The Way Of The Few Matthew 7:13-14

Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it. - Matthew 7:13-14

In reading the Gospels one is often struck with what, for lack of a better term, one might call Christ's frankness. He makes no secret of the conditions of discipleship. He does not attempt to deck the Christian life out in gay and attractive colours. On the contrary, He scores and underlines and emphasizes its hardships and difficulties. He wants no man to follow Him under the impression that he is going to have a pleasant and easy time of it. And so at the very beginning He confronts him with the "narrow gate" of an exacting demand. "If any man would come after me," He said, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Self-denial and the cross - these constitute the "narrow gate" by which a man enters upon the service of Jesus Christ.

1. The entrance is narrow. - Like the broad way, this way of the few has, at its outset, a gate. It is a narrow gate and may be taken as expressing the initial act of repentance and the commencement of a life dedicated to Christ. The entrance into the Christian life may aptly be described as a narrow gate, for it is a definite and decisive act into which one is not likely to drift with a multitude by chance. Like a narrow gate, it may easily be overlooked; and the main difficulty of the Christian life is perhaps that it escapes notice altogether. Multitudes of people seem not to have so much as heard that there is a Christian life. They follow the broad path because it is broad, and they never notice that unostentatious entrance into the way of life, repentance and faith. But, while it is narrow, the gate is broad enough for entrance, always provided that one is content to enter stripped and unburdened.

The entrance into the way of life is by the strait gate of penitence and renunciation. If men could carry the world along with them, if young people could carry their love of pleasure along with them, multitudes would crowd into the gate of the Kingdom. But to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof is too hard a command. To put away the old man with his deeds is more than they can bring themselves to do. The gate is "narrow." That is why Christ added that solemn word, "Few there be that find it."

"Thou didst send for me," said Savonarola to Lorenzo the Magnificent, the tyrant of Florence, as he lay on his dying bed. "Yes," said Lorenzo, "for three sins lie heavy on my soul," and then he told the monk how he was tortured by the remembrance of the sack of Volterra, and his robbery of a bank whereby many poor girls had lost their all and been driven to a life of shame, and the bloody reprisals he took after a political conspiracy against him. "God is good," replied Savonarola, "God is merciful. But," he at once added, "three things are needful." "What things?" asked Lorenzo anxiously. "First, a great and living faith in God's mercy." "I have the fullest faith in it," replied the dying man. "Secondly, you must restore all your ill-gotten wealth." At this Lorenzo writhed, but at last he gave a nod of assent. "Lastly," said Savonarola to the cowering prince, "you must restore to Florence her liberty." And Lorenzo angrily turned his back upon the preacher and said never a word. The gate was too "narrow."1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Unfettered Word, 106.]

2. The way also is narrow. - The word used by the Revisers here is "straitened." The figure contemplated is that of "double-dykes." There is a path between two properties, each measured off with its wall. Both walls approach as closely and compressingly as possible to the centre of the thoroughfare, which is the public "right of way." The "double-dykes" almost meet, and there is, at points here and there, bulging on either side, while all along loose stones have fallen down, and make the way inconvenient, so that the traveller can only painfully and with trouble pick his steps as he moves along. It leads, however, to life, that is, to everlasting life, to the home of everlasting bliss. Being a narrowed way, it will not admit of latitudinarianism of demeanour. Neither will it admit of accompanying parade and pomp. It would not be possible to drive along it in a coach and six. When kings would go by it they must step out of their coaches and walk. Princes and peasants must travel there on an equality. What is this narrow way? When we get down, through the envelopments of imagery, to the real base or essential substrate of the representations, we hear the voice of Jesus Himself saying, "I am the way; no man cometh unto the Father" (or "to the Father's house") "but by me" (Joh 14:6). As the martyr Philpot said, "The cross-way is the high-way to heaven." There is no other way.

The word Strait, applied to the entrance into Life, and the word Narrow, applied to the road of Life, do not mean that the road is so fenced that few can travel it, however much they wish (like the entrance to the pit of a theatre), but that, for each person, it is at first so stringent, so difficult, and so dull, being between close hedges, that few will enter it, though all may. In a second sense, and an equally vital one, it is not merely a Strait, or narrow, but a straight, or right road; only, in this rightness of it, not at all traced by hedges, wall, or telegraph wire, or even marked by posts higher than winter's snow; but, on the contrary, often difficult to trace among morasses and mounds of desert, even by skilful sight; and by blind persons, entirely untenable unless by help of a guide, director, rector, or rex: which you may conjecture to be the reason why, when St. Paul's eyes were to be opened, out of the darkness which meant only the consciousness of utter mistake, to seeing what way he should go, his director was ordered to come to him in the "street which is called Straight."1 [Note: Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, Letter 59 (Works, xxviii. 441).]

(1) How is the way straitened? Did God make it so? The Bible recording that the one way is narrow and the other broad does not make them so, any more than a medical book recording smallpox makes smallpox to exist. The fact is, God has done His best to reverse these terrible facts. God has striven to make the way to the good broad, and the way to the evil narrow.

"When I was a young man," says Dr. Albert Goodrich, "I taught in the ragged schools of London. On one Sunday I had this passage for my lesson. ‘I say, teacher,' merrily sang one of those sharp, ragged boys, ‘it says, don't it, the way to the good is narrow and the way to the bad wide?' ‘Yes, it does,' I replied. ‘I know that's true,' he said, with a knowing wink; ‘but,' he added, dropping his voice, ‘is it fair? Oughtn't God have made them both the same width? He'd have given us, then, a fair chance.' "

(2) Who or what, then, makes the two ways so different? It is not the will of God; it is the sin of man. Man's injustices to man, man's inhumanity to man, narrows the way. By hardness, by provoking one another, by tempting one another, we make the way narrow. Employers make it narrow to their employees; employees make it narrow to their employers. Children make it narrow to their parents; parents make it narrow to their children. What need there is to consider one another, lest we make the way to life even more narrow than it is.

What is it, Augustine asks, which makes this gate so strait to us, and this way so narrow? It is not so much "strait" in itself, as that we make it strait for ourselves, by the swellings of our pride; - and then, vexed that we cannot enter, chafing and impatient at the hindrances we meet with, we become more and more unable to pass through. But where is the remedy? how shall these swollen places of our souls be brought down? By accepting and drinking of the cup, wholesome though it may be distasteful, of humility: by listening to and learning of Him who, having said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate," does to them who inquire, "How shall we enter in?" reply, "By Me;" "I am the Way;" "I am the Door."1 [Note: R. C. Trench.]

3. The narrow way leads to life. - Life! The mind alive in truth, the heart alive with full affection, the conscience alive in the vision of duty, and the enjoyment of peace, the soul alive in joyous communion with God. Life! The activity of our finer faculties, the consciousness of their expansion, the enjoyment of achievement, of progress, of laying up imperishable treasure, the sense of wealth and power in truth and in God, the enjoyment of service with God for the coming of the Kingdom, the hope of the crown of life, of life regal, imperial, in and with God for ever. That is worth an effort to attain. That is worth the striving needful to walk the narrow way.

Jesus here quotes an idea whereof the ancient moralists had made great use and which had passed into a commonplace, almost a proverb. It is as ancient as the poet Hesiod; and it appears in Kebes' quaint allegory The Tablet, a sort of Greek Pilgrim's Progress, purporting to be an account of a pictorial tablet which hung in the temple of Kronos and emblematically depicted the course of human life. Kebes saw it and had it explained to him by an old man who kept the temple.

"What is the way that leads to the true Instruction?" said I. "You see above," said he, "yonder place where no one dwells, but it seems to be desert?" "I do." "And a little door, and a way before the door, which is not much thronged, but very few go there; so impassable does the way seem, so rough and rocky?" "Yes, indeed," said I. "And there seems to be a lofty mound and a very steep ascent with deep precipices on this side and on that?" "I see it." "This, then, is the way," said he, "that leads to the true Instruction."

The allegory of the Two Ways had passed into a sort of proverb, and Jesus here applies it to the great business of salvation throwing His hearers back on the broad principles of life. It was recognized that, if a man would attain to Virtue or Wisdom, he must face a steep and toilsome way, and climb it with resolute heart. "All noble things," said the proverb, "are difficult"; and salvation, being the noblest of all, is the most difficult. It can be attained only by resolute endeavour, and every man must face the ordeal for himself. It is folly to stand gazing at the height and wondering whether few or many will win it. "There is the narrow gate!" cries Jesus; "yonder is the rugged path! Enter and climb."1 [Note: D. Smith, The Days of His Flesh, 302.]

While the writers of the New Testament vary in their mode of presenting the ultimate goal of man, they are at one in regarding it as an exalted form of life. What they all seek to commend is a condition of being involving a gradual assimilation to, and communion with, God. The distinctive gift of the gospel is the gift of life. "I am the life," says Christ. And the Apostle's confession is in harmony with his Master's claim - "For me to live is Christ." Salvation is nothing else than the restoration, preservation, and exaltation of life.… I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. "More life and fuller" is the passion of every soul that has caught the vision and heard the call of Jesus. The supreme good consists not in suppressed vitality, but in power and freedom. Life in Christ is a full, rich existence.… The spiritual man pursues his way through conflict and achievement towards a higher and yet a higher goal, ever manifesting, yet ever seeking, the infinite that dwells in him. All knowledge and quest and endeavour, nay, existence itself, would be a mockery if man had no "forever." Scripture corroborates the yearnings of the heart and represents life as a growing good which is to attain to ever higher reaches and fuller realization in the world to come. It is the unextinguishable faith of man that the future must crown the present. No human effort goes to waste, no gift is delusive; but every gift and every effort has its proper place as a stage in the endless process.

"There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before."2 [Note: A. B. D. Alexander, Christianity and Ethics, 128.]