"See then that ye walk circumspectly."
Some people tell us that salvation is the easiest thing in the world. We have only to feel that we believe in Jesus Christ, and all is done. Now neither Jesus Christ Himself, nor the Apostles whom He sent to teach, tell us anything of the kind. On the contrary, our Saviour, whilst He dwells on the fulness and freedom of salvation, offered to all without money, and without price, tells us that many are called, but few chosen. He warns us in to-day's Gospel that when the King makes His Great Wedding Feast of salvation numbers make light of it, and go their way to their farm, and their merchandise. He shows us how, when the Bridegroom cometh suddenly. He finds half of the virgins in darkness, their lamps gone out, and He commands us to watch, because we know not the day nor the hour of the Lord's coming. He tells us also that the way of life eternal is a narrow way, and the gate of salvation a strait gate, whilst the road to eternal ruin is broad, and easy. Our Lord bids us strive to enter in at the narrow gate, and assures us that few there be who find it. Now all this does not put the Christian life before us as a life of idleness, and inaction; nor does it describe salvation as a very easy thing. Both Jesus and His holy Apostles tell us that we must strive, climb, fight, run the race patiently, walk circumspectly, watch, pray, arm ourselves, have on a wedding garment; a very different doctrine this from that dangerous, do-nothing creed, which some would have us accept. I think S. Paul had the narrow way and the strait gate in his mind, when he told his followers to walk circumspectly, looking around them, minding their steps, proceeding with care and caution. It used to be said of old that all roads led to Rome, because she was the capital of the world. And nowadays, in the most remote country place in England, you will find a road which leads to London. But all roads do not lead to Heaven. Some foolish people like to believe that they can travel anyway they please, and yet reach Heaven at last. They love to imagine that they can hold to any doctrine, however false and extravagant, and set up a gospel of their own, and yet find the way to Heaven. There are some who choose to walk in a way which seems right in their eyes, a way of selfishness, and pride, and obstinacy; they will have their own way, they tell us. Yes, but it is not God's way, and it does not lead to Heaven. There are just two roads from this life to the life to come, no more. The narrow way of God's commandments, ending in the strait gate which opens on Heaven; and the broad road of sin, terminating in the wide gate of Hell.
Let us think of some of the rules by which we must walk in the narrow way. We must walk humbly. It is a narrow way remember, and if we walk with our heads lifted up by pride, we shall miss our footing, and slip from the path. The gate, too, is strait, or narrow. It is like one of those low-pitched, narrow entrances which you may still see in old buildings, and which were common once in all our ancient towns. A traveller could not get through these gates unless he bent his head, and bowed his shoulders. So, my brothers, if we wish to enter into the gate of life eternal we must do so with bowed head, and with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart. Pride cast Satan out of Heaven, pride locks the door of life against many a man now. An unbeliever once asked, with a sneer, who made the devil. And he was answered that God made him what he was, and that he had made himself what he is. So is it with us all. God makes us His children, heirs of Heaven, and we too often, by our foolish pride, make ourselves into devils. Believe me, the gate of life eternal is far too narrow to admit us with the great swelling garment of pride puffed out on all sides of us.
Next, if we walk along the narrow way we must not overload ourselves. There are some burdens which we must bear, but the dear Lord, who laid them upon us, will give us strength to carry them. It is the burden of the world's making which will hinder us. We see a man who wants to walk in the right way, who hopes to pass through the narrow gate, who has so loaded himself with worldly things that he goes staggering along, till at length he slips off on to the broad road to destruction. He is like one escaping from a shipwreck, who tries to swim ashore with all his money bags, and is sunk to the bottom by their weight. Sometimes people, coming home from abroad, bring with them a quantity of smuggled goods, and their clothes are all padded with laces, and other ill-gotten gear. What happens? They are stopped at a narrow gate, and stripped of all their load before they are permitted to return home. So, my brothers, if you would pass the gate which leads home, to the rest which remaineth for the people of God, you must not overload yourselves with this world's gear. You must not fill up your thoughts with your business, and drag that burden with you to the very edge of the Churchyard mould. You are just blocking up the way to eternal life with your bales of goods, your manufactures, your business books. Some of you are blocking God's highway with the waggons of worldly commerce, others with the gay chariot of frivolous pleasure. Here is a woman trying to walk in the narrow way. She has a crowd of children hanging upon her skirts. She has tried to be a good mother, but she has let the cares and plans for her children draw her away from God, and we see her dragged from the narrow way by those whom she ought to have helped along it. Believe me, it is not open, notorious evil-doers who form the majority on the broad road to destruction. It is not the murderer, the thief, the drunkard, the adulterer, the unbeliever, who crowd that down-hill road. They are there with the rest, but they are outnumbered by those whom the world calls very respectable. Amid that crowd of all ages and ranks, there are those who have attended our Church Services, and knelt at our Altars, some of them do so still. They have no vulgar vices, they never swear, or exceed moderation in food and drink, they have wives and families, and they pay their way like respectable householders. And yet, -- Oh! the pity of it -- they are travelling on the broad road. It is not open; disgraceful sin which has placed them there, but just worldliness. The dust of the world has filled up every corner of their life, and they have no room for God. The windows of their soul are so begrimed with the dust and cobwebs of this life that the sunshine of God's Holy Spirit cannot shine through them. One is so taken up with his farm that his heart and soul seemed buried in the soil of it. The Gospel message rings in his ear, but he makes light of it. Another is so occupied with his merchandise, with making, and getting, that he has no time to see how it stands with his soul, no time to think of the account to be rendered to God when all earthly accounts are closed for ever. One is so eager to obtain a good position for himself, or his children, in the world, that he utterly neglects to fit himself, or them, for a place in the world to come. With some the idol is work, with others pleasure, but in either case they worship an idol, and not God. There are women whose minds are so taken up with the latest fashion, and the newest dress, that they have neglected the white garment of holiness, and forgotten the old, old fashion -- death. My brothers, my sisters, take heed. It is not so much the coarse vices of the brutal and ignorant which ruin souls, as the selfish worldliness of those who ought to know better. If you are living for self, for work, for pleasure, for society, for anything but God, then, in spite of your respectable name, and your outward forms of religion, you have slipped from the narrow way which leads to life eternal. If you are determined to make this world your Heaven, you must not be astonished if you are shut out of Heaven in the world to come.
If these poor worldly folk could only see the end, could only understand now how hollow and worthless, and disappointing, the things of this world are at the last, they would cast aside every weight, and strive to regain the narrow way of God's commandments. History is full of instances of those who found, some too late, that the pleasures of the world are worthless. How melancholy is the declaration of one who says, "I have dragged on to thirty-three. What have all those years left to me? Nothing except three and thirty." Diocletian the Emperor tells us that he is happier planting cabbages at Salona, than ruling the world at Byzantium. Another Emperor, Severus, declares that he has held every position in life from the lowest to the highest, and found no good in any. Look into the history of France, and see what the world gave to Madame de Pompadour at the last. She had sacrificed virtue and honour for the glitter of the court of Louis XV. And now in the latter days she tells us that she has no inclination for the things which once pleased her. Her magnificent house in Paris was refurnished in the most lavish style, and it only pleased her for two days! Her country residence was charming, and she alone could not endure it. They told her all the gossip of the gay world, and she scarcely understood their meaning. "My life," she says, "is a continual death." At last the end came. And as they carried her to her burial, the king, who had once professed to love her, said with utter unconcern -- "The Countess will have a fine day." This is what the world gave to Madame de Pompadour.
My brethren, I have been striking the old notes to-day, and re-telling an oft-told story. But sin and sorrow are ever the same, and the one great concern of your life and mine is the same as when Jesus died for us on Calvary. Let us take heed to our ways, and see on which road we are journeying. If we have gone out of the way Jesus will bring us back, if we want to come back. Ask Him, brothers, ask Him now. Pray as perhaps you never prayed before.
"True prayer is not the imposing sound
"Strive to enter in at the strait gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat."