Are There Few That Be Saved?
Message by Carl Armerding, D.D. Associate Professor of Bible and Theology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
For our meditation this evening let us turn again to Luke’s Gospel, chapter 13, commencing at verse 22. “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, 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. When once the master of the house is 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 you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”
There is a question in this 23rd verse which I want you to consider with me. It is this: “Lord are there many that be saved?” I am sure that no faithful Christian has failed to consider this question when he has looked around and noticed how the majority are traveling the broad road to destruction, and the reason why there are so many vacant seats where the Gospel can be heard. Not only that—but as he looks over his Bible and notices the various judgments described for him there and the comparatively few who have escaped them. Take, for instance, the notable judgment in the days of the flood. The Scripture says there were eight lives saved. How many more called upon the Lord and were saved in the last hours of their lives, we know not. Then again, we read of such scenes as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we find just a very few who escaped with their lives. It is true that one does meet a soul occasionally who is anxious to hear about these things, but the majority want to be left alone. They indicated that when you give them a tract. They throw it to one side or sometimes even tear it up because they do not want to be spoken to, nor to be disturbed, and sometimes they even go so far as to tell you to “mind your own business.” That is exactly what you are doing when you talk to them about their souls. That is my business, is it not? If I talk to a soul, that is my business, and when a man says to me, “Mind your business” that is exactly what I am doing when I talk to him about his soul.
I want you to notice how Jesus answers this man when it was put to him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” You will notice that when the Lord answers He first gives an answer which, I am sure, the man himself never expected, and if you look at the answers of our Lord you will notice this—that the Lord Jesus never simply answers a question, but also, shall I say, gave exceeding abundantly above all that was asked or thought. And so in the first part of our Lord’s answer to the questioner himself. When the Lord answers, you will notice in verse 24, “Strive to enter at the straight gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able.” You say that looks as though salvation is a very difficult thing, and perhaps after all this man’s question was not out of order when he said, “Are there few that be saved?” He probably thought that it was a very difficult thing to get saved, very difficult because the Lord said, “Strive.” But as I look into this word “strive”—as I look at it in the original and consider it from every angle I think this is what it means, and I believe you will agree with me that there is nothing discouraging about it but rather encouraging. What the Lord Jesus is really saying to this man when He says, “Strive to enter in,” is, “Make it the business of your life.” Is it the business, the object, of your life to do just that? It should be. When we do anything else we put ourselves into it. The question of your business, you would not want that to be anything else if you would succeed. If it is a question of education you would not go at it in a half-hearted way if you expected to succeed. And yet when it comes to the salvation of one’s soul, that is one of those matters that we can put off until we have very little strength left, when we have no spiritual desire left, and then perhaps we will talk about this matter. That is not what the Lord Jesus is talking about here when He says to this man, “Make this the business of your life.” And, my friend, I want to say to you if you happen to be unsaved, make it the business of your life. Do not give yourself rest or sleep until this grave question has been settled.
But, you say, “I remember you read in that text, ‘Strive to enter in at the straight gate’ which, of course, is a narrow gate. You say the gate is very narrow and therefore it must be very difficult to enter. No, I do not see that in this narrow gate either. No doubt, many of you trade at stores where you get in through a revolving contrivance. Now that does not make it difficult to get into the store, does it? No, it is not meant for this purpose, but it is meant so that you should go in one by one and you should go out one by one—not in order to make the going difficult; no, indeed. When God says, “Enter in at the straight gate,” He simply is telling us that this is an individual matter. We do not crowd into a gate. It is easy enough to get in. I remember how years ago I entered the new Pennsylvania railroad gate, that is, in New York City. I came along as many preachers often do, with both hands full, because sometimes you not only have your own luggage to carry, but So-and-So remembers she has a niece in some other city whom she would like to have a jar of this and a jar of that and, of course, you take it, and I was pretty well loaded down with things besides my own luggage, and I came to a battery of doors in this station and I wondered how I was going to get through with all this luggage. I thought I would just wait until someone else went ahead of me, but for the time being there was no one appearing, and I thought, well, there is only one thing to do and that is to go through the door and leave what I had and come back and get the rest. But as I approached and got close to the doors I noticed that one of them opened of its own accord, and I went on through. The door closed behind me and I stood there bewildered. No one had opened that door. A man came to me and said, “You seem to be puzzled about this door of ours.” I said, “I certainly am, sir. I may be from the country, but I certainly have never seen a thing like this happen before. I do not know how this door opened.” “Well,” he said, “I will show you. Come over to this battery of doors and we will see how it works.” So we moved toward that battery of doors and when I took a few steps forward, sure enough, the door opened up before me. And then this man explained to me some of the mysteries of the “Electric Eye” and how it had broken these beams of light and set certain things in motion which opened the door for me without my having to put my finger to it. And so I said to this man, “I am a preacher of the Gospel and I am very much interested in this thing.” I said, “Salvation is just as easy as that. You just have to take the way of faith and you will discover that the way is wide open. God never made it difficult to get saved. If He says to you “Make this the business of your life; if He tells you the gate is a narrow gate” I repeat, dear friends, it is because it is a matter that requires all the earnestness we can put into it, and it requires that step of faith by which to go through one by one. For when you remember whom this door represents, dear friends, you see immediately how easy it is, for the Lord Jesus says, “By Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved,” and you know that is a narrow door. If you think of the hundreds and hundreds of religious leaders in the world, and yet here Jesus says, “I am the door, I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me”; that makes it a narrow path; that narrows it down to one. How glad I am that it does.
If there were two ways of being saved, you and I might have some reason for standing there and asking and halting between two opinions as to which of these I might choose. But since God has shut me up to one way, it is not a matter of choice; I do not have to make any decision, but go right through; for He says, “I am the door. By Me if any man enter in he shall be saved.” But who has a better right to say how to be saved? None other than Jesus could make such a claim as He, for none other had ever laid down His life for poor sinners the way our Blessed Lord Jesus did. But somebody will say to me, “Yes, but it says here, ‘Many will seek to enter in but shall not be able.’”
So there is a third difficulty. First of all, there was the difficulty of having to strive, and then there was that narrow door. Now what about that? For it says in this 24th verse that many are going to seek to enter in but shall not be able. Yes, dear friends, it is too bad we have a verse division there. If you read right into the next verse you will see when that is going to take place. It is not true, now dear friends, because the door is not shut; but one of these days the door will be shut: when the master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and then many will begin to seek to enter in. Notice the word “Begin.” The Lord says, “When you begin to stand without.” Ah, would to God they had begun sooner than this and not put it off until strength has nearly gone, desire has waned and it is hopeless for anyone to talk to us anymore. The Lord says, that when the door is shut then some people are going to begin to stand at the door and cry, “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” But from within a voice will say, “I do not know you.”
Why does not the Lord know you? Maybe it is for the same reason that an old school principal of mine did not know some of the fellows in the school. I used to have to pay frequent visits to the principal’s office and it was not exactly to carry communications for my teacher, but she thought I needed discipline. So I made frequent visits to the principal’s office. He was an old-fashioned fellow—always wore cut-aways and had a toupee that sometimes slipped half an inch. He was a stern character and he could always tell what I needed—get the rub down, then asked a few questions and then administered the needed discipline. Well, one day I was walking along the street with the best boy in the class, a fellow who always got “Perfect” on his deportment card. This boy and I were walking down the street and we met the principal. The principal ran his fingers through my hair and said, “Well, how are you today?” He was very friendly to me on the street, and finally he said, “Who is your friend?” I said, “Don’t you know him? Why, he’s the best boy in the class.” “Oh,” said the principal, “maybe that is why I do not know him.” The Lord knows me because I am a sinner saved by grace. The Lord does not know these people? Why? Because they never confessed themselves lost sinners. They had never come to Him as needy sinners. And then when it was too late, they cried, “Lord, Lord, open unto us.” But the Lord said, “I never knew you.”
They began to argue, you notice, in the 26th verse, “We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence.” Let me make a little application of that. They say, “Why we took the communion in your church.” How many people there are who think because they take the communion they are going to be saved. I well remember a boy to whom I spoke many times about his soul down in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was dying, but I seemed to get nowhere with him because he seemed to think that his salvation depended on what he did, and I could not seem to get him to see that the Lord Jesus had finished the work on the cross and all that he needed to do was to receive that and he would be saved. One day I came home and my dear wife said, “There is a hurry call from Mr. So-and-So and he has left instruction when you come you are to bring the Sacrament with you. Well, I did not know what to do about this request, but I realized the boy must be in desperate straits. So I put the Lord’s Supper elements in the car and I took the Bible with me. When I left the car I left the elements in the car and I went in with nothing in my hand but the Bible. The minute I saw the poor lad dying of tuberculosis he looked at me with a frightened look and said, “Oh, didn’t you bring it?” I said, “Wait a minute, Herman. Before we talk about that let us talk about something else. Let us see if you really need it or not.” He said, “Mr. Amerding, you realize I am dying and I really have to have it before I die.” Well I said, “Let us see if you really need it or not. Let us look at the Word of God.” So I turned him to John 3:16, “that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I said, “Herman, does that say anything about taking the sacraments, about taking the Lord’s Supper to be saved?” “No,” he said, “but that is only one verse.” “Well,” I said, “let us turn over to another verse.” So we turned over to this one, in the same Gospel, where the Lord says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.” I said, “Herman, does that verse say anything about taking the sacrament?” “But,” he said, “there must be some verse. I want to get saved.” “Well now, since you have declared yourself, let us find just that verse. So we turned to Romans 10:9, where we read that “if you shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” He said, “Mr. Armerding, I have never had anything given me that is so simple.” I said, “Will you take it? That is what God’s Word says.” So there we had the joy of leading that dear soul into peace with God, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I arose to go. I said, “Herman, let us have a word of thanksgiving and prayer. You thank the Lord for saving your soul.” And then I thanked the Lord, too. I said, “Herman, goodbye.” He said, “I thank you, Mr. Armerding.” I said, “Herman, would you like to remember the Lord before you pass into His presence?” “Oh, I would, but I see now I do not need it.” But I said, “Now if you like I think we can arrange it.” So I went out to the car to get the elements, and we spread them beside that death bed and there we remembered the Lord in His death, tears of gratitude streaming down Herman’s cheeks because he had learned the blessed truth that it was simple faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ that saved his soul. Oh, he would no longer need to say, “We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence and still do not know Thee.” Oh, dear soul, no matter how many times you have taken the holy communion or sacrament, whatever you call it, if you are not saved, I pray you in the Name of the Lord,
“Cast you deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus’ feet,
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
You need nothing else to save your soul. These people said, “Thou hast taught in our streets. We have heard You preach.” And yet the Lord did not know them. Friends, it is possible to do all these things and yet not know the Lord Jesus Christ. The way to get to know Him is to really trust Him as your Saviour.
Now to get to the other side of this question, the Lord Jesus still has in mind the question, “Are there few that be saved?” Oh, the Lord said, there are lots of them going to be saved. Why, He says, here is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob mentioned in this eighth verse and all the prophets are going to be there, even that man Jonah, whose experience and existence some people do not believe, he will be there. Not only that, dear friends, but the Lord Jesus has said that the men of Nineveh are going to rise in judgment with this generation because they repented at the preaching of Jonah and, behold a greater than Jonah is here. Yes they are going to be there. “Oh yes,” you say, “I can understand how Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets are going to be there, but what about the rest of us? Well, let me just in closing point out where they come from and you can see whether you are included or not. In the 29th verse, I believe you will find the answer to the question “Are there few that be saved?” We read, “They shall come from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” Yes, from the four points of the compass they are coming.
I want to give an illustration I have from Dr. Griffith Thomas. Dear Dr. Thomas tells us he believes they will come from the east, which are those who are saved in the early years of their lives; and, thank God, there are many little children who come to know the Lord Jesus Christ in childhood. Oh how I thank God for every little child who has heard of and lisped the name of Jesus. A little nephew of mine only six years old, whose father is my youngest brother, one of my father’s seven sons, and this little boy claims to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and is going around quoting verses as his testimony to the Saviour. Yes, he is one of those who are coming from the east. But do not let that discourage the older ones; they also come from the west—yes, they come from the Sunset of life. When the sun is about to set and life is nearly over, thank God there is hope even for such. I remember being in a meeting conducted by evangelist Billy Sunday one night when he had all who were saved in their teens to stand up, and then we sat down and those who were saved in their twenties stood up, and there were not so many; and then those in their thirties, forties and fifties; and finally he asked for those who were saved in their eighties, and there stood up one lone man, and everybody clapped their hands. But I remember what Mr. Moody said when asked if it was not a wonderful thing that the old man was saved, but in the same meeting a little boy was saved and Mr. Moody thought that was more wonderful because the old man’s life had been lived and there was not much time left to serve the Lord, but that little boy had all his life before him.
Oh, if you are here in the sunset years of life, remember they are coming from the east, from the west, from the south and from the north, the kind that never seem to be moved by anything. Thank God, there are going to be some of those in heaven too. And then from the south, the tender, emotional ones. We are going to have a wonderful group up there in heaven. I am so glad that God is going to bring them in from the four points of the compass.
And I could bring in here also, could I not, the foreign races. God’s grace does go out to each and every one of them. And, dear friends, I make bold to say this tonight: I do not expect to see signs “To Let” on any of God’s mansions. Years ago I was taught a little chorus: “Do not forget there’s a house to let, in the Father’s House on high.” I said to the man who was teaching the children this song, “What do you mean by teaching the children this song?” “Well,” he said, “It is a nice chorus.” I said, “I do not care how nice it is; it is not true.” “Well,” he said, “How do you know it is not true?” Look at the large numbers who are going to destruction.” He said he would not be surprised if there would be some places to let when we get over there. I said, “I know it won’t be.” He said, “On what do you base it?” I said, “On the 14th chapter of Luke,” the very next chapter from which we have read tonight, where God says, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house my be filled.” If you do not go in and fill it, someone else is going to get in before you. That house will be filled.
I do not look upon my God as a defeated God. Nay, friend, He is going to be victorious and if He does not get them from the United States of America, He is going to get them from somewhere else, but the house will be filled. But, thank God, tonight in this land of liberty and an open Bible, it is still our privilege to speak the word of invitation and to challenge you again when you ask “Are there few that be saved,” and would ask you “Are you saved?” I remember how, years ago, in a Sunday School class in the Second United Presbyterian Church, where I grew up, I had an argument with my Sunday School teacher about law and grace. I had grown up in a home where those distinctions were made clear, but my teacher evidently did not have them, and even though I was just a youngster of ten or eleven years of age, I could argue with this man about law and grace, and I came home in triumph, telling my father about this conversation I had with my old Sunday School teacher, Donald Murray, and how I had bested him on the argument of law and grace. My father looked at me a moment and said, “Son, what do you know about grace, unless you have tried it?” You will never know, dear friends, until you come and taste and see that the Lord is gracious. Oh, tonight, this is your opportunity to make your decision in favor of Him and in favor of yourself.