Taken and adapted from, “The Strait Gate”
Written by John Bunyan
‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate.’
— Luke 13:24
The straitness of this gate is not to be understood carnally, but mystically…
You are not to understand it, as if the entrance into heaven was some little pinching wicket; no, the straitness of this gate is quite another thing. This gate is wide enough for all them that are the truly gracious and sincere lovers of Jesus Christ, but so strait, as that not one of the other can by any means enter in: ‘Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord: this gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.’ (Psalm 118:19, 20) By this word, therefore, Christ Jesus hath showed unto us, that without due qualifications there is no possibility of entering into heaven; the strait gate will keep all others out. When Christ spake this parable, he had doubtless his eye upon some passage or passages of the Old Testament, with which the Jews were well acquainted.
I will mention two.
1. The place by which God turned Adam and his wife out of paradise. Possibly our Lord might have his eye upon that; for though that was wide enough for them to come out at, yet it was too strait for them to go in at. But what should be the reason of that? Why, they had sinned; and therefore God ‘placed at the east of that garden cherubims, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.’ (Gen 3:24) The cherubims, and the flaming sword, they made the entrance too strait for them to enter in. Souls, there are cherubims and a flaming sword at the gates of heaven to keep the way of the tree of life; therefore none but them that are duly fitted for heaven can enter in at this strait gate; the flaming sword will keep all others out. ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.’ (1 Cor. 6:9, 10)
2. Perhaps our Lord might have his eye upon the gates of the temple when he spoke this word unto the people; for though the gates of the temple were six cubits wide, yet they were so strait, that none that were unclean in anything might enter in thereat (Ezekiel 40:48), because there were placed at these gates, porters, whose office was to look that none but those that had right to enter might go in thither. And so it is written, Jehoiada set ‘porters at the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in anything should enter in.’ (2 Chron. 23:19) Souls, God hath porters at the gates of the temple, at the gate of heaven; porters, I say, placed there by God, to look that none that are unclean in anything may come in thither. In at the gate of the church, none may enter now that are openly profane, and scandalous to religion; no, though they plead they are beloved of God: ‘What hath my beloved to do in mine house,’ saith the Lord, ‘seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many?’ (Jer. 11:15)
I say, I am very apt to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ had his thoughts upon these two texts, when he said the gate is strait: and that which confirms me the more in the things is this, a little below the text he saith, ‘There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of heaven, and you yourselves thrust out.’ (Luke 13:28) Thrust out, which signifies a violent act, resisting with striving those that would—though unqualified—enter. The porters of the temple were, for this very thing, to wear arms, if need were, and to be men of courage and strength, lest the unsanctified or unprepared should by some means enter in. We read, in the book of Revelations, of the holy city, and that it had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; but what did they do there? Why, amongst the rest of their service, this was one thing, that there might ‘in no wise enter in to it anything that defiles, or works abomination, or that makes a lie.’ (Rev 21:27)
Three things that make this gate so strait
1. There is sin.
2. There is the word of the law.
3. There are the angels of God.
1. There is sin; the sin of the profane, and the sin of the professor.
(1.) The sin of the profane. But this needs not be enlarged upon, because it is concluded upon at all hands, where there is the common belief of the being of God, and the judgment to come, that ‘the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.’ (Psalm 9:17)
(2.) But there is the sin of professors; or take it rather thus, there is a profession that will stand with an unsanctified heart and life. The sin of such will outweigh the salvation of their souls, the sin being the heaviest end of the scale; I say, that being the heaviest end which hath sin in it, they tilt over, and so are, notwithstanding their glorious profession, drowned in perdition and destruction; for none such hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; therefore ‘let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience’; neither will a profession be able to excuse them. (Eph. 5:3–6) The gate will be too strait for such as these to enter in thereat. A man may partake of salvation in part, but not of salvation in whole. God saved the children of Israel out of Egypt, but overthrew them in the wilderness:—’I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.’ (Jude 5) So we see that, notwithstanding their beginning, ‘they could not enter in, because of unbelief.’ (Heb. 3:19)
2. There is the word of the law, and that will make the gate strait also.
None must go in thereat but those that can go in by the leave of the law; for though no man be, or can be, justified by the works of the law, yet unless the righteousness and holiness by which they attempt to enter into this kingdom be justified by the law, it is in vain once to think of entering in at this strait gate. Now the law justifieth not, but upon the account of Christ’s righteousness; if therefore thou be not indeed found in that righteousness, thou wilt find the law lie just in the passage into heaven to keep thee out. Every man’s work must be tried by fire, that it may be manifest of what sort it is. There are two errors in the world about the law; one is, when men think to enter in at the strait gate by the righteousness of the law; the other is, when men think they may enter into heaven without the leave of the law. Both these, I say, are errors; for as by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified; so without the consent of the law, no flesh shall be saved. ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, before one jot or tittle of the law shall fail, till all be fulfilled.’ He therefore must be damned that cannot be saved by the consent of the law. And, indeed, this law is the flaming sword that turns every way; yea, that lies to this day in the way to heaven, for a bar to all unbelievers and unsanctified professors; for it is taken out of the way for the truly gracious only. It will be found as a roaring lion to devour all others. Because of the law, therefore, the gate will be found too strait for the unsanctified to enter in. When the apostle had told the Corinthians that ‘the unrighteous should not inherit the kingdom of God,’ and that such were some of them, he adds, ‘But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.’ (1 Cor. 6:9–11) Closely concluding, that had they not been washed, and sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, the law, for their transgressions, would have kept them out; it would have made the gate too strait for them to enter in.
3. There are also the angels of God, and by reason of them the gate is strait.
The Lord Jesus calls the end of the world his harvest; and saith, moreover, that the angels are his reapers. These angels are therefore to gather his wheat into his barn, but to gather the ungodly into bundles to burn them. (Matt 13:39, 41, 49) Unless, therefore, the man that is unsanctified can master the law, and conquer angels; unless he can, as I may say, pull them out of the gateway of heaven, himself is not to come thither forever. No man goes to heaven but by the help of the angels—I mean at the Day of Judgment. For the Son of man ‘shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’ (Matt 24:31) If those that shall enter in at the strait gate shall enter in thither by the conduct of the holy angels, pray when do you think those men will enter in thither, concerning whom the angels are commanded to gather them, to ‘bind them in bundles to burn them?’ This, therefore, is a third difficulty. The angels will make this entrance strait; yea, too strait for the unjustified and unsanctified to enter in thither.