THE BROAD AND THE NARROW WAY.
MATT. vii. 13, 14.
Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat : Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be which find it.
IT is with great propriety that human life is compared to a journey, and every man to a traveler, for life is very short, and the present state is not our final rest, but only preparatory to it. Every man has some particular point at which he aims, and is daily travelling either to heaven or hell.
These words must have great weight with all who reverence the name of Jesus Christ: for they are his words, and they contain matter of eternal importance to us all. They consist of a short exhortation—" Enter ye in at the strait gate;" and a very important reason for preferring that to the wide gate; for the wide gate leads to destruction, but the narrow one to eternal life. In discoursing on the text, let us consider,
I. The wide gate, and the broad way, with the end of it.
II. The strait gate, and the narrow way, with what it leads to. And,
III. Enforce the exhortation, " Enter ye in at the strait gate'
And now, 0 Thou that beholdest the evil and the good ; Thou who knowest every heart, and seest which of these ways we are in, make the word useful to us all, and incline poor sinners to choose the narrow way, that so they may find ever-lasting life !
I. We will consider the wide gate, and the broad way. And what is this but sin. If there is a way to everlasting death, sin is certainly that way, for “the wages of sin is death;" but let such persons remember, that "what a man soweth, that shall he also reap." "If we live after the flesh we shall die," Rom. vi. 23. But, to be more particular, this broad way includes a thoughtless mind, a carnal heart, and a wicked life.
1. A thoughtless mind. And O how common this is! How many live as thoughtless about their souls as if they had none. They think no more of God, and Christ, and salvation, than if they were incapable of thinking; they are like the beasts that perish. Although the great end of our being is to know, serve, and glorify God; yet this is wholly lost sight of and forgotten. Although the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the care of the soul is the one thing needful; yet thousands, even in this Christian country, live like Atheists, and God is not in all their thoughts. O, prodigious and lamentable stupidity! Awake, O sleeper, arise, and call upon thy God, lest thou perish! Where is thy conscience? What says death? Is it not approaching? O rouse yourselves from this dangerous lethargy, and think what you are, and where you are going. Some of us may be free from the grosser vices; not chargeable, perhaps, with profaneness or drunkenness; yet know, that if living in ease and security, without any care about your soul and eternity, you are, equally with the vilest characters, in the broad road to destruction.
2. Again, The carnal or filthy heart is included; so the Holy Ghost describes the heart of man in its natural and depraved state. The immortal mind of man, originally created in the image of God, and formed for spiritual exercises, is now, by the fall of Adam, become carnal. So St. Paul speaks in the 8th of Romans, verse the 5th, "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" The carnal man is all for the world. His cares, his hopes, his fears, his desires, his pleasures, his pains, his conversation, is all about the world. His fleshly mind is crowded with worldly thoughts, and, as it was at Bethlehem, there is no room for Christ in the inn. But let it be observed, that whoever is in this case is in the broad road, for the scripture declares, that, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God," and that this "carnal mind is enmity against God." This is the miserable condition of many who pass for moral, industrious good sort of people; but they are far from God;—they are “sensual, not having the Spirit;" and minding only earthly things, their end is destruction. Phil. iii. 19.
3. Once more, observe that the broad way includes—A wicked life. A life of sin. Whoever lives in willful disobedience to the commands of God, is assuredly in the road to destruction. Let none deceive themselves with vain words and idle excuses. "He that committeth sin is of the devil," 1 John, iii. 8. "Know ye not," saith the Apostle Paul," that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, &c. shall inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. God will not hold him guiltless who taketh his name in vain; nor will the sabbath-breaker escape unpunished. How is it, then, that poor sinners flatter themselves with hopes of salvation; “for these things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience," Eph. v. 6.
To these destructive sins another may be added, which is more destructive than them all; namely, the sin of unbelief. Though a person should be free from many of the sins just mentioned, yet unbelief would be like a millstone about his neck, and sink him for ever into the gulf of perdition. God having, in his rich mercy to mankind, sent his Son to be a Saviour, and sent his gospel to publish this in our ears, nothing can be more displeasing to him than to "neglect his great salvation," or "refuse him that speaketh from heaven." Our blessed Saviour, while he mercifully promises, that "he who believeth shall be saved," solemnly declares that "he who believeth not shall be damned," Mark, xvi. 16.
This, then, is the wide gate and the broad way—namely, a thoughtless mind—a carnal heart—and a wicked life; all which, by unbelief, which refuses the only method of salvation lead to certain and everlasting ruin.
But you will ask, why are these things so described? Why are they compared to a wide gate and a broad way? The reason is plain; for it is easy to go through a wide gate and walk in a broad road, so the sinner finds no hindrance to his entering on a life of sin, and little or no difficulty in pursuing it.
Our corrupt nature strongly inclines us to sin. David says "We are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity," Psalm li. 5; and that” the wicked are estranged from the womb ; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." You know that children need no teacher to make them wicked. Sin is in our very nature, and we walk in this road of our own accord; it is natural and pleasant to us: while we as naturally dislike the narrow road, and despise those who walk in it.
Besides, those who are in the broad road meet with no hindrances from the world or from the devil. The broad road is the way of the world; for, as the apostle John saith, "The whole world lieth in wickedness," except the happy few who are delivered from it by the grace of God. In this broad way all ranks of men may be seen, from kings and princes down to slaves and beggars. Now it is easy to walk in a broad way with a multitude, provided they are all going one way, which is the case here; and the world will love its own. In this road, persons feel the great force of example, and plead, you know, for what they do, by the commonness of it, or its being the way of the world. They are afraid of appearing singular, even though conscience sometimes remonstrates against their evil courses. The pleasures of sin entice them to go forward, notwithstanding every warning of their danger; and the hopes of gain, and the favour of mankind, seduce them; for these they are afraid of losing if they become religious.
This road is wide and easy, because the devil gives no disturbance to them that walk in it. While "the strong man armed keeps the house, the goods are in peace." He strongly opposes the people of God who are in the narrow way; he disputes every inch of ground with them; but he is in league with those of the world; he endeavours to keep them from all fear of consequences: he blinds their minds, lest the light of the gospel should shine into them; and he fills their hearts with prejudices against faithful preachers, who would point out their sin and danger. Yea, he takes the same course with them as he did with our first mother, when he tempted her to eat the forbidden fruit. God had said, "if ye eat it ye shall surely die;" but this father of lies directly contradicts the threatening, and induces her to eat, by saying, "Ye shall not surely die." So in this case our Saviour plainly declares, that the broad road of sin leads to destruction; but he deceives poor sinners, and prevails on them to believe, that though they live in sin and unbelief, they shall not experience the destruction threatened.
But who will you believe—the God of truth, or the father of lies! Observe the text: “the broad road leads to destruction;" and O think what that destruction is. Think what “a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God." Think, O think, of “the worm that never dies, and the fire that is never quenched." What would you not do to prevent the destruction of your property, the destruction of your dear relations, the destruction of your life? But what are all these to your soul, your immortal soul? “For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Well then, would you avoid this destruction, and surely you would, this broad road must be forsaken ; and, blessed be God, that it is not yet too late to forsake it ; and you must enter into the narrow way, by the strait gate, mentioned in the text. Let us therefore, in the second place,
II. Consider what is meant by the strait gate, and the narrow way, and what it leads to.
The design of these expressions is to shew, that the entrance into a religious course of life is painful and difficult, and that tribulation is to be expected in our progress. We may include the whole in three words, Repentance, Faith, and Holiness; a little examination of these particulars will prove the propriety of the phrases in the text.
John the Baptist, our Saviour, and his Apostles, all went out and preached Repentance; and without this we are assured men must perish. Now repentance cannot but be painful, for it consists chiefly in a godly sorrow for sin, together with a firm resolution to forsake it at all events, and whatever it may cost us. The penitent sinner, being convinced that he has sinned, and come short of the glory of God; that he has by sin destroyed himself, and become liable to the dreadful wrath of God, perceives that he has all his life been acting a most foolish and hurtful part; but that he must now forsake all his sins, though dear to him as his right eye, and useful to him as his right hand. Now all this appears to a natural man irksome and unpleasant. He is unwilling to think seriously of his sins and of their fatal consequences, and still more unwilling to part with them. He therefore shuns this, as a man would avoid passing through a very strait and low door, when a spacious one offered itself at the same time.
Faith is also intended by the narrow way. "By grace are we saved through faith," and "without faith it is impossible to please God." True faith consists in so believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, as to take him for our only Saviour; utterly renouncing all dependence on our own works and righteousness; submitting to be saved by the mere favour of God in Christ, as a poor beggar is relieved by an alms. Jesus Christ is, himself the way. “I," saith he, John, xiv. 6, " I am the way—no man cometh to the father but by me ;" and it is by faith that we walk in this way ; for all true christians live by faith, and walk with God by faith.
Now this way of living, renouncing all our own works, in point of dependence, and accounting them in that respect, as "dung and dross, that we may win Christ ;" this way is so contrary to our natural inclinations, and so humbling to a self-righteous spirit, that it may well be called a narrow way. There are thousands who are so proud of their good hearts and their good works, that they scorn to be indebted to Christ for his righteousness. They think themselves rich, and increased with goods, and that they stand in need of nothing, while, in fact, they are poor, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked. Rev. iii. 18. The boasting Pharisee, whom we read of in the gospel, was so swollen with the pride of his duties and works, that he could not enter into the strait gate ; but the poor Publican who saw and felt himself a sinner, stooping low before God, entered it, crying out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
The way of holiness is also this narrow way. Holiness consists in the conformity of our will to the will of God; it is produced by the power of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of a sinner. The law of God is written on his heart; whereby he is disposed to resist temptation, to forsake sin, and to practice obedience to the commands of God. In doing this, we must deny ourselves, take up our daily cross, and follow Christ. We must mortify the flesh, with its affections and lusts. We must crucify the old man of sin, and walk, not according to the course of the world, nor according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Now, in doing this, we cannot but meet with difficulties. We shall meet with continual opposition from our own corruptions, the law in our members warring against the law of our minds. We shall also suffer reproach and contempt from the world; for all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. And besides all this, God our heavenly father sees it necessary to chastise us with the rod of affliction, of which all his children are partakers, for spiritual good.
Considering therefore the nature of Repentance, Faith, and Holiness, we clearly see, how properly a true christian may be said to enter upon a religious life by a strait gate, and to proceed in it by a narrow way.
But here, perhaps, an objection may be started. Does not our Lord say, "Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light?" Does not Solomon say, "The ways of wisdom are pleasantness, and her paths peace?" And does not St. John say, that "Christ's commands are not grievous?" How then is it true, that the gate is strait and the way narrow?
I answer, the ways of religion are perfectly easy and pleasant in their own nature ; the difficulty arises from the depravity and corruption of our nature. Angels do the will of God with perfect ease and pleasure, for they have no sin in their nature to oppose it. But through the power of sin in our hearts, the entrance into religion becomes painful and difficult, and through the remains of it in regenerate persons, more or less of that difficulty is found in the whole journey. Yet grace renders it practicable, and often pleasant; so that no believer repents of his choice, nor wishes to turn back because of the hardships be endures; but like Moses of old, "chooses rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season ; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt," and for the same good reason —having "respect to the recompense of reward." And this leads us to the last particular, namely,
III. To enforce the exhortation; "Enter ye in at the strait gate.”
O how wise, how gracious, how reasonable is this advice! May God dispose of all our hearts to obey it! There are but two ways that we can travel; the one leads to eternal misery; the other to eternal bliss! and that we may not miss our way, the blessed Jesus clearly marks out the right one, so that we cannot mistake, the gate is strait, the way is narrow, and there are few travelers in it. It is true, there are difficulties in the way, but heaven will make amends for all. Heaven is worth every thing, or it is worth nothing. Let us not be such cowards as to be frighted at a little trouble. Nothing, even in this life, can be obtained without it. A child cannot learn to read without difficulty. A boy cannot learn a trade without pains. We cannot carry on any business without care and labour. But are we therefore prevented from these things? No, we wisely consider the advantage, and act accordingly.
Neither let us be swayed by numbers. “Follow not a multitude to do evil." Let us not think ourselves right, because we do as others. We must suspect ourselves if we do. The broad road is thronged with travelers; but the narrow has, a pilgrim here and there. And this should keep us only from being ashamed of singularity in a good cause. Christ here teaches us to expect that religion will have few advocates comparatively. God grant that we, however, may be of that happy few!
Well then, let us, by divine grace, resolve on eternal life at all events. On the one hand, here is a broad road, full of passengers, in which, it is true, the poor, paltry, perishing, intoxicating pleasure of sin may be enjoyed for a moment, though not without many a pang; and at the end of this short course is-O tremble, my soul at the thought—Destruction! —not a ceasing to be, but an utter end of all pleasure for evermore. Misery, pains, torments, without mitigation, without cessation, without end. Everlasting separation from the presence of God, the fountain of life; and confinement in chains of darkness, with devils and damned spirits to all eternity.
On the other hand, God has set before us the way of life. The entrance is strait, the way is narrow. Difficulties indeed there are; but grace lessens them all, and sweetens them all: so that the worst of Christ's way, is better than the best of Satan's way ; and what is best of all, the end is eternal life. And, O, what tongue can tell, what heart conceive, what God has laid up for them that love him ! Is there a redeemed soul in glory, who now repents of the pains he took in religion? Does he repent of his repentance? Does he regret that he believed in the Son of God? Is he sorry that he walked in the ways of holiness? O no. Each glorified saint reviews, with ecstasy of joy, the rich grace of God, that enabled him to discover the danger of that broad road in which he once travelled, and that placed his feet in the narrow but sure and safe road to eternal bliss.
Obey then the words of our Lord, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." Agonize to do it. Do it at all events, Do it directly. Let not a moment be lost. “Escape for your lives; look not behind you; neither tarry ye in all the plain: escape to the mountain, lest ye be consumed." Fly from the wrath to come. “For many will seek to enter in and shall not be able." Luke, xiii. 24. Many who would willingly go to heaven, seek after it in so cold and slothful a manner, or by such false and mistaken ways, that they never obtain it; and O how many, who now neglect it altogether, will knock for admittance when the door is shut. Now, therefore, while it is called today, let us hear his voice. Let us be diligent in observing the sabbath, attending on the preached word as often as possible, reading the scriptures daily; and especially let us wrestle hard with God in prayer, that he would give us his Spirit to teach and assist us, and work in our hearts that deep repentance, that true faith, and that genuine holiness, which are the proper exercises of all who travel in the narrow way to heaven.
The Almost Christian and Apostate.
Broad is the road that leads to death,
And thousands walk together there;
But wisdom shews a narrower path,
With here and there a traveler.
“Deny thyself, and take thy cross,"
Is the Redeemer's great command!
Nature must count her gold but dross,
If she would gain the heav'nly land.
The fearful soul that tires and faints,
And walks the ways of God no more,
Is but esteem'd almost a saint,
And makes his own destruction sure.
Lord, let not all my hopes be vain;
Create my heart entirely new;
Which hypocrites could ne'er attain;
Which false apostates never knew.