The Strait Gate and the Broad
Way by Hannah More
BEING THE SECOND PART OF
THE VALLEY OF TEARS.
BY HANNAH MORE.
Now I had a second vision of what was passing in the Valley of Tears.
Methought I saw again the same kind of travellers whom I had seen in the former
part, and they were wandering at large through the same vast wilderness. At
first setting out on his journey, each traveller had a small lamp so fixed in
his bosom, that it seemed to make a part of himself; but as this natural
light did not prove to be sufficient to direct them in the right way, the
King of the country, in pity to their wanderings and their blindness, out of his
gracious condescension, promised to give these poor wayfaring people an
additional supply of light from his own royal treasury.
But as he did not choose to lavish his favors where there seemed no
disposition to receive them, he would not bestow any of his oil on such as did
not think it worth asking for. "Ask, and ye shall receive," was the universal
rule he laid down for them. Many were prevented from asking through pride and
vanity, for they thought they had light enough already; preferring the feeble
glimmerings of their own lamp, to all the offered light from the King's
Yet it was observed of those who rejected it as thinking they had enough,
that hardly any acted up to what even their own natural light showed them.
Others were deterred from asking, because they were told that this light not
only pointed out the dangers and difficulties of the road, but by a certain
reflecting power it turned inward on themselves, and revealed to them ugly
sights in their own hearts to which they rather chose to be blind; for those
travellers "chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
Now it was remarkable that these two properties were inseparable, and that the
lamp would be of little outward use, except to those who used it as an internal
reflector. A threat and a promise also never failed to accompany the offer of
this light from the King: a promise, that to those who improved what they had,
more should be given; and a threat, that from those who did not use it wisely,
should be taken away even what they had.
I observed that when the road was very dangerous, when terrors and
difficulties and death beset the faithful traveller, then, on their fervent
importunity, the King voluntarily gave large and bountiful supplies of light,
such as in common seasons never could have been expected; always proportioning
the quantity given to the necessity of the case: "As their day was," such was
their light and strength.
Though many chose to depend entirely on their own lamp, yet it was observed
that this light was apt to go out, if left to itself. It was easily blown out by
those violent gusts which were perpetually howling through the wilderness, and
indeed it was the natural tendency of that unwholesome atmosphere to extinguish
it; just as you have seen a candle go out when exposed to the vapors and foul
air of a damp room. It was a melancholy sight to see multitudes of travellers
heedlessly pacing on, boasting they had light enough, and despising the offer of
But what astonished me most of all was, to see many, and some of them, too,
accounted men of firstrate wit, actually busy in blowing out their own light,
because, while any spark of it remained, it only served to torment them, and
point out things which they did not wish to see. And having once blown out their
own light, they were not easy till they had blown out that of their neighbor's
also; so that a good part of the wilderness seemed to exhibit a sort of
blind-man's-buff, each endeavoring to catch his neighbor, while his own
voluntary blindness exposed him to be caught himself, so that each was actually
falling into the snare he was laying for another; till at length, as selfishness
is the natural consequence of blindness, "catch he that catch can," became the
general cry throughout the wilderness.
Now I saw in my vision, that there were some others who were busy in strewing
the most gaudy flowers over the numerous bogs, precipices, and pitfalls, with
which the wilderness abounded; and thus making danger and death look so gay,
that the poor thoughtless creatures seemed to delight in their own destruction.
Those pitfalls did not appear deep or dangerous to the eye, because over them
were raised gay edifices with alluring names. These were filled with singing men
and singing women, and with dancing, and feasting, and gaming, and drinking, and
jollity, and madness. But though the scenery was gay, the footing was unsound.
The floors were full of holes, through which the unthinking merrymakers were
continually sinking. Some tumbled through in the middle of a song, many at the
end of a feast; and though there was many a cup of intoxication wreathed with
flowers, yet there was always poison at the bottom.
But what most surprised me was, that though no day passed over their heads in
which some of these merry-makers did not drop through, yet their loss made
little impression on those who were left. Nay, instead of being awakened to more
circumspection and self-denial by the continual dropping off of those about
them, several of them seemed to borrow from thence an argument of a directly
contrary tendency, and the very shortness of the time was only urged as a reason
to use it more sedulously for the indulgence of sensual delights. "Let us eat
and drink; for to-morrow we die." "Let us crown ourselves with rose-buds before
they are withered." With these, and a thousand other such little mottoes, the
gay garlands of the wilderness were decorated.
Some admired poets were set to work to set the most corrupt sentiments to the
most harmonious tunes: these were sung without scruple, chiefly, indeed, by the
looser sons of riot, but not seldom also by the more orderly daughters of
sobriety, who were not ashamed to sing, to the sound of instruments, sentiments
so corrupt and immoral, that they would have blushed to speak or read them; but
the music seemed to sanctify the corruption, especially such as was connected
with love or drinking.
Now I observed, that all the travellers who had so much as a spark of life
left, seemed every now and then, as they moved onwards, to cast an eye, though
with very different degrees of attention, towards the Happy land, which they
were told lay at the end of their journey; but as they could not see very far
forward, and as they knew there was a dark and shadowy valley, which must needs
be crossed before they could attain to the Happy land, they tried to turn their
attention from it as much as they could. The truth is, they were not
sufficiently apt to consult a map which the King had given them, and which
pointed out the road to the Happy land so clearly, that the "wayfaring man,
though simple, could not err." This map also defined very correctly the
boundaries of the Happy land from the land of Misery, both of which lay on the
other side of the dark and shadowy valley; but so many beacons and lighthouses
were erected, so many clear and explicit directions furnished for avoiding the
one country and attaining the other, that it was not the King's fault, if even
one single traveller got wrong. But I am inclined to think, that in spite of the
map, and the King's word, and his offers of assistance to get them thither, the
travellers in general did not heartily and truly believe, after all, that there
was any such country as the Happy land; or at least, the paltry and transient
pleasures of the wilderness so besotted them, the thoughts of the dark and
shadowy valley so frightened them, that they thought they should be more
comfortable by banishing all thought and forecast.
Now I also saw in my dream, that there were two roads through the wilderness,
one of which every traveller must needs take. The first was narrow, and
difficult, and rough, but it was infallibly safe. It did not admit the traveller
to stray either to the right hand or to the left, yet it was far from being
destitute of real comforts or sober pleasures. The other was a broad and
tempting way, abounding with luxurious fruits and gaudy flowers to tempt the
eye and please the appetite. To forget the dark valley, through which every
traveller was well assured he must one day pass, seemed, indeed, the object of
general desire. To this great end, all that human ingenuity could invent was
industriously set to work. The travellers read, and they wrote, and they
painted, and they sung, and they danced, and they drank as they went along, not
so much because they all cared for these things, or had any real joy in them, as
because this restless activity served to divert their attention from ever being
fixed on the dark and shadowy valley.
The King, who knew the thoughtless temper of the travellers, and how apt they
were to forget their journey's end, had thought of a thousand little kind
attentions to warn them of their dangers. And as we sometimes see in our gardens
written on a board in great letters, "Beware of spring-guns"—"Man-traps are set
here;" so had this King caused to be written and stuck up, before the eyes of
the travellers, several little notices and cautions, such as, "Broad is the way
that leadeth to destruction;" "Take heed, lest ye also perish;" "Woe to them
that rise up early to drink wine;" "The pleasures of sin are but for a season."
Such were the notices directed to the Broad-way travellers; but they
were so busily engaged in plucking the flowers, sometimes before they were
blown, and in devouring the fruits, often before they were ripe, and in loading
themselves with yellow clay, under the weight of which millions perished,
that they had no time so much as to look at the King's directions.
Many went wrong because they preferred a merry journey to a safe one, and
because they were terrified by certain notices chiefly intended for the
Narrow-way travellers, such as, "Ye shall weep and lament, but the world
shall rejoice;" but had these foolish people allowed themselves time or patience
to read to the end, which they seldom would do, they would have seen these
comfortable words added: "But your sorrow shall be turned into joy;" also, "Your
joy no man taketh from you;" and, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
Now I also saw in my dream, that many travellers who had a strong dread of
ending at the land of Misery, walked up to the Strait gate, hoping, that though
the entrance was narrow, yet if they could once get in, the road would widen;
but what was their grief, when on looking more closely they saw written on the
inside, "Narrow is the way:" this made them take fright; they compared the
inscriptions with which the whole way was lined, such as, "Be ye not conformed
to this world"—"Deny yourselves, take up your cross," with all the tempting
pleasures of the wilderness.
Some indeed recollected the fine descriptions they had read of the Happy
land, the Golden city, and the river of Pleasures, and they sighed; but then,
those joys were distant, and from the faintness of their light they soon got to
think that what was remote might be uncertain; and while the present good
increased in bulk by its nearness, the distant good receded, diminished,
disappeared. Their faith failed; they would trust no farther than they could
see: they drew back and got into the Broad-way, taking a common but sad refuge
in the number and gayety of their companions.
When these faint-hearted people, who yet had set out well, turned back, their
light was quite put out, and then they became worse than those who had made no
attempt to get in; "for it is impossible," that is, it is next to impossible,
"for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and
the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall
away, to renew them again to repentance."
A few honest, humble travellers, not naturally stronger than the rest, but
strengthened by their trust in the King's word, came up by the light of their
lamps, and meekly entered in at the Strait gate. As they advanced farther they
felt less heavy, and though the way did not in reality grow wider, yet they grew
reconciled to the narrowness of it, especially when they saw the walls here and
there studded with certain jewels called promises, such as, "He that
endureth to the end shall be saved;" and, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
Some, when they were almost ready to faint, were encouraged by seeing that
many niches in the Narrow-way were filled with statues and pictures of saints
and martyrs, who had borne their testimony at the stake, that the Narrow-way was
the safe way; and these travellers, instead of sinking at the sight of the
painted wheel and gibbet, the sword and the furnace, were animated by these
words written under them: "Those that wear white robes came out of great
tribulation;" and, "Be ye followers of them who through faith and patience
inherit the promises."
In the meantime there came a great multitude of travellers, all from
Laodicea: this was the largest party I had yet seen; these were neither cold nor
hot; they would not give up future hope, they could not endure present pain; so
they contrived to deceive themselves by fancying, that though they resolved to
keep the Happy land in view, yet there must needs be many different ways which
led to it, no doubt all equally sure without being all equally rough; so they
set on foot certain little contrivances to attain the end without using the
means, and softened down the spirit of the King's directions to fit them to
their own practice.
Sometimes they would split a direction in two, and only use that half which
suited them. For instance, when they met with the following rule, "Trust in the
Lord, and do good," they would take the first half, and make themselves easy
with a general sort of trust, that through the mercy of the King all would go
well with them, though they themselves did nothing. And on the other hand, many
made sure that a few good works of their own would carry them safely to the
Happy land, though they did not trust in the Lord, nor place any faith in
his word: so they took the second half of the spliced direction. Thus some
perished by a lazy faith, and others by a working pride.
A large party of Pharisees now appeared, who had so neglected their lamp that
they did not see their way at all, though they fancied themselves to be full of
light; they kept up appearances so well as to delude others, and most
effectually to delude themselves with a notion that they might be found in the
right way at last. In this dreadful delusion they went on to the end, and till
they were finally plunged in the dark valley, never discovered the horrors which
awaited them on the dismal shore. It was remarkable, that while these Pharisees
were often boasting how bright their light burned, in order to get the praise of
men, the humble travellers, whose steady light showed their good works to
others, refused all commendation, and the brighter their light shined before
men, so much the more they insisted that they ought to glory, not in themselves,
but their Father which is in heaven.
I now set myself to observe what was the particular let, molestation, and
hinderance, which obstructed particular travellers in their endeavors to enter
in at the Strait gate. I remarked a huge portly man, who seemed desirous of
getting in, but he carried about him such a vast provision of bags full of gold,
and had on so many rich garments which stuffed him out so wide, that though he
pushed and squeezed like one who had really a mind to get in, yet he could not
possibly do so. Then I heard a voice crying, "Woe to him that loadeth himself
with thick clay." The poor man felt something was wrong, and even went so far as
to change some of his more cumbersome vanities into others which seemed less
bulky; but still he and his pack were much too wide for the gate.
He would not, however, give up the matter so easily, but began to throw away
a little of the coarser part of his baggage; but still I remarked, that he threw
away none of the vanities which lay near his heart. He tried again, but it would
not do; still his dimensions were too large. He now looked up and read these
words: "How hardly shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God!"
The poor man sighed to find that it was impossible to enjoy his fill of both
worlds, and "went away sorrowing." If he ever afterwards cast a thought towards
the Happy land, it was only to regret that the road which led to it was too
narrow to admit any but the meagre children of want, who were not so encumbered
by wealth as to be too big for the passage. Had he read on, he would have seen
that "with God all things are possible."
Another advanced with much confidence of success; for having little worldly
riches or honors, the gate did not seem so strait to him. He got to the
threshold triumphantly, and seemed to look back with disdain on all that he was
quitting. He soon found, however, that he was so bloated with pride, and stuffed
out with self-sufficiency, that he could not get in. Nay, he was in a worse way
than the rich man just named, for he was willing to throw away some of
his outward luggage; whereas this man refused to part with a grain of that
vanity and self-applause which made him too big for the way. The sense of his
own worth so swelled him out, that he stuck fast in the gateway, and could
neither get in nor out.
Finding now that he must cut off all those big thoughts of himself, if he
wished to be reduced to such a size as to pass the gate, he gave up all thoughts
of it. He scorned that humility and self-denial which might have shrunk him down
to the proper dimensions: the more he insisted on his own qualifications for
entrance, the more impossible it became to enter, for the bigger he grew.
Finding that he must become quite another manner of man before he could hope to
get in, he gave up the desire; and I now saw, that though when he set his face
towards the Happy land he could not get an inch forward, yet the instant he made
a motion to turn back into the world, his speed became rapid enough, and he got
back into the Broad-way much sooner than he had got out of it.
Many, who for a time were brought down from their usual bulk by some
affliction, seemed to get in with ease. They now thought all their difficulties
over; for having been surfeited with the world during their late disappointment,
they turned their backs upon it willingly enough. A fit of sickness perhaps,
which is very apt to reduce, had for a time brought their bodies into
subjection, so that they were enabled just to get in at the gateway; but as soon
as health and spirits returned, the way grew narrower and narrower to them; they
could not get on, but turned short, and got back into the world.
I saw many attempt to enter who were stopped short by a large burden of
worldly cares; others by a load of idolatrous attachments; but I observed that
nothing proved a more complete bar than that vast bundle of prejudices with
which multitudes were loaded. Others were fatally obstructed by loads of bad
habits which they would not lay down, though they knew they prevented their
entrance. Some few, however, of most descriptions who had kept their light alive
by craving constant supplies from the King's treasury, got through at last by a
strength which they felt not to be their own.
One poor man, who carried the largest bundle of bad habits I had seen, could
not get on a step; he never ceased, however, to implore for light enough to see
where his misery lay: he threw down one of his bundles, then another, but all to
little purpose, still he could not stir. At last, striving as if in agony—which
is the true way of entering—he threw down the heaviest article in his pack: this
was selfishness. The poor fellow felt relieved at once, his light burned
brightly, and the rest of his pack was as nothing.
Then I heard a great noise as of carpenters at work. I looked to see what
this might be, and saw many sturdy travellers, who, finding they were too bulky
to get through, took into their heads not to reduce themselves, but to widen the
gate: they hacked on this side, and hewed on that; but all their hacking and
hewing and hammering was to no purpose, they got only their labor for their
pains: it would have been possible for them to have reduced themselves, but to
widen the Narrow-way was impossible.
What grieved me most was, to observe that many who had got on successfully a
good way, now stopped to rest, and to admire their own progress. While they were
thus valuing themselves on their attainment, their light diminished. While these
were boasting how far they had left others behind, who had set out much earlier,
some slower travellers, whose beginning had not been so promising but who had
walked circumspectly, now outstripped them. These last walked, "not as though
they had already attained," but "this one thing they did, forgetting the things
which were behind, they pressed forward towards the mark for the prize of their
high calling." These, though naturally weak, yet by "laying aside every weight,
finished the race that was before them."
Those who had kept their "light burning," who were not "wise in their own
conceit," who "laid their help on One that is mighty," who had "chosen to suffer
affliction rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season," came at
length to the Happy land. They had indeed the dark and shadowy valley to cross;
but even there they found "a rod and a staff" to comfort them. Their light,
instead of being put out by the damps of the valley of the Shadow of Death,
often burned with added brightness.
Some, indeed, suffered the terrors of a short eclipse; but even then their
light, like that of a dark lantern, was not put out, it was only hid for a
while; and even these often finished their course with joy. But be that as it
might, the instant they reached the Happy land, all tears were wiped from their
eyes; and the King himself came forth and welcomed them into his presence, and
put a crown upon their heads, with these words: "Well done, good and faithful
servant; enter thou into the joy of thy LORD."