Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 12, 1958
NUMBER 7, PAGE 7,14a

The Narrowness Of The Gospel

E. L. Flannery, Bedford, Ohio

"Straight is the gate, and narrow the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13-14).

While the Lord's statement here given is very true, it is also true that nothing is broader than the gospel in certain aspects. It enlarges to infinite proportions that which it embraces. I know of nothing broader than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us consider the idea, the conception of God. The pagans and their nations conceived their gods as narrow,' jealous, national gods. They had exclusive gods, one god of this and another god that. The gospel of Christ teaches men that God is the God of everything — that He is Spirit, and can be worshipped by all mankind and in every place. How the gospel breaks down the narrow barriers men erect which separate men's souls! "One God, and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all." (Eph. 4:6)

What about humanity? The ancients counted the stranger a barbarian. If a man lived over the mountain or beyond the river in another nation or tribe he was inferior, not to be trusted, in fact, an enemy to be cautiously watched and destroyed if need be. There existed no higher link to tie them together. They had their separate, national gods. But the gospel of Christ appeared on earth, teaching that men are brethren, made of one blood, all descendants of Adam who was created by the Father in heaven. And in Christ the apostle Paul said, "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free . . . for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28). Could anything, any concept of humanity, be broader than Christ's teaching on this topic? The human mind cannot surpass it, and in but few minds is it grasped and appreciated.

Let's think of human destiny. Is the gospel narrow here? The gospel brought to light "life and immortality." It teaches that all men have souls worth more than all the world because they exist forever, and can attain unto eternal life. We can be partakers of divine nature. When this earth shall "reel as a drunkard" and "melt with fervent heat;" when the sun and moon and stars shall be no more forever, man will remain. The religions of human origin have never opened such perspective to man. Under the influence of Buddhism and Mohammedanism nations have languished in hopeless torpor. Under the influence of Christianity, which teaches man can rise to the likeness of God, we have found the greatest progress. Human destiny can be immortality — to be with God throughout eternity. I cannot think of anything that could broaden the hopes and affections of man beyond this!

In spite of all this the gospel has been said to be narrow wherever it has been faithfully preached. I say "faithfully preached," for there is a form of preaching that never draws this "reproach." There is preaching designed to flatter the secret instincts of the hearers and send them home well satisfied with themselves by proving to them that, after all, they are better and more believing than they thought; the "easy religion which ruffles not, alarms not, converts not. That it should not be accused of narrowness does not surprise me" but that it should be called gospel preaching is most surprising!

Sometimes we ourselves bring the accusation of narrowness on the gospel of Christ by placing between Christ and men's souls traditions, spiritual pride and prejudice. In Christ's days on earth his disciples tried to block little children from approaching the Master, and wished to silence the cry for help from blind Bartimeus. Some have tried to force others to live by their conscience even in personal and private matters. But the real reason for the accusation of narrowness comes from the very nature of the gospel itself — it is a restricted way. Jesus made it so. The gospel way of life is narrow for at least four reasons:

It is narrow because it is the way of truth. Suppose Jesus had come preaching, "I am just one of the ways that leads to God;" or that Peter had told the rulers that "the name of Jesus is but one name in which salvation can be found;" or that Paul had uttered, "There are many faiths, all equally good;" or that John had said, "In Christ you will know God better than in these other ways," — would these have been arrested and imprisoned? Why, certainly not! Suppose that today a preacher will say, "This is my opinion on Bible teaching," will he be accused of narrowness? Not at all. It is only when men announce, "This is TRUTH that must be obeyed" that the reproach of narrowness is heard.

When Christianity appeared on earth tolerance was reigning. Every shade of religion imaginable was tolerated. Rome opened her great temples to all gods. Statues by the thousands stood side by side in the immense Partheon and on Mar's Hill. But when Christianity's forces came preaching that Christ is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, persecution came forth strongly and without hesitation.

A preacher can easily detect what pleases or alienates in his preaching. If he confines his preaching to touching hearts, to descriptions of moral evils and suffering; to appeals to the feelings of his audience, he will arouse no opposition. But let him bring forth revealed truths speaking with the authority of heaven's will, then he soon loses the sympathies of the majority of men, even that of many who claim to be on the "narrow way." Yet, what is the business of the gospel preacher? Why do you go to hear him? To hear him express opinions? To have him raise questions and leave them unanswered? We need certainties in religion, not opinions; answers to our soul's questions, not indecisions. It is a gospel preacher's business to "preach the word," to "speak as the oracles of God," to "abide in the doctrine of Christ."

All truth is narrow. Two plus two equals four is a mathematical truth. Four is the only correct answer, which, to be sure, is narrow. If musical truths were not "narrow" any of us could play the piano! If chemical truths were not narrow we could all fill prescriptions at the corner drug store. Spiritual truth is also narrow but men become "riled up" here because spiritual truth affects our moral independence. Scientific truths do not. Men must bow to Bible truth, hence, they resent being told what it teaches. But in good mood they will discuss politics, science, etc., knowing there is no moral responsibility involved.

The way of the gospel is narrow because it is a way of holiness. The Pharisees said Jesus was too lax: he ate with publicans, he was loose in Sabbath Day observance, he released from oaths and the traditions of the fathers. But today we see the amazing purity taught and exemplified by Christ. Nineteen centuries have not improved the morality of the gospel. The way of the gospel restricts unholiness from entering the way.

The way of the gospel is narrow because it is the way of humility. Just as lust cannot enter, neither can pride. Here the gospel is too straight for some. We hear much today of "setting the church in good light" in the community, and "advertising the church." Lavish buildings are erected to impress the townsmen that we have class. Pride is manifested in the preacher's secular education and social attainments. Many of the older preacher brethren, now being shunted, have more nearly "Mastered" the Bible than some of the younger men who have graduated as Masters of the Bible. Education is fine, but not to be displayed with pride to impress men. The gate is too straight to permit entrance of pride. It narrows, restricts entrance.

The way of the gospel is narrow because it is the way of love. We do not usually associate the idea of love with narrowness. Christianity can be summed up in love. God is love, and Christ is the manifestation to man of God's love for man. The love of God is the very essence of our religion. But God is a holy God whose eyes cannot behold iniquity; who will not tolerate idols in the hearts of his followers. God is narrow in this sense — he will reject all that is contrary to His holy nature; He will reject all who do not love Him with all their being. He demands that we restrict our love to Him, that we worship Him only, that we count everything dear in life as secondary compared to Him. Yes, this is narrow, this love of God, but no narrower than God would have it and no narrower than it should be. This leaves the gospel way too narrow for the heart absorbed in self. This exclusive love offends men of the world in demanding that henceforth they consecrate their lives to God, the losing of one's life in Him that he might find it eternally with Him. The restricted love is beautiful. What wife could condone, under the pretext of broadmindedness, that her husband who had covenanted to be faithful was now seeking another in sexual relationship? Is not her love narrow just because it is love? The day it ceases to be what it is, the day she would consent to be second to this strange woman, that day there would remain but the cold ashes of a former love in her heart? The God of heaven does not ask less in love of us toward him than he expects us to desire from our fellow-creatures.

The broad way promises joy, but gives bitterness; the world opens out to us the attractive broad path, but it is one of wandering and hopeless deception. Christ opens to us the narrow way that leads to heaven, the crown, eternal life. May God help us to find truth, perfect holiness, rid self of pride and self-deception, and to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.

(For much of this sermon we are indebted to Eugene Bersier, who preached in Paris, France, in the 1890's)