The Sermon On The Mount
The Way of Salvation-Concluded
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
Matthew 7:14, 15
As Christ was the antitype of Melchizedek and Aaron, the antitype of David and Solomon, so also was He the antitypical Moses (Deut. 18:18) and Samuel, and therefore in the fulfillment of His commission He could say unto His hearers, "I set before you the way of life, and the way of death" (Jer. 21:8). This is precisely what He did in the verses before us: He likens our passage through life to a journey, a journey from time unto eternity. There are but two possible destinations unto which each of us is travelling, for we are treading the path which leads to heavenly bliss or the road which conducts to the eternal torments of hell. That we may ascertain which of those ways we are on, Christ gave a brief and clearly identifying description of each of them, defining the entrance thereto, the breadth thereof, and the numbers thereon. God has ordained two distinct places to be the final abodes of men after this life, and between them He has fixed a great gulf so that none can pass from the one to the other (Luke 16:26), and equally great is the distance and the difference between the ways leading to them and the character and conduct of those walking along the one and the other, for the former are the children of God, whereas the latter are the children of the Devil.
This drawing such drastic lines of discrimination, this definite and circumscribed classification, is not at all acceptable to those who traverse the spacious road leading to destruction. They pride themselves on their broadmindedness and liberality and resent anything which suggests that all is not well with them. They know their characters are not white, yet would not allow for a moment they were black, so persuade themselves they are a shade midway between. They may not be good enough for heaven, but they are quite sure they are not bad enough for bell. That is why the papish invention of a "purgatory" is so popular with multitudes of people, and just as they would fondly believe there is another place besides heaven and hell, so they like to think there is another class besides saints and sinners. But if our thoughts be formed according to the teaching of Holy Writ we are shut up to this inevitable and sole alternative, light or darkness, truth or error, Christ or Belial, holiness or sin, salvation or damnation.
Christ began this solemn and searching portion of His Sermon with the exhortation, "Enter ye in at the strait gate," which we understand to mean: first, jettison all your own ideas and receive the Truth as a little child (Matthew 18:3), bowing to its sentence of condemnation. Second, abandon your course of self-pleasing, bewail your rebellion against God and set your heart firmly against sill. Third, surrender yourself to God's righteous claims and yield yourself unreservedly to the Lordship of Christ. That exhortation is enforced by the following reason: "for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." All who are unconverted proceed along it. "It hath in it various paths suited to men's different humors and inclinations. The covetous and the spendthrift, the profligate and the hypocrite, the Antinomian and the Pharisee, the sons and daughters of pleasure and the grave designing politicians and proud philosophers, decent moralists and infamous debauchees, have their several paths and their select companies; they mutually despise and condemn each other, yet they all keep one another in countenance by agreeing to oppose the holy ways of the Lord" (Thomas Scott).
Yet pleasant as the broad way may be to the flesh and popular as it is with the masses, it ends in unutterable woe and everlasting torments. How necessary it is then, that each of us should give heed to that injunction, "Ponder the path of thy feet" (Prov. 4:26). Men are ready enough to do so in temporal matters, why not so in spiritual? They do not enter a train or even a bus without first ascertaining where it is bound for: then why not pause and ask, Whither will this godless mode of life take me? In which direction are my feet pointed: heavenward or hellward? So immeasurable is the distance betwixt those two bodies, so vast is the difference between life and destruction, that we are called upon to exercise the utmost care and conscience in using every Divinely prescribed means for attaining the one and escaping the other. In the verses we are now considering Christ faithfully warns us that if we are to have a well-grounded hope of attaining the home of the blessed we must give heed to that commandment, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Ex. 23:2).
There appears to have been some uncertainty in the minds of our translators concerning the exact relation between verse 14 and its immediate context, for it will be observed that they have suggested "How" as an alternative to its opening "Because." In the preceding verse our Lord had given a brief but emphatic exhortation which He had followed with a solemn reason to enforce the same. What then is the precise force of verse 14, which obviously returns to the original exhortation? If we take the marginal rendering, then verse 14 constitutes an exclamation, occasioned by what has been said of the broad way and the multitudes which choose to tread it. But if we take it as it reads, and which we regard as preferable, then verse 14 contains an amplification. First, informing us that entering in at the strait gate is not the end itself, but only a means thereto, for it gives entrance to the "narrow way" which has to be traversed if life is to be obtained. Second, it plainly announces that the walk thereon will be both difficult and lonely, for only the "few" succeed in finding it. And third, it offers encouragement or presents a powerful incentive by assuring its travelers that life lies at the end of it.
It seems to us there is yet another way of ascertaining the relation of verse 14 to its context, and that is by linking it not with the whole of the preceding verse but with its last clause, thus: "and many there be which go in thereat, because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life." Considered thus it is a word of explanation, informing us why the multitudes prefer the road which leads to destruction: the only alternative path repels them. The straitness of its entrance and the narrowness of its course present no attraction for the lovers of fleshly license and worldly pursuits and pleasures; on the contrary, the way which leads unto life is diametrically opposed to their ideas and inclinations. They may offer a hundred excuses why they seek not the narrow way, but the real one is that they have no heart for it. As a fish is out of its native element when brought from the water and placed on the land, so the unregenerate have no relish for godliness. None but those who have communicated to them a new nature will desire to tread the highway of holiness.
"Because strait [or "narrow"] is the gate." We have already pondered this expression in the preceding article, yet so little is it understood and so much is it contradicted by the claptrap evangelism of our day that a further word on it is called for. Place by the side of it another of our Lord's sayings: "That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom!" (Matthew 19:23). How far removed is that from the idea now so prevalent! Do not thousands who take the lead in tract distribution, open-air work, Gospel hall and mission hall services, suppose it is just as easy for a rich man to be saved as a poor one, seeing that all which either of them has to do is "simply believe the record which God has given of His Son." Ah, my reader, the devils believe the whole of that record (Jas. 2:19): believe in His deity (Matthew 8:29), His virgin birth, His atoning death, His triumphant resurrection, but does their belief make them any less devilish in character? So of the vast majority of those who profess to have received Christ as their personal Saviour; has their believing of the Gospel made them less carnal and worldly, more truthful with their fellows, more honest in their business dealings, less selfish; if it has not, what is such "believing" worth? Less than nothing.
If saving faith were nothing but an act of the mind, an assent to the Divine testimony, then it would be just as easy for a millionaire to be saved as a pauper. But it is "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Rom. 10:10) and the heart is the seat of the affections, and how can a person hate what he loves or love what he hates? Can he do so by a mere "act of the will"? Of course not: It is contrary to nature. A miracle of grace has to be performed within him first, his heart must be "renewed," radically changed, before its affections will move in a different direction. We are told that "the disciples were astonished at His words," so they too were laboring under the delusion that salvation was a simple matter for anybody. "But Jesus answered again and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" Faith is an attitude of heart Godward, and where material wealth is made the heart's sufficiency in connection with temporal supplies, how can it reverse its entire trend and trust God for spiritual and eternal things?
"It is easier [continued Christ] for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Now face the issue frankly, dear reader: does that declaration of the Lord Jesus denote that salvation is to be obtained cheaply, that anyone may be saved any time he is willing to be? Should it be answered, This is not a "salvation" passage, we reply, It most certainly is, for the disciples at once asked, "Who then can be saved?" (Mark 10:26). To which our Lord said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for with God all things are possible." How utterly erroneous then is the teaching that the matter of his salvation rests entirely with man's will. They are deceivers of souls, blind leaders of the blind, who go around telling the ignorant and unwary that getting saved is an easy and simple thing. Not so, it is the most difficult thing of all; nay, with men it is impossible, and the sooner this be recognized the sooner we are likely to get down on our knees and cry to God in earnest for the supernatural operations of His Spirit.
Trusting in riches is far from being the only thing which hinders man from seeking God's salvation. "How can ye believe," said Christ on another occasion, "which receive honour one of another and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44): the love of fame, seeking the approbation of our fellows, is another fatal obstruction. If the first three Gospels be read attentively (John's Gospel is for Christians-1:16) it will be seen that the Lord Jesus was very far from teaching that the attainment of heaven is a simple matter. He insisted that right eyes have to be plucked out (cherished lusts mortified) and right hands cut off (beloved idols destroyed)-Matthew 5:29, 30. He likened the Christian unto a "house" which has to withstand "floods" and "winds" beating upon it (Matthew 7:25). He declared that in order to be His disciple a man must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Instead of promising His followers a smooth voyage through this world, He said, "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household?" (Matthew 10:25). Instead of teaching that a single and isolated act of faith was sufficient to secure heaven, He said, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Instead of seeking to rush men into believing, He bade them "sit down first and count the cost" (Luke 14:28).
The gate or entrance then is a "strait" one, for it will not admit those who are loaded with the weapons of rebellion against God, nor can they squeeze through who are walking arm in arm with the world. To enter that gate the heart has to be humbled, sinful pleasures have to relinquished, worldly companions abandoned, Christ has to be received in all His offices. And mark it well, this "gate" is but the entrance, giving admittance to the one and only path which leadeth unto life. That path Christ described as a "narrow way," to intimate that it is no easier, wider or more pleasant than the gate itself. In 1 Thessalonians 3:4, the cognate term is rendered "suffer tribulation." It is not on flowery beds of ease that the pilgrim is conducted to the Father's house: rather does he have to force his way through briars and thorns which cut and tear the flesh. There is not one path for the Redeemer and another for the redeemed (John 10:4). His was a path of affliction and ours cannot be otherwise if we follow the example He has left us; and if we do not we shall not join Him on high.
"Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life." As this way is entered by the heart's sincere acceptance of Christ's holy teaching, so it is traversed by the heart and life being constantly regulated thereby. They who tread this narrow way heed not the counsel of the ungodly (Ps. 1:2), lean not unto their own understanding (Prov. 3:5), and follow not "the customs of the people" (Jer. 10:3). Rather are the believer's thoughts formed by the Scriptures and his conduct directed by its statutes, so that God's Word becomes to him in fact and experience "a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path." The narrow way is strictly marked and exactly defined in the Divine Charter, and along it the Christian must go without turning aside either to the right hand or the left (Prov. 4:27). When he meets with an enemy that enemy must be overcome, or he will be overcome by him. The going is strenuous and arduous, for the whole of it is uphill. Let anyone who thinks otherwise read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and see if that deeply taught soul pictured pilgrim's course to the celestial city as all smooth sailing. Alas, that so much of the modern preaching is the very reverse of what is contained in that faithful and helpful work.
And why is the way such a "narrow" one? Because it is a single path, whereas the way of death is manifold, containing sundry avenues. Just as Truth is one, but error is a many-headed monster, so the highway of holiness is a single track in contrast with the numerous pavements in the broad road which leads to destruction. It is "narrow" because those on it are shut in by the Divine commands, which make all else forbidden territory. It is "narrow" because it excludes all fleshly license and lawless liberty. It is "narrow" because it can only be trodden by faith, and faith is not only opposed to sight but to sense, to self-will and self-pleasing. It is "narrow" because all other interests have to be subordinated to the pleasing of God. Thus it is a way of difficulty and displeasure to corrupt nature, for our lusts are impatient of any restraint. It is natural to be more concerned about the body than the soul, to be absorbed with things present rather than with things to come, and this natural tendency is fed by habit and custom: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23).
Walking along the narrow way denotes a steady perseverance in faith and obedience to God in Christ. It signifies the overcoming of all opposition and the rejecting of all temptations to turn off into what Bunyan terms "Bypath meadow." That narrow way must be followed no matter how much it may militate against my worldly interests. Our minds, our affections, our wills, our speeches and actions have all to be brought within the compass of God's Holy Word, within the compass of both His Law and His Gospel. At ten fundamental points our liberty is circumscribed by the Law, nor is the Gospel any less strict. Our natural desire unto self-confidence and self-sufficiency, self-complacency and self-righteousness is sternly repressed by it. The duties which the Lord has enjoined must be discharged conscientiously and circumspectly. Bounds are prescribed to our thoughts and affections: though certain things be lawful yet they are not expedient, and if things indifferent be used immoderately we sin therein. Good works are to be performed from a holy principle, in a holy manner, and with a holy design, and any failure therein is sin, for sin is a "missing the mark."
The obedience of the Christian is very precise, for not only must the rule be strictly observed but the motive must be pure-the pleasing and glorifying of God. Even our prayers must be according to the Divine will or they are not answered. Those who walk thus are bound to be thought singular and peculiar. Their Lord has faithfully warned them beforehand, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not . . . the world hateth you" (John 15:18, 19). And mark it well my reader, it was not the profane and heathen world that hated Christ, but the professing and religious world, and so it is still. If by grace you are enable-I to tread the narrow way it will be church members, professing Christians, who will say, "Such strictness is not required. I cannot see why you wish to cut yourself from us." If you refuse to imitate their laxity, they will sneer at your "holy preciseness" and mock at such "out-of-date puritanism." Ah, journeying along the narrow way means swimming against the tide of popular opinion!
"Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life." By "life" is meant that glorious state of unclouded fellowship with God, the heart's being satisfied with Him, the realization of His unspeakable excellency and the fullness of joy there is in His immediate presence. Even now the real Christian has the promise, yea, the earnest, of it, but life in its fullness, in its unalloyed blessedness, in its ineffable consummation is yet future, as is clear from its being placed over against "destruction." "And few there be that find it." So let not the saint be discouraged because he finds his path so unpopular and a lonely one: his Master declared it would be so. This is one of the surest indexes that he is on the right road. And why is it that so few "find" it? Because so few diligently seek it. The great crowd of religious professors imagine they are already on it, and therefore they heed not that word, "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein" (Jer. 6:16). We need to inquire for it. Where? In God's Word, and then follow it, putting into practice what we already know.
Even when a servant of God describes the narrow way to professing Christians they heed him not, but charge him with teaching salvation by works and bringing souls into bondage, knowing not that the Gospel is the handmaid of the Law and not its enemy (Rom. 3:31). Saving faith not only trusts in Christ but follows Him. It not only believes God's promises but obeys His precepts. Saving faith is a fruitful thing, abounding in good works. It enables its possessor to endure trials, resist the Devil, and overcome the world (1 John 5:4). None tread the narrow way save those who make vital godliness their chief concern, the main business of life. Hence we see why it is that the vast majority of our fellow men and women, yea, and of professing Christians also, will fail to reach heaven: it is because they prefer sin to holiness, indulging the lusts of the flesh to walking according to the Scriptures, self to Christ, the world to God, the broad way to the narrow. They are unwilling to forsake their sins, destroy their idols, turn their backs on the world, and submit to Christ as Lord.