The Strait Gate

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“The Strait Gate,” Ensign, July 1980, 6

The Strait Gate

The greatest authority on success who ever lived upon this earth was Jesus of Nazareth. He was the Son of God and came here in his official capacity as the Savior of the world and the Redeemer of men. He was the world’s greatest teacher and the greatest authority on religion.

In addition to being a great moralist, he was also an outstanding efficiency expert. He gave expression to one of our most important success laws: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13–14).

Everyone wants to be successful and happy, and yet many fall down. The primary reason for failure is the natural tendency to want a broader road than any real success will permit. The broad road leading to destruction maintains its popularity because it is easier to follow. It makes fewer demands upon its travelers, and it allows much more room for sidestepping, meandering, and turning around.

Most people want more latitude than the narrow road can give. Almost all failure begins by merely broadening the way. Too frequently people yield to their natural tendency to explore the side roads and travel the dead-end streets. Because the road leading to death is broad enough to permit many forbidden activities, many travelers never arrive at their desired destinations. No one ever leaves the success highway at right angles; instead of acknowledging that they are stepping out of bounds, they try to keep in good standing with themselves and make things appear legal to others by merely broadening the way.

This narrow-road concept—with the exact meaning that Jesus attached to it in a spiritual sense—is also important for reaching high objectives in every other area of pursuit, whether it be intellectual, social, physical, or financial. The road to every success and every happiness is narrow; we must keep ourselves within its bounds; and we must make certain that the road itself leads to the right destination.

When Gladstone was asked the secret of his brilliant career, he answered with one word: “Concentration.” Concentration is achieved by limiting the scope. Emerson said: “The one prudence in life is concentration; the one evil is dissipation” (The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1929, p. 542). Jesus was limiting the scope when he cautioned us to keep our eye single (see D&C 4:5). A single vision should also have a narrow focus. Jesus proclaimed this same philosophy when he said: “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

James pointed out that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). There are also some triple-minded and quadruple-minded individuals—people who have not tuned out enough of their distractions. The secret of success is to limit the scope, narrow the vision, and concentrate the effort with a finer focus on a single objective.

Decision is another very important ingredient of success. We must definitely make up our minds on specific points. Holding a narrow focus on our attention, we should drive with full power down the middle of the strait and narrow way. Only when we become specific and exact can we eliminate the success deterrents of confusion, conflicts, whims, guesses, speculations, and rationalizations.

Success demands that we give up our vagueness and generalities by setting up mental and moral limits beyond which we will never go. Success demands that our meanderings be restricted and all inharmonious things ruled out of bounds. The song that says “don’t fence me in” does not describe the conditions along the strait and narrow way. Not only should we have a fence, but it should be a very strong one.

Those people who are trying to reduce their weight have discovered that this success also requires a strait and narrow discipline. When one’s dietary way is made broad enough to include three pieces of pie, the cause is placed in jeopardy. If obesity is to be controlled, certain food items must be placed out of bounds. Limitations must be placed on intake, and a tighter rein should be held on the appetite. The greater the desired weight reduction, the narrower the road must be.

In the Word of Wisdom the Lord so narrowed down the width of the road leading to good health that, among other things, he placed alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine out of bounds. None of the several million American alcoholics or the other millions of lung cancer victims ever deliberately headed for the dreadful places at which they finally arrived. They made their mistakes merely by making the road broad enough for some extra indulgences in the wrong things.

We like to think of ourselves as broad-minded, but sometimes our thinking gets so broad that many undesirable elements get into it. We sometimes are so eager to be “tolerant” that we end up yielding too much territory. We practice a peaceful coexistence with too many evils. As individuals we are giving up too much ground in morality and other Christian ideals and principles.

Many years ago, for example, when violations of the prohibition law became too great, the United States merely widened the way by making liquor legal. As people have become more immoral, they have appeased their minds with the doctrines of the “new morality.” By their many compromises with evil, some have so widened their way that they are now going where they don’t want to go. With too much tolerance for evil, they are losing their convictions and self-respect.

We can easily expand the road to such width that nothing is excluded. We can get ourselves into a situation where everything goes. Crime waves, race riots, and drug addiction now seem to some not to be very far out of line. We have developed a great tolerance for atheism, sin, and too many side-road interests that are antagonistic to our eternal salvation.

In spite of the fact that Jesus asked us to shun the broad road leading to death, the traffic thereon continues to get more and more crowded. Some of our broad-mindedness has been compared to the Powder River, which is very broad and very shallow. We never get much power from a river that is a mile wide and an inch deep; rather, it is the narrow torrent that tears away the mountainside.

Isn’t it interesting how narrow the laws of nature are? Water at sea level boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, not 210. It freezes at 32 degrees above zero, not at 34. Water that contains 20 percent salt will not freeze until the temperature gets down to 30 degrees below zero. I don’t understand how the water knows when it is time to freeze, but it never makes a mistake. It never forgets, and it is never influenced by anyone’s opinion. Like all other natural laws, it performs right on the nose every time.

Eternal laws of the universe are narrow. They are never repealed. The verdict has been handed out even before the act is committed. The smartest lawyers, the most sympathetic witnesses, or the most powerful judges cannot change the verdict in the slightest degree. The sentence is not softened because of mental or physical incompetence, and there is no time off for good behavior.

Each year our planet makes a 595-million-mile orbit around the sun. It always travels at the rate of 66,600 miles per hour, and it completes its journey in exactly 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, and 9 and 54/100 seconds. The time of the completion of the 595-million-mile journey can be more accurately foretold than your trip from the living room into the dining room.

Electricity is also a little bit on the narrow-minded side. A compass always points to the magnetic north—never to the east, the west, or the south. Mathematics is narrow. Two times two is always four—never three and seven-eighths. If you have ever had an airplane ride through a violent storm that required an instrument landing, you will remember how you prayed for a narrow-minded pilot who would never get even a little way off the beam. One flash of broad-mindedness from a meandering pilot might bring about your sudden death.

Think too, how narrow the road to loyalty is! It binds us to definite devotions. Harry Emerson Fosdick has written convincingly about the narrow way in an essay entitled “On Catching the Wrong Bus.” He said, “The man who swears allegiance to a cause has limitations stronger than a slave’s because his heart is given” (On Being Fit to Live With—Sermons on Post-War Christianity, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946, p. 139).

Success and happiness in marriage always go along a strait road and over a narrow way. When two people, by their own choice, give themselves to each other and to no one else, they are no longer loosely or irresponsibly free to wander wherever passing fancy may attract them. Marriage is not a broad, double street with double standards of morality; neither is patriotism; neither is life.

Any person’s greatest glory always lies in the straitness of his gate and the narrowness of his way. The unfaithful, the disloyal, and the disobedient are all traveling the broad road.

We frequently hold in our minds great objectives and high ideals at the very moment when our hands reach for forbidden things. Our minds may be on the narrow way that leads to life everlasting, while our feet are taking us down that broad road that leads to destruction. We must keep our feet—as well as our minds—on that narrow road leading to our planned objective.

Despite the boasted reason and scientific attitudes of our day, consciously and unconsciously some still believe in an unrealistic “magic” in religion—the common philosophy that regardless of which road they take, somehow they will all come out all right in the end. Those who believe this philosophy not only class themselves as failures but as fools as well, for nothing that travels the wrong road can ever come out at the right destination.

The foundation law of the universe is that fundamental, unchangeable, irrevocable law of the harvest that says, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). We are all going to be judged by our works. As the resurrected Jesus was about to leave this earth and ascend from the Mount of Olives to his Father, he said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15–16). To some, that may sound like a very narrow way, but it is the law and we should not forget it; nor should we count too heavily on the possibility of God’s changing his mind.

And so we come back again to the statement of the Master, saying: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13–14). And that’s how it is because that is how it must be!

Illustrated by Parry Merkley