[One day when Christian was walking along, he espied an old chap heading his direction.]
Christian: Hello man. How are you doing this fine morning? May I ask your name?
Irenicum: Yes indeed. The name’s Irenicum. I’m doing quite well, quite well. Thank you. Say young man, do you have time for a chat?
Christian: What about?
Irenicum: The narrow gate my lad. The narrow gate — ’tis the wide and broad way to life and peace.
Christian: You speak in riddles man. Whatever do you mean? What is it that you refer to?
Irenicum: Why yes, yes of course. I speak to the following Scriptures. Here, allow me to read them:
“Go in through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are the ones entering in through it. For narrow is the gate, and constricted is the way that leads away into life, and few are the ones finding it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“And one said to Him, Lord, are the ones being saved few? But He said to them, Labor to enter in through the narrow gate, for I say to you that many will seek to enter in and will not have strength” (Luke 13:23-24).
Christian: Hmmm. The way to peace doesn’t appear wide and broad from what you’ve read. In fact, the way to life and peace looks quite constricted and narrow. As narrow as Jesus Christ’s cross-work being the power of God to salvation to all whom He represented (Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 15:22; cf. Romans 1:16-17).
Irenicum: Tush, tush. You are reading a particularly grim and dour eschatological view into the text.
Christian: On the contrary, not only are you reading into the Scripture what is not there, you are reading into my response what is not there.
Irenicum: Wisdom is with the grey-headed and aged — don’t you forget that, young man. I will proceed to exegete and expound the meaning of these passages. The text only concerns the proportion of people in Christ’s day. Only in Christ’s day were there few finding life and peace, and many entering through the broad way to destruction. This HAS to be the meaning of the text, since throughout history and up to this present time, there have been multitudes of Christians and countless missionary movements, revivals, and great awakenings. Further, I’m persuaded that there is to be a future golden age of gospel success, where a majority of the world will be converted.
Christian: Ah, yes. Yet another set of passages bite the dust of irrelevance by failing to transcend the passage of time, and so end up confined to the cobwebs of the theological museum basement. You restrict the “few” and the “many” to the people in Christ’s own day. The “few” and the “many” does not refer to any time after that, and especially not to this supposed “future golden age.” Very interesting. But we mustn’t get side-tracked with various eschatological views. We must focus on how we judge who is, and is not a Christian.
You spoke of “gospel success.” Of course, one thing we must get straight in our minds is what “gospel” are we talking about here? Is it the gospel that Paul preached? Or, is it a different gospel, which is not another (Galatians 1:7-9)? We must judge whether or not those you have judged as Christians, are preaching the true gospel in their missionary endeavors.
Irenicum: Well, yes, but if there are so few who are saved, what say you to Revelation 7:9? Does not this passage imply that the saved will considerably outnumber the lost?
Christian: Revelation 7:9 is true, as is Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-24, Romans 9:27, and 11:1-5. Certainly, the meaning of “remnant” cannot be construed to mean, “majority.” And though there be a great many who are saved (Revelation 7:9), other passages show that this great many that is called the remnant, are few by comparison to those who are not part of this remnant.
Irenicum: A goodly gloss upon the text! Look at all the Christians since the time of the apostles, to this present day.
Christian: You have a peculiar definition of the word “few” and the word “remnant,” sir. But pray tell, by what standard do you judge this great and vast multitude, as Christian?
Irenicum: By their love for one another. Jesus said that by this, all men will know that you are my disciples.
Christian: True love rejoices in the truth, and does not sacrifice it upon the altar of false peace and unity. You call yourself “Irenicum,” but do you speak peace to others upon the only ground of peace, as Paul admonishes true Christians to do in Galatians 6:14-16? Or, do you speak peace to those who believe that Jesus Christ died for all men without exception? If you do, then you are speaking peace apart from the only ground of peace, which is the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
Irenicum: Well, you see, Paul’s admonition is in the context of those who advocate circumcision. If I was speaking peace to those who are advocating circumcision, I might see more relevance here. But since it appears that the practice of circumcision is now obsolete, I must therefore conclude that this text is obsolete as well.
Christian: O, Irenicum. I thought so. The enemies of Paul (they were professing Christians by the way) were advocating circumcision as an ADDITION to, and REPLACEMENT of, the law-fulfilling work of Jesus Christ. To them, it was this ADDITION that made the difference between salvation and damnation. Likewise, those who believe that Jesus Christ died for all men without exception are ADDING to, and REPLACING Jesus Christ’s penal and preceptive law-fulfilling work with their own efforts as what makes the difference between salvation and damnation. They are woefully ignorant that the purpose and function of God’s law is to show forth His perfect standard of righteousness, that Christ may be rested in as the One who met that standard on behalf of the children whom God gave to Him from before the foundation of the world (Hebrews 2:13-17; cf. John 6:36-40, 44, 10:26-30, 17:24; Ephesians 1:3-7).
Through the work of Jesus Christ alone, remission of sins is announced to all men. And everyone believing in this One is justified from all things, which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). One is either justified by Christ’s work, or one is justified by the Law of Moses. We who believe in Jesus Christ are justified from all things; we who believe in Jesus Christ believe that He is the end of the Law of Moses for righteousness (Romans 10:4).
Those who believe that Jesus Christ died for all men without exception, do NOT believe that remission of sins is through this One (Acts 13:38), but through their own efforts. They do NOT believe that their sole grounds of justification is Christ’s penal and preceptive fulfillment of the Law of Moses. And thus, they have NOT been justified from all things, and must now fulfill the Law of Moses in their own persons. They are judged and condemned by their own blasphemous speech. For they freely, gleefully, and joyfully acknowledge that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was NOT enough to satisfy the demands of God’s law and justice for all whom He represented at the cross.
Their boast that “satisfaction” was made for those in hell, reveals that they do NOT believe that Jesus Christ satisfied for as much as one sin. And if they die in this state of unbelief, they must suffer under God’s holy wrath for all eternity, never suffering enough to even begin to satisfy for as much as one sin.
Furthermore, to add insult to injury, these self-righteous God-haters would attempt to compel us Christians to be “circumcised” along with them, only that they may boast in our flesh (Galatians 6:13). But we will not yield, we will not be moved, we will not succumb to their self-righteous agenda. For as those who worship God in the Spirit, our confidence and boast is found in the cross of Jesus Christ ALONE, and NOT in the flesh of man. Now there is a certain breed of dog, a certain type of evil worker, who is more sophisticated in his fleshly boasting than some of the others. This kind of boastful flesh is “freely-unconditionally-and-graciously enabled” to put God in its debt by meeting “non-meritorious conditions” (Romans 4:4, 11:6; Philippians 3:3). Jeremiah 17:5 says that those who would make flesh their arm, are cursed — and a “spiritually-and-graciously-enabled-arm-of-flesh” (as opposed to the arm of Jehovah), is an arm of flesh still.
Irenicum: Alright, I’ve had about enough of your Pharisaical tirade. Tell me, if you are able, who are the true Christians throughout history? Are you some kind of restorationist like Joseph Smith, who claimed that there was a total apostasy, that through him God restored?
Christian: Here we go again. Before addressing your slanderous endeavor for peace, I would like to briefly go through some bible history regarding the fewness, the remnant of those who have been saved:
We begin with the book of Genesis, with Noah and the flood. How many were delivered from God’s universal hammering of the world with His righteous flood-waters? 1 Peter 3:20 tells us that eight people were delivered. How about from Noah to the time of Abraham? Not a whole lot, it seems. But we know that Abraham was called out by God from a land infested with idols and idolaters. How about Abraham to the time of Christ? Again, not a lot. We see how Elijah thought that he was the only faithful one left — but he had miscalculated. For God had reserved a remnant, that had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 11:4). Then Paul in Romans 11:5 says that this is how it is at the present time. However, we do see large spurts (about 3,000) of those being saved by God, as recorded in the book of Acts at Pentecost (Acts chapter two). And from Acts 7, Stephen recounts the religious syncretism that many of the Israelites had been engaged in those forty years in the wilderness (Acts 7:42-43).
What about after the book of Acts, and further on in the New Testament? Before doing that I would mention Christ’s question in Luke 18:8, whether He would find faith on the earth? Some might say that this question is not meant to be rhetorical. Certainly, if you’re judging who are Christians by ignorant zeal (Romans 10:3), reputation, and a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), then that would definitely inform your interpretation of Luke 18:8. But, if you judge saved and lost, Christian and non-Christian by the true gospel standard, then you tend to think that Christ’s question is rhetorical, since looking around you exclaim like the Psalmist, Help! For the godly (faithful) man ceases. And then there’s Christ statement of “little flock” (not big drove) in Luke 12:32. Many more must, and certainly will be added to Christ’s flock throughout history (John 10:16), but from all the other passages regarding fewness, the large number (Revelation 7:9) of sheep will be small when compared to the goats and wolves.
Irenicum: You’re quite the young blathering whippersnapper. How about we get out of the Old and New Testament, and into Church History? To the biblically orthodox Church fathers, such as Augustine and Origen — well, maybe not Origen. Uhh. Like Justin Martyr — well, he did make room for some heathens to be saved living by the dictates of reason, and Augustine believed in salvation by the work of baptism — but hey, nobody’s perfect in their theology, right?