Narrow or Broad

Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding. ~ Proverbs 9:6

Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. ~ Isaiah 1:9

The Narrow Way and The Broad Way, by Paul Washer.

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
~ Proverbs 16:25

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
~ John 14:6

Below is another reference related to the sermon above.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

In the text before us, we find not only a gate but also a way, both of which are small and narrow. From this we understand that conversion is not merely defined by a gate through which a person passes but also by the way in which he walks. When we survey contemporary Evangelical preaching, however, it seems that only half the story is being presented.

By God’s grace, most of the Evangelical world continues to hold to the truth that Jesus is the only Savior and Mediator between God and men. Also, we can praise God that most remain steadfast in the doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. However, although there is a great deal of preaching about how to enter into the kingdom, little or nothing is said about the evidences that prove one’s entrance. We enter into the kingdom by passing through the narrow gate, but the evidence that we have passed through this gate is that we are now walking in the narrow way! We are justified by faith alone in the person and work of Christ; however, the evidence of our justification is our on-going sanctification. The narrow gate and the narrow way are inseparable. The man who enters through the former will find his life defined by the latter.

The Narrow Way Defined

The word “way” is translated from the Greek word hodós, which literally denotes a natural road or traveled way. Metaphorically, it refers to a way of life, a course of conduct, or a way of thinking. The word is used six times in the book of Acts as a synonym for Christianity itself. Thus, we quickly discover that the Christian faith is more than a one-time decision to accept Christ. It is an enduring faith which alters the very course of one’s life.

The word “narrow” comes from the Greek verb thlíbo, which means to press or crush as a worker in a vineyard might crush grapes or a crowd of people might press against one another. In the passive, the word means to experience trouble, difficulty, or affliction. Combined with the Greek word hodós, it refers to a compressed, straitened, or contracted way. Various writers and preachers have chosen to illustrate the meaning of this metaphor by painting the picture of a narrow gorge where men can only walk single file. On each side are high walls of sheer rock. The confined or restricted nature of the path seems to indicate two important truths about the nature of the Christian life – it is a way defined by the will of God, and it is a way marked by difficulty and struggle.

First, the narrow way is a way defined by the will of God. Those who walk in this way are hemmed in with little room to wander.

The redeemed do not walk aimlessly; their course is marked out or well-defined by the will of God and His relentless providence. The man who has truly been converted has become a new creature with new affections. He desires to do God’s will, and it is not a burden to him. Furthermore, he has become an object of God’s providence, which involves teaching, empowering, direction, and discipline. He is taught of God, strengthened in his inner man, led in the way that he should go, and disciplined when he strays. Those who have passed through the narrow gate will walk in the narrow way. The nature of salvation and the providence of God ensures it.

The notion of a path or way marked out by God for the conduct of His people is a common theme throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. It is referred to as the way of the Lord, the way of the righteous, and the way or path of righteousness. It is above all things a road that is marked out by God’s commands. In the book of Psalms, we discover that the way of the Lord and the way of the righteous are synonymous with the way of God’s commandments, statutes, precepts, and testimonies. Furthermore, it is a path that is well-worn, because the great multitude of God’s people throughout the ages have traveled it. In the twenty-third Psalm, David gloried in the truth that God was leading him in paths of righteousness. The word “path” is translated from the Hebrew word ma’gal, which denotes a trench or a long, deep, narrow depression in the ground. It is well-worn and hemmed in on both sides. It is the path cut into the ground by the countless saints that have tread upon it from the very beginning of God’s dealing with men. Another important truth about this narrow way is that its markers become clearer and clearer as the saint journeys upon it. For the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until the full day. When the new believer first sets foot upon the path, the way is often hard to distinguish; however, as he continues to walk, the way becomes more easily discerned. Through the renewing of his mind, he begins to understand or prove what the will of God is, that which is “good and acceptable and perfect.” The new believer who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But as he matures, he goes on to more solid food, and through practice, his senses are trained to discern good and evil.

God leads His people in the path of righteousness, not only for their good, but for His name sake. The chief end of salvation is to demonstrate the excellencies of God. He has determined to demonstrate or prove His character and power through the redemption and transformation of a people. If this work of salvation were to fail at any part, it would serve only to malign and discredit the name of God. From the Scriptures, we understand that the justification and sanctification of the believer is designed to be to God a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth. He will not disgrace the throne of His glory by letting His work fail!

As we have learned, the narrow way is marked out by the will of God as revealed in His commandments, statutes, precepts, and wisdom. However, we must be careful to understand all of this Christologically or within the context of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples in no uncertain terms that He was the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). Thus, we must constantly be reminded that in this narrow way we follow a Person and not a code of conduct or procedural manual for life. Propositional truth is absolutely essential to Christianity, and we have been given great laws, principles, and wisdom to obey. However, they are not the sum of the Christian faith, and if they are viewed outside the context of Christ, they can lead us down a dangerous path of legalism and self-righteousness. As Christians, we follow a Person, and we seek to imitate a Person. The propositional truths of Scripture have great value in that they explain to us who He is and how we are to follow Him, but they are not an end in themselves and can never be detached from Christ without doing the greatest violence to Christianity and the Christian. The gist of this warning is summarized powerfully in the words of Christ to those of His day who had reduced the faith of Israel to an empty code of conduct. Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Christ cannot be separated from the instruction and commands of Scripture, but neither can these commands be separated from the person of Christ!

Secondly, the narrow way is a way marked by difficulty and struggle. It is not an easy road!

As we have already stated, the word “narrow” comes from the Greek verb thlíbo, which in the passive tense means to experience trouble, difficulty, or affliction. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the Christian life is marked by difficulties, afflictions, persecutions, and oppositions of every kind. It is safe to say that if a striving or holy violence is required even to enter into Christianity then we can only assume that an equal if not greater striving is required to continue in it. Anyone preaching anything to the contrary is not a true minister of Christ, but a charlatan with something to sell.

Aside from the Gospel and its virtue, the greatest marks or characteristics of the early church were the difficulties and afflictions she suffered. Christ, as well as the New Testament writers, frequently forewarned both seekers and believers that true discipleship would entail great affliction. Jesus warned His disciples that they would be hated by the world and suffer great tribulation because of it. They would be persecuted, insulted, and slandered. They would be hunted down, condemned, and killed before governors and kings for His sake. The Apostle Paul considered it his duty to inform believers in advance that they were going to suffer affliction and to prepare them with the truth that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It was his message to every church that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” He even admonished the church in Philippi that it had been granted unto them not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake. The Apostle Peter went so far as to inform believers that their suffering had been willed by God and that they should not be surprised at the fiery ordeal through which they were suffering, as if some strange thing were happening to them. In fact, he told them that such suffering was the norm for the believers and churches throughout the entire world.

From the Scriptures and personal experience, we understand that the path of the Christian is narrow and full of affliction, but it is not without purpose. The entire thing is designed by God to refine, transform, and make him like His Son. In fact, even Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered. In a similar fashion, through the fiery trials of this world, the Christian’s faith is proven genuine and refined to greater and greater degrees of purity until it is as precious as gold. Furthermore, the various trials and tribulations which are found in the narrow way lead to greater degrees of Christian virtue. For tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And the testing of our faith produces endurance that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The believer is assured that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” For this reason, he greatly rejoices, even though for a little while he must be distressed by various trials. For he knows that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to him.

The difficulties and afflictions which are found on the narrow way arise from a fallen world which lies in the power of the evil one. The Christian’s beliefs and conduct are diametrically opposed to the world: they rub it the wrong way and evoke its hostilities. Nevertheless, this is not the only source of the Christian’s affliction. There is another which arises from within: the flesh – that unredeemed aspect of the believer’s person in which no good resides and which hates God, rejects His commands, and opposes the work that He is accomplishing in the believer. As the Christian makes his pilgrimage along the narrow way, he is confronted by greater and greater revelations of his lack of Christ-likeness and his affinity for sin. The mirror of God’s Word casts a perfect reflection of the believer’s character that is sometimes more terrifying than the tormented faces of the persecutors who seek his death. It is an amazing thing that the apostle Paul never seeks to be liberated from his persecutors, even though they daily slandered him and sought his death by the most horrific means possible. However, he did cry out to be delivered from his flesh and saw no hope of victory except through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The truth that we are God’s workmanship and that He who began a good work in us will complete it is both comforting and disturbing. It is a comfort to know that we will not remain as we are, yet it is terrifying to think of the fires through which we must pass to be rid of that which God will not tolerate in us. The coming of the Messiah was to be a delight to His people; however, He was also to come like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. He would sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He would purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they might present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. His work of purification among His people would be so intense that the question was asked by the very prophet who foretold His coming, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?” One of the great promises of the New Covenant is that the Messiah will cleanse His people from all their filthiness and their idolatry. However, this cleansing is not merely through a tender washing, but through a scrubbing and a scourging.

“And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’”

To understand the intensity with which the Lord may deal with His children, we must focus upon the following three words from this text – reprove, discipline, and scourge. The word “reprove” is translated from the Greek word elégcho, which means to convict of wrongdoing or guilt by means of bringing to the light or exposing. It also generally suggests the bringing of shame upon the person convicted. The word also means to reprehend severely, chide, chasten, or punish. The verb “discipline” is translated from the Greek word paideúo, which denotes the instruction and training of children. It often includes, as in our context, the idea of chastisement with reproofs, admonitions, and scourging. The word “scourges” is translated from the Greek verb mastigóo, which means to beat, lash, whip, or scourge. Such language seems too “hard” or even immoral for the overly sensitive ears of contemporary Evangelicalism. Nevertheless, it is biblical language and a reality to anyone who has walked long enough in the narrow way. One of the great lessons that is learned by any true pilgrim of the narrow way is that God will go to the greatest lengths and spare no expense to make his children holy. He loves His children and does not hate them. Therefore, He does not spare His rod, but disciplines them diligently to deliver their souls from Sheol. The believer submits to this divine work and even gives his back to the rod; for although at the moment of discipline it brings great sorrow and even pain, he knows that afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Furthermore, he knows that whether the scourging comes directly from God’s hand or from a lesser instrument (such as the devil or the world), it is all designed by God and directed by His all-wise and omnipotent will. This is beautifully illustrated by Samuel Chadwick in the following observation of a blacksmith at work:

“The smith holds the glowing metal, turning it lest the stroke fall too often upon the same spot, directing the blows that they may descend at the right moment; turning, tempering, regulating till the metal is fashioned to the desired shape. So God holds the soul and regulates the stroke. Sometimes He makes the Devil His hammer-man. Satan strikes to smash. God regulates the stroke, and turns his malice to our perfecting, and the Devil sweats at the task of fashioning saints into the likeness of Christ. At the end of the day we shall find that all life’s discipline has worked together with grace, and that we stand complete in our identification with the Son of the Father. The glorious purpose will have been accomplished, and we shall be like Him – ‘I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness’ (Psalm 17:15).”

Since God’s purpose is also His people’s good, we seek to walk the narrow way and stay within the safety and blessedness of His will revealed in His commandments and wisdom. Furthermore, we also seek to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Having such promises as these, we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, pursue sanctification without which no one will see the Lord, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. If God would go to any length and spare no expense to transform us into the image of Christ, then let us strive with equal diligence toward the same great prize! In this narrow way, let us forget what lies behind, reach forward to what lies ahead, and press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Broad Way Defined

The adjective “broad” comes from the Greek word eurúchoros and denotes that which is spacious, broad, wide, or roomy. In the Septuagint, the word is used to denote both freedom and prosperity. In the context of Christ’s teaching, the “broad way” is the way of the great mass of fallen and rebellious humanity that has denounced or ignored God’s claim upon it, thrown off His law, and sought an existence that is independent and autonomous. Several things should be noted about this broad way and the wide gate that leads to it.

First, the broad way is man’s path by default. It is a path upon which every member of fallen humanity is born. The psalmist declared that the wicked are estranged from the womb and go astray from birth. Isaiah the prophet cried out, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Nothing is required and nothing must be done to find the wide gate or enter upon the broad way. It is the boulevard beside which Adam built his house, and it has become the inheritance of his children. No sooner are we born than we find the path by our fallen instincts, and once found, we discover that it suits our nature. The broad way is man’s by default. No striving is required to enter into it or to continue upon it, but everything is required for him to turn from it. For this reason, Christ admonishes men to strive with the greatest violence to turn from the broad road which leads to destruction and to enter into the narrow gate which leads to life.

Secondly, the broad way is the path of autonomy or self-government. It is the place where the inhabitants of this world take their stand against the Lord and His Christ, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!” It is the place where everyone seeks to do what is right in his own eyes. Those who choose the broad way boast that they have freed themselves from the Tyrant of heaven, but in doing so, they have subjected themselves to the tyranny of their own depraved hearts. They have traded a heavenly King for seven billion unworthy usurpers, whose opinions of the truth are as vague as a morning mist and as numerous as the stars in the heavens. They have traded divine law in order to be governed by their own lusts and have become an unrestrained people rushing headlong into destruction. Where there is no vision or revelation of the law the people are unrestrained, and the way that seems right to them will always end in death. They have taken God from the equation of life and have made absolute truth an impossibility. For this reason, the way of the wicked must be broad, because without a moral compass, men are condemned to wander aimlessly without rhyme or reason. In the frightening language of Jude, those who reject God’s sovereignty in favor of their own become like clouds without water, carried along by winds; [78] they are wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; they are wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

Although this language is dark and foreboding, it applies to the churchman as well as to the atheist and infidel. How many sit in our churches as confessed adherents of Christianity and yet live their lives on the broad way? They do not seek to know God’s will, they do not desire His commands, they do not look for markers of His providence, and they do not walk circumspectly. What is even more troubling is that they can rest undisturbed in the great majority of Evangelical churches and sit unconcerned under the great majority of Evangelical preaching. They make every claim under the sun to belong to the kingdom, but their continued pilgrimage on the broad way disproves their claim.

Thirdly, the broad way is the path of self-gratification. It is a walkway for all who would put “self” before God, this world above the next, the immediate over the eternal, and the carnal in place of the spiritual. It is an avenue that caters to every carnal desire and every aspiration of the fallen flesh. The Scriptures tell us that men are by nature lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of this world, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. All of these things are found on the broad way, and those who walk in it are driven by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. For this reason, the broad way may be described as a continuous Vanity Fair, similar to that which was portrayed in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

“Then I saw in my dreams, that, when they [i.e., Christian and Faithful] were out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter that vanity, and also because all that is sold there, or that comes there, is vanity; as is the saying of the Wise, ‘All that cometh is vanity.’ This is no newly begun business, but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it. Almost five thousand years ago, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions seeing that the path of the pilgrims lay through this town of Vanity, set up a fair; a fair where they would see all sorts of vanity, and it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such things sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. At this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind.”

The broad way is filled with every sort of superficial distraction designed to keep men from concerning themselves with what really matters. It offers temptations that create and increase cravings in the hearts of carnal men while at the same time decreasing their capacity for satisfaction. It ensnares men both by gross immoralities of the worst sort and by good things, which become deadly idols when set above God. The longer men walk on this boulevard, the farther from God they roam, the more vain they become, and the more barren and fruitless are their lives!

When men see things correctly, they understand that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. When they turn their hearts from this purpose, they lose their divinely appointed dignity. They were created to know God and to explore the infinite wonders of His person and works, but they have chosen to wallow with swine and play with trinkets. They have chosen the downward spiral of the broad road described by the Apostle Paul in the opening chapter of his epistle to the Romans:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

We live in a culture of men with voracious appetites for all that is carnal and vain. They are described in Scripture as those whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, and who set their mind on earthly things. They have traded the eternal for the temporal, heaven for earth, and God for self. They walk the broad road, and they spend their money for what is not bread and their wages for what does not satisfy.

The great mass of humanity, including many adherents to Evangelicalism, are on the broad road to destruction. The problem is that there is no clarion call from the Church; there is no warning to the wicked of their impending doom. The broad road of self-gratification is no longer denounced. To the contrary, it is actually defended and promoted! It is even used as a means to attract the carnal multitudes to church! Many “congregations” have become nothing more than a Vanity Fair, and their preachers are nothing more than hawkers of cheap merchandise. Using clever sermonettes like pickaxes and spades, they have redirected the broad way so that the carnal multitudes that attend their churches can pour into heaven with as much boldness as the Puritan-types who take the narrower route. Theirs is a salvation without crosses, afflictions, persecutions, or self-denial. It is a religion of self-realization and self-promotion. It is a business venture with God where one can keep wealth, luxury, extravagance, and ease of life as long as he tithes ten percent. It is a pilgrimage in a broad and spacious lane where the “redeemed” walk arm in arm with the world, where the grace of God is turned into licentiousness, and where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is denied! These things must not be! May God once again grant us preachers and shepherds with true instruction in their mouths and no unrighteousness on their lips, who walk with God in peace and turn many back from iniquity. Let us stand by the gates and cry out to all, “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

Fourthly, the broad way is the path of least resistance. It is the proverbial “going with the flow.” To begin with, there is no opposition from the flesh on the broad way. We do not have to strive to enter in, but as we have already stated, we find ourselves there by default. We were born in sin, were estranged from the womb, and go astray from birth. For this reason, our fallen flesh finds affinity with every fellow rebel it meets upon the broad way and heartily approves of every wrong attitude and activity. We must remember that fallen flesh is hostile toward God and cannot please Him. Instead, it loves the world and willingly hearkens to its voice. The flesh needs no prompting to give free rein to its lust and follow the broad road wherever it leads. Those who would seek to enter upon the road will find no enemy in their flesh, but only a deceptive ally.

Likewise, there is no opposition from the world on the broad way. William Hendriksen writes, “The signs along this wide avenue read, ‘Welcome to each of you and to all your friends, the more the merrier. Travel as you wish and as fast as you wish. There are no restrictions.’” Those who walk on the broad way are on the “World’s Boulevard.” It is the road taken by the majority, and those who travel upon it find the majority’s approval. It is humanity’s route, the road of brotherhood, inclusivity, and tolerance. It is an unending festival, where mutual flattery is demanded, truth is thrown out the window, and no one is allowed to point out that the emperor has no clothes or that the entire parade is moving toward destruction.

The Scriptures teach that the world loves its own and listens to its own. When the Son of God came to the world that He created and the people that He had chosen, they would not receive Him. When the time came for an ultimate choice, the world chose one of its own. It asked for the pardon of a notorious thief and murderer and demanded the crucifixion of the Holy and Righteous One, the Prince of Life. The world is a friend to all who would not be a friend of God. Its hostility is reserved only for those who would dare break truce with it and turn from its path in obedience to God.

Furthermore, there is no opposition from the devil on the broad way. In fact, the road was his design and is directed by his will. According to the Apostle Paul, to walk in the broad way is to walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” William Hendriksen writes, “The [broad] ‘way’ was built by the devil. His followers travel on it.” The saint of God who walks the narrow path will constantly be tempted, tried, and even thwarted in his pilgrimage. The devil will oppose him at every turn and seek to undo his every attempt at progress in the faith. If it were not for the protection of Christ, the devil would sift him like wheat and crush him until he cursed God. But to those on the broad way, the devil is a friend, at least for a time. For from his lips drip honey, and smoother than oil is his speech; but in the end he is bitter as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword. With his many persuasions he entices men; with his flattering lips he seduces them. But his feet go down to death, and his steps take hold of Sheol. Those who follow him on the broad way are as an ox that goes to the slaughter, as a fool who goes to his punishment in chains, or as a bird that hastens to the snare. They do not know that their choice will cost them their life. For the devil’s house sinks down to death, and his tracks lead to the dead. None who go to him return again, nor do they reach the paths of life.

Finally, the broad way is the way of increasing darkness. From the book of Proverbs, we learn that “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” In contrast, “the way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” The Scriptures teach us that sin has a cauterizing affect upon the sinner’s conscience. There comes a time when God may give a man over to the lusts of his heart, to impurity and degrading passions. It is a terrible thing for a man to be given over to the futility of his unregenerate mind, darkened in his understanding and excluded from the life of God. Nevertheless, this is a judgment that falls upon men and nations with greater frequency than we have courage to admit. Although we can never give up on God’s grace to save even the worst of sinners, we must warn every man on the broad way that each step brings him one step closer to reprobation, to being turned over and placed beyond all retrieval. It is not a place where he will want to be saved, but cannot; rather, it is a place where he will no longer care. At this point, his heart has turned into a dry husk, and his soul is so shallow that the diversions of the broad road are all he needs to fill it.