THE HARD AND THE NARROW
THE MANY AND THE FEW
By Edgar Jones
The gospels are packed with the pithy utterances of Jesus. Perhaps none is more startling, or more ignored, than this:Matthew 7:13,14 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.The very last phrase is perhaps the most pungent of all:. . . those who find it are few.These six words apply to the way that leads to life, and they inform us immediately that something is terribly amiss in Christendom, where there are two billion Christians that constitute the world's most populous religion. This is about one third of human beings now living and certainly is not few.
If Jesus was correct, there can be only a few persons on the way that leads to life, and vast multitudes have missed the way even though they are assured within themselves that they are the heaven bound possessors of eternal life.
Was Jesus in error? Could it be that he simply failed to anticipate how popular his way would become through the centuries? If so, then he must have been in error also in this phrase from the above utterance:. . . the way is hard that leads to life.He must also have erred here, because it is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to become a Christian and remain in that way. Indeed, if one lives in Christendom, it is difficult not to be a Christian.
In Catholicism, the largest of the parties of Christendom, one becomes a Christian with no efford whatsoever, simiply by being born of Catholic parents and being "baptized" while a tiny infant with no conception whatsoever of what is occurring. Then it learns the Catechism and accepts confirmation. All influences in the society force one in the direction of becoming a Catholic Christian, so that it is hard and requires special effort not to become one. It is the easiest thing imaginable to follow in that way!
It is very similar in Protestantism, even among Protestants who do not accept infant baptism. The persistent non Christian adult in the Protestant community finds himself or herself viewed as a sinner in great need of salvation and can expect considerable pressure to convert. It is easier to become a Christian than to persevere as a "sinner." It usually requires only a "public confession" and submission to baptism of one kind or another. Then one has become, ipso facto, a Christian and is on the way that leads to life. There is absolutely nothing hard about it, either about the way itself, or the gate that admits one onto it. It is a wide gate that admits almost everyone! But Jesus said,. . . the gate is narrow . . .This is only one of several sayings of Jesus that have the same import. If he erred but once, we might have some grounds for considering this option provided he somewhere corrected the error. This is not the case, because he elsewhere strengthens the position described above.Luke 13:23 And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them,Here someone has asked him the specific question concerning the number of the saved. Why would anyone think to ask him if those who are saved be few, if they had not already received this strong impression from listening to him and, reluctant to believe, now sought confirmation? Again, he points to the "narrow door" and calls for striving to enter by the narrow way, because the many who will seek to enter will not be able. This is a hard thing!
24 Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
25 When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us.' He will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.'
26 Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.'
27 But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!'
28 There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.
30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
The New Testament Greek for "strive" in v. 24 above is agonizomai. It means to struggle, to fight strenously. Do you note the first letters, "agoni"? This word means to "agonize". No word could be stronger. Without this agonizing, although one may seek to enter, one will not be able. The door is narrow and the way is hard. That is, if we can depend upon the validity of the words of Jesus.
There is more!Mark 10:23And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"Here is an utterance that emphasizes the hardness of entering the kingdom of God. He applies it primarily to the rich, but he makes a general statement that applies to all:
24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Luke 18:24 Jesus looking at him said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!We do not need here to get into a prolonged discussion of the camel and the eye of the needle. Too much has already been written, most of it for the purpose of somehow getting that camel through the eye of that needle! The point of the saying is inmistakable. It is very, very hard to enter into the kingdom of God!
Here again is what Jesus has repeatedly emphasized, and there is no mistaking his meaning:Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.This is what Jesus said. It is undoubtedly an accurate representation of his intended statement. But as I have indicated, in Christendom everything is reversed, exactly opposite to what Jesus has repeatedly stated. For emphasis, I will here arrange two columns showing four comparative relationships of the statements concerning the way of life -- in the first column, from Jesus, and in the second column, as we find it in the prevailing practices of Christendom.
The Door and the Way - a Comparison
According to Jesus1. The gate is narrow that leads to life.
2. The gate is wide that leads to destruction.
3. The way is hard that leads to life.
4. The way is easy that leads to destruction.
5. Those that be saved are few.
As it is in Christendom1. The gate is wide that leads to life
2. The gate is narrow that leads to destruction.
3. The way is easy that leads to life.
4. The way is hard that leads to destruction.
5. Those that be saved are many.
It surely appears that something is rotten in Christendom! What is it?
An Explanation From the Churchmen
Many of the churchmen will explain this quite handily, asserting that I am committing a great heresy by ignoring what the Holy Spirit has later revealed by Paul and others.
According to this, the Father realized that the words of Jesus were far too demanding and so he decided to really lighten things up on us by placing all the hardness upon Jesus. Following prophetic texts, only the sinless Jesus has to bear the stripes, and by his stripes we (all who are willing to believe it) are healed of sin and all its consequences. All we must do is believe and confess it! As Paul stated it in Romans 10:8-10:But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.This is surely the prescription for a wide door and an easy way. It is not true, because Jesus does not allow it. There is no other door effective for salvation than the narrow one; there is no other way effective for salvation than the hard one. Consider this utterance:John 10:1 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber;Before we draw conclusions, let us confirm what Jesus indicates by "the door" as uttered here. We need only proceed to v. 9 of John 10 and read:9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.So, the door is Jesus himself. If any one climbs in by another way he is a thief and a robber. This would include Paul, who was a stranger to the fellowship of Jesus' disciples, and who fits perfectly the continuing text of John 10:5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.So, whose voice do the sheep hear, if they do not know the voice of strangers?4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.This voice, the voice of Jesus, is the voice that has emphatically stated that the door is narrow and the way is hard. That other voice, the voice of the stranger, must be the voice that has made the door wide and the way easy. Those who are the sheep of Jesus do not hear him!
Doubtless there are many strangers. Paul came after Jesus, just barely. Other voices came before him, and of them Jesus made the same categorization:8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.The doctrine of Paul has Jesus crucified for us, and has us being crucified with Jesus -- without being crucified at all. This is a radical contradiction to the voice of the Shepherd, who said plainly,Luke 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.We have said enough in this vein. The voice of the Good Shepherd calls his diciples to follow him through the narrow door onto the hard way that alone leads to life. This is the way of the cross. It is the way that terminates, for Jesus, with the cross of Calvary; and for his disciples, with each having "his own cross." The synoptics all recorded his most pungent saying to this effect, as shown in the following parallel arrangement:
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
26 For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
.34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
36 For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?
37 For what can a man give in return for his life?
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
1 And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."
23 And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
24 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.
25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
No, the churchmen's explanation of the relaxation of the way will never do. Jesus himself does not allow it.
The Fourth Gospel adds other perspectives to these considerations of the door and the way:John 10:2. . . but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and lead them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.
9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leave the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
John 14:1 "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
4 And you know the way where I am going."
5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"
6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."
8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."
9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works that these will he do, because I go to the Father.
Yes, as Jesus asserted:Matthew 7:14 . . . the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.But these billions of Christians! They are surely many. Does Jesus have something to say about the destiny of the "many" who follow through the wide gate onto the easy way?
Most certainly he does:Matthew 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
Matthew 7:21 Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'
23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'
Matthew 24:5 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.
Matthew 24:10 And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate
Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Luke 13:24 Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
Here is a call to hearken to the words of Jesus and consider whether you are one of the many, or one of the few. Hear him yet again:Matthew 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
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