The Way Of The Many 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

The world speaks of numerous ways. It specially favours a via media. But here our Lord, with more than a touch of austerity in His tone, declares there is no middle way. He puts the antithesis sharply and nakedly. There is a wide gate, and there is a narrow gate; there is a broad way, and there is a straitened way; and there are just two ends, destruction and life. At one or other of these ends every man shall arrive, and what end it will be depends upon the road he travels.

1. The entrance is wide. - We have taken the broad way first, if for no other reason than that it is the broad way. It is the most manifest and obtrusive, and the nearest to us naturally. Let us begin at the beginning of it. It has a gate. A gate is a place of entrance - to a city, or a field, or a country. As a religious term it means the beginning of a course or onward career. Being a figure, there is no need to attach to it a narrow inelastic meaning, but it does point to the great moral truth that there are critical and decisive points in life to which men come. There are gates of decision, narrow or wide, through which they pass into the course that lies within. It might indeed be said that we enter upon the broad way when we are born: that birth is the wide gate, and natural life the broad way. There is truth in that; but it is only a half truth. It is also true that we may be born in the narrow way, may pass, as it were, through the strait gate in our nurture as infants; we may tread the narrow way in our Christian training, and leave it only by our own act and choice. Manifestly, our Lord is not entering here upon that question. He is speaking to reasonable and responsible men of their acts of choice, in the decisive times and places in life. He is speaking of the entering in at either gate of those who know that they so enter. And yet the knowledge may not be very express or clear. From want of reflection, from want of observance of the real character and consequences of things, men may go on from youth to age without being aware that they pass through "gates" at all. They live as they list, or as they can. They take life as it comes, and they are not conscious of points of transition. They see no gates in life, pass through none to their own consciousness. To-day is as yesterday, and to-morrow will be as to-day! All this is consistent with the spirit of the passage "wide is the gate." One may go through it and hardly know it is there. No one needs to jostle another in passing through. No one needs to ruffle his garments or to lay anything aside or to leave anything behind; no one needs to part from his companions; all can enter together, for the gate is wide.

The pangs of pity which Dante's sensitive soul feels for the forlorn and tormented spirits in the Inferno serve to show how intense is his conviction that nothing can set aside the laws of eternal right. Francesca will arouse in him infinite and overwhelming compassion, but Francesca must face the withering tempest which her fault has aroused against her. Mr. J. A. Symonds expressed his wonder that Dante should be so hard and pitiless in his judgment upon the weaklings who hesitated to identify themselves on either side in the great battle of all time. Others may have felt that the harsh contempt expressed by the poet was out of proportion to a fault which might be called weakness, but never vice; but to Dante the cowardice which refused the call of high duty or noble ideal was sin almost beyond forgiveness: it revealed a spirit dead to righteousness through the paralysing influence of self-interest.1 [Note: W. Boyd Carpenter, The Spiritual Message of Dante, 33.]

2. The way is broad. - If there is amplitude even at the entrance, or at the critical points of life when the gates are passed, we may well expect that there will be space, and allowance, and freedom in the way. All kinds of persons may walk in it. The man of the world may work out his schemes, gather his money, and achieve his position. The pleasure-seeker may eat and drink and dance and sleep and sing. The sensual man who kills his moral life and vilifies the Divine image within him may pass on unchecked. The formalist may count his beads and say his prayers. The Pharisee may draw his garments away from the sinner's touch. The sceptic may think his doubting thoughts; and the crowds of persons who never think, who live without a purpose, who do good or evil as the case may be, may all find a place here.

There is a wide gate. It opens into a broad way. But the broad way leads to destruction. The idea of an enclosure, a place enclosed within a wall, lies at the basis of the representation. One might have supposed, from the spacious entrance, that the way would conduct to some magnificent home, a palace of beauty and of bliss. But no. It leads to destruction, to some kind of everlasting death. What may this broad way be, with its wide gate? It is doubtless the way of self-licence, of that self-gratification which is determined to take a wide berth for itself, spurning Divine prohibitions, and laughing at the limits of a strict and narrow morality. It is the way of things that is counter to the way and will of Christ. There were many in Christ's day "entering in through it." There are still many. The multitude still goes that way. He who would be a Christian must still be somewhat singular in his habits and manner of life.1 [Note: James Morison.]

3. It leads to destruction. - All who journey upon the broad way come at last to its conclusion. And what do they find? Life? Happiness? Peace? They find destruction. Destruction! Destruction of our higher sentiments, of the peace of our conscience, of the life of our spirit! Destruction of our faith, our love, our hope, of our character, of our soul. Destruction! The pains of the final condemnation of God, of banishment from His presence into the darkness unutterable, into the penal fires of self-reproach and remorse.

By a natural law man leans towards destruction. It may be called the gravitation of a fallen being. Let a man only be at ease in himself, satisfied with what he is, and consent to the usurping customs of the world, drawing in the unwholesome breath of refined evil, and letting his moral inclination run its natural course, without check or stay, and he will most surely tide onward, with an easy and gentle motion, down the broad current to eternal death. Such a man is seldom strongly tempted. The less marked solicitations of the tempter are enough. The suggestion of a great sin might rouse his conscience, and scare him from the toils. We may take this, then, as a most safe rule, that a feeling of security is a warning to be suspicious, and that our safety is to feel the stretch and the energy of a continual strife.

There is an extraordinary confirmation of His teaching about the broad way in the attitude of those who among ourselves have rejected Christ and His laws. Their thought tends to Pessimism; and so far as they believe anything, they believe in extinction - i.e., the broad path leading to destruction. What is the attitude of Nietzsche or Max Nordau in Germany? or of Daudet, Loti, Guyau in France? or of Björnsen and Ibsen in Norway? The way of Jesus is surrendered or rejected, and blank destruction stares the thinker in the face.1 [Note: R. F. Horton, The Commandments of Jesus, 227.]

There is in man an instinct of revolt, an enemy of all law, a rebel which will stoop to no yoke, not even that of reason, duty, and wisdom. This element in us is the root of all sin. The independence which is the condition of individuality is at the same time the eternal temptation of the individual. That which makes us beings makes us also sinners. Sin is, then, in our very marrow, it circulates in us like the blood in our veins, it is mingled with all our substance. Or rather I am wrong: temptation is our natural state, but sin is not necessary. Sin consists in the voluntary confusion of the independence which is good with the independence which is bad.2 [Note: Amiel's Journal.]

But two ways are offered to our will -
Toil, with rare triumph, Ease, with safe disgrace;
Nor deem that acts heroic wait on chance!
The man's whole life preludes the single deed
That shall decide if his inheritance
Be with the sifted few of matchless breed,
Or with the unnoticed herd that only sleep and feed.

to be continued