! Sadly! how many ruin themselves through a base, cowardly compromise to please others, and servile conformity to the world! Believe me, to be fashionably religious and no more, is to be really irreligious in the sight of God. The way of the multitude may seem easy, pleasant, and sociable; but, tragically! see where it ends! It leads down into destruction! (Matt 7:14)
But in the next place, the greatest difficulty in our way arises from the flesh; the corruption and wickedness of our own hearts. This is an enemy within; and it is this which betrays us into the hands of our enemies around us. When we turn our eyes to this field what vast difficulties rise in our way! Difficulties which are impossible to us, unless almighty God enables us to surmount them.
Such are a blind mind, ignorant of divine things, or that discusses them happily but does not see their reality and dreadful importance; a mind empty of God and full of the baggage 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 importance of the things of eternity. Such are a heart hostile to God and his service, bent upon sin, and impatient if restrained.
Such are wild, unruly passions thrown into wild unrestraint by every trifle, raised by vanities, wrong in the choice of objects, irregular in their motions, and extravagant in the degree of attachment. Such difficulties are strong, ungovernable lusts and appetites in physical nature, eager for gratification, and turbulent under restraint.
And how peculiarly does this inward corruption indispose men for religion! From this comes their ignorance, their carnal security, carelessness, presumptuous hopes, and impenitence. From this comes their unwillingness to admit conviction, their resistance to the Holy Spirit, and their contempt of the gospel, their disregard to all pious instructions, their neglect of the means of grace; or their careless, formal, lukewarm regard for and efforts in them. From this comes their earthly-mindedness, their sensuality, and excessive love of physical pleasures. And this is the reason why it is so difficult to awaken them to a just sense of their spiritual condition, and to suitable earnestness in their religious thoughts; and from this comes also their fickleness and inconstancy, their relapses and backslidings, when they have been a little alarmed. From this it is so difficult to bring their religious impressions to a right outcome, and to lead them to Jesus Christ as the Savior.
In short, from this it is that so many thousands perish amidst the means of salvation! These difficulties prove eventually unsurmountable for the majority of people and they never do surmount them.
But even the righteous, who is conquering them every day with the help of divine grace, and will at last be more than a conqueror; he still finds many hindrances and discouragements from this area, the flesh. The remains of these inborn corruptions still cling to him in the present life, and these make his progress heavenward slow and heavy. These make his life a constant warfare, and he is forced to fight his way through! These frequently stop the risings of his soul to God, cool his devotion, dampen his courage, ensnare his thoughts and affections to things below, and expose him to the successful attacks of temptation.
Sadly! it is his inborn corruption, which involves him in darkness and jealousies, in tears and terrors after hours of spiritual light, joy, and confidence. It is this which banishes him from the comfortable presence of his God, and causes him to go mourning without the light of his presence. Were it not for his inborn corruptions, he would glide along through life easy and unmolested; he would find the ways of piety to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace. In short, it is this which lies upon his heart as the heaviest burden, and makes his course so difficult and dangerous. And such of you as do not know this by experience, know nothing at all of true experimental Christianity.
Finally, the devil and his angels are invisible, active, powerful, and artful enemies to our salvation! Their activity is often unperceived but it is insinuating, unsuspected, and therefore the more dangerous and successful. These malignant spirits present ensnaring images to the imagination, and no doubt, blow the flame of passion and appetite. They labor to banish serious thoughts from the mind, and entertain it with trifles. They give force to the attacks of temptations from the world, and raise and kindle insurrections of sin within. And if they cannot hinder the righteous man from taking a pious course, or divert him from it, they will at least make it as difficult, and uncomfortable to him as possible!
Do you see the way in which you must walk if you would enter into the kingdom of heaven? It is in this rugged road that all who have safely arrived at their journey's end, the land of rest, have walked. They were saved but it was with great difficulty! They escaped the fatal rocks and shoals but it was a very narrow escape! And we can imagine that it is with a kind of pleasing horror that they now review the many dangers through which they passed, many of which they did not perhaps suspect until they were over!
And is this the way in which you are walking? Is your religion a course of watchfulness, labor, conflict, and vigorous exertions? Are you indeed more concerned about it than all things in this world? Or are not many of you lukewarm Laodiceans and indifferent bystanders with respect to these things? If your religion (if it may be so called) is a course of carnal security, carelessness, laziness, and formality, beware! if all the vigor and exertion of the righteous man is only just sufficient for his salvation; then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?
Which brings us to the second heading,
II. To look into those things in the character and condition of the righteous, which make his salvation so promising and seemingly easy; and then show, that if with all those hopeful circumstances he will not be saved but with great difficulty, that they, whose character is directly opposite, and have nothing encouraging in it cannot possibly be saved at all. And this we will approach as it is highlighted in the text.
1. If those who abstain from immorality and vice are but scarcely saved then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? It is the usual character of a righteous man to be temperate and sober, virtuous, just, and charitable; to revere the name of God, and everything sacred, and religiously observe the holy hours devoted to the service of God. This is always an essential part of his character, though not the whole of it. Now such a man looks promising; he evidently appears so far prepared for the heavenly state, because he is so far conformed to the law of God, and free from those gross vices which are never to be found in heaven.
And if such shall scarcely be saved then what will become of those of the opposite character? The drunkard, the audacious swearer, the scoffer at religion, the unclean, the liar, the defrauder, the deceiver, the thief, the extortioner, the reveler; what shall become of them? 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 as these will be saved? If you will pay attention to the authority of an inspired apostle in this matter, here is what he says on the matter:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10)
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21)
"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur!" (Rev 21:8)
You see, the declarations of the Scripture are clear enough and repeated on this point. And are there not some of you here who indulge yourselves in one or another of these vices and yet hope to be saved while you do so? That is, you are effectively hoping that your Bible and your religion too are false; for it is only by supposing this, that your hope of salvation can be accomplished! Will you really venture your eternal all upon the truth of such a blasphemous supposition as this? But, in the second place,
2. If those who conscientiously perform the duties of religion are scarcely saved then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner who neglect these holy duties?
The righteous are characterized as people 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; they live a life of prayer in their times of rest. They make their families little churches, in which divine worship is solemnly performed. Let others do as they will; as for them and their houses, like Joshua, they will serve the Lord! (Josh 24:15) They gratefully commemorate the sufferings of Christ, and give themselves up to him at his table, the Lord’s Table; and seriously apply themselves to all the ordinances of the gospel. In short, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, they walk in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, blameless. (Luk 1:6) This is their prevailing and usual character. And there is something in this character that gives reason to believe that they will be saved; for they have now a delight for the service of God, in which the happiness of heaven consists; they are training up in the humble forms of devotion in the church below for the more exalted employments of the church triumphant on high.
Now if people of this character are but scarcely saved what will become of the ungodly and the sinner, 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 guide to eternal life, expect to find the way there? Can prayerless souls receive answers to prayer? Will all the happiness of heaven be thrown away on such as those who do not even think it worth their while to earnestly ask for it? Are they likely to be admitted into the general assembly and church of the Firstborn in heaven, who do not endeavor to make their families little circles of religion here on earth?
In a word, are they likely to join forever in the devotions of the heavenly state, who do not accustom themselves to these sacred exercises in this time of preparation here on earth? Will you venture your souls upon it that you shall be saved, notwithstanding these improbabilities, or rather impossibilities? Sadly! are there any of you who have no better hopes of heaven than these? And if it is hard for the righteous to be saved what will become of you?
3. In the third place, if those who are more than externally moral and religious in their conduct, who have been born again, created in Christ Jesus for good works, as every man who is truly righteous has been; if such are only but scarcely saved then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner 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 principles of the will changed by the power of God, and the inbred disorders of the heart corrected? What will become of those who have nothing but a self-sprung religion, the genuine offspring of a degenerate nature, and never had a supernatural principle of grace implanted in their souls?
Has that solemn declaration of “the Amen, the faithful and true witness,” (Rev 3:14) lost all its force, and become falsehood in our age and country? "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. " (John 3:3) Is there no weight in such apostolic declarations as these? "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17) "Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision," that is to say, a conformity to the rituals of the Jewish or Christian religion counts for nothing "but a new creation." (Gal 6:15)
Can anyone delude themselves into thinking that they will be saved by the Christian religion, in opposition to these plain, strong, and repeated declarations of the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible? And yet, are there not some here who are entirely strangers to this renewal of the mind; of this inward, heaven-born religion?
4. Fourthly, if those who are striving to enter in at the strait gate and pressing into the kingdom of heaven, are only just allowed in; if those who forget the things that are behind, and reach after those that are before them, and press with all their might towards the goal, do scarcely obtain the prize, then what shall become of those lukewarm, careless, formal, presumptuous professors of Christianity, who are so numerous among those who call themselves Christian? What will become of those who have but an appearance of godliness without the power, (2 Tim 3:5) and have no spiritual life in their religion but only a “reputation of being alive?” Revelation 3:1.
If those whose hearts are regularly concerned about their eternal state, who labor earnestly for the immortal life, who pray with groans that are too deep for words; (Rom 8:26); who, in short, make the care of their souls the principal business of their life, and in some measure proportion their efforts and earnestness to the importance and difficulty of the work; if such are but scarcely saved, with all their efforts and pains, then what will become of those who are at ease in Zion (Amos 6:1), whose religion is but a mere indifference, a mere secondary thing with them? If we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt 5:20), then what will become of those whose righteousness is far short of theirs? And are there not such in this assembly? And if so, please consider, what will become of you?
5. In the fifth place, if those who have believed in Jesus Christ, which is the main condition of salvation, are but scarcely saved then what will become of the unbeliever? Faith in Christ is an essential ingredient in the character of a righteous man; and faith cannot be implanted in our hearts until we have been made deeply aware of our sins, of our condemnation by the law of God, and our utter inability to obtain pardon and salvation by the merit of our repentance, reformation, or anything we can do. And when we are reduced to this extreme, then we will be able to listen with eager ears to the proposal of a Savior. And when we see his glory and sufficiency, and cast our guilty souls on him; when we submit to his commands, depend entirely upon his atonement, and give up ourselves to God through him, then we believe.
Now, if those who believe in this way, to whom salvation is so often ensured, are saved only but with great difficulty then what shall become of those who have never experienced those exercises which come before or make up saving faith? who have never seen their own guilt and helplessness in an convicting light; who have never seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; who have never submitted to him as their Prophet, Priest, and King, and who do not live by faith in the Son of God? Carefully consider, are those who do not have the grand pre-requisite of salvation likely to be saved?
And yet, is this not the sad case of some of you? You may not be avowed atheists; you may believe there is one God, and that Jesus is the true Messiah: in this you do well but still it is no great achievement, for the devils also believe and tremble! And you may have this theoretical faith and yet be wholly destitute of the faith of the working of God, the precious faith of God's elect; that faith which purifies the heart, produces good works, and unites the soul to Jesus Christ! Certainly, the having or not having of such a faith, must make a great difference in a man's character, and must lead to some visible effect. And if those who have it are but scarcely saved; I appeal to yourselves, can those be saved who have no saving faith at all?
6. In the sixth place, if true penitents are scarcely saved then what will become of the wholly impenitent? It is the character of the righteous man that he is deeply affected with sorrow for his sins in heart and practice; that he hates them without exception with a resolute hatred; that he strives against them, and would resist them even to death; that his repentance is accompanied with reformation, and that he gives up those things which he used to do and now looks back on with sorrow. Now, if those who repent are saved with great difficulty then what shall become of those who persist impenitent in sin; who have hard, unbroken hearts, who are unmoved by the evil of sin, who indulge themselves in it, and cannot be persuaded to give it up?
Can any of you not be clear about the end of such people, after Christ has told us with his own lips, which never pronounced a harsh criticism? "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Lk 13:3, 5) And are there not some who are like this in this assembly? Please think, please consider, there is not the least likelihood, or even possibility of your salvation in that condition!
7. In the last place, the righteous man has the love of God poured into his heart, and so it produces the usual feelings and behavior of love towards him. God is more precious to him than all other things in heaven and earth: God is the strength of his heart, and his portion forever. (Ps 73:25, 26) Like David he can say “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Ps 63:6) he rejoices in the thoughts of him and longs and languishes for him when he feels distant from him. (Psalm 42:1, 2, and 83:1; Canticles 3:1)
His love for God is a powerful principle of willing obedience, and carries him to keep his commandments. (1 John 5:3) He delights in the law and service of God, and in communion with him in his ordinances.
Now, such a principle of love is a very hopeful sign of being prepared for heaven, that region of love, and for the enjoyment of God. Such a person would take pleasure in him and in his service, and therefore he certainly shall never be excluded. But if even such are but scarcely saved then what shall become of those who are wholly destitute of love for God?
There are a few who pretend to be lovers of God but their love falls far short of sincere love to God. Their pretense to it, really does not stand up, and if put into words, would be such sad reasoning as this, "Lord, I love you above all things, though I hardly ever affectionately think of you! I love you above all, though I am not careful to please you! I love you above all, though my conduct towards you is quite the reverse of what it is towards one I love." Will such an inconsistency as this pass for genuine supreme love to God, when it will not pass for common friendship among men? Certainly not. These do not have the least spark of that heavenly fire in their hearts, for their carnal mind is hostile to God.
And are these likely to be saved? Are these likely to be admitted into the region of love, where there is not one cold or disloyal heart? Are these likely to be happy in the presence and service of that God with whom they are so dissatisfied? Sadly! no! What will become of the ungodly and the sinner who have no sincere love for God?
As we come to a close here are a few practical reflections:
1. First, you may see from this, that the work of salvation is not that easy trivial thing which many take it to be. They seem mightily careful of investing too much effort into it; and they can’t bear that people should make so much about it, and make such a stir and noise about it. For their part, they hope to go to heaven as well as the best of them, without all this preciseness; and upon these principles they act! They think they can never be too earnest, or too diligent in the pursuit of earthly things; but piety is an insignificant matter with them; only the business of an hour or two once a week. But have these learned their religion from Christ the founder of it, or from his apostles whom he appointed as teachers of it? No! they have formed some easy system from their own vain imaginations suited to their depraved taste, indulgent to their laziness and carnal mind, and favorable to their lusts, and this they call 'Christianity'! But you have seen 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, in the second place,
2. Examine yourselves, see to which class you belong, whether it is to that of the righteous, who shall be saved, though with difficulty; or to that of the ungodly and the sinner. To answer this important question, remember the various 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? Is every duty of religion a matter of conscience with you? Have you ever been born again of God, and made more than just externally religious? Are you aware of the difficulties in your way from Satan, the world, and the flesh? And do you work hard, as on a battlefield or in a race? 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, or are the opposite, a description of your usual character? All I can do, is to urge you to make an impartial test, for, I tell you, much depends on it.
3. The next reflection is that if this is your habitual, usual, character, take heart for you shall be saved, though with difficulty. Do not be discouraged when you fall into fiery trials, for they are no strange things in the present life. All that have walked in the same narrow road before you, have met with them, but now they are safely arrived in their eternal home. Let your dependence be upon the helps of divine grace to carry you through, and you will overcome at last. But,
4. If your character is that of the ungodly and the sinner, pause and think what shall become of you at last? When you leave this mortal state, and launch into regions unknown, where will you then appear? Must it not be in the region of sin which is your element now? Must it not be in the society of the devils whom you resemble in character, and imitate in conduct? Must it not be among the trembling criminals at the left hand of the Judge, where the ungodly and sinners will all be crowded? If you continue such as you now are, have you any reason at all to hope for a more favorable outcome?
And so, if judgment begins with the family of God then what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? If the righteous, the favorites of heaven, suffer so much in this world, then what will sinners, with whom God is angry every day, and who are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, what will they suffer in the eternal world, the proper place for rewards and punishments, and where a just 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, then what will be the outcome of enemies and rebels! If believers meet with so many difficulties in the pursuit of salvation then what will the ungodly suffer in enduring damnation! If the diabolical demons are permitted to worry Christ's sheep, how will they rip and tear the wicked as their proper prey!
My sincere hope is that you, even you, would know on this day the things that make for peace before they are forever hidden from your eyes! (Luke 19:42)