The way for our hometown to succeed amid pending economic buffetings is a narrow one. Not a broad way, a narrow way. For Chattanooga to remain on its feet in coming contractions of an overleveraged credit-based national economy, it must consider a warning. The distinction comes as a teaching of Christianity applied first to the individual.
Every soul is commanded to take what Christ calls the narrow gate. Through that gate is the way to eternal life, but the way promises to come with trials and tribulations. The exhortations in scripture seek to bring to the individual a sorrow for sins and a reformation of heart, word and action.
The Savior’s sermon on the mount frames the matter of broad ways vs. narrow ways as follows: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13, 14).
In considering our options personally and as a city, Puritan preacher Thomas Boston asks: “For what wisdom can there be in fondly embracing that present ease, which must end in eternal agony?” I read into his treatment of this saying from Vol. 10 of his collected works that the elders of my church have in their unobtrusive “gray room.” “Here, then, our Savior points out the opposite gate, the gate opposite to the strait one one, that we may avoid it.”
Natural bent of our souls is toward broad way
By God’s grace a man sees the narrow gate. Without God’s opening the eye of his soul, he sees only the one that is spacious, Boston says, “whereat multitudes may throng in, without troubling one another. None will need to thrust through here, it will admit them with all ease; for it is perfectly agreeable to the flesh, to the natural inclinations. It is so wide, that people may close their eyes, run at random, and not miss it; even young ones may get in at it without difficulty.”
No one on the wide road is pent up or bumping elbows. “[T]hey are not hampered in their natural inclinations, by conscience, Bible, etc., but get full scope for the vanity of their minds, the aversion of their wills to good, and proneness to evil, and all their disorderly affections.” Among those flowing in are the “covetous and prodigals, profane and formalists, etc., but however opposite they are to one another, they meet there; and *** there are roads therein for each of them.” In other words, contradictory and fractious men may continue their disagreements and hatreds as they trod toward judgments temporal and eternal.
Apart from God’s grace, you and I will take the broad way which ends tightly. “The course to hell, is wide at the beginning of it, strait at the end, exceeding strait; Rom. 2:9, ‘Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doth evil,’ etc. The course to heaven is strait at the first, and broad at the end.” To this point Rev. Boston cites Rev. 11:7, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
Gate that is safe, happy one
Christianity, rising as it has from the 66-book library encompassed in the holy book of the Bible, provides divine witness about man’s true state of affairs. If you read the Wall Street Journal to learn of the day’s national condition, so might you also consider the books of divine revelation to learn of man’s spiritual affairs from God’s perspective. Man is slave to sin, his way marked by blindness, rebellion and death, according to the church.
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate,” Christ declares in Luke 13:24. “The way of joining it,” the Rev. Boston says, “is narrow, afflicted or compressed. It is like a strait shoe that presses the foot. It is not easy walking in it, more than in such a shoe, or in a way where there is little room for the foot. Afflictions and temptations beset it, and it leads over the belly of natural inclinations; which march cannot be easy.”
A problem with the narrow way is the “unfrequentedness of it; few find it,” he says. “There is no difficulty to find the wide gate, it glares in the eyes of every passenger *** . But there be few that so much as find the strait gate; they seek it not; blinded with corrupt lusts, they cannot take it up; and, consequently, few enter by it; either they perceive it not, or if they do the straitness of it frights them.”
The scriptures teach that the way to God and eternal life is one He shows His people. “There is a wrong course for the other world, which we are in hazard of taking, *** leading, though surely enough to the other world, yet to the wrong part of it, the land of death and destruction eternal. *** Satan is busy to decoy us into it, and the example of the throng of the world has great influence. *** As the wide gate looks directly to hell, and lands passengers there, if they go forward; so the entrance into real religion, by conversion, through faith, looks to heaven, and lands the passengers there.”
The Puritan divine gives examples of people’s taking the wide road after turning away from the narrow. Felix trembles at Paul’s teaching but tells the evangelist to talk with him “when I have a convenient time,” Acts 24:25. When Christ tells of the Lord’s supper and “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him,” many disciples “went back and walked with Him no more,” John 6:60, 66. Some men enter the narrow way because a flock seems to be entering it, like Simon in Acts 8:13-24. The Israelites in the deserts grumbled, and coveted the flesh-pots of Egypt and would have turned back “were there not a strong hand pushing them forward,” the Rev. Boston says, citing 2 Thess. 1:11.
The strait gate, the Puritans remind us, is what Rev. Boston calls “a sound conversion.” That gate is nothing or no one less than the Lord Jesus. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture,” John 10:9.
Local economy — it won’t be easy
In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the traveler is beset by temptations, conflict, weariness and all manner of terrors en route to the Celestial City. With that story in mind, I offer a way to identify the broad way on the Chattanooga economic front. Do these four things, and you will tread along a wide, spacious boulevard:
➤ Pin your solvency and prosperity on the good luck and success of other people, such as your employer. In your livelihood, remain dependent on your employer for a paycheck, and rest tranquil. Don’t trouble yourself moonlighting and don’t bother trying to develop a sideline or a home-based business. Your own enterprise is just too tough and requires investment of time, family and money. It’s a lot of trouble to develop contingency plans. And for what?
➤ Stay committed to national economy. Confetti is fluttering down, the parade is just gearing up, the Dow has topped 14,000. Inflation is low, so don’t worry about it; things have stabilized.
➤ With interest rates so low, it’s easy to borrow, and in fact if you go deeper into debt, you are taking part in the recovery and revival of the U.S. economy. Every sign indicates that taking on more debt is truly prosperous and confident; we all have confidence in the future, don’t we? Confidence is the American way. We owe it to ourselves, and God has blessed America.
➤ It is vanity to sell your assets on Wall Street and invest in yourself and build up a store of liquidity. Pure vanity. Why would you invest in yourself? What do you know? What on earth makes you think you can become valuable in any marketplace? Gold and silver as liquid investments? Whatever for?
The fruit of Christianity
The argument for local economy seeks promote the fruit of Christianity in a local context. So bad will the national situation become in coming years that Christianity faces a multitude of opportunities. That means personal opportunities for you and your family, in service, mutual aid, charity and making a living. We greatly merit the bad tidings that are ahead, for our national sins are innumerable.
The church teaches repentance and the straight gate. Local economy envisions a practical outworking of your church life at home and in the square.