THE OLD PATHS
An address delivered by W. Crosthwaite on October 11th, 1939,
in the Meeting House of the Church of Christ, Hindley.
Printed by request.
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. vi. 16).
THIS is a message from God to His own people who had wandered from the appointed path. They had given heed to false prophets, had followed their directions, and were now left 'bewildered in a dubious road.' Bunyan's pilgrims, to escape the hill difficulty, turned aside into By-Path Meadow, and landed into the dungeon of Giant Despair. The business of God's true prophets was not to point out new ways but to call the people back to the old paths.
WE ARE ALL TRAVELLERS.
We are all going some way and each night finds us a day's march nearer the end. Life is a one-way street: we have not passed this way before, and we are not coming back to pass over it again. The thought of life as a journey runs all through the Scriptures. Enoch, in a far-off age, walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Isaiah, the evangelical prophet, said, 'An highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, for he shall be with them; the wayfaring men though fools shall not err therein.' (Isaiah xxxv. 8-10).
In that inspired Church History, 'Acts of Apostles,' Christianity is often spoken of as a 'way.' Saul of Tarsus persecuted 'this way, unto death,' he received authority 'that if he found any of this way he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.' The slave girl who followed Paul and Silas through the streets of Philippi, cried, 'These men are the servants of the most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation.' A working-man and his wife, after hearing the eloquent Apollos preach, did what might be done for many a preacher now. They 'expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.' In effect, they said, 'You are all right as far as you have gone, but you haven't gone far enough.' These terms: 'the way of salvation,' the 'way of God,' surely mean the pathway that leads form sin and death to holiness and life in fellowship with God.
In the New Testament there is only one way. Today people speak of ways, 'You have your way and we have ours.' But none of us has the right to have a way. It is the Lord's way we must find and walk in. Seekers are bewildered by Babel tongues crying, 'Lo here,' and 'Lo there.' Well did Wesley say:
'Ye different sects who all declare,
Lo Christ is here, and Christ is there!
Your stronger proofs divinely give,
And show us where the Christians live.'
THE GUIDE BOOK.
Jeremiah's call for a return to the old paths is thought to have been associated with the discovery of a copy of God's law book, during the reign of King Josiah. While workmen were repairing the neglected temple the found God's book which had been lost in God's own house. It was read by king and people, and resulted in a restoration of the ancient worship of Jehovah.
Kings, popes, bishops, sceptics, and critics, have tried to destroy the Bible, but, like its Divine Author, it 'liveth and abideth forever.'
The sailor crossing the trackless ocean has his chart and compass. So of this blessed Book we sing:
'It is the chart and compass
That o'er life's surging sea,
Mid mists, and rocks, and quicksands,
Still guides, O Christ, to Thee.'
Many think it requires a lot of learning to understand the Bible. It was the learned religious leaders of the Lord's day who failed to understand the very Scriptures they professed to explain to others. As they turned blind eyes and deaf ears to all the appeals of God's beloved Son, he said, 'I thank Thee, O Father, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.' The poet Cowper, contrasting the brilliant French Rationalist, Renan, with a poor old woman he had seen sat at her cottage door reading the Bible, said:
'She just knows - and knows no more - her Bible true,
A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew,
And in that Charter reads with sparkling eyes,
Her title to a treasure in the skies.'
Whilst there are things in the Bible 'hard to be understood,' matters relating to the way of salvation are so clearly stated that the wayfaring man need not err therein.
THE OLD PATHS.
Some new thing has been the demand of every age, but in spiritual matters the old is ever better than the new. In our search for the old paths how far back shall we go? Some say 'Back to the apostolic fathers.' We say, 'Back to the Grand fathers, the Apostles of the Christ.'
'Must it be men or Christ?
Must struggling souls remain content
With councils and decrees of Trent?
A thousand times No! Back to the Bible, the Christ, and the good old way. In our divine guide book there are well-defined landmarks of the heavenly pathway.
JESUS IS THE WAY.
'I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' (John xiv. 6.) In these days, people do not like dogmatism, and they think they have forever doomed a preacher, when they say, 'He is too dogmatic.' Many of these people have not the remotest idea of the meaning of the words they use. Anyway, it's better to be dogmatic than rheumatic or asthmatic. To be dogmatic means that you are sure of your position, and if we are not sure in the vital matters the sooner we change the better. But that statement by Jesus, 'I am the way .... no man cometh unto the Father but by me,' is the most dogmatic statement ever made. It flings a barrier across every other way. What consternation it must have caused, coming from the lips of One who was known to His generation, not as an ecclesiastical dignitary, but as Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth. No road to the Father, 'but by Me.' Not by works of our own righteousness.
'Not the labour of my hands,
Can fulfil the law's demands,
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.'
Not through any earthly priest. 'There is one mediator between God and men: the man, Christ Jesus.' (I Timothy ii. 5). Priests, whether of Roman, Anglican, or Greek order, are taking the place that belongs to Jesus only. 'Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.' (Acts iv. 12).
Henry Drummond, in one of his books, tells of a band of patriots fighting for liberty, finding themselves in a narrow pass, at the head of which the enemy presented a solid wall of spears. As their leader bid them charge he rushed ahead, and with arms extended wide, flung himself on the wall of spears. For about a couple of yards every spear was buried in his body. He fell dead, but he had made a gap in the wall through which his followers marched to victory. Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, went before; the shafts of death and judgment, the punishment due for your sins and mine, were buried in Him. He has consecrated for us 'a new and living way .... through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.' (Hebrews x. 19).
'The tempest's awful voice was heard;
O Christ, it broke on Thee,
Thine open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me,
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred,
Now cloudless peace for me.'
So far, most will agree. Believers of all sects and parties sing:
'Jesus is the true, the only living way,
Whosoever will may come.'
But a way is no use until we get into it, and walk in it. If I ask the way to a certain place, and you tell me to go to the bottom of the road, turn to the right, and keep straight on, it will not do for me to say: 'I do believe, I will believe, that is the right way.' Merely believing in the right way will not get me to the desired end. So in our Guide Book we are asked not only to believe that Jesus is the way; we are to repent, which means a decision to turn back from our way into the Lord's way. 'Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.'
Then the Lord Himself has appointed a time, place, and method, where we step out of self and sin into Christ, who is the way.
'Know ye not,' said an inspired ambassador of King Jesus, 'that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ, were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.' (Romans vi. 3-4). So in that act of obedience, commanded, and placed at the entrance of the heavenly way, by the King Himself, we come into Him who is the way.
Scholars of all religious bodies admit that in the first Christian centuries all believers were immersed into Christ. In that symbolic act we turn our back on the old life, we are buried in baptism, a funeral service over the dead self; and we rise with our faces in a new direction, to walk in newness of life. That is the beginning. We must walk in the way, which means following in the steps of Jesus, and observing all that he has commanded.
'Ye shall find rest for your souls.' All can appreciate rest for a tired body. Yet we may be surrounded by all that ministers to the comfort of the body, and still be ill at ease. Well did Robert Burns, say:
'It's no in titles, nor in rank,
It's no in wealth like London bank,
To make us truly blest,
If happiness has not its seat
And centre in the human breast,
We may be rich, we may be great,
But never can be blest.'
Even some religions fail to give rest to the soul. For the greatest dignitaries in the Romish Church who have passed away, prayers are offered for the repose of their souls. Many who are led by the traditions, doctrines, and commandments of men, find no real rest. It is surely sad to hear people, who have been Church members most of their lives, sing:
'Tis a point I long to know,
And oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love my Lord, or no,
Am I His, or am I not?
No reasonable person would risk a transaction in which a pound note was involved on a song like that. When we trust and obey Jesus all doubts vanish. Listen to His loving invitation, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.' Rest for mind, heart, and soul. The removal of the heavy burden of sin, the assurance of pardon, the perfect peace which passeth all understanding. We have rest, too, because we are sure of the way, led by our infallible Guide. With David, we say: 'He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God.'
The rest we now enjoy is a sweet foretaste of 'the rest that remaineth for the people of God.'
ALL ARE GOING SOME WAY.
We cannot stand still.
'Time's ever rolling stream
Bears all its sons away.'
'There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.' 'Wide is the gate,' said Jesus, 'and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.'
The Divine pathway is not popular, but it is the right way, the safe way, and at the end thereof is heaven. 'The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.' Make sure you are on the right road, then go forward with all the energy you can command, praying:-
'Jesus! in mercy bring us
To that dear land of rest,
Thou art our Captain glorious,
Our Saviour ever blest!'
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