Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 5:30 - 6:17
Psalters: 10 (1-3), 428 (1-3), 30 (1-3), 65 (1-4)
Beloved, one of the important reasons for having and using creeds in the church is that we may know where the church has stood theologically in the past. When we know this, and stand in the same place as they did, then we are expressing the unity of ourselves with the church of the past, and also, the church is being preserved as faithful. Without creeds, there is theological chaos in a church or denomination. Churches that have forsaken the creeds, or which ignore them, experience trouble and apostasy.
In Jeremiah 6:16 the prophet exhorts us with regard to the old paths. He uses the illustration of a man standing at an intersection, or at a fork in the road, observing. This man is probably a traveler, a pilgrim. At these crossroads he must decide which way he will take. There are different options. There are new ways, recently built wide and easy to travel roads. He observes, and he sees many people travel along these ways. He knows he must find the old path, and so he asks some of those passing by where the old path is. No one seems to be able to tell him. They are all set on following the new way. Finally, he finds an older traveler and asks him, and the man points him to a narrow well worn trail, hidden in the bushes. The man says, “That is the ‘good way.’ Yes, almost everyone else travels the new way, but that is the good way that will lead to peace and rest.” That is the figure.
Now, Jeremiah packs the verse with exhortations. “Stand!” – that refers to taking time to think when you come to a crossroad. “See!” – spend time observing and assessing where you will go before you blindly plow on, following the multitudes. “Ask!” – for the old paths, for the good way. Ask someone who will know. And then “Walk” in that old way. And even, “find” or seek rest for your souls.
Jeremiah brings this prophesy to Judah soon before their captivity in Babylon (about 3 or 4 years). Spiritually, things were a disaster in Judah. You notice that in the last two verses of chapter 5. This is God’s assessment of spiritual things: “A wonderful and horrible thing” has happened in Judah. Astounding. What? The prophets teach false doctrine, the priests rule with strong and merciless hand, and (here’s the disaster) my people love to have it so. The prophets cry, Peace, Peace, and there is no peace, the priests commit abomination (that is, they fornicate with young female worshipers), and are not one whit ashamed of this sin. And the people love it this way. How easy it is now to be a Jew. How easy. No demands. No care for poor. No requirements of holiness. Why, even the prophets and priests live as they please. It is a sad day!
To this Judah, Jeremiah speaks in verse 16. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
THE OLD PATHS
1. What They Are
2. That They Are Good
3. Our Calling
1. WHAT THEY ARE
Jeremiah’s message in this verse must have sounded to Judah something like an out of tune instrument in an orchestra. Judah is close to celebrating 1000 years of existence as a nation. 1000 years of great progress. They had been set free from the slavery of Egypt. They had risen above many of the nations around them. They had made contact with these neighboring nations and by this enriched their cultural life and their economy. They were advanced in the world of religion, having shaken off some of the primitive beliefs to which their fathers held so staunchly. And now over all this advancement, like the uncomely sound of a bugle blast, the prophet says “Stand in the way, ask for the old paths, walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your soul.”
Of course, they indignantly turned down the prophet. “We will not walk therein,” they said. “This prophet does not know what he is talking about. He is behind the times. He is an old fogey, living in the wrong age. We will not walk therein.” It was a foreign, a strange idea to them.
That is the text.
And, how similar it is to today. We live in an age of advancement. A “modern” or “post-modern” age. An age of Science and technology. An age of communication and transportation. An age of recreation and entertainment. An age of tolerance and peace. And an age in which the theology and religion matches this advancement. Advanced theological ideas in which God is a God of love and of tolerance, in which man is a basically good creature who just needs a to be tolerated and he will be alright, a theology in which there are many ways to God, a theology according to which the world is improving. We live in an age of advancement in regard to worship – after all, the modern man is best communicated to by the stimulation of the visual, and in a short catchy style. And, in all this, comes the prophet’s word, “Stand in the way, ask for the old paths, walk therein.” And, sadly, the answer of many is the same, “We will not walk therein.”
This morning our concern must be with applying this to ourselves. To our own natural resistance to the Old Paths. To our own inclination to say, “We will not walk therein.” To the man within us that says, “The New ways are better, let’s get out of the rut, and move ahead.” To the teenagers, young people, younger families in the congregation whose mind-set can be, “Our parents, what would they know, those old fogeys.” To us the prophet says, “Stand in the way, ask for the old paths, walk therein.”
What are the old paths?
With Hebrew parallelism, two different words are used, “way” and “paths.” The Spirit does that often in the Old Testament – He repeats an idea in a text in order to enrich our understanding of a text, in order to convey a deeper meaning. You have that especially in the Psalms.
The word “way” is more general, usually referring in Scripture to the whole of a man’s life, from beginning to end. It describes our life as a journey, which begins at the time of birth and goes on until we die. The word is used often in reference to the moral or religious character of a man’s life, as in Psalm 1, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
The other word, “path” in the verse refers to a walking trail, which has been worn down by many people walking along it. It is something like what you may find in the woods where the deer, or even people, walk along the same path again and again, until it is worn down and clear that many others have gone this way.
The second word, “path” is the one we are especially interested in. You notice in the text that this path is called “old” or “ancient.” It is called this for a number of reasons.
1. First, the word means literally “eternal.” This suggests that this is a path marked out of old first by God Himself. It is the path prescribed by God as the one that should be followed.
2. Secondly, it is called the “old path” because it is not one that has been recently made or discovered, but is very very old.
3. And third, the idea of old is that this is a path that many, many people have walked along over many, many years.
As far as Judah is concerned, it is easy to identify what Jeremiah means by the “old paths.” These paths are the ways God had prescribed for Judah to follow in the land of Canaan – the ways of the Law of Moses which covered their way of life, their worship of God, and more fundamentally, what and how they thought of God. The old paths were particularly their whole way of the worship of God in the Temple at Jerusalem, which included the proper understanding of God, of themselves before Him, and covered as well the moral requirements of God for them.
From these paths the “modern” Judah had departed.
We can bring this text to our day. The old paths are the way that God has prescribed for us to walk as found in God’s Word in the Scripture. They are, simply put, “God’s will for us.” This covers
1. our thoughts about God – our theology and doctrine,
2. our worship of God – both as church and as individuals,
3. and so also the life and walk of the child of God.
These are old paths. Paths set down by God himself in Scripture. Paths walked by our spiritual fathers. They are the paths that our fathers and mothers in our own denomination have walked. They are the paths that our Reformed fathers in the Netherlands walked for centuries. They are the paths that the Reformers, Calvin, Luther and others walked at the time of the Reformation. They are the ways that the ancient church fathers, Augustine, Athanasius, Cyprian and others walked. They are the paths that the apostles and Christ walked and set down for us in Scripture.
Because these paths are so old, and because they have had so much traffic on them, these paths are clearly defined and set down. This is true of a walking trail – even of an old one that not many walk on any more. The great amount of traffic of the past has clearly defined this path. So it is with these spiritual paths.
They are the paths of our confessions. At the time of the Reformation, when the traffic was heaviest on these paths and when they were most clear, the Reformed fathers wrote down the directions they followed for us very clearly in the Reformed creeds, so that later when we would come along we could follow the same path as they.
Now, we should be a little more specific. What are these paths?
We can answer this question by looking at three areas.
First, in Doctrine the old paths are – the Scriptural and reformed teaching of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, of election and reprobation, of heaven and hell, all summed in our creeds and in what we call the 5 points of Calvinism. The old paths are Scripture’s teaching about man and who he is – totally depraved, unable to do any good, DEAD. They are Scripture’s teaching on unconditional election and its counterpart reprobation – God chooses some, not because they are better, but out of grace, and damns the rest to hell. The old paths include what Scripture says about the cross and limited atonement, that is, that Christ did not die for all men, but only for His elect people. The old paths teach an irresistible grace of God, that is, grace that is stronger than the will of man, so that this grace cannot be resisted or accepted by man. The old paths lay down the truth of the preservation and perseverance of the saints, that there is security for God’s people in salvation.
Second, in Worship the old paths are simply this – follow the God-ordained way of worship, set down in His Word. He will be worshiped only as He has ordained. He will have his people taught by the lively preaching, and not by dumb images or movies and drama.
Third, the old paths with regard to Christian living – God’s word provides the path that must be followed. The way of holiness, of godliness, of obedience to his commandments.
Over against these old paths there is the clamor for novelty. Novelty in doctrine, in worship, and in life. A departure from the creeds of the Reformation, from the practice of preaching. A cry for love and tolerance of every evil under the sun. And the old paths are disdained, and those who walk in them mocked.
And we feel the pressures to follow the new ways as well.
2. But, the Old Paths are the “GOOD WAY”
You find that in the text in the question of the one seeking, “Where is the “GOOD WAY?” And then the goodness of these old paths is described in that phrase “ye shall find rest for your souls.” The idea is that these are the only ways that will be of benefit to man. Any other way is bad. This is the good way.
These old paths are the good way for several reasons.
1. First, because they are God’s way. God is good, wise, perfect, and what He sets down for man to do is in agreement with His goodness. This means that this way is good for the church, good for the child of God.
2. Secondly, because they lead to heaven. They are the “way everlasting.” “Old paths” has that idea too. “Eternal ways.” That looks back, but also forward. These are the ways that lead into the eternal rest of heaven. That is the Psalmists prayer in Psalm 73, “Lead me in the way everlasting,” lead me in the old paths that go to heaven. Jesus uses this same idea in the gospels (in Matthew 7:13-14) when He speaks of the the narrow way that leads to life. This way is good because it leads to heaven.
3. Thirdly, they are good because they are the way of “rest for your souls.” Rest for weary souls of sinners. Only on the old paths.
Here, I think the Heidelberg Catechism is beautiful. How does it start? With this question: “What is thy only comfort in life and in death?” How does it continue, and what theme runs throughout? – comfort. Rest for your souls. It will ask questions about you and your nature – tell you about your total depravity and misery. But always, with the goal of your comfort. Always with what is good for you in mind. The Catechism will point you in the way you should walk, because that is the good way for you.
At heart, these old paths are good because they bring you to Christ, and bring Christ to you. That was true for Judah. The old paths were Jerusalem and the worship of God there as He prescribed. The following of the Mosaic patterns for worship, in the sacrifices, and feasts, and rituals, and priesthood, etc. All of this was for one purpose, with one goal – to bring Old Testament Israel to Christ. In all these things they saw the promise of Christ, and they walked in hope of that promise.
So it is with the old paths in which we are called to walk. As Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
What is this coming to Jesus? How do we come to Him? What do we learn of Him? The old paths. The way of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture. The way of seeing our sin and sinfulness, repenting, walking in obedience to His law, taking His yoke on us, and, in that way finding rest for our souls.
There are a lot of rest-less souls in this world, souls that find no rest. Oh, I think we know that about our own souls sometimes. We are rest-less, cast about, troubled by doubt, something like the Psalmist in Psalms such as 6, 42, and 77. But, how much worse for a soul that never knows or finds the rest that is in Christ. Their novelties are an attempt to cover this restlessness, ever seeking, never able to find rest.
Jeremiah issues here a call to repentance. Acknowledgment of sin, of our misery, a putting faith in Christ. There is the good way, the way to rest.
Are we walking in the old paths? Here is a test. Do they bring rest to rest-less souls?
Does our doctrine bring that rest? There is only one doctrine of salvation that will bring peace. The doctrine of God as sovereign in salvation. Doctrine of salvation all of grace and not of man.
Does our worship bring rest? Not just a play on emotions that is never satiated, but true rest for the soul of the sinner, rest through faith in Christ Jesus. Do we preach Christ crucified? Is the gospel heard? Do we rest in Him as we leave.
What about our way of life? Is it a way of rest? Rest for the conscience? Rest of knowing God’s favor and friendship? You will have that only when you walk in the old paths of obedience to God’s commandments.
There is no peace, no rest, in the new ways. No peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
Or Augustine, “Our souls can find no rest until they rest in Thee.”
3. This brings us to OUR CALLING
There are a number of admonitions in the text that we should consider. As we do this, though, we should be looking at ourselves. It’s easy when we get a text like this to think, “Well, we walk in the old paths. The problems, the new ways are out there, in other churches, amongst our relatives in other denominations. We are doing well, we are in old paths.” Whereas, what we ought to do is let this Scripture speak to us.
Here is the text’s admonition to us, “Don’t ever let this happen here in our congregation!” Don’t ever let it happen that we leave the Old Paths for the New ways. And, where it is happening, where it is happening in your lives personally, where it is happening in the life of the congregation, repent, and go back to the Old paths.
Now, what does the text say.
First, Stand in the ways and see! That means, STOP!, and consider things before you plow on ahead. Take time to consider where you are at, and where you are going. Take inventory of yourself. Compare where you are at with the Old Paths. Are you where your fathers, grandfathers, the Reformers were? We have to do this as congregation, and we have to do this as families, and we have to do this as individuals.
Do this with regard to doctrine. This does not just mean that we have the right views, but what about your knowledge of doctrine and the importance of the study of it in your lives? How about the application of doctrine to your life? Do you live a life that matches your confession?
How about worship? Where are you at? Perhaps things in the congregation here are good. We have a very traditional way of worship! But why? Do you know why? Do you explain why to your children? And, more importantly, is it because you see this as God’s will, and because this is how we bring most glory to God? What about the rest of the Sabbath (after all, the whole day is a day of worship)? How do you compare to the way of those of old, the old paths? What about worship in your own life – practicing daily piety in prayer and godliness? Family worship? Ask yourself. Stop. Stand in the way, consider these things.
And then the text says as well that we should ask for the old paths. We should say, “Where is the good way?”
That means you are going to ask those who know the old paths and the good way. And now that is not only your minister or your office bearers. Yes, it starts there. That is what the good practice of preaching the catechism is about, too. To tell us what the old paths are.
But our asking means more than just relying on this. We must ask HISTORY. Ask the Reformers, ask the fathers of our churches, ask John Calvin, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, Herman Hoeksema, etc. Read these men, and get to know their theology and thinking yourselves!
Ignorance in the church leads to inevitable departure. So many follow new ways because they don’t know anything about the history of the church which is the history of God’s dealings with His people. We must ask, Where is the good way? We as congregation must ask history, ask the Reformers, and they will tell us in the catechism about the old paths.
But also as individuals we must ask. Ask that especially of Scripture by studying, reading, getting to know about the history of Israel. There is never anything new under the sun. What we see being done has been done before. Identify it in Scripture, and in the history of the church, and learn.
And then, we must WALK in these old paths. Standing, considering, and asking, will bring to us a knowledge of these old paths. Now, walk in them. Without this, we have only “dead orthodoxy.” A hollow faith. All the scaffolding, but no building. All the skeleton, but no meat and muscle to hold it together. We must walk therein.
There are two responses to this exhortation. Judah says, “We will not walk therein.” That is one answer to this exhortation. Let it not be ours, yours. WALK in the old paths.
Fathers and office bearers! There is of course special application here to you in your leadership. Where are you, where is your family, where is our congregation at? Which way are you going to lead?
STOP! Stand and Consider! Ask! Where is the good way? And walk therein, and lead therein. And you shall find rest – for your souls, and the souls of those you lead.
Rev. Rodney Kleyn (Wife: Elizabeth)
Ordained: Sept. 2002
Pastorates: Trinity, Hudsonville, MI - 2002; Covenant of Grace, Spokane, WA - 2009Website: www.reformedspokane.org/
Address7317 N.Deschutes Dr.
State or ProvinceWA