The Strait Way
July 25th, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
THE STRAIT WAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-25-65 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, on WRR you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. You are invited to open your Bible to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 7, Matthew chapter 7, and we shall read out loud together verses 13 through 20. The First Gospel, Matthew chapter 7, verses 13 through 20. Now sharing our Bibles, and you on the radio opening your Bible, and reading out loud together, starting at verse 13 and reading through verse 20, now together:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
The title of the sermon is The Strait Way, and the text we have just read, “Enter ye in at the strait gate”; constricted, small, s-t-r-a-i-t, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction…Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” [Matthew 7:13-14]. Reading that cursorily, perfunctorily, casually, you would say, “What a mournful view of life and of the kingdom of God; it is to be thinly populated. This is none other than a presentation of infinite and final failure.”
“Strait is the gate, narrow is the way; few there be that find it” [Matthew 7:14]. But that is outward. That is just looking at it casually, briefly, perfunctorily. But underneath there is a far greater meaning. And it is to that that we direct our hearts and our souls tonight. Our Lord has something of vital and significant importance to say to us who live in this life and who agonize in this pilgrimage.
This is no different, the announcement of our Lord; far from being harsh or cruel, this is no different than the great fundamental truth that lies back of every area of life. Whatever it is, just name it, and the great foundational religious principle that our Lord is announcing here is none other than a repetition of what He could have said about every area of human life: art, literature, music, science, athletics, business, whatever. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads into the kingdom of,” say, music, music. “Oh, but, preacher, I don’t believe that. I have a natural talent for music. Give me a Jew’s harp, give me a French harmonica, and I will play it by ear, and away I go!” Quite true and I don’t deny it. I have heard them play the Jew’s harp, and I have heard them play the harmonica, and I have heard them play by ear on the piano. And I am not quarreling with all of those natural and innate abilities that they say they have. But I am saying to you that if you enter really into the kingdom of music, Jesus says this is the way: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads into the kingdom of music.” Practice and practice and practice and practice, and when you have practiced and practiced and practiced, then you practice and practice and practice. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Strait is the way, and narrow is the gate, that leads into the kingdom of music.
Now I do not know what in the world I would do if the Lord says when we get to heaven we are going to have to play the koto. What kind of koto? Koto. I just don’t know what would happen to me, my dear. I might learn how to pluck those strings, but how in the world would I learn to sit on my feet by the hour and the hour and the hour?
It is one of the great principles of life. And there never has been a gifted musician but who practiced by the hour and the hour, and who studied and devoted his life to it. And the better musician he is, the more unhappy he is with his performance, and the more he seeks perfection, struggling and trying and agonizing to enter into the kingdom of music.
One of the stories that I heard about Handel, when he had finished his Messiah, they sang it for him, and he sat way back in the auditorium to listen, and as they came to the great, concluding, consummating glorious climactic hallelujah, he came up to the front and said to the wind instruments, “Loudaire!” l-o-u-d-a-i-r-e. What kind of language is that? I just supposed he meant, “Louder,” sounds it to me, l-o-u-d-a-i-r-e, he said to them, “Loudaire, loudaire!”
So he went back and they sang it again. And he came and burst into it, and to the wind instruments said, “Loudaire, loudaire!” Went back and sat down, and they sang it again. And then he came to the wind instruments and said, “Loudaire, loudaire!” And the men who were playing the wind instruments said, “But Mr. Handel, where shall the wind come from? There is not enough wind!”
I can easily see the triumphant, glorious, soaring spirit of Handel when they were singing that last “Hallelujah Chorus.” He wanted all of the winds of heaven, and all of the thunder of the clouds, and all of the intensest life of the universe in that glorious and final drama; “Loudaire, loudaire, more, better,” the kingdom of music.
“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads into the kingdom of,” and name it: of art, the kingdom of color and geometrical design and proportion, the kingdom of art. One of the most beautiful of all of the palaces in the earth, filled with the most incomparable paintings in the earth, is the Pitti Palace in Florence. I have not seen anything like it under God’s high heaven, the incomparably beautiful paintings of the old masters in the Pitti Palace in Florence. And to my delight, as I walked through the palace and looked at those beautiful paintings, there were artists here and there and there who were copying those beautiful old masters. One of them was copying Raphael’s The Madonna of the Chair; sometimes they say it was painted on the top of a barrel because it is round. Nothing like that happened, but it is one of the most glorious paintings of the world. And this artist was copying that Madonna of the Chair by Raphael. And I just stood there and watched him. I asked him, “How long you been working on that little miniature?” Wasn’t any bigger than that, the one he was painting. And he said, “I have been working on it three months.” And I said, “How beautiful. Oh, you are doing so excellently!” And he said, “Excellently? Beautiful? Why,” he said, “look at the master, look at the master. It does not compare with the old master.” However fine, and however excellent, yet it still ought to be done better, and I ought to try harder, and I ought to learn more, for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads into the kingdom of art.
Athletics: “Oh, preacher, but you don’t understand! You don’t understand. Why man, what an athlete I can be. I can drink all night, and I can carouse the next night, and I can break all the rules of health and training. Why, I don’t have to observe these things to enter into the kingdom of athletics.”
I read in the new daily paper about one of those Yankee pitchers, and he had a great day. Man, he got up there and wound that ball, and when he unwound it, it went blazing like a streak of forked lightning that, right down, like its going through clabber. Oh man, you never saw such a game in your life. You know what he did? He went out in New York City, and he spent the night carousing and drinking. And when they said to him, “You’ve broken the rules, and you’ve forfeited your right!”
“Oh!” he said. The paper said he said, “I don’t have to observe these rules. I am such a fine pitcher, and I am so gifted, that I can just stand up there and flail that ball down, and it just goes like forked lightning, just like blue blazes.”
Well, it made me interested. Any fellow that says, “I don’t have to observe the training rules, I can throw that ball, or I can run with this football, or I can play with this tennis racket, or I can hit that golf ball,” the Lord help us. “I can hit that golf ball. Man, I don’t have to observe the rules.” Well, it interested me. It intrigued me. So I watched the newspaper. And the next time that pitcher, Yankee pitcher, got up, he fell flat on his face, and the coach took him out, and finally the coach fired him. And finally, he came down here to Dallas to pitch for the—the Lord only knows what name they had at that time. It was something, something. And he’d just gone from bad to worse. And now he is on a waiver, and you can buy him for five cents if you want him. For the Lord says, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way,” that leads into the kingdom of athletics. We could go on all night long. The Lord is not saying some peculiar, or strange, or harsh, or brutal, or cruel thing. He is just announcing to us how this life is put together.
So when a man aspires to be a disciple of Jesus, you look at the Master, you look at Him. What is He going to do? Is the Lord going to say to us, “Now to be a disciple of Mine, and to follow Me, why, you just fling aside all of these things that I have said, and you just forget all of the commandments that I have spoken, and you just put behind your back all of the things that enter into a noble and worthy life, and then you can enter largely into the kingdom of heaven.” Does the Lord say that? Why, I could not imagine it of the blessed Jesus. He never lowered His standard, never. Nor did He make easy and soft an ultimate call to a full discipleship for our Lord, never, never! On one side of the sea He fed the five thousand [John 6:1-13]. And then the next day on the other side of the sea, they all went around to be fed again [John 6:22-26]. And when our Lord got through preaching to them His sermon on the bread of life [John 6:35-51], every one of them left Him, every one of them [John 6:66]. And He turned to his disciples and said, “Will ye also go away?” [John 6:67]. And the tone of that thing they answer in Greek is like this: “Master, we have been thinking about it. We have been thinking about leaving You, but we don’t know where to go so we just decided to stand by You” [John 6:68]. All of His disciples left Him, all of them, every one of them, the whole thousands and thousands, because He refused to lower His standards.
Same way about the rich young ruler [Mark 10:17-22]; the rich young ruler came to the Lord Jesus, and those disciples looked upon that young fellow; young, good looking, handsome, rich, and a ruler, they never had such a prospect in their lives. Why, this is prestige and social acceptance and riches, and this is everything in one package. Look at this rich young ruler. And the Lord said to him, “Why, you know the commandments” [Mark 10:19]. And that young fellow said, “Why, I have numbered them every one. I have measured every inch of them. I have counted every letter in the alphabet in that that presents them. There is not anything about it that I haven’t handled familiarly since I was a youth. I know them all, and I have kept them all” [Mark 10:20].
How far had he missed the spirit of the Master. And the Lord said, “But there is an eleventh commandment. There is one beyond and beside the ten. And the eleventh commandment is cross bearing. You sell everything you have, get rid of it, and come take up your cross, and follow Me” [Mark 10:21]. And the young man was sad at that saying. And the battle in his soul was written in his face, and he went away [Mark 10:22]. Forever, he went away. Two thousand years now, I wonder what he thinks of that decision. But the Lord never said, “Come young man, turn around, wait a minute, I made it too strong. I made the conditions too heavy and too great,” no, no, for to be a disciple of the Lord is to go through a gate that is strait, and to follow a way that is narrow [Matthew 7:14].
When I was in Africa, for every one Christian that is won, there are ten Mohammedans that are won, ten to our one. And when you ask, “How is this? How is this? For every one Christian convert there are ten Mohammedan, ten Muslims made.” The answer is very plain, very plain. A pagan African can become a Mohammedan. He can become a Muslim. He can become a follower of Islam. He can be converted to Mohammedanism and not change at all, not change at all. Live the same way, think the same thoughts, follow the same pattern of life, never change at all. But if he becomes a Christian, there has to be a tremendous about face, a tremendous conversion, a tremendous turning in his life! And most of them refuse it because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads into the kingdom of God [Matthew 7:14].
Therefore, our Lord says to us, as He places the road, the path of our pilgrimage before us, and invites us to follow after, the Lord would say to us, “It is not big enough, it is not wide enough for you and the world in your heart, for you and the whole love of the fashion of this present age in your soul. You have to get rid of it. You have to get rid of it” [Mark 10:21]. And as a lowly penitent, and as a confessed sinner, and as a naked soul you have to come into the presence of God to be a follower, a pilgrim, in the way of the Lord.
You don’t come into that world and you don’t walk into that way with all of your self-righteousness, “Lord, look at me.” You don’t come into that way and you don’t walk on that road with all of your self-justification, “Lord, how proud You ought to be of me.” And you don’t come into that way before the Lord with anything you possess, or with any achievements that you have won, or any fame by which you are known. There is not anything to be added, except just your poor, naked soul, just you. For strait is the gate and narrow is the way, and it is not big enough for you and the world in your heart, or self-righteousness in your soul, or anything you may be able to command or to possess.
That was what was the matter with Naaman the leper [2 Kings 5:1]. He was a great man in Damascus. He was the chief of the staff. He was the general of the army. He was the greatest man in the greatest empire in that generation. And when he was saved from his leprosy, he wanted to be saved in his uniform. He wanted to be saved with his medals. He wanted to be saved with all of his brass buttons. He wanted to be saved as a man of his dignity and station thought he ought to be saved. It was somebody when Naaman the captain of the army came before the prophet of God. And the prophet of God said to him:
You take off your uniform, and you lay aside your gold medals, and you undo all those brass buttons, and you get down like any other lost sinner, like any other leper, and you go down there in that muddy Jordan and you bathe yourself seven times, and your flesh will come unto you like the flesh of a little child.
[2 Kings 5:1-10]
And it made him mad; made him angry [2 Kings 5:11],
You don’t know who I am? Why man, I am the greatest general of this generation. I have conquered the world and laid it in the lap, and placed it in the hand of the king of Syria! You want me to undo all of this fame and success and put it aside, and go down there and bathe in that Jordan River. Are not Abana and Pharpar rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Can I bathe in them and be clean?
[2 Kings 5:11-12]
No, and he turned and went away in a rage. While he was driving his chariot furiously back to the capital city of Damascus, the charioteer by his side put his hand on the leprous hand of Naaman, and said, “My father…” How deferential,
My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing like conquer India, wouldn’t have done it? If he had bid thee do some great thing like bringing ten thousand talents of gold, wouldn’t have done it? If he would have bid you do some, a great thing, like overwhelming Egypt, wouldn’t have done it? How much rather when he says to you, Wash, and be clean?
[2 Kings 5:13]
And as he was driving his chariot furiously, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and he pulled his steeds back, turned them around, turned them around, forgot his gold medals, forgot his uniform, forgot his fame and success, forgot his station in life. And like any other lost, undone, sinful leper, he went down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River, bathed himself seven times. And when he came up the seventh time, the Book says, “And his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean; he was clean, he was clean” [2 Kings 5:14]. I can just see him look at himself, “Clean, healed, healed, glory to God, glory to God, praise the Lord! Look! I am healed, I am clean, washed!” [2 Kings 5:15]. Strait is the gate, narrow is the way, and just you, one at a time [Matthew 7:14].
“Ah, but preacher, my wife has my religion for me.” Or, “My dear old mother had the religion for our family.” No, narrow is the way, and constricted is the gate; you come in one at a time.
These children that are brought to me, without fail I always go over that with them. “Little fellow, do you realize that you are a sinner for yourself? That you are going to have to die for yourself? That you are going to be judged before God for yourself? And you have to repent for yourself? And you have to accept Jesus for yourself?” Mother may love me, and God bless her old sainted, aged heart, she does, has, always will, but she can’t do that for me. She can’t repent for me. She can’t trust Jesus for me. I have got to do it for myself [Acts 16:31]. She can’t stand at the judgment bar for me. I have got to stand for myself [Romans 2:6].
No boy ever had a finer father in the world than I had. And that sainted man in glory, as much as he loved his boy, he couldn’t repent for me. He couldn’t stand for me when the hour of death comes, and he can’t be my advocate at the great judgment day of Almighty God. I have to stand there by myself. I am alone in some places in my life, naked and alone before God, and that is when I go before the Lord with my sins.
The way is narrow and the gate is constricted and strait [Matthew 7:14]. And there is not room there for two of us. I have to stand alone. And the Lord looks into my face, and He says, “Are you guilty? Are you guilty? Have you sinned?” Why, I could not lie to Him. He knows all about me. “Have you sinned? Are you guilty?”
“Yes, Lord. Yes, I am. Yes, I am. Not one time, but multitudinous times have I done wrong and sinned and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. Then the Lord will say, “And now, what have you done to cover over your sins?” And we shall say, one by one, I shall say, as you, “And the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin [1 John 1:7]. And back yonder in the days of my boyhood, when I was ten years old, I looked in faith to the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and I looked in faith that He would save me, and I have been trusting Him through the years since. And I stand here in the faith, and in the mercy, and in the love, and in the blood of the Crucified One [Ephesians 1:7].
Wonder what God will say? “And his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6]. And the atoning blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin [1 John 1:7]. Just you and the Lord, and it is enough, and it is enough. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 7:13-14], just you and your Savior.
Don’t need any money [Isaiah 55:1]; don’t bring it with you. Don’t need any good works; they are as filthy rags in the sight of the Lord [Isaiah 64:6]. Don’t need any fame, don’t need any gifts, don’t need any success, don’t need anything but a heart that will confess its need of Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. “And here I am, Lord, and here I stand; save my soul, and bless my life” [Matthew 7:7]. And brother, we’re in, we’re in. God opens the door. The Lord makes ready the way, and we follow after in the preciousness of the promise of the Savior, even Jesus our Lord [John 14:19].
Some ways about that may be disheartening to a man. “When I come into the kingdom of God, I would like to come with a great train of worldly success.” Some of us may be disappointed that the Lord may not think about us as we think about ourselves. But I want you to know there are ten hundred thousand million of us, that if the Lord were to demand much beside, I don’t know what we would do to meet the demand.
A lot of our people are poor, and if He asked for money, I don’t know how we would pay. A lot of our people are filled with unrighteousnesses, and if the Lord were to demand perfection, I don’t know what we would do. And a lot of us are never known in the world, never, never, live all our lives in inconsequential insignificance, no fame, no success, no fortune at all. So many of us are like that.
Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad that when we stand before God, the Lord doesn’t say, “How much money you got? How much you going to pay?” He doesn’t say, “Were you perfect in your life?” because our lives are filled with stain. And He doesn’t say, “What success did you achieve? For up here before Me I count a man worthy for the kingdom if he has achieved great success.” Aren’t you glad that all the Lord demands is just a heart that would lean on Him, just a confession that would say, “Master, save me, remember me, bless me?” and it is enough; and it is enough [Luke 23:42-43].
Oh, how a man could meet Jesus and not bow in His presence, I have never been able to understand! How a human heart could say no to the wooing Spirit of the Master, I have never been able to understand. Why fellow, when we sing this song, on the first note of that first stanza, stand up, come down that aisle. “Preacher, tonight, tonight, I open my heart and soul to the saving grace of Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and here I come. Here I come.” Do it. Do it. Do it. While we sing our hymn tonight, in this balcony round, this throng, somebody you, down one of these stairwells, at the front or the back on either side, and there is time and to spare, come. Make it now, make it now. The throng and press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front. “Preacher, I heard that message tonight, and I, I am willing to bow in the presence of the blessed Lord Jesus. I can’t save myself and I know it. But I believe He can save me. Now I am not looking to my own righteousness to save me [Titus 3:5], and I am not looking to any fortune, or fame, or success I might ever achieve. I am just looking to Jesus, and I take Him tonight as my Savior [Romans 10:9-10]; and here I am, here I come.”
A couple, a family, a youth, a child, however God shall press the appeal to your soul, as we sing this song of invitation, come. Make it now. Standing up, come. “Here I am, preacher, here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.
I. View of the passage
A. Strait and narrow
view appears to be a mournful view of life
B. Principle of life in
listening to his “Messiah”
2. Painter copying
3. Yankee pitcher
II. When a man desires to become a
disciple of Jesus
A. Jesus never lowered
disciples (John 6:66-68)
rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-21)
B. Becoming a Christian
means a change, a turning in one’s life
III. The narrow gate
A. There is no room for
my soul and the things of this world
B. There is no room for
any self-righteousness or anything we possess
the leper began in arrogance (2 Kings 5:1-14)
We have to stand alone before the Lord (1 John
1:7, Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6)
We bring nothing with us