Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

66. Strait Gate, Narrow Way (Matthew 7:13, 14)*

This very brief but vitally important section of the Sermon on the Mount presents a problem which is not easy to resolve - the question whether it is to be linked with what has gone before or be taken as introduction to the ensuing section about false prophets and false religion.

In favour of the former it can be urged that the definite article: “the strait gate”, often has a demonstrative sense in New Testament Greek: “this strait gate”. In which case reference would appear to be to the comprehensive but difficult precept which Jesus had just laid upon his disciples: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

Yet this is not free from difficulty. The picture presented to the mind is of a narrow gate giving access to a narrow way, with eternal life as its end. Such a mental picture does not seem appropriate to this principle of Christian graciousness. And, further, to apply it in this way would surely imply justification by one’s own good works. If indeed a man is to keep himself in the narrow way to life by observing the Golden Rule, then it must be admitted that a vast proportion of the Lord’s people, with the best will in the world, are frequently astray from it.

Again, the commentary: “few there be that find it” is hardly appropriate to the Golden Rule, which is easy enough to “find” but terribly difficult to maintain as a constant guiding influence in one’s life.

The words of Jesus here strongly suggest a faith which has to be sought out, and a personal decision and choice which have to be made. A man does not drift into the service of Christ. He becomes a disciple by making up his mind that this is the only loyalty he can accept, the only way of life for him to follow. This is the spirit of the appeal made to Israel by Moses, an appeal now reiterated by Jesus in even more challenging fashion: “I call heaven and earth to witness this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Dt. 30:19).

It was a far-reaching claim that if a man would have eternal life he will find it in no other way than through the service of Christ himself: “I am the true and living way: no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (Jn. 14:6). “I am the door: by me if any man enter in he shall be saved” (Jn. 10:9). A man must give his own personal assent to these truths, and make his own personal decision in the light of them.

The only alternative is the wide gate and broad way by which the many follow the road to destruction. The teaching of Jesus here could hardly be more explicit. There are not many or even several ways a man may follow. There are only two, and every individual is in one or the other.

This “either - or” theme gets plenty of emphasis in the Bible-and needs it. Two ways (Jer. 21:8; Pr. 4:10-19); two trees (Ps. 1:6, 7; Jer. 17:5-8); two houses (Mt. 7:24-28). The Greek word for “narrow” is rather frightening. It means “squeezed up”; not “narrow”, but “made narrower”. Everywhere else in the New Testament it is associated with affliction, tribulation.

This narrow way in Christ has to be sought for: “Few there be that ffndit.” And since, only a short while before, Jesus had declared so unequivocally: “Seek, and ye shall find” (7:7), it follows logically that there are only few who seek! Experience underlines the truth of this. The vast majority, if not actually content with life as they find it, are so devoid of higher spiritual aspirations that they never seek anything different from what they naturally know. They do not have to “find” the way that leads to destruction. They are already in it, and are well content to make fast or slow progress there.

The teaching of Jesus here is eclecticism in its most rigorous form. In plain unvarnished fashion he made it perfectly clear that he expected no sweeping success in his preaching. The nation’s ultimate response to his appeal would be small. And in the wider field of Gentile evangelism also the same would be true.

Notes: Mt. 7:13, 14

The absence of Greek particle suggests that a new section of the Lord’s teaching begins here. On the other hand the demonstrative sense: “this strait gate” has a good many parallels; eg. use of definite article in Lk.18:8; Lk. 13:28; Jn. 18:37; 2 Th. 3:14 Gk; Rom. 7:21 RV; Gal. 2:10 (Dt. 27:26); Heb. 5:4 Gk; Mk. 9; 15:9.

The way which leadeth unto life. This is surely the origin of the early church’s use of The Way; Acts. 9:2; 18:25, 26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; and also 8:26, 31, 36, 39.

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