False and True Discipleship
J. R. Miller, 1909
"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."
There are two gates—one narrow and one wide—and two ways corresponding thereto. The easy way is not the right way. This is true in a very wide sense. It is true in the life of a child. There is a broad way of indulgence and indolence—but we know where it leads. There is a way of patient obedience in duty—and the end of this is worthy life and noble character. It is true in young manhood and womanhood. There is a way of pleasure, of ease—which leads to unworthy character. There is a way of self-denial, of discipline, of hard work—and this leads to honor. Then there is a broad way of selfishness and sin—which never reaches heaven's gates. And there is a way of penitence, of devotion to Christ, of spending and being spent in His service—which end is a seat beside the King on His throne!
It is a reason for great thankfulness, that there is a gate into the spiritual and heavenly life—and into heaven at the end. The glorious things are not beyond our reach. They are high, on dazzling summits—but there is a path that leads to them. We must note, however, that the gate is narrow.
Some people say that it is very easy to be a Christian. But really, it is not easy. It was not easy for the Son of God to prepare the way for us. It was necessary for Him to come from heaven in condescending love, and give His own life in opening the way. Jesus said also that any who would reach the glory of His kingdom, must go by the same way of the cross by which He had gone. He said that the one who will save his life—that is, withhold it from self-denial and sacrifice, shall lose it; and that he alone who loses his life—that is, gives it out in devotion to God and to duty—shall really save it (see 16:24, 25). In one of His parables, too, Jesus speaks of salvation as a treasure hid in a field, and the man who learns of the treasure and its hiding-place has to sell all that he has in order to buy the field (see 13:44). In another parable the same truth is presented under the figure of a merchant seeking goodly pearls, who had to sell all his stock of pearls—that he might buy the one peerless pearl (13:45).
The truth of the difficulty of entrance into the kingdom, is put in another way in this Sermon on the Mount. There are two roads through this world and two gates into the eternal world. One of these roads is broad and easy, with a descending grade, leading to a wide gate. It requires no exertion, no struggle, and no sacrifice to go this way. The other road is narrow and difficult—and leads to a narrow gate. To go this way one has to leave the crowd and walk almost alone—leave the broad, plain, easy road—and go on a hard, rugged road that often gets difficult and steep, entering by a gate too small to admit any bundles of worldliness or self-righteousness, or any of the trappings of the old life. If we get to heaven, we must make up our minds that it can be only by this narrow way of self-denial. There is a gate—but it is narrow and hard to pass through.
Jesus forewarned His friends against false prophets who would come to them in sheep's clothing—but who inwardly would be ravening wolves! There is something fearful in the eagerness of Satan to destroy men's lives! He resorts to every possible device. He sends his agents and messengers in forms and garbs intended to deceive the simple-minded and unwary. He even steals the dress of God's own servants, in order to gain the confidence of believers and then destroy their faith and lead them away to death. There always are such false teachers and guides. They try to pass for sheep—but the sheep's covering is only worn outside, while inside is the heart of a hungry, blood-thirsty wolf!
Many young people in these times fall under the influence of people who have caught smatterings of skeptical talk which they drop in the form of sneers or mocking queries into the ears of their confiding listeners. They laugh at the simple old cradle beliefs which these young Christians hold, calling them "superstitions." Then they go on to cast doubt upon, or at least to start questions about, this or that teaching in the Bible, or to caricature some Christian doctrine and hold it up in such a light as to make it look absurd. Thus these "false prophets" poison the minds of earnest young believers, and often destroy their childhood faith and fill them with doubt and perplexity!
Jesus makes it very plain in His teaching, that not profession but obedience is the test of Christian life. "Not everyone that says unto Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father." It is not enough to believe in Christ, intellectually, even to be altogether orthodox in one's creed. It is not enough to seem to honor Christ before men, praying to Him and ascribing power to Him. Jesus tells us that some at last who thus seem to be His friends, publicly confessing Him—shall fail to enter the heavenly kingdom!
Why are these confessors of Christ, kept out of the heavenly kingdom? What are the conditions of entrance into this kingdom? The answer is given very plainly. Those alone enter the kingdom, who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. No profession, therefore, is true which is not attested and verified by a life of obedience and holiness. "Simply to Your cross I cling" is not all of the gospel—it is only half of it. No one is really clinging to the cross—who is not at the same time faithfully following Christ and doing whatever He commands. To enter into the kingdom of heaven, is to have in one's heart the heavenly spirit. We must do God's will. We cannot have Christ for our Savior, until we have Him also as our Master. We pray, "May Your will be done by me on earth, as it is done in heaven." If the prayer is sincere, it must draw our whole life with it in loving obedience and acquiescence to the Divine will.
The illustration at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, makes the teaching very plain. "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock." Everything turns on the doing or not doing of God's Word. Both the men here described hear the words—but only one of them obeys, and thus builds on the impregnable foundation. These two houses probably looked very much alike when they were finished. Indeed, the house on the sand may have been more attractive and more showy—than the house built farther up on the hillside. The difference, however, lay in the foundations.
There were two kinds of ground. There was a wide valley, which was dry and pleasant in the summer days, when these men were looking for building sites. Then way above this valley—were high, rocky bluffs. One man decided to build in the valley. It would cost much less. It was easy digging, and the excavations would be less expensive, for the ground was soft. Then it was more convenient also, for the bluffs were not easy of access. The other man looked farther ahead, however, and decided to build on the high ground. It would cost a great deal more—but it would be safer in the end.
So the two homes went up simultaneously, only the one in the valley was finished long before the other was, because it required much less labor. At last the two families moved into their respective residences, and both seemed very happy. But one night there was a great storm. The rains poured down in torrents until a flood, like a wild river, swept through the valley. The house that was built on the low ground—was carried away with its dwellers. The house on the bluff, however, was unharmed.
These two pictures explain themselves. He who built in the valley is the man who has only profession—but who has never really given his life to Christ, nor built on Him as the foundation. The other man who build on the rock—is he who has a true faith in Christ, confirmed by loving obedience. The storms that burst, are earth's trials which test every life—the tempests of death and of judgment. The mere professor of religion is swept away in these storms, for he has only sand under him. He who builds on Christ is secure, for no storm can reach him in Christ's bosom!