By the narrow gate (dia tēs stenēs pulēs). The Authorized Version “at the strait gate” misled those who did not distinguish between “strait” and “straight.” The figure of the Two Ways had a wide circulation in Jewish and Christian writings (cf. Deu_30:19; Jer_21:8; Psa_1:1-6). See the Didache i-vi; Barnabas xviii-xx. “The narrow gate” is repeated in Mat_7:14 and straitened the way (tethlimmenē hē hodos) added. The way is “compressed,” narrowed as in a defile between high rocks, a tight place like stenochōria in Rom_8:35. “The way that leads to life involves straits and afflictions” (McNeile). Vincent quotes the Pinax or Tablet of Cebes, a contemporary of Socrates: “Seest thou not, then, a little door, and a way before the door, which is not much crowded, but very few travel it? This is the way that leadeth unto true culture.” “The broad way” (euruchōros) is in every city, town, village, with the glaring white lights that lure to destruction.
Enter ye in at the strait gate – Our Savior seems to allude here to the distinction between the public and private ways mentioned by the Jewish lawyers. The public roads were allowed to be sixteen cubits broad, the private ways only four. The words in the original are very emphatic: Enter in (to the kingdom of heaven) through This strait gate, δια της στενης πυλης, i.e. of doing to every one as you would he should do unto you; for this alone seems to be the strait gate which our Lord alludes to.
For wide is the gate – And very broad, ευρυχωρος, from ευρυς, broad, and χωρος, a place, a spacious roomy place, that leadeth forward, απαγουσα, into That destruction, εις την απωλειαν, meaning eternal misery; intimating, that it is much more congenial, to the revengeful, covetous heart of fallen man, to take every advantage of another, and to enrich himself at his expense, rather than to walk according to the rule laid down before, by our blessed Lord, and that acting contrary to it is the way to everlasting misery. With those who say it means repentance, and forsaking sin, I can have no controversy. That is certainly a gate, and a strait one too, through which every sinner must turn to God, in order to find salvation. But the doing to every one as we would they should do unto us, is a gate extremely strait, and very difficult, to every unregenerate mind.
Because (ὅτι); for (Revised Version); “many ancient authorities read, How narrow is the gate, etc.”. The reading, “how” (τί) is much easier, as avoiding the difficulty of the connexion of this verse with the preceding, but probably ὅτι is right. The connexion is either that it is parallel to the first ὅτι, and thus gives a second reason for decision in entering through the narrow gate; or, and better, that it gives the reason for the statement in Mat_7:13—many pass along the wrong way because the right way requires at the very outset so much determination and afterwards so much self denial.
Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way; narrow is the gate, and straitened the way (Revised Version). Not only is the gate narrow, but the way itself seems compressed (τεθλιμμένη) by rocks, etc., on either side.
That leadeth unto life (εἰς τὴν ζωήν). Observe, Christ does not say, “life eternal.” He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life—life as “the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action” (Bishop Westcott, on 1Jn_3:14).
And few there be that; Revised Version, and few be they that (Mat_7:13, note). Our Lord here affirms more than the disciples ask in Luk_13:23; for there the question deals with those in a state of salvation (οἱσωζόμενοι), here those finally saved. Find it; i.e. the gate and all it leads to. The narrow gate is here looked at as involving life. Find. It needs a search (contrast Luk_13:13). But there is the promise of Luk_13:7, “Seek, and ye shall find.”
False prophets (tōn pseudoprophētōn). There were false prophets in the time of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus will predict “false Messiahs and false prophets” (Mat_24:24) who will lead many astray. They came in due time posing as angels of light like Satan, Judaizers (2Co_11:13.) and Gnostics (1Jo_4:1; 1Ti_4:1). Already false prophets were on hand when Jesus spoke on this occasion (cf. Act_13:6; 2Pe_2:1). In outward appearance they look like sheep in the sheep’s clothing which they wear, but within they are “ravening wolves” (lukoi harpages), greedy for power, gain, self. It is a tragedy that such men and women reappear through the ages and always find victims. Wolves are more dangerous than dogs and hogs.
Matthew only. Beware. The warning against being led from the right entrance and the right way is all the more emphatic for there being no adversative particle in the true text.
Beware of false prophets. The whole class of them (τῶν). Not, observe, “false teachers” (2Pe_2:1), as though these persons only falsely interpreted fundamental truths, but “false prophets,” as falsely claiming to bring messages from God. They claim to bring from God the true message of salvation, but their claim is false. These were doubtless found, at the time that our Lord spoke the words, especially among the Pharisees; but when St. Matthew recorded them, chiefly among Christians, either on the Jewish or on the Gnostic side (Col_2:8; 1Ti_6:20, 1Ti_6:21; cf. also 1Jn_4:1 and ‘Did.,’ § 12.).
Which; qualitative (οἵτινες); seeing that they. Come unto you in sheep’s clothing. In, as it were, the skins of sheep (ἐν ἐνδύμασι προβάτων), professing simplicity and gentleness, and (for, perhaps, this thought is also included) claiming to be members of God’s true flock. Externally they are all this, but at heart they are something very different.
But inwardly they are ravening wolves. The thought of “ravening” (ἅρπαγες) is of both violence and greed. These false prophets are not merely wicked at heart and opposed to the truth, but they wish to injure you, and that for their own gain (cf Gal_6:13). “Of the ravenousness of wolves among the Jewes, take these two examples besides others. The elders proclaimed a fast in their cities upon this occasion, because the wolves had devoured two little children beyond Jordan. More than three hundred sheep of the sons of Judah ben Shamoe were torn by wolves” (Lightfoot, ‘Hor. Hebr.;’ cf. Eze_34:4, on false shepherds).
Ye shall know them by their fruits – Fruits, in the Scripture and Jewish phraseology, are taken for works of any kind. “A man’s works,” says one, “are the tongue of his heart, and tell honestly whether he is inwardly corrupt or pure.” By these works you may distinguish (επιγνωσεσθε) these ravenous wolves from true pastors. The judgment formed of a man by his general conduct is a safe one: if the judgment be not favorable to the person, that is his fault, as you have your opinion of him from his works, i.e. the confession of his own heart.
So every good tree – As the thorn can only produce thorns, not grapes; and the thistle, not figs, but prickles; so an unregenerate heart will produce fruits of degeneracy. As we perfectly know that a good tree will not produce bad fruit, and the bad tree will not, cannot produce good fruit, so we know that the profession of godliness, while the life is ungodly, is imposture, hypocrisy, and deceit. A man cannot be a saint and a sinner at the same time. Let us remember, that as the good tree means a good heart, and the good fruit, a holy life, and that every heart is naturally vicious; so there is none but God who can pluck up the vicious tree, create a good heart, plant, cultivate, water, and make it continually fruitful in righteousness and true holiness.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit – Love to God and man is the root of the good tree; and from this principle all its fruit is found. To teach, as some have done, that a state of salvation may be consistent with the greatest crimes, (such as murder and adultery in David), or that the righteous necessarily sin in all their best works, is really to make the good tree bring forth bad fruit, and to give the lie to the Author of eternal truth.
Matthew only (cf. Mat_3:10, vide infra). Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. A parenthesis expressing the terrible fate of those the general product (verse 16, note) of whose life is not good. Christ will warn his followers plainly against listening to them. Observe that the form of the sentence (πᾶν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπόν, κ.τ.λ.) implies that all trees will be cut down unless there is a reason for the contrary; that the normal event (the natural result of universal sin, apart, of course, from Christ’s atonement) is that men are condemned and perish. In Mat_3:10 this general statement is applied (οὖν) to a definite time of impending judgment.
Wherefore by their fruits, etc. – This truth is often repeated, because our eternal interests depend so much upon it. Not to have good fruit is to have evil: there can be no innocent sterility in the invisible tree of the heart. He that brings forth no fruit, and he that brings forth bad fruit, are both only fit for the fire.
Not every one – Ου πας, a Hebraism, say some, for no person. It is a Graecism and a Latinism too: ου παντων θεων, not All of the gods, i.e. not Any of the gods, Hom. Odyss. Z. 240. So Terence Sine omni periclo, without All danger, i.e. without Any danger. And Juvenal: Sine omni labe, without All imperfection, i.e. without Any. See more in Mr. Wakefield. The sense of this verse seems to be this: No person, by merely acknowledging my authority, believing in the Divinity of my nature, professing faith in the perfection of my righteousness, and infinite merit of my atonement, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven – shall have any part with God in glory; but he who doeth the will of my Father – he who gets the bad tree rooted up, the good tree planted, and continues to bring forth fruit to the glory and praise of God. There is a good saying among the rabbins on this subject. “A man should be as vigorous as a panther, as swift as an eagle, as fleet as a stag, and as strong as a lion, to do the will of his Creator.”
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine – That is, the excellent doctrines laid down before in this and the two preceding chapters. There are several parables or similitudes like to this in the rabbins. I shall quote but the two following:
Rabbi Eleasar said, “The man whose knowledge exceeds his works, to whom is he like? He is like a tree which had many branches, and only a few roots; and, when the stormy winds came, it was plucked up and eradicated. But he whose good works are greater than his knowledge, to what is he like? He is like a tree which had few branches, and many roots; so that all the winds of heaven could not move it from its place.” Pirke Aboth.
Elisha, the son of Abuja, said, “The man who studies much in the law, and maintains good works, is like to a man who built a house, laying stones at the foundation, and building brick upon them; and, though many waters come against it, they cannot move it from its place. But the man who studies much in the law, and does not maintain good words, is like to a man who, in building his house, put brick at the foundation, and laid stones upon them, so that even gentle waters shall overthrow that house.” Aboth Rab. Nath.
Probably our Lord had this or some parable in his eye: but how amazingly improved in passing through his hands! In our Lord’s parable there is dignity, majesty, and point, which we seek for in vain in the Jewish archetype.
I will liken him unto a wise man – To a prudent man – ανδρι φρονιμω, to a prudent man, a man of sense and understanding, who, foreseeing the evil hideth himself, who proposes to himself the best end, and makes use of the proper means to accomplish it. True wisdom consists in getting the building of our salvation completed: to this end we must build on the Rock, Christ Jesus, and make the building firm, by keeping close to the maxims of his Gospel, and having our tempers and lives conformed to its word and spirit; and when, in order to this, we lean on nothing but the grace of Christ, we then build upon a solid rock.
And the rain descended – floods came – winds blew – In Judea, and in all countries in the neighborhood of the tropics, the rain sometimes falls in great torrents, producing rivers, which sweep away the soil from the rocky hills; and the houses, which are built of brick only dried in the sun, of which there are whole villages in the east, literally melt away before those rains, and the land-floods occasioned by them. There are three general kinds of trials to which the followers of God are exposed; and to which, some think, our Lord alludes here:
First, those of temporal afflictions, coming in the course of Divine Providence: these may be likened to the torrents of rain.
Secondly, those which come from the passions of men, and which may be likened to the impetuous rivers.
Thirdly, those which come from Satan and his angels, and which, like tempestuous whirlwinds, threaten to carry every thing before them. He alone, whose soul is built on the Rock of ages, stands all these shocks; and not only stands in, but profits by them.
And every one that heareth – and doeth them not – Was there ever a stricter system of morality delivered by God to man, than in this sermon? He who reads or hears it, and does not look to God to conform his soul and life to it, and notwithstanding is hoping to enter into the kingdom of heaven, is like the fool who built his house on the sand. When the rain, the rivers, and the winds come, his building must fall, and his soul be crushed into the nethermost pit by its ruins. Talking about Christ, his righteousness, merits, and atonement, while the person is not conformed to his word and spirit, is no other than solemn self-deception.
Let it be observed, that it is not the man who hears or believes these sayings of Christ, whose building shall stand, when the earth and its works are burnt up; but the man who Does them.
Many suppose that the law of Moses is abolished, merely because it is too strict, and impossible to be observed; and that the Gospel was brought in to liberate us from its obligations; but let all such know, that in the whole of the old covenant nothing can be found so exceedingly strict and holy as this sermon, which Christ lays down as the rule by which we are to walk. “Then, the fulfilling of these precepts is the purchase of glory.” No, it is the Way only to that glory which has already been purchased by the blood of the Lamb. To him that believes, all things are possible.
Mat_7:27. The description of a storm is repeated, but the result is different; the winds smote upon that house; and it fell. Instead of adding, ‘for it had been founded on the sand,’ our Lord closes the illustration, and at the same time the discourse, which began with the word, ‘blessed,’ by saying, and great was the fall of it. He emphasizes the completeness of the ruin. Admiration of the Sermon on the Mount, without obedience of its precepts, involves destruction, inevitable and utter. In order to do ‘these sayings,’ we must follow Christ further.