Summer School

Upon the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount- Discourse 11 - A Devotional Paraphrase

(Sermon 31 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley)
By: Michael Roberts

Matthew 7:13-14

“The Narrow Way”

Jesus continues to warn of the dangers that plague our journey into true religion, both the hindrances which arise from the sin within our hearts and those which come from beyond us. By these many have fallen back into the darkness. So, for today he says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction … But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” Yes, the way to darkness, dread, destruction and death is the wide and broad way.

Root sins branch out and give rise to all others. The root sin is the carnal mind at odds with God; it is pride of heart, self-will, and love of the world. This root sin infuses itself into our every thought, infecting our every word, tainting all our actions. And the offspring of this root sin are more numerous than we can count – in every age and nation.

And to be clear, a part of this wide way is to look “over there” to see this widespread sin – to look at Muslims, or to place the blame on those in the inner cities or those of other political persuasions. No. We only have to look among those who bear the name of Christ. Go no further than the communities to which we belong.

There, all may seem well on the outside, but the inside is full of vanity, anger, covetousness, love of self and the world, lovers of pleasure more than God. We may be highly esteemed by others and still be an abomination to the Lord. We may practice the form of godliness, outwardly, and not be submitted to “the righteousness which is of God by faith,” still seeking to “establish our own righteousness.”

Many things stand in the way. Along the wide way, we project all ills on those who have less in terms of wealth, opportunity, or ambition. A glimpse into the narrow way allows us to see that, from God’s perspectives, the higher we rise in fortune and power, the deeper we are likely to sink into wickedness. All too often, it would seem, the more blessings we receive, the more sins we commit, using our honor and riches, learning and wisdom, not as resources to help us grow in salvation, but rather to excel in vice and to insure our own destruction. As Jesus wants us to see, this is the wide, easy, popular way. Without turning to him, and having our spiritual eyes opened, we just can’t see the danger.

Let us turn to the narrow way – the way that leads to life, abundant and eternal. This way is so narrow that nothing unclean, unholy, can enter. No sin can pass through this gate. The narrow way is the way of universal holiness. It is the way of poverty of spirit, holy mourning, meekness, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is the way of mercy, of pure and perfect love, of purity of heart, of doing good to all, of gladly suffering evil for righteousness’ sake – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile. It is the way of all we have learned in this great sermon.

Our calling, as the church, is to give witness to this way. Along the wide way of the world, few find the way to even basic human honesty. How few do not speak in ways that hurt or offend? How few are clear of outward acts of injustice or unkindness? Beyond this, where are those whose heart is right before God, those who are truly humble, trusting in God for their salvation and transformation, who are truly meek and gentle, who do not attempt to overcome evil with evil but with good, who are continually seeking to be renewed in the likeness of Christ? How few are ready to suffer all things, even death itself, to save one soul from the darkness of spiritual death?

There are so many forces conspiring to bring us into the wide way. There are certainly many examples for the crude and rude side of life – calling us to immediate pleasure and selfish indulgences that always leave us weaker than before and closer to the darkness that breeds fear and dread within us. But there are also examples from the polite and wise in the world, those who argue that the narrow way must be wrong because it is narrow and because there are few who find it, and that the other way is “right” because it is wide, and that we must be suspicious of any who question or try to make us uncomfortable in our privilege and prosperity. If it is not the way of love – of meekness, gentleness, forgiveness – it is the way of evil, but that is hard to acknowledge when the way is so bright and popular and big.

The typical method of persuasion for the wide way is not an appeal to understanding but an appeal to fear. This method has a very high success rate, because fear is easily exposed, where reasoning requires much more effort and willingness to step into what is naturally uncomfortable and hard. All who do not have firm trust in God, a sure reliance on both God’s love and power, cannot but fear to question or challenge those who have the power of the world in their hearts and hands. We fall into the trap of believing their worldly success is proof of their righteousness. It becomes what we want. We defend them and bow to them and let them lead us along the way of destruction of souls. If you have the courage to engage in honest self-examination, is this not so?

And then we are faced with the opposite way – the narrow way! It is uncomfortable and always calling us to change. In other words, to strive for this way is to be in the minority and among those whom the world hates. And on top of this, there is no way to argue for it, or to show its advantage in this world, or to explain it rationally, even when we experience it. The challenge is that all our natural passions incline us to return to the broad way – the way of hate, division, winning, and greed.

It is in this context that our Lord gives this strong exhortation. Strive to enter by the narrow gate. The Greek word suggests, “to agonize.” In fact, this word comes directly from this Greek root. Suffer. Struggle. Wrestle. Don’t settle. The stakes are high. Later Jesus will tell a parable of a master closing the door, at the last possible moment, and of those standing outside begging for the door to be opened again. And the master says, “Depart, for you have chosen to be workers of iniquity.” (Luke 13:24). Here it would seem that the issue was their delay in seeking, and not the manner of their seeking. Striving. Seeking what is good. This counts for everything.

Therefore, strive now to enter by the narrow gate. See the wide way for what it is. It is the way that leads to destruction and death. Examine your heart. You know, deep inside, the way of life. If you move just one step towards God, you are moving away from the pit of darkness and death. Strive to enter by the narrow gate. Be pierced with sorrow and shame for having so long run on the side of the unthinking crowd, utterly neglecting, if not despising, that “holiness without which no one can see the Lord.” Strive by prayer, lifting up your heart to God, and giving God no rest until you awaken and grow in his likeness. Strive by denying your own will and taking up your cross daily. Strive to make all your conversations instruments of healing rather than harm. In using the strongest metaphor from the words of Jesus, be ready to cut off your right hand, to pluck out your eye, to suffer the loss of goods, friends, health, all things on earth, so that you may enter the kingdom of heaven! Amen.