On the Straight and Narrow Way


There is a real risk that members of the Church—particularly the young—may perceive the concept of the straight and narrow way too narrowly.

Variations of the concept of the straight and narrow path appear many times in the scriptures, but it is really a description of a clearly marked corridor to salvation and exaltation—a path of high adventure for the brave, not the intolerant; it is not an ecclesiastical “country club” situated on a narrow theological terrace.

The way is as wide as infinity in terms of its requirements of love and truth; it confines us only in marking those peril points along the path of life.

First, the straight and narrow is a precise path we must pursue—under the terms given by a superintelligence, Jesus Christ. There can be no apologies for this doctrine, because “this is the way, and there is none other way nor name.” (2 Ne. 31:21.)

When we exercise our individuality by choosing to follow this path, we are refusing to be “conformed to this world.” (Rom. 12:2.) We will experience misunderstanding from those who feel there is no such exclusive path, and derision, or amusement, from those who believe that there are no paths leading anywhere after death.

In the fourteenth chapter of Exodus [Ex. 14] the children of Israel chided Moses for taking them—seemingly illogically—to the Red Sea. As they faced the Red Sea, with the Pharoah’s armies at their heels, they could not expect, intuitively or experientially, to see a narrow path created such as had never been created before. But it happened!

The real choice the children of Israel faced at that moment of truth was whether or not they would follow Moses between those immense, terrifying walls of water. They were scarcely in a position to argue with their Benefactor, for impotence cannot dictate terms to omnipotence; it must have been painfully clear to them that there was “none other way.”

Man is in the same relationship with Jesus Christ, who has ransomed us and who has identified the solitary salvational path. “Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” (2 Ne. 9:41.)

Second, the idea of straightness or exactitude appears in a number of scripture passages as a reflection of universal laws with predictability about what obedience or disobedience to the laws will produce. Ambiguity is not a helpful thing; God has repeatedly and clearly advised us as to what we must do in order to have eternal life—and in order for us to escape the miseries of sin and the inadequacies of self that the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to help us overcome.

We cannot help others in salvational terms unless we ourselves are on the straight path. Having found the only passage to eternal life and exaltation, we should behave tolerantly and lovingly as vital guides who have found (sometimes at great pain and sacrifice) the solitary corridor to salvation and who must show others the way. There will be bitter irony if the guides end up following the meandering multitudes, for to follow the multitudes is to fail them. To leave our posts is a special kind of desertion.

It is natural in a world filled with so many individuals, of whom such a small portion has found the way, that we should wonder why it is that we are so fortunate. Why me? Why us?

Perhaps some who prefer the broad way find the values and standards of the gospel too confining, “too straight for me.” Perhaps those who want living room are really avoiding not just the gospel’s precision, but the proximity that real brotherhood can bring; arms-length brotherhood makes few demands of us other than occasional rhetoric.

In the straight and narrow way we feel the pressures and presence of others; marching shoulder to shoulder means feeling, sharply, the knees and elbows of others as we serve each other. Yet, for a young Latter-day Saint who lives in Salt Lake or in Los Angeles or in Miami, it is important to note who his traveling companions are: inspiring young Tongans, Fijians, Latins, Germans, Canadians, and others.

They too have elected to travel the path of high adventure.

Third, the simplicity of the saving messages of Jesus Christ poses a special paradox for many people: “… because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.” (1 Ne. 17:41.) Alma (Alma 37:46) warns us not to be “slothful because of the easiness of the way.” Jacob (Jacob 4:14) comments on the human folly of those who are always “looking beyond the mark,” who desire ecclesiastical embroidery on the simple gospel messages. We need to avoid complicating the content of Christ’s clarion call to mankind.

Fourth, even after we have gotten on the straight and narrow way, everything is not done:

And now my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Ne. 31:19–20. Italics added.)

We will stray from the path if we do not “press forward” and if we do not develop our capacity to love “all men”!

Only when we are, in the words of Nephi, “reconciled unto Christ” can we enter into the narrow gate, and to continue to “walk in the straight path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation.” (2 Ne. 33:9.) Unless we are becoming men of Christ, we will not be able to travel “in a straight and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery.” (Hel. 3:20.)

Fifth, perhaps it is not pedestrians on the straight and narrow path who are narrow, but those who see Christ too narrowly. Spectacular surprise awaits those who see Christ too narrowly, for these individuals shall look upon Christ and ask, in the words of the scripture concerning another, “Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?” (2 Ne. 24:16.)

That same attitude of disbelief and surprise will blend when Jesus comes again. Zechariah (Zech. 13:6) indicates that these are “those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”

G. K. Chesterton observed the following concerning orthodoxy and the commitment to the special sort of narrowness that it takes to maintain it:

“The more we really understand of the ancient conditions that contributed to the final culture of the Faith, the more we shall have a real and even a realistic reverence for the greatness of the Prophets of Israel. As it was, while the whole world melted into this mass of confused mythology, this Deity who is called tribal and narrow, precisely because he was what is called tribal and narrow, preserved the primary religion of all mankind. He was tribal enough to be universal. He was as narrow as the universe.” (G. K. Chesterton, Everlasting Man [New York: Doubleday & Co., 1955], p. 96.)

Sixth, to risk leaving the straight and narrow way is to risk sliding into sensuality or tumbling into terror—so much so that repeated divine reminders are appropriate. Joshua prepared the children of Israel to receive their inheritance; he was counseled repeatedly and directly by the Lord:

“Be strong and of good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” (Josh. 1:6–7.)

This kind of unvaryingness—swerving neither to the right nor the left—is for our own good; it calls upon us to forgo false popularity and a sensuous or selfish life-style. Jesus’ forecast concerning the small volume of traffic on the precise path (Matt. 7:13–14) is not an outcome a loving Savior would want for “few there be that find it.”

Thus, far from the smugness that some wrongly seem to see in the straight and narrow path, far from the Jonah-like pattern of viewing mankind in its misery safely from the hillside, far from disengaging us from service to the multitude, the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a great adventure in helping others to find the straight and narrow path, to hurry home where a Divine Parent is expecting us and where, in the words of C. S. Lewis:

“We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard.” (C. S. Lewis, Letters to C. S. Lewis [London: Geoffrey Bles, Ltd., 1966], p. 199.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson