The Narrow Gate
by John Bunyan (1628-1688)
“Strive to enter in at the narrow gate; for many, I say unto you,
will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” — Luke 13:24.
These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are, therefore, especially to be heeded; The subject matter of the words is the most weighty, namely, how we should attain salvation, and therefore also to be heeded.
The occasion of the words was a question, asked of Jesus Christ, of one who was at that time in the company of the disciples: “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). It was a serious question, and one that called for such an answer that might profit others present also. This question also well pleased Jesus Christ, and he prepareth and giveth such an answer as was without the least retort, or show of distaste; such an answer, I say, as carried in it the most full resolve to the question itself, and help to the persons questioning: “And he said unto them, Strive to enter in.” The words are an affirmative answer: the gate is narrow, many that seek will not be able, and therefore but few shall be saved. The answer is an instruction also: “strive to enter in.” It is good counsel and instruction; pray God help me, and my reader, and all that love their own salvation, to take it.
To be saved! what is like being saved? To be saved from sin, from hell, from the wrath of God, from eternal damnation, what is like it? To be made an heir of God, of his grace, of his kingdom and eternal glory, what is like it? and yet all this is included in this word saved, and in the answer to that question, are there few that be saved? Indeed this word saved is but of little use in the world, save to them that are heartily afraid of damning. “What shall I do to be saved?” is the language of the trembling sinner. “Lord save me,” is the language of the sinking sinner; and none admire the glory that is in the word saved, but such as see, without being saved, all things in heaven and earth are emptiness to them.
“Enter in” – into heaven, that is the meaning, where the saved are now, and shall be; into heaven, that place, that glorious place, where God, and Christ, and angels are, and the souls or spirits of just men made perfect. Besides, this word, enter in, signifieth that salvation to the full is to be enjoyed only there, and that there only is external safety; all other places and conditions are hazardous, dangerous, full of snares, imperfections, temptations, and afflictions, but in heaven all is well; there is no devil to tempt, no desperately wicked heart to deliver us up, no deceitful lust to entangle, nor any enchanting world to bewitch us: there, all shall be well to all eternity. This should teach us not only to read, but to attend in reading; not only to read, but to lift up our hearts to God in reading; for if we be not heedful, if he gives us not light and understanding, we may not easily pass over.
Strive to Enter in
“Strive to enter in at the narrow gate.” (Luke 13:24) These words are fitly added, for since the gate is narrow, it follows that they who will enter in must strive. “Strive.” This word “strive” supposeth, that great idleness is natural to professors; they think to get to heaven by lying, as it were, on their elbows. It also concludeth, that only the laboring Christian, man or woman, will get in thither. When he saith, Strive, it is as much as to say, bend yourselves to the work with all your might. And, more particularly, this word strive is expressed by several other terms; It is expressed by that word, “So run that you may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24, 25). It is expressed by that word, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12). It is expressed by that word, “Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat that endureth to everlasting life” (John 6:27). It is expressed by that word, “We wrestle with principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world,” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, when he saith, “Strive,” it is as much as to say, Run for heaven, Fight for heaven, Labor for heaven, Wrestle for heaven, or you are like to go without it.
But Why Should We Strive?
We should strive because the thing for which you are here exhorted to strive, is worth the striving for; it is for no less than for a whole heaven, and an eternity of felicity there. Strive, because otherwise the devil and hell will assuredly have thee: “He goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Strive, because every lust strives and wars against thy soul. The flesh lusteth against the spirit: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you (said Peter), as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,” (Galatians 5:17). Strive, because thou hast a whole world against thee. The world hateth thee if thou be a Christian; the men of the world hate thee; the things of the world are snares for thee, even thy bed and table, thy wife and husband, yea, thy most lawful enjoyments, have that in them that will certainly sink thy soul to hell, if thou dost not strive against the snares that are in them (Romans 11:9). Strive, because there is nothing of Christianity got by idleness. “Therefore be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises”” (Romans 12:11, Hebrews 6:12).
“Strive to Enter In.”
By these words also the Lord Jesus giveth sharp rebuke to those professors that have not eternal glory, but other temporal things in their eye, by all the bustle that they make in the world about religion. Some there be, what a stir they make, what a noise and clamor, with their notions and forms, they find religion hath a good trade at the end of it; or they find that it is the way to credit, repute, preferment, and the like; and therefore they strive to enter into these. But these have not the narrow gate in their eye, nor yet in themselves have they love to their poor and perishing souls; wherefore this exhortation nippeth such, by predicting of their damnation.