What does ‘striving to enter the narrow gate’ mean?
Objection 4. Our Saviour says ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’ Luke 13, 24. Matth. 7, 13, 14. Now if one is to strive, if the gate be strait, the way narrow; and if but few will find it, does it not become necessary to do good works? to use all diligence?
Answer. These texts are so far from proving, that any person is to be justified by good works, that they prove the contrary. Many of the Jews strove very hard by their works to enter into the kingdom; and yet they failed in their attempt. They indeed strove to enter in, but not at the gate and the way. If the law was the gate to heaven, then it would be necessary, to strive in this manner. But the law is not the gate which opens into paradise. It is the key to bind the culprit over to damnation. Jesus Christ is the gate that opens into heaven, and the way that leads thither. He says ‘I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’ John 10, 9. A door is the same as a gate. And ch. 14, 6, he calls Himself the way. Christ is not apprehended by the deeds of the law, but by faith; hence to strive to enter in at the gate, which is Christ himself, can imply nothing else than to believe. All such as strive to enter in by the deeds of the law, do not enter by the door: for that is Christ, but they seek to climb up some other way; hence they are thieves, and robbers. They by their supposed good works arrogate the honour of justification unto themselves, and rob Jesus of his mediatorial diadems.
Whereas it might be asked, why Christ exhorted his hearers to strive? and why but few enter in at the strait gate? I would observe that the believing in Christ is not difficult in itself. But the reason seems to be stated in the next verse — ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are raving wolves’ (Matth. 7, 15.) Such therefore, who do not valiantly hold fast to the truth, will easily be led captive by false prophets. Christ is so clearly revealed in the scriptures, that if sinners were not interrupted by false teachers, they would get to believe without much difficulty. In our Saviour’s days of humiliation, there were many false teachers: such as the Scribes, and Pharisees. They were the teachers, and leaders of the people, who held them in great veneration. They were the most inveterate enemies to Christ, and his doctrines. Now because they rejected Christ, many of the people merely depending upon their judgment, without examining the truth, would not receive Jesus as the promised messiah. Such in all probability said within themselves; if Jesus of Nazareth was the Saviour of the world, certainly such pious, well meaning, and learned men as the Scribes, and Pharisees would believe in him. Whilst others to avoid their indignation rejected Christ. See Matth. 23, 13. John 12, 42. ch. 7, 48.
From David Henkel’s Fragments on Justification