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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Way to Heaven

By Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)

[From The Sincere Convert. 1655.]

THE GATE is strait, and therefore a man must sweat and strive to enter; both the entrance is difficult and the progress of salvation too. Jesus Christ is not got with a wet finger. It is not wishing and desiring to be saved will bring men to Heaven; Hell’s mouth is full of good wishes. It is not shedding a Tear at a Sermon, or blubbering now and then in a corner, and saying over thy prayers, and crying God’s Mercy for thy sins will save thee. It is not a “Lord, have mercy upon us,” will do thee good. It is not coming constantly to church; these are easy matters. But it is a tough Work, a wonderful hard Matter to be saved. Hence the Way to Heaven is compared to a race, where a man must put forth all his strength and stretch every limb and all to get forward. Hence a Christian’s Life is compared to wrestling, Eph. vi. 12. All the policy and power of Hell buckle together against a Christian, therefore he must look to himself, or else he falls. Hence it is compared to fighting, II. Tim. iv. 7, as Man must fight against the Devil, the World, himself, who shoot poisoned Bullets in the Soul, where a Man must kill or be killed. God hath not lined the Way to Heaven with Velvet, nor strewed it with Rushes. He will never feed a slothful humor in man, who will be saved if Christ and Heaven will drop into their mouths, and if any would bear their charges thither. If Christ might be bought for a few cold Wishes and lazy Desires, he would be of small reckoning among men, who would say: “Lightly come, lightly go.” Indeed Christ’s Yoke is easy in itself, and when a man is got into Christ, nothing is so sweet; but for a carnal dull heart, it is hard to draw in it: For,

There are four strait Gates which every one must pass through before he can enter into Heaven.

1. There is the strait Gate of Humiliation. God saveth none but first he humbleth them. Now it is hard for a heart as stiff as a stake to bow, as hard as a stone to bleed for the least prick, not to mourn for one sin, but all sins; and not for a fit, but all man’s life-time. Oh it is hard for a man to suffer himself to be loaden with sin, and prest to death for sin, so as never to love sin more, but to spit in the face of that which he once loved as dearly as his life. It is easy to drop a tear or two, and be Sermon-sick; but to have a heart rent for sin, and from sin, this is true Humiliation, and this is hard.

2. The strait Gate of Faith. It is an easy matter to presume but hard to believe in Christ. It is easy for a man that was never humbled to believe and say: “’Tis but believing.” But it is an hard matter for a man humbled when he sees all his sins in order before him, the Devil and Conscience roaring upon him, and crying out against him, and God frowning upon him; now to call God Father is an hard Work. Judas had rather be hanged than believe. It is hard to see a Christ as a Rock to stand upon, when we are overwhelmed with sorrow of heart for sin. It is hard to prize Christ above ten thousand worlds of pearl. ’Tis hard to desire Christ and nothing but Christ; hard to follow Christ all the day long, and never be quiet till he is got in thine arms, and then with Simeon to say: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

3. The strait Gate of Repentance. It is an easy Matter for a man to confess himself to be a sinner, and to cry to God for forgiveness until next time. But to have a bitter sorrow, and so to turn from all sin, and to return to God, and all the ways of God, which is true Repentance indeed; this is hard.

4. The strait Gate of Opposition of Devils, the World, and a Man’s own self, who knocks a Man down when he begins to look towards Christ and Heaven.

Hence learn that every easy way to Heaven is a false way, although Ministers should preach it out of their pulpits, and Angels should publish it out of Heaven.

Now there are nine easy Ways to Heaven (as men think) all of which lead to Hell.

1. The common broad Way, wherein a whole parish may all go, abreadth in it; tell these people they shall be damned; their answer is, “Then woe to many more besides me.”

2. The Way of Civil Education; whereby many wild natures are by little and little tamed, and like wolves are chained up easily while they are young.

3. Balaam’s Way of good Wishes; whereby many people will confess their ignorance, forgetfulness, and that they can not make such shows as others do, but they thank God their hearts are as good, and God for his part accepts (say they) the will for the deed. And, “My son, give me thine heart;” the heart is all in all, and so long they hope to do well enough. Poor deluded Creatures, thus to think to break through Armies of Sins, Devils, Temptations, and to break open the very Gates of Heaven with a few good Wishes! They think to come to their journey’s end without legs, because their hearts are good to God.

4. The Way of Formality; whereby men rest in the performance of most or of all external duties without inward life. Every man must have some religion, some fig-leaves to hide their nakedness. Now this religion must be either true religion, or the false one; if the true he must either take up the power of it, but that he will not, because it is burdensome; or the form of it, and this being easy, men embrace it as their God, and will rather lose their lives than their religion thus taken up. This Form of Religion is the easiest religion in the world; partly because it easeth men of trouble of conscience, quieting that. Thou hast sinned, said Conscience, and God is offended; take a Book and pray, keep thy Conscience better, and bring thy Bible with thee. Now Conscience is silent, being charmed down with the Form of Religion, as the Devil is driven away (as they say) with Holy Water; partly also because the Form of Religion credits a man, partly because it is easy in itself; it ’s of a light carriage, being but the shadow and picture of the substance of religion; as now, what an easy matter is it to come to Church! They hear (at least outwardly) very attentively an hour or more, and then to turn to a proof, and to turn down a leaf, here ’s the Form. But now to spend Saturday-night and all the whole Sabbath Day-morning, in trimming the Lamp, and in getting Oil in the Heart to meet the Bridegroom the next Day, and so meet him in the Word, and there to tremble at the Voice of God, and suck the breast while it is open, and when the Word is done, to go aside privately and there to chew upon the Word, there to lament with tears all the vain thoughts in duties, deadness in hearing—this is hard, because this is the Power of Godliness, and this men will not take up. So for private praying what an easy matter is it for a man to say over a few prayers out of some devout Book, or to repeat some old prayer got by heart since a child, or to have two or three short-winded Wishes for God’s Mercy in the morning and at night! this Form is easy. But now to prepare the heart by serious meditation of God and man’s self before he prays, then to come to God with a bleeding, hunger-starved heart, not only with a desire but with a warrant, “I must have such or such a Mercy,” and there to wrestle with God, although it be an hour or two together for a Blessing—this is too hard. Men think none do thus and therefore they will not.

5. The Way of Presumption; whereby men having seen their sins, catch hold easily upon God’s Mercy, and snatch comforts before they are reached out unto them. There is no word of comfort in the Book of God intended for such as regard Iniquity in their Hearts, though they do not act it in their lives. Their only comfort is that the Sentence of Damnation is not yet executed upon them.

6. The Way of Sloth; whereby men lie still and say “God must do all.” If the Lord would set up a Pulpit at the ale-house door, it may be they would hear oftener. If God will always thunder, they will always pray; if he strike them now and then with sickness, God shall be paid with good words and promises enough, that they will be better if they live; but as long as Peace lasts they will run to Hell as fast as they can; and if God will not catch them they care not, they will not return.

7. The Way of Carelessness, when men feeling many difficulties pass through some of them, but not all, and what they can not get now, they feed themselves with a false hope they shall hereafter. They are content to be called Precisians and Fools, and crazy Brains, but they want Brokenness of Heart, and they will pray (it may be) for it, and pass by that difficulty; but to keep the wound always open, this they will not do, to be always sighing for help, and never to give themselves rest till their hearts are humbled; that they will not. These have a Name to live, yet are dead.

8. The Way of Moderation or honest Discretion, which indeed is nothing but Luke-warmness of the Soul, and that is when a man contrives and cuts out such a way to Heaven, as he may be hated of none, but please all, and so do any thing for a quiet life and so sleep in a whole skin. The Lord saith: “He that will live godly must suffer persecution.” No, not so, Lord. Surely (think they) if men were discreet and wise, it would prevent a great deal of trouble and opposition in good Courses; this man will commend those that are most zealous, if they were wise; if he meet with a black-mouthed Swearer, he will not reprove him, lest he be displeased with him; if he meet with an honest Man, he ’ll yield to all he saith, that so he may commend him; and when he meets them both together, they shall be both alike welcome (whatever he thinks) to his house and table, because he would fain be at peace with all men.

9. And lastly, The Way of Self-Love; whereby a man fearing terribly he shall be damned, useth diligently all means whereby he shall be saved. Here is the strongest difficulty of all, to row against the Stream, and to hate a man’s self, and then to follow Christ fully.