Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Painting the difficulties and hardships attendant on a course of life does not seem to be the best way to attract men to it. And yet it frequently is so. Many a boy has been made a sailor by stories of shipwreck and suffering, and the martyr's fire has often lighted new converts to the faith for which he died. The appeal to the lower motives, which says, "Do this because it is agreeable," is a very feeble and a very shabby one, as compared with that which says, "You will have a great many difficulties on this road, but do the thing because it is right, and, therefore, in the long run, best." So our Lord here, in these solemn and familiar words, exhorts us to discipleship, not because it is easy, but because it is hard; and warns us against the other path because of its convenience. He does not say, "Although the one gate is wide and the other narrow, yet enter," but He says, "Because the one gate is wide, do not go in at it, and because the other is narrow, do!" Or, to put it into other words, this text exhorts us to be Christians because of the difficulties in the path, and warns us against the other road because of its seeming immunities and comforts. I shall best, I think, carry out the spirit of the words before us if I simply try to dwell upon these four particulars, and see how all of them enforce the exhortation.
I. Look then, first, at THE TWO GATES. The gates come into view merely as the means of entrance upon the path. To put into plain English the meaning of our Lord's words, He says to us, "Be Christians because it is a great deal easier to begin to be evil than to begin to be good." All evil things are easily commenced. It is not difficult to begin to be bad; the difficulty comes afterwards. But the gate of discipleship is narrow, because you have to make yourself small to get in at it, like Milton's angels that had to diminish their size to enter the council chamber. It is narrow, inasmuch as you have to leave outside wealth, position, culture, righteousness, self-help, everything that is your own, or you will stick in the aperture like a loaded mule in some narrow doorway. You cannot drive through there in a carriage and pair; you must alight and walk. The surest way to get in is to go down on your knees. As in those narrow passages for defence which you find in the pre-historic houses on many a Scotch moor, where there is only a little aperture leading to a tortuous avenue, along which a man has to crawl on his face; so, if you want to get into the road that leadeth to life you have to go down very low, and abandon self, and leave ever so much rubbish outside, for it will let you in, and it will let nothing in but you. Fancy a king, like that German emperor that stood outside the gate of Canossa, in the snow, coming up to the door with all his robes on, and his crown on his head. He has to take off the crown, for the gate is not high enough to admit that. He has to strip himself of his robes, for the gate is not wide enough to admit their stiffened velvet and gold; he tries again and again to force himself through its narrowness, until he stands stripped of all but the hair shirt of penitence, and then he can get through. "Strait is the gate," letting in one at a time, like a turnstile that admits single people and takes in none of their belongings. These are the conditions on which we become Christ's disciples.
II. NOW, CONSIDER THE SECOND CLASS OF ENFORCEMENTS OF THE EXHORTATION DERIVED FROM THE CONTRAST OF THE WAYS. "Broad is the way," in the one case, narrow in the other: which, being put into plain English, means that to the natural man, to flesh and blood and all that belongs to it, not only is the initial step, which makes a Christian, hard, but that to be a real Christian continues hard right along. So, be suspicious of easy roads, and turn a deaf ear to the world that says to you, "Come, and eat of my bread, for it is pleasant, and drink of the wine that I have mingled." If you are ever in doubt about two courses, choose the unwelcome and the hard one; and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you will have chosen the one that God meant you to walk in. The road is broad, therefore avoid it; the way is narrow, therefore walk ye in it.
III. Again, OUR LORD DRAWS ANOTHER ARGUMENT FROM THE POPULARITY OF THE ONE PATH AND THE SPARSE TRAVELLERS UPON THE OTHER. "Many there be that go in thereat." That is a reason for your not going in. "Few there be that find it." That is a reason for your trying to be one of the few. "What everybody says will be true." If you can get a perfectly unanimous vote you may rely upon it; but what the majority says is generally false. So it is in matters of opinion; so it is in conduct. The sombre thing about the world is, not that men are miserable, or that men are mortal, but that the mass of men choose to be foolish anal bad, and they do so because it is easiest. The sluggard's motive of saving trouble shapes the lives of most of us. It is easy travelling in the ruts. A cabman will always try to get his wheel on the tram rail. It goes smoothly. We are ever disposed to swallow what everybody round about us declares to be food, even though we, in our inmost hearts, know that it is poison. Tell a man that ten thousand people go to see something, and he is sure to make the ten thousand and first as soon as he can. Tell him that nobody goes that road and he will not go it. Jesus Christ comes to us, and says — therein echoing the words and consciences of all true teachers and guides — "Be suspicious of what most people believe, and avoid what most people do." The road is traversed by crowds. Well, that is a presumption against it. Dead fish go down the stream, living ones swim the other way. Where you are called to go, never mind though you have to go alone.
IV. Our Lord's final argument is from THE CONTRAST OF THE ENDS. "Life" — "destruction." The one path has an inclination upwards, while the other steadily descends.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.