Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: narrow way

A Puritan Preacher

“There is a narrow way that leadeth unto heaven
and there is a broad way that leadeth into hell
and many there be that go therein;
the papists and protestants do meet in that way
and may shake hands in hell.”

From a sermon preached by Gabriel Sanger in 1634 in the parish church of Sutton Mandeville, Wiltshire, England.

My ancestors, who spelled their name Goodenow at the time, lived in the neighbouring parishes of Donhead St. Mary and Donhead St. Andrew. It is likely that they heard Gabriel Sanger preach at some time before they left for Massachusetts in 1638.

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Built upon the rock


Mont St Michel, France

“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There need be no mystery or speculation about what rock Jesus meant in this verse, He was simply referring to Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Jesus is the rock upon which He is building the church.

What is it? The word Jesus used was ekklesia, which means called out. The church is the fellowship of those who have been called out of the world to a new relationship with Jesus and with other followers of Jesus.

Why is it necessary? The values and the goal of those who follow Jesus are different from the values and goals that we formerly had and of those who still do not know Jesus. We need to gather together to help and encourage one another and to be in a place where Jesus can continue to teach us His ways.

“Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of ) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The mission given to the apostles, and to the church, is not simply to make converts, but to make disciples. A disciple is a learner, one who is willing to be taught. We are taught by the Word, by the Holy Spirit and by the church.

Jesus is building the church because we need to be in a place where we can be discipled and disciplined so that we do not lose our way and wind up back where we came from before we met Jesus. That place is where we are all united on the foundation of Jesus Christ and building upon that foundation.

The only hope

A few days ago Montreal daily La Presse published a cartoon by Serge Chapleau, with two frames, entitled Teenage Crisis 2000 and Teenage Crisis 2014. Both frames picture a young man with a surly, vacant expression, wearing cargo pants that appear in imminent danger of descending to his ankles. In the first frame he is holding a skateboard; in the second he is holding a Kalishnikov and wearing an ammunition vest. It is an apt comment on the distemper of our times.

Young people are conscious that something is rotten in the state of our world. They feel an apprehension of a great conflagration that will sweep away the detritus of our corrupt world. Some opt to make as much money as they can before the fire reaches them, others opt to have as much fun as they can, and still others feel compelled to take an active part in bringing on the conflagration.

Several generations ago, communism was the great hope of those disenchanted with the emptiness of materialistic society. Communism promised the great hope of an intense class struggle which would be followed by a reborn humanity and a classless society. Alas, communism only produced more of the same envy, greed and class consciousness.

Now the same sort of disillusioned young people are turning to Islam as the great hope for righting the wrongs of our world. Eventually they will learn to their sorrow that Islam has no power to produce a better kind of person. The savagery and cruelty of the groups waging jihad should be sufficient evidence to show that jihad is not going to make the world a kinder, gentler place.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah identified the root of the problem – the depravity of the human heart. No philosophy, political ideal, or religion that does not admit this problem, has a hope of improving our world.

Ezekiel foretold the solution: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The birth of Jesus Christ was the first step in God’s plan to make it possible for mankind to be transformed from the inside out – one person at a time.

There are no shortcuts. Forced conversion makes no change to the depraved heart. Watering down the cost of redemption makes it ineffective. The depravity of the human heart could only be dealt with by the crucifixion of the only man whose heart was not depraved. The depravity of our own heart requires us to deny ourselves (the natural inclinations of our depraved heart), take up our cross daily (dying daily to those inclinations) and following Jesus. We must deal with our depraved heart to allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives and incline us to live as Jesus lived.

There is a very real danger that, after we have become a Christian and been set free from the compulsions of our depraved heart, we will begin to see ourselves as somehow superior to other people. This is part of the deceptiveness of our heart that Jeremiah spoke of. We cannot help anyone else find their way to freedom if we forget that we are no different than they are. The only difference is that we have washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to govern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

The failure of communism and Islam to provide any real benefit to humanity should be evident by now. The world is waiting for something that does work. Many will find it too hard. The gate into the kingdom of God is narrow, but it is still the only real hope of mankind.

The strait way or the straightaway

Which road are you on? The straightaway is a wide, smooth road with gentle curves and gradual slopes. Multitudes are travelling down this road, pedal to the metal, hellbent on getting to . . . well — hell. Where else would you expect to get to on this road?

Jesus tells us that a lot of people travelling this road actually do expect to arrive at a different destination. At the judgement day they will complain insistently that a terrible mistake has been made. Indeed there has been a terrible mistake, but the Judge is not the one who has made it.

English can be a little confusing at times. The Bible does not speak of a straight and narrow way — it speaks of a strait gate and a narrow way. Strait means narrow, tight, restricted. We cannot get through that strait gate with our burden of unresolved sin, our list of accomplishments, our list of grievances. A good thing, too, as the weight of those things would be an insupportable burden on the narrow way.

Many people have looked at that way and decided that it’s not going to get them anywhere that they want to go. This is a fatal mistake, for this is the way that leads to the destination which every heart longs for.

The road to heaven is strait, or narrow, but it is not straight. We will get glimpses of our destination, but it will often be hid from view. We can never know what will be around the next corner in our life. We don’t need to; we have Someone to guide us: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30.21).

There is a passage in Isaiah that, at first glance, appears to contradict what I am saying here: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). If one reads the whole passage from verse three to verse five, and then Luke 3:4-6 where it is quoted to describe the ministry of John the Baptist, it takes on a different meaning. God is calling people to prepare the way of the Lord, by untangling the crooked and perverse ways in their heart, by allowing their pride to be abased and by allowing faith in God to grow to fill the emptiness in their heart.

Perhaps we could make a secondary application of this verse in Isaiah by saying that the mountain doesn’t seem as high after we have climbed it with God’s help, and the valley not so deep after we have climbed out of it with God’s help. Nevertheless, there are mountains and valleys on the narrow way, and some of them are formidable.

The strait way is not easy on the flesh. But there are companions on this way to help us through the rough spots, and opportunities for us to help others who may be faltering. There is time to stop and smell the roses — and to admire the orioles who come to admire the roses (one was at our rose bush as I was writing this).

What choice will you make? If you choose the road, you must accept the destination to which it leads. If you choose the destination, you must accept the road that will get you there.

Outside the box

We are being influenced every day by  authoritative voices telling us how to think, and what to think — about education, about tolerance of minorities, about justice, about the environment, about religion, about science, about most everything we do or want to do.   Some years ago we spoke of political correctness, often with derision.  A better word to describe this phenomenon is zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a  word adopted into the English language from German.  The literal meaning is “the spirit of the times,” and it denotes the prevailing pattern of thought or feeling during a particular period of time.   It feels like we are in a time of a particularly rigid zeitgeist where there is little tolerance for those who dissent from the prevailing beliefs of our society.  Do you feel boxed in?

Those of us who are older have seen a dramatic shift of the zeitgeist in our lifetime.  Ideas about what is right and wrong seem to have been turned upside down.  Were the old days better than these?  Was the old box more comfortable than the one we find ourselves in today?

“Do not conform yourself to the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of you understanding, so that you may discern what is the will of God, that which is good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, my translation from the Louis Segond French Bible).

“The present age” is just another term for zeitgeist.  The apostle Paul is telling us not to let ourselves be boxed in by the prevailing attitudes, but that we should allow God to renew our understanding so that we can think outside the box.

This is freedom, even though those who are fully in the zeitgeist box will try to tell us it is bondage.  There are even some Christians who have built a comfortable little box for themselves and are afraid to step outside into the full light of the gospel.  The gospel demands obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit and it is a hard life when one has one foot in the zeitgeist box and the other in the kingdom of God.

The renewing of the mind will set us free from fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy and pride and offers us a fellowship with others who are likewise renewed in their heart and mind.  This kind of freedom and fellowship is only found on a narrow pathway, but it is genuine freedom and fellowship.  If we stray from this narrow way, we find ourselves once again ensnared by the zeitgeist. The love, joy and peace of the narrow way will slowly be squeezed out of us and replaced by suspicion, anger and a desire to find someone else to blame for our problems.


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