Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.
~ Isaiah 55:7, Proverbs 9:6
There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
~ Proverbs 16:25, Proverbs 7:27, 1 John 5:19
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
~ 1 Peter 3:15
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
~ Jeremiah 6:16, Romans 9:27-29
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
The Narrowness of the Gospel, by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
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 that find it.
~ Matthew 7:13–14
There is no charge that is quite so commonly and frequently brought against the Christian way of life as the charge of narrowness. It is a charge also that is constantly brought against the individual Christian believer by that type of man who, in his desire to show his own breadth of mind, describes himself as a man of the world. He is so broad that nothing but world dimensions can give you a true impression of the width and large-ness of his views. He is a man of the world in contrast to this narrow and confined man who calls himself a Christian. I fear at times also it is true to say that there is no charge concerning which the average Christian believer is quite so frightened as this charge of narrowness. To some Christians at the present time, it is more or less immaterial what men may say about them as long as they do not describe them as narrow. Of course, there is a sense in which that is a very good and healthy reaction. God forbid that we should ever really become narrow in the sense that the Pharisees were narrow or that Judaism was narrow. God forbid that we should ever really reduce this glorious gospel of liberty to a mere number of prohibitions and restraints. But that is not our danger at all. Our danger is that in our fear of being thought narrow, we should so swing over to the opposite extreme as eventually to become quite nondescript.
I sometimes feel that a simple, well-known story in Aesop’s Fables has a good deal to say to many modern Christians. I am referring to the well- known story of the frog and the ox. One day, it says, a little frog in a field suddenly lifted up his head and observed an ox standing nearby. He looked at the ox and began to admire him and wished that he was as broad and as big as the ox. “I am so small and insignificant,” he said. “How marvellous it must be to have the breadth and width of that ox.” And the story goes on that the frog began to imitate the ox, and he began to expand and to grow larger and larger and broader and broader, and eventually he reached a point at which he just exploded and ceased to be. Now that, unless I am mistaken, is the precise thing that has happened to the so-called faith of many a Christian during the last fifty years. In his desire to become broad and wide, the little Christian faith that man ever had has long since exploded and ceased to be. What the exact explanation of the phenomenon is I am not quite sure, but I think we must recognise that there has been a tendency, particularly during the twentieth century, for the church to pay great respect and regard to the man of scientific knowledge. He has become the last authority on all these questions. The church has gone to very great lengths in order to please him; she has been prepared not to stress certain doctrines in her creed and to delete certain portions of the Bible, and she has in so doing wandered very far from the example set for her by her Lord and Master. I never find Jesus Christ changing his gospel in order to make it suit the people. Rather, I find him changing the people in order to make them fit into his gospel. We can be perfectly certain that there will be no true revival in this country, in spite of what may be happening round about us, until we return to the royal pattern.
My commission is this:
Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim, And publish abroad His wonderful Name.
Whether men like it or dislike it, our business is to preach the truth that was once and for all committed unto the saints. There is a very real danger that we will develop a kind of inferiority complex in the fear of being thought narrow and ultimately make a shipwreck of our faith. But all this is merely an aside.
My text is not a negative text but a very positive text. It tells us that we must not only not be afraid of being called narrow, but it actually goes on to say that if we really want to be Christians worthy of the name, we must go out of our way to become narrow: we must enter in at the strait gate and walk on the narrow way. Now this, surely, is rather a startling and amazing thing. Is it not wonderful that when our Lord came to choose the designation to express his way of life, he selected the very word by which we are most frightened—that the very word of which we tend to be afraid is the very word in which he exults, the very word that he puts upon his flag? I would say also, for the purpose of encouraging and stimulating any frightened Christian, the next time one of these so-called men of the world tells you that you are narrow, instead of trying to run away, just stand your ground, look him straight in the face, and say, “Of course I am narrow, and it would be a very much better thing for you, and for your wife and children, if you also became narrow and ceased to boast of a largeness and a breadth that are in reality nothing but a cloak for laxity and looseness.” He would not worry you quite so frequently in the future.
But why does our Lord speak about entering in at the strait gate and walking on the narrow way? Christ never said anything accidentally. He had all the letters of the alphabet at his command, yet he deliberately chose these words to describe his way of life. He spoke thus because there must be certain respects in which the gospel of Christ is really narrow. I want to try to consider with you some of the respects in which this is so.
The first respect in which we observe its narrowness is this: the gospel confines itself to one particular subject. The gospel of Christ narrows itself down to one question—the soul of man and its relationship to God. In the Bible there is a good deal of history—history of men and nations—and geography, and some people find in it geology and biology. All sorts of subjects are dealt with in this book, and yet it is not an encyclopaedia. It is not a book that gives us a little knowledge about many things. It is a book that gives us much knowledge about one thing. It is the textbook of life, the handbook of the soul. It is a manual dealing with one subject, the reconciliation of man with God. If ever there was a specialist’s textbook in this world, it is this book. This is true also of the Master of the book. If ever there was a specialist on the face of the earth, it was our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a sense in which he preached only one sermon, and the theme of this sermon was this—the soul of man and its relationship to the eternal Father. All the knowledge and information he possessed he used in order to illustrate this important and vital subject. Let me give you some instances.
One day our Lord was in the country with his disciples standing round about him. And he observes a farmer sowing seed into the ground. Very clearly our Lord was not only interested in agriculture, but he knew a good deal about it. But the sight of that farmer does not prompt our Lord to deliver an address on agriculture. As he watches that farmer he sees an illustration for his sermon. “You see that man,” says our Lord. “He is sowing seed into the ground. There are different types of ground into which it is sown, and the ground will be judged by its response to the seed that the farmer is sowing into it. I am like that farmer: I am sowing the seed of the Word of God that leads to eternal life. Ultimately men will be judged by their reaction to that seed sown in their lives.”
On another occasion when in the country our Lord beholds various fruit trees in an orchard. It is quite clear that our Lord knew a good deal about horticulture, but that does not lead him to deliver an address on that subject. “Look at those trees,” says our Lord. “They may bear either good or bad fruit. Ultimately they will be judged by the kind of fruit that they bear.” And turning to his disciples he says, “You are exactly like those trees. By your lives and by your works you will bear either good or bad fruit. So take heed.” On another occasion our Lord was in the country and he observed the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. “If God is so concerned about the lilies of the field that he clothes them, and about the birds of the air that he feeds them, how much more is he concerned about you,” Christ says. I could go on taking you through our Lord’s discourses, and you will find how he is constantly making use of things around him to illustrate his one great theme—the soul of man and its relationship to God.
We hear a good deal nowadays about the simple gospel. The secret of the simplicity of the gospel is this: Jesus of Nazareth, being the Son of God and living in perfect correspondence and communion with his Father, had all knowledge. He knew what was important and what was unimportant, and he ignored the unimportant and gave himself solely and entirely to the important things of life. He disregarded the irrelevant and gave him- self utterly and only to the relevant and to that which ultimately matters. The secret of the simplicity of the gospel lies in the fact that he brushed aside everything but the one supreme question of the soul’s need. That is clearly an utter contradiction of all our modern ideas and conceptions. We today tend to judge the greatness of a man not by his simplicity but by his complexity. Yet here was the very Son of God, and even little children got something from him, and ordinary fisherfolk followed him—“the common people heard him gladly.” Why? Because he always talked about something that they understood. You, my friend, may be very well versed in many of the arts and sciences. You may be an expert on politics; you may be an authority on quite a number of subjects. But I would like to put a very simple question to you—do you know how to live? “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world” of knowledge as well as wealth, “and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) “Enter ye in at the strait gate” (Matt. 7:13). Come back to the beginning. The important and vital question is that of the soul.
But the narrowness of the gospel does not end at that point; it is merely a beginning. We discover that the gospel even narrows that. The ancient Greek pagan philosophers were very interested in the soul as a concept, as a thought, and they talked and argued much concerning the soul. But our Lord was not interested in the soul the way the Greek philosophers were. It was the individual soul in which our Lord was interested. Someone says, “I do not like such a gospel—it is so personal.” It is profoundly true that the gospel is personal, and on that account it annoys certain people. We find a perfect illustration of the personal nature of the gospel in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John in the story of our Lord’s meeting with the woman of Samaria at the well. Our Lord that afternoon was very tired, too tired to accompany his disciples into the city to buy food, and he rested by the side of the well. A woman came to draw water, and im- mediately they had a religious discussion. Did that well really belong to the Jews or to the Samaritans, and where exactly should worship take place? This woman seems to have been very astute; she was certainly an expert in the art of repartee. They were engaged in this religious discussion when suddenly our Lord actually became personal. He turned to the woman and said, “Go, fetch your husband,” revealing thereby that he knew all about the kind of life she was living. It was as if he said, “My dear woman, you have really no right, being what you are, to talk about worship and about God. You cannot even manage your own life. You have no right to express an opinion on these great eternal themes. Start with yourself first. Go, fetch your husband. When you put your own life in order, then you will be entitled to speak.”
Yes, the gospel is a personal thing. We cannot be saved in families; we cannot be saved as a congregation. We cannot be saved collectively because we are all doing a certain amount of philanthropic work. We are saved one by one. It is a question of you and God. Have you entered in at the strait gate? Are you prepared to meet God face-to-face? Are you ready for the judgment? Do you know in whom you have believed? Is all well with your soul? Have you a personal conviction of sin and a personal knowledge of God?
But the narrowness of the gospel does not end even there. It tends to become still narrower by insisting upon having a say in our conduct and behaviour. It is not content merely with bringing the soul into a personal contact with God. It insists upon dictating to us the kind of life we have to live. Someone says, “That is precisely why I have long since finished with organised religion and turned my back upon it. It is too narrow. I maintain that I am entitled to live my own life in my own way. I will not be fettered.” Yes, the gospel is very narrow, and it is narrow with respect to this question of conduct and ethics in two main respects: we can call them, if you like, negative and positive. The negative injunctions of the gospel with regard to conduct are perfectly familiar to us all: “Thou shalt not kill.” “Thou shalt not steal.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” If a thing is doubtful, it is wrong, and you must not do it. The gospel goes so far as to say that though a thing may be perfectly right for me, if it is a stumbling block to a weaker brother, I must not do it for his sake. Says someone, “That is exactly why I have no use for such a gospel: it makes life a misery. You have to put on a black suit and walk to church with your head down.” But have you realised that if every man and woman were as narrow as the gospel of Christ would have us be, there would be no more drunken- ness, no need of divorce courts, no need for the League of Nations? Why? The world would be a paradise. It would be perfect, even as God himself is perfect. The narrowness of the gospel—I speak with reverence—is the narrowness that is in God himself. Oh, that we all became narrow, that we might enter in through this strait gate. “Few there be that find it,” says our Lord. It takes an exceptional man to say no to temptation and to restrain and control himself. It takes an exceptional man to deny himself in order to make things easier for others. On the broad way there is a great crowd. “Many there be which go in thereat.” It does not take an exceptionally great man to sin. Any fool can sin, and every fool does sin. But that broad way leads to destruction. There is the narrowness of the gospel in its negative injunctions.
But I also want to show you its narrowness in its positive injunctions. This, of course, is the great theme of the Sermon on the Mount. If you would really see the narrowness of the gospel, you must come to the Sermon on the Mount. One of the great words of this generation is the word love. But if you really want to see the greatness of the word love, you must narrow it down, you must focus it. You do not know what love really means until you love your enemies. The great task that is set before the Christian is to love ugly people until they are made beautiful. Another great word today is the word brotherhood. We believe today in doing good and in helping others but if you want to see how great that word really is, you must nar- row it down. You must bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you. The task set before the Christian is to “do good to them that hate you.” Another great word is the word happiness. There are those who say, “I want to enjoy myself, and I have no use for religion. Why should I bury myself alive?” Again you have a great word, but you must narrow it down and focus it if you would discover its real size. You know not what happiness means until you can “glory in tribulations,” until you can be happy even in the midst of persecution. The task for the Christian is to be happy even when the clouds have gathered and the sun has ceased to shine and everything has gone wrong.
There, then, we see something of the essential narrowness of the gospel. It is, in other words, this narrowness of the expert, or if you like, the narrowness of the highest circle of achievement. You are all familiar with the saying that there is always plenty of room for a good man at the top. The higher the circle of achievement, the smaller will be the number found in it. For instance, there are many who can sing remarkably well, but very few Carusos; there are many who can play the violin amazingly well, but very few Kreislers; there are many who paint extraordinarily well, but comparatively few Royal Academicians. That, it seems to me, is the very point that our Lord makes in this text. He says in effect, “Do not be content with living on the ordinary level of life. Come up to the top. Ascend the mount. Live life tremendously; live life as an expert. Live as I live; yea, come to the very summit. Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
But, lastly, if you would see the narrowest and straightest point of all, you must confront the gospel at that point at which it tells you that salvation is only possible in and through one particular person and especially in his death. There is the point at which perhaps the majority tend to object. “I have agreed with you entirely so far,” says someone. “I liked your emphasis upon the soul, your emphasis upon personal decision, and your emphasis upon ethics and conduct. But when you tell me now that I can only be saved by believing that Christ died my death, I find it impossible to follow you. The conception is too narrow. I cannot understand it. It seems to me to be almost immoral. I cannot accompany you any further.” What has the gospel to say to such a man? It does not argue with him. It challenges him. It turns to him and says something like this: “If you can find God without going via Calvary, do so. If you can find liberation from your besetting sin without the power of the cross of Christ, carry on. If you can find peace and rest for your troubled conscience without believing in the death of the Son of God for you and for your sins, go ahead. If you can lie on your deathbed and think of facing a holy God without fear and without alarm, I really have nothing to say to you. But if ever you should feel lost and miserable and wretched, if ever you should feel that all your righteousness is but as filthy rags, if ever you are filled with terror and alarm as you think of God and his holy law, if ever you feel utterly helpless and hopeless, then turn back to him, the Christ of the cross, with his arms outstretched, who still says, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ (Isa. 45:22). It is there that the whole of humanity is focused. He is the representative of the whole of mankind. He died for all. But still more wonderful, according to Paul it is also true to say that, ‘in him dwelleth all the fullness of the God- head bodily.’” Complete man and complete God and all in one Person. The God-man. In him God and man are indissolubly linked, and through him and in him the way is opened from hell to heaven, from darkness to light, from despair to hope.
Let me show you, as I close, how perfectly this text and all I have tried to say with respect to it can be illustrated from the story of our Lord’s earthly life and pilgrimage. Consider his birth and the self-emptying that it involved. Try to think of the narrowness and straitness of Bethlehem, when the Word was made flesh and eternity came into time—“strait is the gate.” Then think of him in the wilderness at the commencement of his earthly ministry, tempted forty days and forty nights. Then watch the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians as they spread their net round about him and gradually draw it in—“strait is the gate, and narrow is the way.” Then look at him in the garden of Gethsemane—the very Son of God, by whom and through whom all things were created, confined to a garden surrounded by soldiers. And then, in a few hours, in the police court, with a soldier standing on each side. In the garden he could at least walk backward and forward along the path; now he is not allowed to move—“strait is the gate, and narrow is the way.” But still it is not finished—see him on the cross nailed to the tree—the Son of God, the Creator of the world—fixed there, unable to move hand or foot. He dies. They take down the body and place it in a grave. Peer into that grave—can you see any light there? Do not the very sides seem to fall in and collapse? “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way.” It leads to death, the grave, darkness, utter desolation.
And there we should have to end if we but believed what so frequently passes as gospel at the present time. But—blessed be the name of God— the gospel goes on. It does mean Bethlehem, it does mean the wilderness and temptation, it does mean enemies and persecution, it does mean Gethsemane, trial, cross, death, yea and the grave. But on the morning of the third day, behold, the resurrection. He bursts asunder the bands of death and rises triumphant o’er the grave. The darkness leads to dawn and to the light of endless day. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way”—but it “leadeth unto life.”
If you accept the gospel and yield yourself to it, it will mean another birth for you. It will mean trial and temptation; it will mean persecution; it will mean the crucifixion and death of an old man that is in you. But it will lead to life that is life indeed, life more abundant, yea, the very life of God himself.
“Enter ye in at the strait gate.” Come onto the narrow way. Follow Me.