Acacia John Bunyan

Strait Gate
O R,
Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven:
Plainly proving, by the Scriptures, that not only the rude and profane, but
many great professors, will come short of that kingdom:
with directions how and why every one should strive to enter in.

"Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the
way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in
thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which
leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."– Matthew 7:13, 14

By J O H N.B U N Y A N.


Third. I come not to the exhortation, which is, to strive to enter in. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." These words are fitly added; for since the gate is strait, it follows that they that will enter in must strive.

"Strive." This word strive supposeth that great idleness is natural to professors; they think to get to heaven by lying, as it were, on their elbows. It also suggesteth that many will be the difficulties that professors will meet with, before they get to heaven. It also concludeth that only the labouring Christian, man or woman, will get in thither. "Strive," &c.

Three questions I will propound upon the word, an answer to which may give us light into the meaning of it: I. What doth this word strive import?

II. How should we strive? III. Why should we strive?

[Import of the word STRIVE.]

I. What doth this word strive import? Answer,

1. When he saith, Strive, it is as much as to say, Bend yourselves to the work with all your might. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest." (Eccl 9:10) Thus Samson did when he set himself to destroy the Philistines; "He bowed himself with all his might." (Judg 16:30) Thus David did also, when he made provision for the building and beautifying of the temple of God. (1 Chron 29:2) And thus must thou do, if ever thou enterest into heaven.

2. When he saith, Strive, he calleth for the mind and will, that they should be on his side, and on the side of the things of his kingdom; for none strive indeed, but such as have given the Son of God their heart; of which the mind and will are a principal part; for saving conversion lieth more in the turning of the mind and will to Christ, and to the love of his heavenly things, than in all knowledge and judgment. And this the apostle confirmeth, when he saith, "Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving," &c. (Phil 1:27)

3. And, more particularly, this word strive is expressed by several other terms; as, (1.) It is expressed by that word, "So run that ye may obtain." (1 Cor 9:24,25) (2.) It is expressed by that word, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." (1 Tim 6:12) (3.) It is expressed by that word, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." (John 6:27) (4.) It is expressed by that word, "We wrestle - with principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world." (Eph 6:12) Therefore, when he saith, Strive, it is as much as to say, Run for heaven, Fight for heaven, Labour for heaven, Wrestle for heaven, or you are like to go without it.

[How should we strive?]

II. The second question is, How should we strive?

Answ. The answer in general is, Thou must strive lawfully. "and if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." (2 Tim 2:5) But you will say, What is it to strive lawfully? [I] answer–

1. To strive against the things which are abhorred by the Lord Jesus; yea, to resist to the spilling of your blood, striving against sin. (Heb 12:4) To have all those things that are condemned by the Word; yea, though they be thine own right hand, right eye, or right foot, in abomination; and to seek by all godly means the utter suppressing of them. (Mark 9:43,45,47)

2. To strive lawfully, is to strive for those things that are commanded in the Word.–"But thou, O man of God, flee the world, and follow after," that is, strive for, "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life," &c. (1 Tim 6:11,12)

3. He that striveth lawfully, must be therefore very temperate in all the good and lawful things of this life. "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." (1 Cor 9:25) Most professors give leave to the world and the vanity of their hearts, to close with them, and to hang about their necks, and make their striving to stand rather in an outcry of words, than a hearty labour against the lusts and love of the world, and their own corruptions; but this kind of striving is but a beating of the air, and will come to just nothing at last. (1 Cor 9:26)

4. He that striveth lawfully, must take God and Christ along with him to the work, otherwise he will certainly be undone. "Whereunto," said Paul, "I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." (Col 1:29) And for the right performing of this, he must observe these following particulars:–

(1.) He must take heed that he doth not strive about things, or words, to no profit; for God will not then be with him. "Of these things," saith the apostle, "put them in remembrance; charging them before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers." (2 Tim 2:14) But, alas! how many professors in our days are guilty of this transgression, whose religion stands chiefly, if not only, in a few unprofitable questions and vain wranglings about words and things to no profit, but to the destruction of the hearers!

(2.) He must take heed that whilst he strives against one sin, he does not harbour and shelter another; or that whilst he cries out against other men's sin, he does not countenance his own.

(3.) In the striving, strive to believe, strive for the faith of the gospel; for the more we believe the gospel, and the reality of the things of the world to come, with the more stomach and courage shall we labour to possess the blessedness. (Phil 1:27) "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Heb 4:11)

(4.) As we should strive for, and by faith, so we should strive by prayer, by fervent and effectual prayer. (Romans 15:30) O the swarms of our prayerless professors! What do they think of themselves? Surely the gate of heaven was heretofore as wide as in these our days; but what striving by prayer was there then among Christians for the thing that gives admittance into this kingdom, over [what] there is in these latter days!

(5.) We should also strive by mortifying our members that are upon the earth. "I therefore so run," said Paul, "not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached the gospel to others, I myself should be a cast-away." (1 Cor 9:26,27) But all this is spoken principally to professors; so I would be understood.

[Why should we strive?]

III. I come now to the third question, namely, But why should we strive? Answer–

1. Because the thing for which you are here exhorted to strive, it is worth the striving for; it is for not less than for a whole heaven, and an eternity of felicity there. How will men that have before them a little honour, a little profit, a little pleasure, strive? I say again, how will they strive for this? Now they do it for a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. Methinks this word heaven, and this eternal life, ought verily to make us strive, for what is there again either in heaven or earth like them to provoke a man to strive?

2. Strive, because otherwise the devil and hell will assuredly have thee. He goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8) These fallen angels, they are always watchful, diligent, unwearied; they are also mighty, subtle, and malicious, seeking nothing more than the damnation of thy soul. O thou that art like the artless dove, strive!

3. Strive, because every lust strives and wars against thy soul. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit." (Gal 5:17) "Dearly beloved, I beseech you," said Peter, "as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." (1 Peter 2:11) It is a rare thing to see or find out a Christian that indeed can bridle his lusts; but no strange thing to see such professors that are "not only bridled, but saddled too," yea, and ridden from lust to sin, from one vanity to another, by the very devil himself, and the corruptions of their hearts.

4. Strive, because thou hast a whole world against thee. The world hateth thee if thou be a Christian; the men of the world hate thee; the things of the world are snares for thee, even thy bed and table, thy wife and husband, yea, thy most lawful enjoyments have that in them that will certainly sink thy soul to hell, if thou dost not strive against the snares that are in them. (Rom 11:9)

The world will seek to keep thee out of heaven with mocks, flouts, taunts, threatenings, jails, gibbets, halters, burnings, and a thousand deaths; therefore strive! Again, if it cannot overcome thee with these, it will flatter, promise, allure, entice, entreat, and use a thousand tricks on this hand to destroy thee; and observe, many that have been stout against the threats of the world, have yet been overcome with the bewitching flatteries of the same.

There ever was enmity betwixt the devil and the church, and betwixt his seed and her seed too; Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels, these make war continually. (Gen 3, Rev 12) There hath been great desires and endeavours among men to reconcile these two in one, to wit, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, but it could never yet be accomplished. The world says, they will never come over to us; and we again say, by God's grace, we will never come over to them. But the business hath not ended in words; both they and we have also added our endeavours to make each other submit, but endeavours have proved ineffectual too. They, for their part, have devised all manner of cruel torments to make us submit, as slaying with the sword, stoning, sawing asunder, flames, wild beasts, banishments, hunger, and a thousand miseries. We again, on the other side, have laboured by prayers and tears, by patience and long- suffering, by gentleness and love, by sound doctrine and faithful witness-bearing against their enormities, to bring them over to us; but yet the enmity remains; so that they must conquer us, or we must conquer them. One side must be overcome; but the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.

5. Strive, because there is nothing of Christianity got by idleness. Idleness clothes a man with rags, and the vineyard of the slothful is grown over with nettles. (Prov 23:21, 24:30-32) Profession that is not attended with spiritual labour cannot bring the soul to heaven. The fathers before us were "not slothful in business," but "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." Therefore "be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Rom 12:11, Heb 6:12)

"Strive to enter in." Methinks the words, at the first reading, do intimate to us, that the Christian, in all that ever he does in this world, should carefully heed and regard his soul–I say, in all that ever he does. Many are for their souls by fits and starts; but a Christian indeed, in all his doing and designs which he contriveth and manageth in this world, should have a special eye to his own future and everlasting good; in all his labours he should strive to enter in: "Wisdom [Christ] is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." (Prov 4:7) Get nothing, if thou canst not get Christ and grace, and further hopes of heaven in that getting; get nothing with a bad conscience, with the hazard of thy peace with God, and that in getting it thou weakenest thy graces which God hath given thee; for this is not to strive to enter in. Add grace to grace, both by religious and worldly duties; "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:8-11) Religious duties are not the only striving times; he that thinks so is out. Thou mayest help thy faith and thy hope in the godly management of thy calling, and mayest get further footing in eternal life, by studying the glory of God in all thy worldly employment. I am speaking now to Christians that are justified freely by grace, and am encouraging, or rather counselling of them to strive to enter in; for there is an entering in by faith and good conscience now, as well as our entering in body and soul hereafter; and I must add, that the more common it is to thy soul to enter in now by faith, the more steadfast hope shalt thou have of entering in hereafter in body and soul.

"Strive to enter in." By these words also the Lord Jesus giveth sharp rebuke to those professors that have not eternal glory, but other temporal things in their eye, by all the bustle that they make in the world about religion. Some there be, what a stir they make, what a noise and clamour, with their notions and forms, and yet perhaps all is for the loaves; because they have eaten of the loaves, and are filled. (John 6:26) These strive indeed to enter, but it is not into heaven; they find religion hath a good trade at the end of it, or they find that it is the way to credit, repute, preferment, and the like, and therefore they strive to enter into these. But these have not the strait gate in their eye, nor yet in themselves have they love to their poor and perishing souls; wherefore this exhortation nippeth such, by predicting of their damnation.

"Strive to enter in." These words also sharply rebuke them who content themselves as the angel of the church of Sardis, did, to wit, "to have a name to live, and be dead" (Rev 3:1), or as they of the Laodiceans, who took their religion upon trust, and were content with a poor, wretched, lukewarm profession; for such as these do altogether unlike to the exhortation in the text, that says, Strive, and they sit and sleep; that says, Strive to enter in, and they content themselves with a profession that is never like to bring them thither.

"Strive to enter in." Further, these words put us upon proving the truth of our graces now; I say, they put us upon the proof of the truth of them now; for if the strait gate be the gate of heaven, and yet we are to strive to enter into it now, even while we live, and before we come thither, then doubtless Christ means by this exhortation, that we should use all lawful means to prove our graces in this world, whether they will stand in the judgment or no. Strive to enter in; get those graces now that will prove true graces then, and therefore try those you have; and if, upon trial, they prove not right, cast them away, and cry for better, lest they cast thee away, when better are not to be had. "Buy of me gold tried in the fire"; mark that. (Rev 3:18) Buy of me faith and grace that will stand in the judgment; strive for that faith; buy of me that grace, and also white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, that the shame of thy wickedness doth not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. Mind you this advice; this is right striving to enter in.

But you will say, How should we try our graces? Would you have us run into temptation, to try if they be sound or rotten? Answ. You need not run into trials; God hath ordained that enough of them shall overtake thee to prove thy graces either rotten or sound before the day of thy death; sufficient to the day is the evil thereof, if thou hast but a sufficiency of grace to withstand. I say, thou shalt have trials enough overtake thee, to prove thy grace sound or rotten. Thou mayest, therefore, if God shall help thee, see how it is like to go with thee before thou goest out of this world, to wit, whether thy graces be such as will carry thee in at the gates of heaven or no.

But how should we try our graces now? Answ. (a.) How dost thou find them in outward trials? See Hebrews 11:15,16. (b.) How dost thou find thyself in the inward workings of sin? (Rom 7:24) (c.) How dost thou find thyself under the most high enjoyment of grace in this world? (Phil 3:14)

But what do you mean by these three questions? I mean graces show themselves at these their seasons, whether they be rotten or sound.

(a.) How do they show themselves to be true under the first of these? Answ. By mistrusting our own sufficiency, by crying to God for help, by desiring rather to die than to bring any dishonour to the name of God, and by counting that, if God be honoured in the trial, thou hast gained more than all the world could give thee. (2 Chron 20:12, 14:11, Acts 4, 20:22, 2 Cor 4:17,18, Heb 11:24,25)

(b.) How do they show themselves to be true under the second? Answ. By mourning, and confessing, and striving, and praying, against them; by not being content, shouldst thou have heaven, if they live, and defile thee; and by counting of holiness the greatest beauty in the world; and by flying to Jesus Christ for life. (Zech 12:10, John 19, Heb 12:14, Psa 19:12)

(c.) How do they show themselves to be true under the third? Answ. By prizing the true graces above all the world, by praying heartily that God will give thee more; by not being content with all the grace thou canst be capable of enjoying on this side heaven and glory. (Psa 84:10, Luke 17:5, Phil 3)

"Strive to enter in." The reason why Christ addeth these words, "to enter in," is obvious, to wit, because there is no true and lasting happiness on this side heaven; I say, none that is both true and lasting, I mean, as to our sense and feeling as there shall [be]; "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." (Heb 13:14) The heaven is within, strive therefore to enter in; the glory is within, strive therefore to enter in; the Mount Zion is within, strive therefore to enter in; the heavenly Jerusalem is within, strive therefore to enter in; angels and saints are within, strive therefore to enter in; and, to make up all, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that glorious Redeemer, is within, strive therefore to enter in.

"Strive to enter in." "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." Without are also the devils, and hell, and death, and all damned souls; without is howling, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; yea, without are all the miseries, sorrows, and plagues that an infinite God can in justice and power inflict upon an evil and wicked generation; "Strive therefore to enter in at the strait gate." (Rev 22:15, Matt 25:41, Rev 12:9, Is 65:13,14, Matt 22:13, Deu 29:18-20)

"Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."

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[4] How well does our unlettered author give the meaning of strive, agonize.–Ed.

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[5] Reader, while we bless God for being mercifully relieved from those bodily privations and sufferings through which our pilgrim fathers passed, forget not that Satan plies all his arts to allure our souls from the narrow path. If we are saved from tedious imprisonments in damp dungeons–if Antichrist has lost much of his power, the flatterer is ever at hand to entangle us in his net–the atheist is ever ready, by his derision and scorn, to drive us back to the City of Destruction.–Ed.