Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:14a “Because. . .”
Along the broad way, travellers see from time to time a gate where they can enter to begin walking a different road, a path in the middle of the broad way, headed the opposite direction. Sadly, most people stay on the broad way “because. . .”
Matt. 7:14b “. . .strait is the gate,. . .”
The gate opening to the kingdom of God is avoided because it is demanding. Many have trouble constricting themselves to squeeze through the narrow entrance. The strait gate acts as a turnstile, admitting only one person at a time, and letting each one take in only their own self. No sins and no religious merit are allowed.
Matt. 7:14c “. . .and narrow is the way,. . .”
The Christian life stays the way it starts: strait. The strait gate’s pillars are repentance and renunciation; the narrow way’s walls are self-denial and obedience. The way is no less narrow than the gate. The instant one accepts Jesus, much becomes forbidden terrain. Christians have limits which do not hamper prechristians.
Christianity was at first called “the Way” (AC 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22). Early believers deemed themselves pilgrims on a quest to reach a specific destination by means of a prescribed pathway. Shut in by God’s commands, they felt they were pressed in on both sides, as if passing through a narrow mountain gorge.
“The narrow way is strictly marked and exactly defined in the Divine Charter” (Pink). Fenced in by God’s requirements, with the Bible as our road map, Christians endeavor to march straight ahead without turning aside to do evil. “Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil” (PR 4:27).
This limiting standard remains high to the end, and the enemy ever rages against it. Satan continues to attack us till the very last moment, firing from every side. Ours is a fight of faith to the end, entailing suffering and persecution, and requiring God-given endurance to the finish line. Christian living never grows easy.
Welcome to the narrow way–a corridor hemmed in. Welcome to the narrow way–a cramped war zone. Welcome to the narrow way–a confining battlefield. Welcome to the narrow way–the greatest place on earth to be. We deem its walls not a jail, but a hedge of protection from danger on both sides. “Narrowness is sometimes safety” (Maclaren), especially if quicksand is on both sides of the way.
God’s restrictions “are not infringements of liberty but protections against evil: they result in a service which is perfect freedom” (Plummer). Some desire freedom to do what they selfishly want to do. This leads to bondage. A higher freedom is to do what one ought to do. This can lead to self-pity, to feeling imposed upon. The highest freedom is when the other two freedoms converge, when what we want to do is what we ought to do. This is the freedom offered on the narrow way. Desire weds duty, spawning a sense of safety which brings joy upon joy.
Believers do give up much to walk the narrow way: pain of sexually transmitted diseases, agony from extramarital affairs, splitting headaches of a hangover, nightmares in drug addiction, and the futility of seeing no ultimate meaning to life.
As we pause on the narrow way to consider what we gave up to go through the strait gate, we wonder why we were ever interested at all in entering the wide gate and living on the broad way. We stand beside Paul and agree with his assessment, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung” (PH 3:8).
Our hearts find joy along the narrow way by reflecting occasionally on what we left behind in the past. We also find joy in casting our glance toward the future.
Matt. 7:14d “. . .which leadeth unto life,. . .”
On days when the trail gets dusty and difficult, take a moment to ponder the end–“life,” real living, pure, unbroken fellowship with God. The broad way and the narrow way both claim to lead to life, but only the latter delivers on its promise.
Glance down the narrow way. The end makes the expedition worthwhile. If in prison we were told we could leave, but only through a narrow walkway, we would not mourn or sulk and refuse to go through it. The size of the path would be inconsequential due to the wonderful gladness and freedom it led to. The narrow way is the only life worth living, it is the only one headed to the right destination.
When my brother-in-law Paul was stationed in Vietnam, he received clearance to return home, but was stranded at a supply depot in a remote area without transportation. One day a helicopter came in for supplies, and after having been loaded, had one small empty spot left open. The pilot, knowing of my brother-in-law’s dilemma, offered him that spot. Without a moment’s hesitation, and without one thought of going back to retrieve his supplies, Paul left everything behind to climb aboard. Pondering the happy end of the trip made any sacrifice worthwhile.
The end of the narrow way is worth any toll required to arrive there. It is the only lifestyle worth dying for. Sadness still haunts the Church whenever we think of Sunday, January 8, 1956, the day Auca Indians killed five missionaries, Jim Elliott, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian. Two days earlier these men had received the thrill of their lifetimes by making contact with their unreached people group. I know the joy of that experience. Nate Saint died, holding a loaded pistol he never used. The man who found Nate’s body later started his own missions agency. Thirty years after the massacre, a converted Auca Indian, one of those who killed Nate Saint, asked the missions leader why Nate did not use his pistol. He replied, “I have had thirty years to think about that, and all I can figure is, Nate knew he was going to heaven, and you weren’t.” Knowing the happy end of the trip makes it possible to give up anything in life, even the life itself, if need be.
We fully realize a price has to be paid to live on the narrow way, but it is worth any sacrifice. Its destination makes no cost too high. Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” “The cross-way,” said a martyr, “is the highway to heaven.” Jesse Pounds (1861-1921) penned,
I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss.
I must needs go on in the blood-sprinkled way,
The path that the Saviour trod,
If I ever climb to the heights sublime,
Where the soul is at home with God.
The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home;
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
The gate is strait, and the way is narrow, but the end is life, real life, the only life worth living and/or dying for. Leave the broad way, and enter the strait gate.