Adapted from a sermon by Asahel Nettleton.
"THE CERTAIN DESTRUCTION OF ALL WHO DO NOT SEEK SALVATION RIGHTLY"
For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able (Luke 13.24)
1. The question was once asked: "Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able," Luke 13.24. Please turn to that verse.
2. What we have here is a most interesting question. A question about salvation. A question that leads to a useful, though an alarming, answer.
3. Now, to the question, "Are there few that be saved?" the human race has given a number of different answers. But if the truth be told, itís really a question thatís beyond the reach of human reason. Whether the answer is a few people, or many people, or if any people at all will finally be saved, is an issue that really canít be settled without a revelation from God.
4. Setting aside the opinions of fallible men, we can only depend upon divine revelation for a definite answer. So, the appeal was made to One Who is all-knowing. And whatever the various opinions of men may be, the Son of God has declared, "Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."
5. What the exact proportion is of the human race that will finally be saved or lost, I cannot say, because I have not been told. But there is one thing that I do know. "Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."
1A. LETíS FOCUS OUR ATTENTION ON THE FACT THAT HAS BEEN ASSERTED
1B. The Fact Is, Many People Have Sought Salvation And Have Missed Getting Saved
1C. Everyone who puts forth any kind of effort in religious or spiritual pursuits is in some sense seeking to enter heaven. Even pagans, who know nothing of the Savior, are concerned about their future state. How can we tell? They build temples, they worship idols, and they offer sacrifices. Theyíve offered their own children in sacrifice and subjected themselves to the most cruel tortures. And for what? To atone for sin and to obtain pardon and some kind of salvation. All these efforts and exertions are demonstrations of their anxiety and their concern about their future state. Millions of people have sought, in this manner, to enter heaven, and have not been able to.
2C. With respect to idolaters, we have a positive declaration that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God no matter how sincerely they strive, First Corinthians 6.9-10: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God." And in Revelation 22.15: "For without are murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."
3C. Remember that Cain, as well as Abel, offered a sacrifice. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. Abel brought an offering from the flock. And the Lord had respect to Abelís offering but not to Cainís offering. Both sought salvation, and yet both were not accepted.
4C. The Jewish people in the time of Isaiah offered thousands of sacrifices, appeared before the Lord in solemn assemblies, and made many prayers. And yet the Lord declared to them, "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear," Isaiah 1.15.
5C. When the Lord Jesus Christ was on earth many people were very precise in their devotion to all the external requirements of Judaism. They prayed and fasted and paid tithes of all that they possessed. This was how they pursued salvation, and yet they were excluded, "For," says the Savior, "I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 5.20.
6C. The orthodox Jews of our present day, even though they denounce Christ as an impostor, are very zealous and devote great energy to the performance of the religious duties of Judaism. You see, like the Jewish people of old, and like the pagans, they are seeking to enter heaven. And yet Christ says to such people, "Ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins," John 8.24.
7C. So you see, many, many people have desired to enter heaven and have not been able to. These people, you will remember, did not live frivolous and unconcerned lives. They were not without serious thoughts on the subject of salvation. They were very concerned about their salvation. But they failed to obtain salvation.
2B. That Many People Will Seek To Enter Heaven, And Shall Not Be Able To Enter Heaven, Is Also Evident From The Plain Declarations Of Scripture
1C. When Jesus comes again to judge the nations many people will be found pleading for admittance into heaven on the basis of their religious performance. "Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity," Matthew 7.22-23.
2C. Our text also confirms this fact. "Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." Please notice that the Savior is not speaking of you who do not and will not think of spiritual things and the need for salvation. He is not speaking of you who sit down and do nothing about your soulís destiny. What makes this all the more alarming, He is speaking about you who really do seek salvation. You want to enter heaven and will not able to enter. "Not able," says Christ. But if you want to enter in, why are you not able to?
3C. My friends, do you not realize that you cannot enter in because you do not seek to enter in the right way? And many others beside you will seek to enter heaven but will not be able to for the same reason. They simply will not seek rightly. You see, everything depends on the manner by which you seek.
2A. LETíS FOCUS NOW ON THE WAYS IN WHICH SINNERS MAY SEEK SALVATION, THOUGH THEY ARE ALTOGETHER UNSUCCESSFUL IN OBTAINING SALVATION
Let me give you five ways in which sinners seek salvation and yet completely miss the mark.
1B. First, Some Of You Do Not Seek Salvation First
1C. You see, Jesus directed you to "seek first the kingdom of God." Salvation is supposed to be the first and primary object of your pursuits. Everything else must give way to your pursuit of salvation. Everything else must be subordinate to this goal of getting saved. Whatever may come along to compete with salvation for importance in your life, no matter how dear it may be to you, you should renounce it without so much as a sigh.
2C. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." This is how valuable salvation is.
3C. The problem is that many of you who deal with this subject of salvation will not seek it in this manner. You attend to salvation in your spare time, or when there is nothing else pressing to command your attention. You donít make it the one thing thatís needful, nor do you feel its overwhelming importance. The grand principle of sinful man, you see, is to seek first the world, and then if you can find time to seek salvation.
4C. Though you do go to Church, and you do pay some attention to spiritual matters, still you attend more to the world. All of you who deal with the subject of salvation in this way will miss heaven. You see, Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
2B. Second, Some Of You Seek Salvation By Your Own Righteousness
1C. Some of you are self-righteous sinners who trust in what you have done, or in what you are doing, or perhaps in what you intend to do, for securing your salvation. Your problem will not lie in any lack of zeal or lack of commitment in spiritual matters. You will finally be lost not because you did not do more, but because you trusted in what you did. This was the fatal mistake of some people during the time of the apostles. Paul told the Romans about them: "For I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of Godís righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God," Romans 10.2-3.
2C. Such sinners as you are those who have never really come to understand your own sinfulness, your own corruption, your own inability to do anything to please God and merit salvation. So, without feeling that you are a sinner, you are therefore without conviction, and you will end up without conversion. You are like the Pharisee who prayed, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in a week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
3C. What you do not realize is that no one can enter heaven on the ground of his own righteousness. Jesus said that, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Strip off all your garments of good deeds and self-righteousness and what do you have? Youíre just another sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins. Even the apostle Paul wrote, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Even a man such as Paul was came to see that he had no righteousness of his own to stand before God on judgment day.
3B. Third, There Are Others Of You Who Deny The Necessity Of Regeneration
1C. You are the ones who intend to live moral lives, and do not really believe in the necessity of a change of heart. But you need to realize that everyone who seeks to enter heaven without being born again will be greatly disappointed. However sincere a person may be in disbelieving the doctrine, however much you may do to enter heaven without being born again, it makes no difference. Your error will be fatal. The Lord Jesus Christ declared, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven." After all is said in a vain attempt to explain away this doctrine of the necessity of the new birth, too late you will discover it to be of such a pressing necessity that without it no one can enter heaven.
2C. This, by the way, is the one gate which sinners must enter. Repentance is the gate, and the only gate which leads to the door of heaven. Like all sinners, you are commanded to strive, to agonize, and to enter this gate. And you who deny the necessity of regeneration may seek to enter heaven, but you never seek to enter the strait gate. It is, however, the command of Christ. "Enter ye in at the strait gate."
3C. The difficulty of repentance is stated as the reason why many of you will not be saved, "because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." You who do not believe in regeneration do not even seek to enter in at the strait gate. But remember that all of you who attempt to climb up some other way will certainly be excluded.
4C. You are those who spend your time in idle attempts to widen the gate. Instead of humbling yourself, and breaking off your sins, and striving to enter by regeneration and repentance, you will waste your day of salvation by cutting and carving and widening the gate so that you may enter in with your sins. You donít want to be saved from your sins. You want to be saved in your sins.
4B. Fourth, Some Of You Will Seek Salvation, But Your Efforts Will Be Too Late
1C. "Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not," Matthew 25.11-12. "When once the master of the house hath risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know not whence ye are," Luke 13.25. "I tell you I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity," Luke 13.27.
2C. You who have frequently suffocated your convictions and resisted the Spirit of God are in danger of being too late. "Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded," Proverbs 1.24. Be careful, so you donít end up like "Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears," Hebrews 12.16-17. "Carefully with tears?" What does "carefully with tears" mean? "Carefully with tears" means that Esauís repentance was not genuine. In other words, he was faking it. He was just too late.
3C. Here is a short poem that describes the situation of you who strive too late.
But hear the Saviorís word,
"Strive for the heavenly gate,
Many will call upon the Lord,
And find their cries too late."
5B. Finally, A Number Of You Are Not Willing To Part With All To Be Saved
1C. This was the case with the rich young man in the Gospels. He came to Christ with the important question, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" You see, he imagined that he was willing to do anything to obtain heaven. So, Jesus said to him, "Go and sell all that thou hast." This requirement tested him severely. Further, it showed to him his true heart. And it sent him away sad.
2C. It is recorded of Herod, that when he heard John the Baptist preach he did many things. But with respect to the sinner anxious for his soul, there is oftentimes one sin that prevents you from yielding to the terms of the Gospel. Whatever it may be, you must renounce it. You must break off from every sin. It is required to do it on pain of eternal death. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." "If thy right eye offend thee; pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." So, you must part with all your sins, or you must part with heaven. All who seek to enter heaven without renouncing all their sins seek heaven in vain.
3C. Or it may be some friend or acquaintance with whom you are not willing to part or who you cannot bear to offend. A man said to Jesus, "Let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house." But Jesus responded by saying, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." By the way. What happened to Herod? To please his wifeís daughter, Salome, he condemned his own soul to Hell.
4C. Finally, some seek for a time and then drop the subject. And this is not unusual with teenagers. For a time you are alarmed. You read and attempt to pray. You even struggle with conviction for awhile. But eventually you find your heart so hard, and the demands of Christ so difficult and painful, and distractions so alluring, that you drop the subject, you give it up, and you are lost forever.
5C. Those of you who are about to give it all up usually do it by taking offense at something. Youíll take offense at almost anything. Thus it was in the time of Christ. They followed Him for awhile, but eventually His preaching came too close to them. Their proud hearts couldnít endure it any longer. They then took offense, "and from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him."
1. So, some sinners do not seek salvation as if it is the one thing most important. Others wrongly seek salvation by means of their own righteousness. A third kind effectively denies the need of regeneration, of the need to be born again. Still others seek salvation, but theyíre too late. Finally, there are some who are not willing to part with all for heaven.
2. What can be concluded from what we have dealt with here this evening? First, there is a danger of being too flippant and casual toward the subject of salvation. If strait is the gate, then youíd better beware how you attempt to widen it. You may succeed in quieting your conscience for a while, but you do it at the peril of losing your soul. None of you will be any better than the attitude you adopt with regard to the importance of salvation.
3. No preacher ever made the way to heaven more difficult than the Son of God, Who said, "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many go in thereat," and "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." If any preacher attempts to show you an easier way to heaven than by the strait gate and narrow way of regeneration, you will know that he does not preach the way of salvation.
4. If you are sitting here this evening, and you are not yet anxious for your soul, you may very well fear that you are among those who will not be able to enter in. Let me tell you that your fears are not without foundation. Many people whose souls are as just precious as yours have been lost. And among them are many who have been more anxious than you have been, and who strived more diligently than you can imagine.
5. You have no idea how this will all end. There is no safety for you so long as you are not saved. You may after all is said and done lose your concern, and then your last state will be worse than the first. And if you drop your duty, or quit now without being converted, this will certainly be the case for you.
6. If many people seek to enter in and shall not be able, it should not be surprising to any of us if some of you who are here today, before long turn back into the world. Should a number of you who think you have experienced the grace of God someday turn back, it will not disprove the reality of salvation in other peopleís lives. Because there was a Judas among the apostles. Christ did have true disciples. Paul had Demas, but he also had Timothy and Silas. So, just because one seed falls on stony ground does not mean that another seed didnít fall on good ground.
7. When someone like this drops out and goes back to the world, how common it is for the wicked to speak of it with an air of triumph. "There goes one of your good Christians." But what does the falling away of one who is not genuinely saved prove? It proves that you who talks like that arenít saved. It proves that you who talks like that is glad that others are going to Hell with you. It reinforces the likelihood that you will never be saved, for if others have been deceived, you can well imagine how few are actually going to heaven. So, this only proves the truth of our text, "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
8. Finally (and with this we close), If the unconverted seek, what will become of those who wonít even seek, and who refuse to do anything? If the unconverted are anxious for their souls, and if the unconverted pray, what about those of you who never pray at all? If some lost ones have started to flee to the city of refuge, what about those who have not yet taken alarm? If some who have taken alarm and are striving to escape for their lives, what about those who, after all, look back and become pillars of salt, or are still sleeping in Sodom?
9. Are you unconverted this evening? Jesus commands you to strive to enter in at the strait gate. Make sure you strive rightly.