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THE DIFFICULTY OF SALVATION.
I PETER iv. 18.
If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly
and the sinner appear ?
At first hearing, these words would seem to imply a doubt as to the final salvation of the righteous, and that heaven is a place of such difficult access, that with all their exertion, and with all the assistance of God's spirit, they shall but barely enter, and no more.
But if we attend to sense, rather than to sound, it will appear, that such is not the Apostles meaning; that although he would inepire care and watchfulness on the part of thone who are apt to think their condition secure, by reprennt
ing salvation to be a matter of greater difficulty than the world is accustomed to suppose ; it was not his intention to discourage us in the pursuit by representing it as a thing impossible.
The Scriptures, indeed, whilst they set forth the pleasantness of religion, represent it still as “a narrow way," and a “ strait gate.” The qualities themselves necessary to a successful walk in this road, and to secure a blissful entrance into life, are also in their nature strict and straight, allowing of no deviation on the right hand or the left: yet who will deny the happiness and pleasure of a virtuous course, the peace and harmony of right affections? We are told also that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. But the violent take it by force: those who are truly enamoured of religion, will not relinquish their hold of it because there are difficulties therein, not so much perhaps in itself, as in the obstacles it throws in the way of corrupt nature, and low and sordid pursuits. And, it must be confessed, it adds greatly to the credibility of our religion, that in laying the matter of man's salvation before him, nothing is kept back. There are no reserves of suffering, no inflated representations of eternal happiness. In his road theavenward, the Christian meets with no difficulty, no discouragement, of which he was not fairly apprised. So that if he thinks to be saved without many painful encounters with his spiritval foes, many vexations and disappointments, he has taken the wrong road to heaven, and has yet to learn the first elements of his religion. But though the scriptures are thus faithful in their representations of the difficulties of salvation, they no where represent it as of doubtful attainment to those who perseveringly use the appointed means. They promise eternal life to. the righteous, and ground the promise upon the truth and power of God. And they set it forth in a manner, though not highly-drawn, sufficiently alluring to the faithful few.
So far, then, from wishing to make the en. trance into heaven narrower than it is, the Apostle holds a doctrine the very reverse in other parts of his Epistle, where he says, “ Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
To have in our mind the real difficulties which hedge up the way to heaven, is what will be useful to the confirmed Christian as well as the unawakened sinner, to stimulate exertion, and
to check presumption. And this the words of the text are calculated to do. “ If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” If they must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven, and all their vigilance and caution be necessary to secure them against falling away from their faith and stedfastness, what hope is there for the sinner? for him who takes the business of religion, his soul, and eternity, so easily as to bestow no thought thereon, and to drive it from his mind by sin and sensuality, thoughtlessness, and indifference? How shall he hope to be saved ? Where shall he appear amid the multitude of the faithful, who have “ come through much tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the lamb?". The question is its own answer, being in effect as much as to affirm, that there is no hope for him. He cannot appear. He cannot be saved.
The words of the text, thus explained, present two particulars for our consideration, viz. : « The difficulty of salvation to the righteous :" « the impossibility of salvation to the sinner.”.
I. In addition to the remarks already made concerning the difficulties of religion, I must observe, that the doctrine of the scriptures relating to this point is greatly misunderstood or abused,
And hence arise perpetual mistake and disappointment in the subsequent progress of him who has hastily, and without examination, commenced a religious career. These he visits upon religion itself, and throws up the profession in disgust. We shall therefore be rendering essential service to Christianity, by alluring men with its hopes and promises, but still by fairly and unreservedly unfolding to them, what are its severe requisitions, its uncompromising conditions. Thus our Lord invited the young man in the gospel, by calling upon him as the first step, to sell all that he had. Let us, my brethren, do the same. Let us represent the profession of the gospel as a system of conscientious self denial, of wholesome relinquishment, but ample indemnification in the peace and harmony arising from subdued appetites, and chastised affections; and by so doing we place it in the right light, the light of scripture, the light of reason. Virtue itself is a severe thing. Its path is thorny, not flowery: full of trials, not of pleasures, except such as are hidden and to the world impalpable. Such also is the character of true religion. We fairly and openly apprise you, that you should well count the cost, before you enter the strait road to heaven, The Gospel has nothing agreeable to flesh and blood, it crosses