Thoughts from Charles Gore
Our Lord concludes the Sermon on the Mount with three emphatic and striking warnings. We may describe them as the Two Ways in life; the easy way of self-pleasing and the hard way of self-denial. Many seek the first, few the second. They lead directly away from one another: the first is the way to death, the second is the way to life.
Many voices of teachers in the world speak fair-sounding words. But it is not by words that we shall be judged by the Son of Man, but by our characters.
There are many spiritual fabrics which people raise and one seems very much as good as the other; but the test lies in their capacity to last. But no spiritual fabric that is built on anything else than the teaching of Our Lord that concludes the Sermon on the Mount is any good. Let us look at each of these three warnings.
The Two Ways
Enter ye in By the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it.
This is the ‘doctrine of the two ways’; the easy way of self-pleasing, the difficult way of duty. It strikes a chord in every heart, in every intelligence, and nothing needs to be said about it.
But there is one question which in our time arises instantly as we read these words – are we to suppose that our Lord is here saying that at the last many will be ‘lost’ and few ‘saved’? Is this the meaning of ‘Few be they that find it’?
To which Our Lord replied ‘Strive to enter in by the narrow door.’ And on another occasion, when Peter asked about John the Baptist, Jesus said to him ‘what is that to you? Follow me.’ Beyond all question, our Lord does not intend us to know the answer to the questions which our curiosity raises as to the ultimate destinies of people. He fixes our attention, we may say, on three great prin ciples:
- the character of God our Father, and His impartial, individual, disciplinary love;
- the final and universal victory of His kingdom over all resisting forces within and without;
- the critical character of our present life with its capaci ties for good or for evil, and the limitless conse quences for good or evil which flow from the present attitude of each individual towards his personal responsibilities.
In other words, Our Lord is saying ‘Many there be that are entering the broad way; few there be that are finding the nar row way.’ Thus what is always found to be true in human experience is that the person who wants to do his duty has to be prepared to stand alone, or at any rate to go against the majority. He cannot tell the oppor tunities and responsibilities that others may have (cf Luke 13.33-49; John 21.21-22). He knows that God is infinitely con siderate, and will do the best possible for every soul that He has created; But he does know his own responsibility and his own duty, and in following that he will have to take the hard way of going with the few while watching the depressing spectacle of the majority running to do evil.
Character the one thing needful
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them.
For our Lord hypocrisy is soul-destroying: pro fessing what we do not practise, to care for the out ward appearance of morality and religion while neglecting their inward essence. Whether this be specially true of us or no, we need to look to ourselves. In literature, in journalism, in pulpits, in political life, there are so many so-called ‘prophets’, so many remedy-mongers. They speak fair words, and brilliant success often seems to come their way. ‘Have we not prophesied in thy name,’ they cry, ‘and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?’ But not all the fair-seeming words, not all the brilliant, even miracu – lous successes, can compensate for the absence of personal character. That is the one thing to which our Lord looks. He warns us that not the most brilliant results can avail anything if we lack that inner character which is like Christ’s. In recent years how many in public life have given the impression of integrity to be caught up in scandal and not felt it necessary to resign?’
This is a tremendous warning for days of wide and somewhat vague philanthropy, of charity fund-raising, of rest less activity, and of nervous anxiety to make the reaching of targets the measure of success, no matter how achieved. It is a tremendous warning for tabloid journalism, when everyone is tempted to advertise – or to allow to be advertised – sordid celebrity lifestyles, and when everything is dragged prematurely into publicity. Even those who are working for Christ are apt to be morbidly anxious to produce results which can be tabulated in parish magazines or on a priest’s CV, or even pro claimed in newspapers. We need to remember that all these results in Christ’s eyes will not bear looking at, except so far as they are the product of inward Christian character, a character which He can recognize as His own. For He cannot accept anything, whatever its orthodox profes sion, in which He does not trace the lineaments of His own character. ND