The Narrow Gate

13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Jesus begins to bring His Sermon on the Mount to a close with some warnings concerning the difference between true and false discipleship. The first warning: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (vss. 13–14). There are two distinguishing characteristics given here of the road that "leads to life": it is narrow; and, only a few find it. It is narrow in that it requires the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and the acceptance of His teachings, which have been presented in the Sermon on the Mount, as the rule of life. Those who are on the "broad" road which leads to the "wide" gate bow to any number of lords; and they accept as the rule of life any number of philosophical, moral and ethical teachings. They are even free to come up with their own standards of living (and indeed, many of them do). Since they are on the broad road, and since they believe that the broad road leads to life, one often hears them say (in direct contradiction of Jesus’ words), "There are many ways to God; there are many ways to life." But what is the basis for this belief of theirs, that "there are many ways to God"? On whose authority have they assurance that this is true?

We learn here, by the authority of Jesus Christ, as stated in the Word of God, that "small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life." There are not "many ways to God": there is only one way, and that is through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus stated unequivocally: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Elsewhere, He stated: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25); then, to prove the truth of these words, He raised Lazarus from the dead. Anyone can utter the words, "I am the resurrection and the life"; Jesus proved that He was speaking the truth, proved that He indeed is "the resurrection and the life", by raising Lazarus from the dead. And so, given Jesus’ proven authority to make these statements concerning the way to "life", we have no choice but to believe His words here concerning the way to "life": "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life."

So, you would do well to ask yourself: "Which road am I on?", for you must be on one road or the other; if you are not on the "narrow" road, then you are on the "broad" road. "If it be the right road, you will find the entrance somewhat difficult, and exceedingly narrow; for it demands self-denial, and calls for strictness of obedience, and watchfulness of spirit" [Spurgeon, 81]. "We may well tremble and be afraid, if our religion is that of the multitude. If we can say no more than this, that ‘we go where others go, and worship where others worship, and hope we shall do as well as others at last,’ we are literally pronouncing our own condemnation" [Ryle, 67]. The broad road is easy to find, and easy to stay on. No special navigation is required. Do nothing, and you are there. Moreover, the broad road is spacious. It easily accomodates you and all your baggage. Bring anything and everything with you; you will not be crowded out.

The narrow road, on the other hand, does require navigation: you must seek to do the will of God; you must seek to follow your Lord Jesus Christ. It is His guidance that will help you find your way on the narrow road. And the road is narrow, so you must travel light. You can’t make any progress on the narrow road while carrying a lot of the baggage of the world. And though the way may be more difficult on the narrow road, and though you won’t have as much company on the narrow road––all your friends may choose the broad road––, the narrow road has a great advantage over the broad road: it "leads to life", whereas the broad road leads to "destruction". And is not the purpose of taking a road to get to the proper destination? When embarking on a journey, you do not choose a road primarily on the basis of how comfortable the road is. The primary requirement for the path you take is that it must lead you to the correct destination! "No man, in his wits, would choose to go to the gallows, because the way to it is smooth and pleasant, nor refuse the offer of a palace and a throne, because the way to it is rough and dirty; yet such absurdities as these are men guilty of in the concerns of their souls" [Henry, cited in Broadus, 173].

 

 

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

15"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

The second warning that Jesus gives, as He brings His Sermon on the Mount to a close, is: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (vs. 15). "Alas! it is not enough that we have personally so much difficulty in finding the way to life, and that so many set us a bad example; there are others who deliberately attempt to lead us astray" [Broadus, 166]. But then again, since the way to life is narrow, and "only a few find it", it stands to reason that there would be many false prophets teaching the broad way.

"Prophets" are those who speak in the name of God. In our day and age, it is the men of the pulpit, generally, who speak in the name of God. People by and large turn to men of the pulpit to learn the truth of God. Jesus tells us to "watch out for false prophets", warning us that not all those who pretend to speak in the name of God speak the truth. "This is a warning which is much needed. There are thousands who seem ready to believe anything in religion, if they hear it from an ordained minister... Their teaching must be weighed in the balance of Holy Scripture: they are to be followed and believed, so long as their doctrine agrees with the Bible, but not a minute longer" [Ryle, 68].

The task of watching out for "false prophets" is made more difficult because they come to us "in sheep’s clothing", even though "inwardly they are ferocious wolves." They appear in the clothing of the most harmless of animals. "At first glance they use orthodox language, show biblical piety, and are indistinguishable from true prophets" [Carson, 191]. However, the false prophet is "not only not a sheep, but the worst enemy the sheep have, that comes not but to tear and devour, to scatter the sheep, to drive them from God and from one another into crooked paths" [Henry, cited in Broadus, 166].

And so, we must learn to tell the difference between "false prophets" and those speaking the truth of God, to tell the difference between false teaching and the the truth of God. Jesus gives us a way to detect those who are "false prophets": "By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (vss. 16–18). In order to use this method of discernment, one must know what "good fruit" looks like. And in order to know what good fruit looks like, one must study the Word of God, which defines what good fruit is. "What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the Word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp for our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105)... It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear" [Ryle, 68]

The fruit of a tree clearly reveals what type of tree it is. Where I work, there are fruit trees in the parking lot. In the spring they blossomed, and the fragrance was beautiful. The fragrance reminded me of the orange blossom fragrance I used to smell from orange trees when I was a child. And so, I thought the trees were orange trees––until the fruit revealed that they were grapefruit trees. So also, we may be fooled by a false teacher for a time: we may be taken in by the blossom fragrance, so to speak. But when the fruit appears, we will know what type of teacher he is. Now, the fruit of a teacher consists of what that teacher says and does. It includes his words and actions, his teachings as well as the example he sets. Does his teaching conform to the sound doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Does he live a godly life, respecting and obeying the commandments of God? Is the goal of his teaching to glorify God, not himself? These are some of the questions you should ask, as you become "fruit inspectors". And yes, the onus is upon you to be a fruit inspector. "Let us remember this. Our minister’s mistakes will not excuse our own. ‘If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.’ (Matt. 15:14)" [Ryle, 68].

In the end, through the perfect discernment of God, the false prophets are revealed: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (vs. 19). "In words reminiscent of those of John the Baptist (see Matt. 3:10), [Jesus] reminds His hearers that people who run orchards do not put up with rotten trees" [Morris, 178]. And note well this: "It is not merely the wicked, the bearer of poison berries, that will be cut down; but the neutral, the man who bears no fruit of positive virtue must also be cast into the fire" [Spurgeon, 82]. "Interestingly, Jesus does not speak of what the tree does, but of what it does not do: in the last resort it is not the tree that actively bears bad fruit that is condemned, but one that fails to produce good fruit" [Morris, 178].

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