The Sermon On The Mount
The Way of Salvation
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there he which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
Matthew 7:13, 14
The verses to which we have now come are closely connected with the previous sections of the Lord's Sermon, in which He had described the character of those who were the subjects of His kingdom and had laid down the rules by which they must walk. Such teaching as He had given out was at direct variance with the popular views entertained by His hearers. The Jews supposed that they were all to be the subjects of the Messiah, simply from being the natural descendants of Abraham and because they bore in their flesh the mark of the covenant. But throughout this discourse the Lord Jesus had made it abundantly clear that something more essential than physical lineage and submission to ceremonial rites was required to make them spiritual heirs of the patriarch. There was a straiter gate which had to be entered than any privilege which natural birth gave admittance to, a narrower way to be traversed than that religious life mapped out by the scribes and the Pharisees. Only those are accounted the true children of Abraham who have his faith (Rom. 4:16), who do his works (John 8:39), and who are vitally united to Christ (Gal. 3:29).
If the teaching of Christ was radically different from that in which the Jews of His day had been brought up, it is in equally sharp contrast with most of the concepts which now prevail in Christendom. If the Jews were completely ignorant of the high and searching requirements of God's holiness it cannot be said that our own generation is any better informed. If they plumed themselves on being the children of Abraham, a large percentage of our people complacently assume that they are members of a "Christian nation." If they believed that the rite of circumcision secured for them the favour of God, multitudes in our churches imagine that the sprinkling of water on the brow of an infant obtains for it a passport to heaven. And even in those circles which are better instructed, for the most part salvation is offered on much easier terms, far more acceptable to the natural man, than those prescribed by the incarnate Son of God. The analogy may be extended still farther, for if it was the religious leaders of Israel who most strenuously opposed our Lord, it is those now making the loudest claims to orthodoxy that are the bitterest antagonists of the Truth.
In support of our assertion that the doctrine of Christ is directly contrary to the ideas now so prevalent in Christendom, take His solemn and express declaration that few there be that find life, which, we shall see as we proceed, means that only a few will reach heaven. But who is there today that really believes this? Where is the place in which such a truth is boldly and plainly uttered? We know of none. On the contrary it is generally assumed, yea, said openly, that many, that "millions," that the greater part of the human race will obtain eternal felicity. Let any man who "attends church" die, and no matter how worldly his life or how crooked his business dealings, do not his friends say with one consent "he is now at rest," and is not the preacher expected to declare in his funeral sermon that the deceased is "better off"? If anyone should dare to dissent is he not at once condemned for being "harsh and uncharitable"? The tree, forsooth, is not to be known by its fruits but by the label some parsonic (parson) gardener has attached to it.
The unwelcome but faithful objector may call attention to our Lord's statement that His flock is a "little"-Greek "very little" -one (Luke 12:32), but the religious world will not listen to him. He must not challenge the Christian profession of his fellows. He must not look for perfect people in this world. We all have our failings, and though some believe differently from himself, yet their hearts are right, and though others may be slack in performing certain duties, let him remember that they claim to be trusting in the finished work of Christ, and therefore it is highly reprehensible for anyone to doubt them. So far from believing that only a few will reach heaven, the vast majority in Christendom today hold that somehow, in some way, the greater part of our fellows will get there. Hell, if there be such a place, is reserved for arch-criminals and villains, just as our prisons house only a small fraction of the population-the "unfortunates" and "misguided" ones.
And why is it that there are scarcely any left among us who really believe that only the few will reach heaven? There can only be one answer: because it is now generally held that heaven can be obtained on much easier terms than those prescribed by Christ. The adulterous generation in which our lot is cast are quite sure that heaven can be reached without treading the only way which leads there, that the kingdom of God can be entered without passing through "much tribulation" (Acts 14:22), that we may be disciples of Christ without denying self, taking up our cross and following Him (Matthew 16:24). They do not believe that if their right eve offends it must be plucked out and if their right hand offends it must be cut off (Matthew 5:29, 30). They do not believe that if they live after the flesh they shall die, and that only if through the Spirit they mortify the deeds of the body they shall live (Rom. 8:13). They are fully persuaded that a man can serve two masters and succeed in "making the best of two worlds." In short, they do not believe the gate is as "strait" nor the way as "narrow" as Christ declared it to be.
All we have to do in order to be saved is to respond to Christ's gracious invitation and "come unto Him." Ah, but that "all" is by no means the simple matter that many think and that so many evangelists falsely represent it to be. We have to turn our back upon the world and forsake our cherished sins in order to turn our face unto Christ, as the prodigal had to leave the far country, where he had spent his substance in riotous living, before he could come to the Father. Christ is the Holy One of God and will not be the minister of sin. Love for the things of this world closes the heart against Him. What caused the young man to go away from Christ sorrowing, after some fair show of willingness to be His disciple, but love of possessions? What restrained the invited guests from accepting the invitation to the marriage feast, but immoderate affection to the husbanding of a farm and proving of oxen (Matthew 22:5)? "Whosoever is under the government of this lust (covetousness) can no more believe in Christ than a man lying under a heap of rubbish or at the bottom of the sea can see the glory of the heavens. The intentness of the eye on one object hinders it from the view of another" (S. Charnock).
When the Philippian jailer asked "What must I do to be saved?" all the apostle answered was "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Waiving now the fact that that was not the idle inquiry of one who was still in love with the world and taking his fill of its pleasures, but instead the distressed cry of one who was desperate, let it be pointed out that while believing in Christ is a simple and easy act considered in itself, yet it becomes a very hard and difficult thing to us by reason of the opposition made thereto by our inward corruptions and the temptations of Satan. To forgive our enemies and love those who persecute and despitefully use us is, considered as a notion of the mind, easy to be performed, but try and bring your heart to do the same and you will discover it lies beyond your own unaided powers. As a motion of the mind it is both simple and delightful to cast all our care upon Him who careth for us (1 Pet. 5:7), yet a poor man, in ill health and the father of a big family, does not find it easy to perform. No heart can tear itself away from the world and hate beloved lusts without first experiencing the mighty operations of the Holy Spirit!'
"Enter ye in at the strait gate" says Christ at the beginning of our passage, and that this is far from being an easy thing to do appears from His word on another occasion: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24). That He should employ such an expression clearly implies the slothfulness and carelessness which characterize mere nominal professors, as it also denotes that there are real difficulties and formidable obstacles to be overcome. The Greek word there used for "strive" (agonizomai) is a very expressive and emphatic one, meaning "agonize." It occurs again in 1 Corinthians 9:25, "and every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things:" the reference is to the athletes who took part in the marathon races, willing to undergo the most self-denying discipline to be at their fittest, thereby hoping to win an earthly crown. This word rendered "strive" is translated "labouring fervently" in Colossians 4:12, and "fight" in 1 Timothy 6:2! Ah, my reader, becoming a Christian is not done simply by holding up your hand in a religious meeting or signing some "decision" card. Alas, that such multitudes have been deceived by these satanic catch-pennies.
"The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12), like an army storming a city and capturing the same. We have often read of earthly kingdoms being obtained by violence, but it seems surprising to hear of such means being used upon the kingdom of heaven. How are we to understand this? Why, thus: "violence" here does not signify unlawful assaults, but earnest deliberation. It is not an injurious violence like that which seizes earthly prizes, but a holy and industrious violence, intensity of desire and endeavour, persevering zeal which refuses a denial. It is a determination to master all difficulties, to break through all impediments and surmount every obstacle. Such violence was necessary then: "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go n yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:13), but did all they could to oppose them. So now: godless relatives and worldly companions will seek to deter the earnest seeker after Christ, but he must not be deterred if he would find. "The kingdom of heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of them that labour" (Matthew Henry).
"Enter ye in at the strait gate." It is not enough to listen to preaching about this "gate," nor to study its structure or admire the wisdom of its appointment: it must be entered. Sermons on repentance and faith in Christ avail us nothing unless they move our hearts to comply therewith. The Greek word here rendered "strait" signifies restrained, cramped, or better "narrow" as it is rendered in the R.V. And what is meant by this strait or narrow gate? A "gate" serves two purposes: it lets in and shuts out. This gate is the only avenue of admittance to that "way" which leads unto life, and all who enter not by it are eternally barred from the presence of God and the realm of ineffable bliss. The second use of this "gate" is solemnly illustrated at the close of the parable of the virgins. The foolish ones lacked the necessary "oil" (the work of the Spirit in the heart), and when they sought to obtain it the Bridegroom came and "the door was shut" (Matthew 25:10), and though they besought Him to open it unto them, He answered "I know you not."
What is denoted by entering this narrow gate? Chiefly three things. First, the acceptance of those teachings of truth, of duty, of happiness, which were unfolded by Christ: the honest and actual receiving into the heart of His holy, searching and flesh-withering instructions. Those teachings may be summed up in His emphasis upon the righteous claims and demands of God upon us and His insistence upon our depraved state and wicked enmity against Him. No one can become a Christian while he entertains any doubt upon the Divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, or while he refuses to bow to the verdict which God has pronounced upon him. We must know ourselves to be utterly lost before there can be any desire for salvation, and we must accept God's sentence of condemnation upon us ere we know how guilty we are in His sight. There can be no traversing the narrow way itself until we set to our seal that God is true when He declares we are "all as an unclean thing," that there is "no soundness" in us. It is by relinquishing error, the lies of Satan, and receiving the Truth that we pass through the strait gate.
Second, the exercise of true repentance. "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent" (Matthew 4:17). It was announced of His forerunner that he should "prepare the way of the Lord." And how did he do so? By making ready a people to receive Him when He appeared before them as "the Lamb of God." And in what did that readiness consist? This, that they repented, confessed their sins, and owned that death was their due by being buried in baptism in the Jordan by him (Luke 3:1-6). The Gospel is not less holy than the Law and therefore it requires that our hearts bewail our former transgressions of the Law and be firm and sincere in its resolution against all future sin. "You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together. No one sin may you keep. They must all be given up: they must be brought out like the Canaanitish kings from the cave and hanged up before the sun. You must forsake them, abhor them, and ask the Lord to overcome them" (C. H. Spurgeon). It is by abandoning our idols and the pleasures of sin that we pass through the strait gait.
Third, the complete surrender of ourselves to God in Christ. This will anticipate an objection which some may be ready to make: not the Lord Jesus "the Door" (John 10:9)? Yes, and He is so according to the three principal functions of His mediatorial office: He is "the Door" into God's presence as He is Prophet, Priest and King. To believe savingly in Christ is to receive Him as Prophet to instruct us, as Priest to atone for us, and as King to rule over us. Only as His holy teachings are really accepted by a contrite heart is any soul prepared to place any value on His cleansing blood, and the sincerity of our acceptance of Him as Priest is evidenced by our readiness to submit to His royal sceptre, for like His types He is first the King of righteousness and after that the King of peace (Heb. 7:2). Christ's cleansing blood is available to none who are unwilling to throw down the weapons of their warfare against God: they must forsake their way if they would be pardoned (Isa. 55:7). Only by a serious dedication of ourselves unto God through Christ can we become enjoyers of the riches of His grace. It is by a complete surrender of ourselves unto God that we pass through the strait gate.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate." Here were "duty repentance" and "duty faith" with a vengeance, for this exhortation is obviously addressed unto the unsaved: "Enter ye in" definitely implies they were yet outside. And unto whom was Christ speaking? Not to heathen idolaters, who were without any knowledge of the true God. No, it was to those who believed in Jehovah and who received the Scriptures as His very Word. It was to those who averred "we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41). Nevertheless, despite all their knowledge of the Truth and enjoyment of external privileges, they had never entered that gate which alone admitted to the only way which leadeth unto life This same exhortation is equally applicable and pertinent today unto multitudes of church members who, notwithstanding their profession and performances, have never been born again. In this exhortation Christ makes it plain to His ministers that He would have them recognize the responsibility of their hearers, and call upon the unregenerate to discharge their duties.
"For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." In those words our Lord advanced a reason or argument to enforce His previous exhortation. There is another gate than the "strait" one, altogether different therefrom, for it is "wide" and gives entrance into a broad way, but it leads to the bottomless pit. It is "the course of this world" (Eph. 2:2), in which all its unregenerate citizens are found. It is the path of self-will and self-gratification. It is "wide" because those in it own no restrictions. They have broken down the commandments of God which were designed to be a hedge about them. It is therefore a pleasant and easy way to the flesh, for no inquiry or diligent search has to be made in order to find it, no resolution and perseverance are called for in order to continue treading it, no self-denial has to be practiced to remain therein. A dead fish can float with the stream, but only a living one can swim against it: so the unregenerate mechanically follow this road, for there is nothing in them to resist the law of gravity. The going is smooth and easy because it is all downhill!
It is a crowded road, for "many there be which go in thereat." It is the very width of it which renders it so attractive to the carnal mind. Here there are no "quota" limitations, no barring of "aliens," no restrictions of color, caste or creed. There is plenty of room for all. Men may walk in the ways of their hearts and in the sight of their eyes, give rein to their lusts and full indulgence to their inclinations, and none shall hinder them. This broad road is thronged because all mankind are in it by nature, birth admitting them into the same; nor has anyone the slightest desire to desert it unless a miracle of grace be wrought upon him. Like Lot and his wife in Sodom every last one of us is so loath to leave the city of destruction that the Christian too had preferred to remain there and perish, unless the Lord had sent His messengers to "pluck" him as a brand from the burning. "Woe to the multitude of many people" (Isa. 17:12) says God to this densely packed road.
It is a deceptive road, for few upon it have any idea of whither it is taking them. Those upon it believe they are following the wise course, for they regard as fools those who differ from them. We are only young once, life is short, let us have a gay time while it lasts; let us eat, drink and be merry seems to them the very dictates of common sense. Ah, it is "the way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). So sure are its travelers they are right that they conclude anyone is afflicted with "religious mania" who prefers the narrow way. Yet it is a fatal road, for it "leadeth to destruction," hopeless and eternal destruction. It conducts to the bottomless pit, the unquenchable fire, and the undying worm. It is the way of the ungodly, and Scripture expressly declares that "the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Ps. 1:6). And, my reader, that fatal way can only be abandoned by conversion, by a radical right about face, by turning from sin and self-pleasing and turning unto God and holy living.