Many Saved?

Topic:   Salvation Type:   Article Author:  J. C. Ryle


from J. C. Ryle, Old Paths

Some plain facts about the number of the saved. I know well that people flatter themselves that the world is much better and wiser than it was 2000 years ago. Modern technology has brought about wonders for us. This is perfectly true. I see it, and I am thankful. But all this does not diminish the importance of the question—ARE THERE FEW OR MANY OF US LIKELY TO BE SAVED?

Where shall I go for facts? I might easily turn to the millions of heathen, who in various parts of the world are worshipping they know not what. But I shall not do so. I shall draw my facts from the area in which I live, and then ask every honest reader whether it be not strictly true that FEW ARE SAVED.

Let us take our New Testaments in our hands. Let us sift the Christianity of the inhabitants of this area, family by family, and man by man. Let us put on one side anyone who does not possess the New Testament evidence of being a true Christian. Let us deal honestly in the investigation, and not allow anyone to be a true Christian who does not come up to the New Testament standard of faith and practice. Let us count every man a saved soul in whom we see something of Christ—some evidence of true repentance—some evidence of saving faith in Jesus—some evidence of real evangelical holiness and doctrine. Let us reject every man in whom, on the most charitable construction, we cannot see these evidences, as one "weighed in the balances, and found wanting."

Let us set aside, first, those persons who are LIVING IN ANY KIND OF OPEN SIN. By these I mean such as fornicators, adulterers, liars, thieves, drunkards, cheats, revilers and extortioners. About these I think there can be no difference of opinion. The Bible says plainly, that those who do such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God [GAL 5:21]. Now will these persons be saved? The answer is clear: In their present condition they will not.

Let us set aside, in the next place, all those persons who are CARELESS AND THOUGHT-LESS "CHRISTIANS." I mean by this expression, those who attend many of the outward ordinances of religion, but show no signs of taking any real interest in its doctrines and substance. They care little whether the minister preaches the Gospel or not. They would care little if all the Bibles in the world were burned. They would care little if an Act of Government were passed forbidding anyone to pray. In short, religion is not the one thing needful with them. Their treasure is on Earth. They are just like Gallio, to whom it mattered little whether people were Jews or Christians: he cared for none of these things [ACT 18:17]. Now will these persons be saved? The answer is clear: In their present condition they will not.

Let us set aside, in the next place, all those who are FORMALISTS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS. I mean by this expression, those who value themselves on their own regular use of the forms of Christianity, and depend either directly or indirectly on their own doings for their acceptance with God. I mean all who rest their souls on any work but the work of Christ, or any righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. Of such the Apostle Paul has expressly testified, By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified and Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ [ROM 3:20; 1CO 3:11]. And dare we say, in the face of such texts, that such as these will be saved? The answer is plain: In their present condition they will not.

Let us set aside, in the next place, all those who KNOW THE GOSPEL WITH THEIR HEADS, BUT DO NOT OBEY IT WITH THEIR HEARTS. These are those unhappy persons who have eyes to see the way of life, but have not will or courage to walk in it. They approve sound doctrine. They will not listen to preaching which does not contain it. But the fear of man, or the cares of the world, or the love of money, or the dread of offending relatives, perpetually holds them back. They will not come out boldly, and take up the cross, and confess Christ before men. Of these also the Bible speaks expressly: Faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. If any is ashamed of Me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory [JAM 2:17; LUK 9:26]. Shall we say that such as these will be saved? The answer is clear: In their present condition they will not.


What does the Bible say about the number of the saved? There is only one standard of truth and error to which we ought to appeal. That standard is the Holy Scripture. Whatever is written there we must receive and believe: whatever cannot be proved by Scripture we ought to refuse.

Let us look at MAT 7:13, 14—Enter in through the small gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are going in through it. For small is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few are those who find it. These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the words of Him Who was very God, and Whose words shall never pass away. They are the words of Him Who knew what was in man,—Who knew things to come, and things past,—Who knew that He would judge all men at the last day. What do those words mean? Are they words which no man can understand without a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek? No: they are not! Is it a deep mysterious saying, which no human intellect can fathom? No: it is not! The words are clear, plain and unmistakable. Ask any laboring man who can read, and he will tell you it is so. There is only one meaning which can be attached to them. Their meaning is, that many people will be lost and few will be saved.

Let us look, in the next place, at the history of mankind as respects religion, as we have it given in the Bible. How was it in the days of Noah? The Earth we are told expressly was filled with violence. The imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually [GEN 6:5, 12]. All flesh had corrupted his way. The loss of paradise was forgotten. The warnings of God, by Noah’s mouth, were despised. And at length, when the flood came on the world and drowned every living thing, there were but eight people who had faith to flee for refuge to the ark! Were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be—few were saved.

How was it in the days of Abraham, Isaac and Lot? It is evident that in the matter of religion they stood very much alone. The family from which they were taken was a family of idolaters. The nations among whom they lived were sunk in gross darkness and sin. When Sodom and Gomorrah were burned there were not five righteous people to be found in the four cities of the plain. When Abraham and Isaac desired to find wives for their sons, there was not a woman in the land where they sojourned to whom they could wish to see them married. Were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give an answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be—few were saved.

How was it with Israel in the days of the Judges? No one can read the book of Judges, and not be struck with the sad examples of man’s corruption which it gives us. Time after time we are told of the people forsaking God and following idols. In spite of the plainest warnings, they joined together with the Canaanites and learned their works. Time after time we read of their being oppressed by foreign kings, because of their sins, and then miraculously delivered. Time after time we read of the deliverance being forgotten, and of the people returning to their former sins, like the sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mire [2PE 2:22]. Were there many saved in those days? Let any honest reader of the Bible give answer to that question. There can be no doubt what the answer must be. The number of the saved is very few. Narrow is the way which leads to life, and few are those who find it [MAT 7:14].


Let us point out the mistakes which are common in the world about the number of the saved. I need not go far for evidence on this subject. I will speak of things which every man may see with his own eyes, and hear with his own ears. I will try to show that there is a wide-spread delusion abroad about this matter, and that this very delusion is one of the greatest dangers to which our souls are exposed.

First, what then do men generally think about the spiritual state of others while they are alive? What do they think of the souls of their relations, friends, neighbors and acquaintances? Let us just see how that question can be answered.

They know that all around them are going to die and to be judged. They know that they have souls to be lost or saved. What, to all appearances, do they consider their end is likely to be? Do they think those around them are in danger of Hell? There is nothing whatever to show they think so. They eat and drink together; they laugh, talk, walk and work together. They seldom or never speak to one another of God and eternity—of Heaven and of Hell. Is this not so?

Will they allow that anybody is wicked or ungodly? Never, hardly, whatever may be his way of life. He may be a breaker of the Sabbath; he may neglect the Bible; he may be utterly without evidence of true religion. No matter! His friends will often tell you, that he may not make so much profession as some, but that he has a "good heart" at the bottom, and is not a wicked man. Is this not so?

What does all this prove? It proves that men flatter themselves that there is no great difficulty in getting to Heaven. It proves plainly that men are of opinion that most persons will be saved.

Second, what do men generally think about the spiritual state of others after they are dead? Men allow, if they are not infidels, that all who die have gone to a place of happiness or of misery. To which of these two places do they seem to think the greater part of persons go, when they leave this world?

There is unhappily a common fashion of speaking well of the condition of all who have departed this life. It matters little, apparently, how a man has behaved while he lived. He may have given no signs of repentance, or faith in Christ; he may have been ignorant of the plan of salvation set forth in the Gospel; he may have shown no evidence whatever of conversion or sanctification—he may have lived and died like a creature without a soul. Yet, as soon as this man is dead, people will dare to say that he is "probably happier than ever he was in his life." They will tell you complacently, they "hope he is gone to a better world." They will shake their heads gravely, and say they "hope he is in Heaven." They will follow him to the grave without fear and trembling, and speak of his death afterwards as "a blessed change for him." They may have disliked him, and thought him a bad man while he was alive; but the moment he is dead they turn round in their opinions and say they trust he is gone to Heaven! Is this not true?

What does this all prove? It just supplies one more awful proof that men are determined to believe it is an easy business to get to Heaven. Men will have it that most persons are saved.

Remember, however, that the Bible says: And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles neither whatever works abomination, or makes a lie: but those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life [REV 21:27].


Let us set aside all those who are hypocritical professors. I mean by that expression, all those whose religion consists in talk and high profession, and in nothing besides. These are they of whom the prophet Ezekiel speaks, saying, With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness.—They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him.—They have a form of godliness, but they have not the power of it [EZE 33:31; TIT 1:16; 2TI 3:5]. They are saints at church, and saints to talk to in public. But they are not saints in private, and in their own homes; and worst of all, they are not saints in heart. There can be no dispute about such persons. Shall we say that they will be saved? There can only be one answer: IN THEIR PRESENT CONDITION THEY WILL NOT.

After setting aside these classes which I have described, I ask any sensible thinking person to tell me how many persons in any parish in the land will there be left behind? How many, after sifting a parish thoroughly and honestly,—how many men and women will remain who are in a way to be saved? How many true penitents, how many real believers in Christ, how many truly holy people will there be found? I put it to the conscience of everyone to give an honest answer, as in the sight of God. I ask you whether, after sifting a parish with the Bible in the fashion described, you can come to any conclusion but this: that few persons—sadly few persons, are in a way to be saved?

It is a painful conclusion to arrive at, but I know not how it can be avoided. It is a fearful and tremendous thought, that there should be so many churchmen and so many dissenters, so many seat-holders, so many hearers, and so many communicants, and yet after all, so few be saved! But the only question is, Is it not true? It is vain to shut our eyes against facts. It is useless to pretend not to see what is going on around us. The statements of the Bible and the facts of the world we live in will lead us to the same conclusion: Many are lost and few are being saved!

I know well that many do not believe that few are saved, because they think there is an immense quantity of death-bed repentance. They flatter themselves that multitudes who do not live religious lives will yet die religious deaths. They take comfort in the thought that vast numbers of persons turn to God in their last illness and are saved at the eleventh hour. I will only remind such persons that all the experience of ministers is utterly against the theory. People generally die just as they have lived. True repentance is never too late: but repentance deferred to the last hours of life is seldom true. A man’s life is the surest evidence of his spiritual state, and if lives are to be witnesses, then few are likely to be saved.

I know well that many do not believe that few are saved, because they fancy it contradicts the mercy of God. They dwell on the love to sinners which the Gospel reveals. They ask us if we maintain, in the face of all this, that only few people will be saved. I answer, I will go as far as anyone in exalting God’s mercy in Christ, but I cannot shut my eyes against the fact that this mercy profits no man so long as it is willfully refused. I see nothing wanting, on God’s part, for man’s salvation. I see room in Heaven for the chief of sinners. I see willingness in Christ to receive the most ungodly. I see power in the Holy Spirit to renew the most ungodly. But I see, on the other hand, desperate unbelief in man: he will not believe what God tells him in the Bible. I see desperate pride in man: he will not bow his heart to receive the Gospel as a little child. I see desperate worldliness in man: he will not loose his hold on the poor perishable things of time, and consider eternity. In short, I see the words of our Lord continually verified: You will not come unto Me, that you might have life [John 5:40], and therefore I am driven to the sorrowful conclusion that FEW ARE LIKELY TO BE SAVED.


Men are determined to believe it is an easy business to get to Heaven. Men will have it that most persons are saved.

What do men generally think of ministers who preach fully the doctrines of the New Testament? Send a clergyman into a parish who will "declare all the counsel of God," and "keep back nothing that is profitable." Let him be one who will clearly proclaim justification by faith, regeneration by the Spirit and holiness of life. Let him be one who shall draw the line distinctly between the converted and the unconverted, and give both to sinners and to saints their portion. Let him frequently produce out of the New Testament a plain unanswerable description of the true Christian’s character. Let him show that no man who does not possess that character can have any reasonable hope of being saved. Let him constantly press that description on the consciences of his hearers, and urge upon them repeatedly that every soul who dies without that character will be lost. Let him do this, ably and affectionately, and after all, what will the result be?

The result will be, that while some few repent and are saved, the great majority of his hearers will not receive and believe his doctrine. They may not oppose him publicly. They may even esteem him, and respect his as an earnest, sincere, kind-hearted man, who means well. But they will go no further. He may show them the express words of Christ and His Apostles; he may quote text upon text, and passage upon passage: it will be to no purpose. The great majority of his hearers will think him "too strict," and "too close," and "too particular." They will say among themselves, that the world is not so bad as the minister seems to think, and that people cannot be so good as the minister wants them to be, and that after all, they hope they will be all right at the last! Are not these things so?

What does it prove? It just makes one more proof that men generally are resolved to think that salvation is not a very hard business, and that after all most people will be saved.

Now what solid reason can men show us for these common opinions? Upon what Scripture do they build this notion, that salvation is an easy business and that most people will be saved? What revelation of God can they show us, to satisfy us that these opinions are sound and true? They have none—literally none at all. They have not a text of Scripture which supports their views. They have not a reason which will bear examination. They speak smooth things about one another’s spiritual state, just because they do not like to allow there is danger. They build up one another into an easy, self-satisfied state of soul, in order to soothe their consciences and make things pleasant. They cry "Peace, peace," over one another’s graves, because they want it to be so, and would fain persuade themselves that so it is. The plain truth is that the world’s opinion is worth nothing in matters of religion.

Let us remember, above all, that it never will do to think as others do, if we want to get to heaven. No doubt it is easy work to "go with the crowd" in religious matters. It will save us much trouble to swim with the stream and tide. We shall be spared much ridicule. We shall be freed from much unpleasantness. But let us remember, once for all, that the world’s mistakes about salvation are many and dangerous. Unless we are on our guard against them we shall never be saved.

Remember the Bible says: And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles neither whatever works abomination, or makes a lie: but those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life [REV 21:27].


What does the Bible say about the number of the saved in Israel in the days of the Kings? From Saul, the first king, down to Zedekiah, the last king, their history is a melancholy account of backsliding, declension and idolatry—with a few bright exceptional periods. Even under the best kings there seems to have been a vast amount of unbelief and ungodliness, which only lay hid for a season, and burst out at the first favorable opportunity. Over and over again we find that under the most zealous kings the high places were not taken away. Mark how even David speaks of the state of things around him: Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases; for the faithful fail from among the children of men [PSA 12:1]. Mark how Isaiah describes the condition of Judah and Jerusalem: The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot, even unto the crown of the head, there is no soundness in it. Except the Lord of Hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and should have been like unto Gomorrah [ISA 1:5-9].

How was it with the Jews when our Lord Jesus Christ was on Earth? The words of John are the best account of their spiritual state: He Came unto His own, and His own received Him not [JOH 1:11]. He lived as no one born of woman had ever lived before—a blameless, harmless, holy life. He went about doing good [ACT 10:38]. He preached as no one ever preached before. Even the officers of his enemies confessed, Never man spoke like this Man [JOH 7:46]. He did miracles to confirm His ministry, which, at first sight, we might have fancied would have convinced the most hardened. But, notwithstanding all this, the vast majority of the Jews refused to believe Him. Follow our Lord in all His travels over Palestine, and you will always find the same story. Follow Him into the city, follow Him into the wilderness, follow Him to Capernaum and Nazareth, follow Him to Jerusalem, follow Him among Scribes and Pharisees and follow Him among Sadducees and Herodians. Everywhere you will arrive at the same result. They were amazed—they were silenced—they were astonished—they wondered—but very few became disciples! The immense proportion of the nation would have none of His doctrine, and crowned all their wickedness by putting Him to death. Few were saved in those days.

How was it with the world in the days of the Apostles? If ever there was a period when true religion flourished it was then. Never did the Holy Spirit call into the fold of Christ so many souls in the same space of time. Never were there so many conversions under the preaching of the Gospel as when Paul and his fellow-laborers were the preachers. But still, it is plain from the Acts of the Apostles, that true Christianity was everywhere spoken against [ACT 28:22]. It is evident that in every city, even in Jerusalem itself, true Christians were a small minority.

I ask any honest person to weigh well the lessons of the Bible which I have brought forward. Let no one think to evade their force by saying that the Bible only tells the story of the Jews. Think not to comfort yourself by saying that "perhaps the Jews were more wicked than other nations, and many people were probably saved among other nations, though few were saved among the Jews." You forget that the Jews had light and privileges which the Gentiles had not, and with all their sins and faults, were probably the holiest and most moral nation upon Earth.

The sum of the whole matter is this: the Bible and the men of the world speak very differently about the number of the saved. According to the Bible, few will be saved: according to the men of the world, many. According to the men of the world few are going to Hell: according to the Bible few are going to Heaven. According to the men of the world salvation is an easy business: according to the Bible the way is narrow and the gate is small. According to the men of the world few will be found at last seeking admission into Heaven when too late; according to the Bible many will be in that sad condition, and will cry in vain, Lord, Lord, open to us. Yet the Bible was never wrong yet. The most unlikely and improbable prophecies about Tyre, Egypt, Babylon, and Nineveh, have all come true to the letter. And as in other matters, so it will be about the number of the saved. The Bible will prove quite right and the men of the world quite wrong. Few will be saved.


I know well that many will not believe that few are saved because they think such a doctrine very narrow-minded and exclusive. I disclaim any sympathy with those Christians who condemn everybody outside their own communion and appear to shut the door of Heaven against everybody who does not see everything with their eyes. I have no desire to shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against anyone. All I say is, that none will enter that Kingdom, except converted, believing, and holy souls; and all I take on myself to assert is that both the Bible and the facts about us combine to prove that such persons are few.

I know well that many will not believe that few are saved because they think it a gloomy, uncharitable doctrine. It is easy to make vague, general assertions of this kind. It is not so easy to show that any doctrine deserves to be called "gloomy and uncharitable" which is Scriptural and true. There is a false charity, I am afraid, which dislikes all strong statements in religion—a charity which would have no one interfered with—a charity which, without evidence, takes for granted that everybody is to be saved—a charity which never doubts that all people are going to Heaven and seems to deny the existence of such a place as Hell. But such charity is not the charity of the New Testament and does not deserve the name. Give me the charity which tries everything by the test of the Bible and believes nothing and hopes nothing that is not sanctioned by the Word. Give me the charity which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:1—the charity which is not blind, deaf and stupid but has eyes to see and senses to discern between him who fears God and him who fears Him not. Such charity will rejoice in nothing but "the truth" and will confess with sorrow that I tell nothing but the truth when I say that FEW ARE LIKELY TO BE SAVED.

I know well that many will not believe me because they think it presumptuous to have any opinion at all about the number of the saved. But will these people dare to tell us that the Bible has not spoken plainly about the character of saved souls? Will they dare to say that there is any standard of truth except the Bible? Surely there can be no presumption in asserting that which is agreeable to the Bible. I tell them plainly that the charge of presumption does not lie at my door. I say that he is the truly presumptuous man who, when the Bible has said a thing decidedly and unmistakably, refuses to receive it.

I know that many will not believe me, because they think my statement extravagant and unwarrantable. They regard it as a piece of fanaticism unworthy of the attention of a rational man. They look on ministers who make such assertions, as weak minded persons, and wanting in common sense. I can bear such charges unmoved. I only ask those who make them to show me some plain proof that they are right and I am wrong. Let them show me, if they can, that anybody is likely to get to Heaven whose heart is not renewed, who is not a believer in Jesus Christ, who is not a spiritually-minded and holy man. Let them show me, if they can, that people of this description are many, compared with those who are not. Let them, in one word, point to any place on EARTH where the great majority of the people are not ungodly and the truly godly are not a little flock. Let them do this, and I will grant they have done right to disbelieve what I have said. Till they do this, I must maintain the sorrowful conclusion, THAT FEW PERSONS ARE LIKELY TO BE SAVED.


Are there few who are saved [LUK 13:23]? Most Americans and Canadians call themselves Christians. You would not like to be reckoned an infidel or pagan. You profess to believe the Bible to be true. The birth, death and salvation provided by Christ the Savior—all these are facts which you have probably never doubted. But, after all, will Christianity like this profit you anything at last? Will it do your soul any good when you die? In one word—WILL YOU BE SAVED?

It may be you are now young, healthy and strong. Perhaps you never had a day's illness in your life, and scarcely know what it is to feel weakness and pain. You scheme and plan for future years, and feel as if death was far away, and out of sight. Yet, remember, death sometimes cuts off young people in the flower of their days. The strong and healthy of the family do not always live the longest. Your sun may go down before your life has reached its mid-day. Yet a little while, and you may be lying in a narrow, silent home, and daisies may be growing over your grave. Now then, consider—WILL YOU BE SAVED?

It may be you are rich and prosperous in this world. You have money, and all that money can command. You have honor, love, obedience, troops of friends. But, remember, riches are not for ever. You cannot keep them longer than a few years. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment [PRO 27:24; HEB 9:27]. Now then, consider—WILL YOU BE SAVED?

It may be you are poor and needy. You have scarcely enough to provide food and clothing for yourself and family. You are often distressed for want of comforts, which you have no power to get. Like Lazarus, you seem to have evil things only, and not good. But, nevertheless, you take comfort in the thought that there will be an end of all this. There is a world to come, where poverty and want shall be unknown. Yet, consider a moment—WILL YOU BE SAVED?

It may be you have a weak and sickly body. You hardly know what it is to be free from pain. You have so long parted company with health, that you have almost forgotten what it is like. You have often said in the morning, "Would God it were evening," and in the evening, "Would God it were morning." There are days when you are tempted by very weariness to cry out with Jonah, It is better for me to die than to live [JON 4:3]. But, remember, death is not all. There is something else beyond the grave. Then now, consider—WILL YOU BE SAVED?

If the common opinion of the world about the number of the saved was correct, I would not trouble men with searching and hard questions.

If God had never spoken plainly in the Bible about the number of the saved, I might well be silent.

If experience and facts left it doubtful whether many or few would be saved, I might hold my peace. But are there few that be saved? The Bible replies, Enter in through the small gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are going in through it. For small is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few are those who find it [MAT 7:13, 14].

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This Page Last Updated: 03/29/99 A. Allison Lewis