THE OLD PATHS
In a time of spiritual turmoil and physical peril, the prophet Jeremiah came to the people of God with an important message: “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” (Jer. 6:16).
The children of Israel were inclined to seek new ways of doing things. When they saw that other nations around them had kings, they wanted a king, too. As they settled in the land of Canaan, they wanted to see if the gods of the people around them could add something to their lives. They began to intermarry with these idolatrous people, bringing a new element into their established practices.
Yet God’s people knew about the old paths. Their history had been carefully preserved and taught them. They were well aware that God’s blessings followed obedience to His Law and that calamity ensued when they forsook His ways. Nevertheless, the tug of “new things” frequently caused them to disregard the tried and true paths in favor of something modern and exciting.
The inclination toward things modern and new is very noticeable in our day. Each generation claims the right to do things differently than their parents did. In the desire to try something new, people use methods that are untried and unproven. They accept ideologies whose roots and purposes they do not really understand. They try new ways because they seem to fit the present age better.
Many of the changes we observe about us today are unavoidable, and some are good. Our challenge is to discern which things encroach on the old paths determined by God Himself. God made mankind to live by the principles of love, humility, honesty, duty, and self-control. These are bedrock to the old paths and will never change. If we try to change them, we discard the values that make life worthwhile.
Might the danger of new and modern ways be even more menacing today than it was in the days of Jeremiah? The ways of our fathers are not often mentioned, nor are they routinely taught to our children. The old ways, in the minds of many, would be only vague concepts, almost obliterated by the fast-changing world they know.
Yet the message comes clearly, decisively today, “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way.” How many people, in the way of life, are really seeing the dangers of the new ways? How many are moved by what they see to ask sincerely for the old paths? Who among them realize that only in the old paths will the “good way” be found?
The children of Israel were counseled, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). The portion of land that each family received in Canaan by God’s designation was to be considered inviolable. It was not to be lightly sold, and if it had to be sold, it was to be returned to the original family in the year of Jubilee. Stone markers, visible to all, were probably placed at each corner of these plots of land. By sighting from one stone to another, the boundary line was clearly known. Those boundaries were to be carefully respected.
Similarly, God has given to us a spiritual inheritance. “Yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps. 16:6). By His divine goodness and wisdom, He has set the boundaries of how we are to live. We are instructed to bring no new philosophy, creed, or rite into our lives or way of worship. We are to maintain the principles that are clearly laid down in the Word of God. Generations of fathers have preserved these boundaries for us. Now they are in our hands.
On the prairies of western Kansas stands an old church building. It was built by settlers approximately 150 years ago. It is, without question, a landmark. Some years ago this old church was sadly in need of repair. The stone walls were sagging outwardly, the roof leaked badly, and the windows were broken.
People of the community decided that the old building should be preserved. Money was raised, and the building was restored. Today it stands as a memorial to the pioneers who built it and as a reminder of old times and of values that are too quickly forgotten.
One of the landmarks kept by our fathers is an uncomplaining acceptance of what life brings. Do we meekly accept the difficulties that come to us, or do we feel we deserve better? Can we trust that God knows what is needed in our lives and that we sometimes need correction and even chastening? Is it time to restore the old way of Hebrews 12:1 that says, “And let us run with patience the race that is set before us”?
Work and the acceptance of responsibility are ancient landmarks established by the Word of God. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccles. 9:10). “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23). Physical labor and any work that requires commitment, determination, and fortitude are shunned by many in our day. Where are the hearts that will seek this old path?
Neighborliness is a trait that was cherished and nurtured by our fathers. It betokens an appreciation for those who live around us and acknowledges our need of them. In this era of independence and self-sufficiency, we seldom feel the need to borrow from our neighbor, nor do we seem to need his advice. Yet we need each other. We are instructed, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). We all appreciate any deeds of kindness that come our way, and “a man that hath friends must shew himself friendly” (Prov. 18:24).
Society today is becoming more brash and boastful. Self-promotion stems from a root of pride in the hearts of men. It hinders love and good relationships. The Word of God presents a beautifully contrasting path of quietness and modesty. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3), and “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (v. 5). Humility produces an inner quietness and a slower, more contemplative pace for the day.
What are other ancient landmarks that need to be restored today? As we stand in the way of life, do we see what the deterioration of the old ways means to society and to the church? God’s ways—the old ways—are still the good ways. In them, not in modern concepts, we find rest—and salvation.
Messenger of Truth, 2015, No. 10