THE NARROW WAY AND THE BROAD WAY
A Sermon by Rev. Willard L. D. Heinrichs
Preached in Bryn Athyn on December 28, 1986
“Enter in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in by it. Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there be who find it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14).
In the lives of all of us there are events or changes in our circumstances, some external, some internal, which bring us to a crossroad. The tenor of our existence is sufficiently disturbed that the Lord may move us to pause and look back over the days and years that have come before. In such a looking back, countless things that we have done may pass before the eyes of our mind. We are reminded of the thoughts, impressions and delights that were associated with those activities. Perhaps we try to recapture some of the intentions or motivations which generated the acts and colored everything associated with them. In short, we try to recall not only the natural but also the mental and spiritual paths or ways in which we have been walking heretofore. If we are concerned about our regeneration, and so our salvation, we try to discover what the quality of our way has been. Have we been travelling in the narrow way that leads to life and the delight of heaven, or have we been proceeding down the broad road that tends toward damnation and the unhappiness of hell?
The internal progressions of our life are often spoken of in the Word as ways, paths, roads and so forth because, we are told, “the thoughts of a person which proceed from intention or will are represented in the other life by ways; ways are also presented there to appearance altogether according to one’s thoughts from intention; so it is that spirits are known as to their quality, and the quality of their thoughts, from their respective ways” (HH 534).
In fact, in order to assist the angels in the exploration of the character of spirits for purposes of judgment, various more general paths or ways are sometimes represented in the spiritual world in a most living manner. These people, newly awakened in the spiritual world, are then invited to declare their choice of the way which most pleases them. Each person, according to the inclination of his mind, natural or spiritual, chooses, and thereby exposes his quality in that state.
To assist us in the exploration of the quality of our own minds here and now, some of these representations are recorded several times in the Heavenly Doctrine. On one occasion, for example, Swedenborg was given to see a broad way and a narrow way such as are described in the gospels — a broad way which led to hell and a narrow way which led to heaven. The broad way was planted with trees, flowers, and the like, that in outward form appeared beautiful and delightful, but unseen snakes and serpents of various kinds were hidden there or were creeping over it (see SD 4216). The narrow way did not seem to be so much adorned with trees and flowers, “but appeared [cheerless and] sad … [obscure and] dark; and yet there were in it angel infants most beautifully clothed, in delightful paradises and flower gardens, which the spirits did not see. They were then asked which way they wished to go. They said, the broad way. Then suddenly their eyes were opened, and in the broad way they saw the serpents, but in the narrow way the angels. They were then again asked which way they wished to go, whereupon they remained silent, and so far as their sight was opened, they said that they wished to go the narrow way; and so far as their sight was closed, that they wished to go the broad way” (AC 3477, SD 4214- 4216).
Although the spiritual meaning of this representation is nowhere specifically uncovered in its details, what person can miss the challenge that is implied in this memorable spiritual experience which is so obviously associated with the urgent exhortation of the Lord in the words of our text? Surely we are called upon to investigate the meaning of this representation and apply it to our own thought and life, now while we are still conscious in this world. What is meant by the broad way leading to hell and the narrow to heaven? From where did those trees and flowers come, beautiful in outward form, which adorned the way to hell? Why did the spirits at first not see the snakes and serpents in that way? What is meant by the narrow way and its initial cheerless and dark appearance? Why at first were the beautifully adorned angel infants in their paradises not seen? What opened the eyes of the spirits to see the two ways as they really are, such that a right choice and wise choice could be made?
These are only a few of the questions that could be asked in seeking to understand what is involved in this striking representation of the message of our text.
As we have noted earlier, the spiritual progress of our minds, the ways in which we mentally walk, are determined by the thoughts which spring from the intentions of our will or from what we love. These thoughts then lead us to the kind of life, good or evil, which will agree with and fulfill our intentions and loves. If our intentions are good, and we have been properly instructed from the Word, we will think what is true, and all the truths that are in our thought will form as it were a path, a way leading us to express or do what is good and heavenly. If our intentions — our willing — is evil, we will ignore or pervert the truth, we will think falsely regarding ourselves and others, and all our fallacious thoughts and reasoning will form a path or way leading us to do what is evil and destructive.
Now the Writings reveal to us the fact that when we come to adult life, before we seriously begin the life of repentance and regeneration, the dominant state of our mind and life tends to evil, whether we wish to admit it or not. In one form or another, love of ourselves, or perhaps an obsessive love of the world — our natural will — rules the natural mind. From this we intend many apparently good things for ourselves and, all too often, many not so good harmful things for others. We try to be noticed and appreciated by others; we strive for positions of influence or power, regardless of whether or not we are deserving. We want a goodly share of the world’s riches whether or not we have earned them. We, perhaps unconsciously, yearn for unending earthly and bodily pleasures quite apart from their legitimate use. At times we are prepared to do almost anything to avoid discomfort, loneliness and other temporary unpleasantness to ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, the false thoughts that spring from one or another of these self- serving intentions may occupy almost the whole of our attention most of the time. They enter into and qualify almost every concern and activity of our life, so broad are they in their extension. So the selfish and worldly way to hell is described so often in the Word as “broad.”
Now although our will and its intentions before regeneration are as just described, and the broad way they form in our thoughts is of such a hell-bent quality, the evil person does not recognize it, nor do we in our unregenerate states realize the truth. Why? Because the trees and flowers along this way appear beautiful and delightful. It appears to be the way to travel if we would achieve ultimate happiness for ourselves.
In order to achieve self-serving and worldly goals, the mind drinks in knowledge of all kinds, knowledge of what will gratify the longings of the senses, scientific knowledge, knowledge of worldly affairs and of people, philosophical, and even moral and spiritual, knowledges. When these knowledges can be turned to some selfish and worldly advantage, they are of keen interest to the person. As beautiful trees along a lane or path, they stand as markers along the way to his goal. Moreover, while possessed of such knowledge and while working out his goals, a person develops a certain prudence or intelligence, which seems to himself to be wisdom itself, as to how one should live or conduct oneself if one would be successful. So there are also flowers along the broad way.
So infatuated may we become with our store of knowledge and our supposed intelligence and wisdom that while we are in the broad way we just cannot see the true quality of these things or what lies hidden at their roots. We do not realize that our trees have become like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of which, when eaten, brings nothing but spiritual death. We do not realize that all that passes for intelligence and wisdom is nothing but false reasoning, that there are snakes and serpents of all kinds crawling over our mental path and hidden beside it. Our true character is hidden from us because, in our opinions, judgments and conclusions, we insist on putting more confidence in the experience of our senses than in revealed Divine truth. We will not believe or trust what we cannot see and feel right now. We continue to confirm the supposed validity of our reasonings by our own past sensual experience, sociological and psychological theories, and whatever of human philosophy that seems applicable. We refuse to acknowledge that at the root of all these actions and reasonings there may be evils of every kind, all arising from self-love or from too strong a love of the world, evils which are frequently infected with the poison of malice, cunning, and deceit. We do not see the snakes and serpents of all kinds, some deadly poisonous, that pass over our path and lie hidden beneath those outwardly beautiful trees and flowers along our way. As in the days of Eden, the serpent in us can be more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made.
When we so consider what the quality of our life may be before regeneration, it is not surprising that in the Word the way to heaven is described as narrow. But in describing this spiritual path as narrow, the Lord in His Word assures us that this does not mean that it is difficult. It appears narrow at first because, we are told, “few find it.” In everyone that comes to adult life there are what are called “remains.” These are states of heavenly affection and innocence deeply imprinted on the interiors of the natural mind which remain with us from the experience of our infancy and childhood. These tender human states are preserved or treasured up in us by the Lord for use in adult life in our spiritual rebirth or regeneration. As we are growing toward adult life, any good intentions or motivations we may have spring forth from them. But before repentance has initiated genuine spiritual life, there is scant opportunity for these states of gentle love, remaining from childhood, to be properly activated, so engrossed are we in pursuing the intentions of our natural will. As a result, our good intentions to obey the Lord and to serve the neighbor in a beneficial way have only, at best, been able to fashion from the Divine truths known to us a rather primitive and narrow way leading to the good and useful life of heaven. Only a few genuinely good intentions may have found their way into the good of daily life.
Moreover, when we have managed to deliberately carry a good intention into its proper expression in life, generally we have done so only with considerable effort. Perhaps we have had to restrain contrary powerful loves, forego some advantage to ourselves, or temporarily forsake some bodily or worldly pleasure. Such a course of action, such a way of life, which requires that we must compel ourselves to keep the commandments of God, does not seem to lead to a happy life. Such a way of self-denial appears cheerless and sad, obscure and dark — a path to be avoided.
And we would surely avoid it and choose the broad way if it were not for the fact that, as with the spirits observed by Swedenborg, our eyes can be opened if we allow them to be. The Lord has provided that while we yet live in this world and are still in the process of choosing our path of life, many times a great and wondrous rock will be seen by the way — the Divine knowledge of the Word, and the Divinely Human God it reveals. (We may see that stone which the builders rejected which has become the head of the corner.) Should we pause to notice this rock, which at first may be in shadow, if we repeatedly read and investigate the truths of the Word, especially as they are presented in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, an amazing thing will happen. As Divinely provided from the fall of the first church on this earth, our understanding will be raised up into the light of heaven and temporarily separated from the influence of our natural will. The eyes of our mind will be opened. From hundreds of passages describing the life of the Lord, the life of man’s spirit, the life of heaven and hell, the life of true marriage, we will be given to see our own life in true perspective. We will see the foolishness of the false reasonings that we have used to justify our selfish and worldly strivings. We will recognize the many evils from which they have sprung. We will realize that our broad way, variously called in the Writings “the way of one’s own prudence” (DP 197:2), “the way of self-intelligence” (CL 354), and “the way of folly” (Div. Wis. I:5), can only lead to damnation and hell. At the same time the narrow way, the way of Divine truth, the way of the Lord, will be seen in a new light, the light of heaven. Sadness and darkness will begin to melt away. Instead, as it were, angel infants beautifully adorned will appear in delightful paradises and flower gardens. That is, we will sense something of that delicious innocence and peace which can come to those who humbly acknowledge Divine truth, the Divine Humanity of the Lord, who, instead of pursuing the way of their own intelligence, bow before the will of God as expressed in a life according to His commandments. We will appreciate the orderly magnificence of the internal truths of the Word which adorn like paradises the way to heaven. The spiritual intelligence which is begotten of a life according to the Word will seem like most delightful flower gardens of a quality never perceived on earth.
This is the prospect that awaits all those who pause to notice the Rock which stands beside the road of our life in this world, who allow the Divine truth of the Word to open the eyes of the mind to spiritual realities,( who allow that stone which the builders rejected to become the head of their corner). But just to pause once, or even a few times, is not sufficient to ensure that we will henceforward walk in the narrow way rather than in the broad way. In the memorable relation we should note what is said concerning the spirits that “so far as their sight was opened, they said that they wished to go the narrow way; and so far as their sight was closed, that they wished to go the broad way.” It is the same with us. Especially in the early states of regeneration the powerful urgings of the natural will close the eyes of our spirit and prompt us to seek again the recognition of self as opposed to others, the acquiring of earthly riches at the expense of others, the satisfaction of bodily desires apart from use and order. Pride in our own prudence and supposed intelligence will strive to overwhelm a beginning acknowledgment of the Lord and the angelic innocence and intelligence it values. We will find ourselves treading again among unseen deadly serpents the broad path that leads to spiritual death.
But the Lord will not forsake us. Repeatedly — if possible, daily — He will show us His Rock — His Word. Let us not fail, just as often, to notice that Rock — turn to His Word and find in it again our narrow way, the Lord’s way — indeed the Lord Himself who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In time as we begin to progress upward along the narrow way, there is the promise that it will no longer be so narrow. And even in our spiritual relapses it will no longer appear so cheerless and obscure. The broad way progressively will be closed. Its attractions will lose their allure as we feel, in an ever more living manner, the infant-like innocence and peace of the regenerate, and as we reflect more deeply in the light of the spiritual intelligence and wisdom it fosters.
This is the challenge and promise which is presented to us in our text. Let us therefore resolve that whenever we perceive that the Lord has brought us to a new crossroad, or a new period of our life, that we will give heed to the Rock of Divine truth in the Word, and strive “to enter in at the strait gate, and to tread the narrow way that leads at last to a life of eternal use and joy. Amen.
Lessons: Jer. 17:5-14, Matt. 7:13-20, John 14:1-6, SD 5798
Spiritual Diary 5798
The Way-Which Leads to Heaven Is the Same Way, As Far As the Cornerstone, [As That Which Leads to Hell]
I conversed with angels respecting the fact that it is believed that it is difficult to tread the way to heaven, because so many things must be done and all lusts forsaken, besides many things more. Wherefore, as occurs in the spiritual world, the matter was shown by means of a road, which signifies truth which leads. A road appeared at the right where both the good and the evil trod. It was the same road, but when they reached to a certain distance, there was a great stone, in shadow, which the good saw but not the evil. From that stone, which is called the cornerstone, a road led to one side and another to the opposite. The evil went on the opposite side, which was behind and sloped downward, but the good went the other way, which inclined upward. The latter led to heaven, the former to hell. That stone signified the Lord and His Divine Human. The evil did not acknowledge it; the good did acknowledge. It appeared that the evil fell upon it, because the stone was in shadow. Hence was shown that the moral life which both evil and good lead is the same, but from a different source; the evil do it from an infernal source, the good from a spiritual source. The evil who travelled it were those who led a moral life like the moral life of the good. … They who fell upon the stone said that when they fell, they lay as if dazed. When they got up, they said that they did goods as much as the others — they were permitted to enumerate some of these — and that, therefore, they were equally entitled to enter heaven. But they were merely goods of civil life in external form, for the interiors, which were of the thought and of the love, were opened, and they were vile, and also defamatory about God, especially about the Lord. They angrily declared, also, that they were not able to do good of themselves; how, then, could they travel the way leading to heaven? But they were told that it was within their power not to think evils about God and about the Lord, and thus to shun such things as are against the Word and against the doctrine of their faith; and when they shun evils of thought from the Lord, good affection and consequent thought inflows, and thus they are brought into good by the Lord…