Although the immediate source of Gawin Kirkham’s The Broad and Narrow Way is Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13–14), this print is a visual panoply of biblical exegesis on the subject of the proper route to salvation. Originally made in Germany, the preacher Kirkham had it reproduced with English text to accompany a sermon, and the picture found widespread appeal among Victorian evangelicals.
The print is indebted to the traditions of didactic and exegetical print culture that flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries following the emergence of the Protestant Reformation, particularly in the Netherlands with publishers like Hieronymus Cock and Johannes Wierix. It offers didactic complexity through a profusion of narrative incidents accompanied by biblical passages. At the same time, there is clear, visual legibility in the stark division between the ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ paths. The former, the more densely populated, abounds with sensual worldly pleasures. The latter is accessible only through an inconspicuous doorway, which leads to a more isolated and challenging journey. In both form and content, the print is likely to have been indebted to contemporaneous illustrations for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a seventeenth-century Christian allegory that was immensely popular in Victorian England.
The Petrine Epistles are specifically referred to several times in the print––for example, Peter’s description of false prophets as waterless springs (2 Peter 2:17) is visualized as an empty fountain just beyond the wide and welcoming entrance to the broad path. More important, however, is the extent to which the print dovetails with the overarching content, tone, and progression of 2 Peter, which is primarily aimed at providing guidance for righteous behaviour and the consequences of a life of sin.
The dating and authorship of the letter has long been subject to scrutiny, particularly considering its similarities to the letter of Jude and the stylistic departure from 1 Peter. Assuming that it was most likely to have been written within a century of Jesus’s death, 2 Peter speaks to the manner in which the Christian Church’s early adherents anticipated the certainty of divine judgement as interpreted through Old Testament prophecies and the words of Christ. The Kirkham print continues that tradition using the visual trappings of Victorian life.
Massing, Jean Michel. ‘The Broad and Narrow Way from German Pietists to English Open-Air Preachers’, Print Quarterly, 5.3: 258–67
2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.
4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorʹrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; 7and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked 8(for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), 9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and wilful, they are not afraid to revile the glorious ones, 11whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a reviling judgment upon them before the Lord. 12But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in the same destruction with them, 13suffering wrong for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation, carousing with you. 14They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beʹor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16but was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved. 18For, uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved. 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.