Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem: for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction.Old Paths (Thoughts for the New Year)
'Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.' Our Blessed Saviour knows that we want rest; His beautiful call comes right across the ocean of trouble, the oft-repeated call, 'Come to Me, come to Me, and I will give you rest'. It is what you most want—rest. So many people deviate from the old paths and try to get rest. Just look round about and see the number of religions there are—bypaths; and people wander along these paths and think they will get rest. They do not. What are the old paths, that you and I are to walk therein and rest?
I. The old path, first of all, is the path of blood. Do not mistake that. All along the road you can trace drops of blood. It is the Blood of the Passion of the Saviour. How could we, you and I, face the judgment seat of Christ if it were not for the Blood of the Lamb? Our only hope of redemption is in the Blood of the Blessed Saviour. It is the old path. We have no other hope, no other rest than in the Sacrifice of our Blessed Saviour. Do not let any of the modern ideas of the twentieth-century religion allure you into bypaths.
II. And then I should say walk in the old paths in the day in which we live by accepting the Word of God. The Word of God is written, of course, for your souls; your soul shall find rest therein, and, if I were you, I would learn by heart your favourite texts, so that when you cannot read, and things are beginning to get a bit dim, you may have them within your heart.
III. Then there is this: keep in the old path of service. What I mean by this is that it is so very common nowadays to divide up the secular from the religious. We Christians must not have that. St. Paul says all is to be sacred, nothing secular. You would not call it 'churchy' to eat and to drink, but we are told whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we are to do all to the glory of God. We are to make no distinction. Paul was sent by the Saviour to preach the Gospel to men; he was an Apostle, and yet he was a tent-maker. Paul used to make tents to get a little money to live by. He sold his tents and earned money and lived by it, and lived for the glory of God. To those who love God, where do the secular and the profane come in at all? You are often told that we Christians ought to give a tenth of our income to the Church. A Jew gives a tithe. Well, if you give a tenth, you do what the Jews do, but that is not the rule of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is to give all. You must not divide up your money into secular purposes and religious purposes; that is not the old path, that is not the way of salvation. Every penny you spend you should spend as best you can to the glory of God. Do not let us be unreal; let us be perfectly true. We Christians must live and act as under God's sight, and do everything for His sake, and the man who spends his money to bring up his family does right, he is acting in the sanctuary, the sanctuary of domestic life, which God Himself will bless.
IV. Another of the old paths is obedience to God's Word; submission to God's Word. 'Ask for the old paths.' 'Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth Thee, for Thou art my God.' That is the old path. Ask God to show you the way, that you may walk therein, and find rest for your soul. If you do your own will, you will never find lest, but if you do God's will, it is perfect rest.
V. Last of all the paths, I should mention the beautiful pathway, when it draws towards what seems to be the end of the way altogether, the path of communion with God. 'If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.' You do not want to go away from Him. Confide yourselves bravely to Him and be happy, and ye shall find rest for your souls. If you have listened for His command, and your ear has become attuned to His Voice, you will hear His Voice in the storm, in the wind, in the night, and in the end you will hear Him call you to come to Him across the water, and you can say, like Peter, 'Lord, teach Thou me to come to Thee across the water,' and He will say, 'Come'. Is not this really what we want, right deep down beyond everything, to rest in the Arms of God.
Steadfastness in the Old Paths
It is one great peculiarity of the Christian character to be dependent. Men of the world, indeed, in proportion as they are active and enterprising, boast of their independence, and are proud of having obligations to no one. But it is the Christian's excellence to be diligent and watchful, to work and persevere, and yet to be in spirit dependent; to be willing to serve, and to rejoice in the permission to do so; to be content to view himself in a subordinate place; to love to sit in the dust. Though in the Church a son of God, he takes pleasure in considering himself Christ's 'servant and 'slave'; he feels glad whenever he can put himself to shame. So it is the natural bent of his mind freely and affectionately to visit and trace the footsteps of the saints, to sound the praises of the great men of old who have wrought wonders in the Church and whose words still live; being jealous of their honour, and feeling it to be even too great a privilege for such as he is to be put in trust with the faith once delivered to them, and following them strictly in the narrow way, even as they have followed Christ. To the ears of such persons the words of the text are as sweet music: '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'.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—VI. 16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2748. H. D. M. Spence, Voices and Silences, p. 271. E. C. S. Gibson, Messages from the Old Testament, p. 238. "Plain Sermons" by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. v. p. 157. Ibid. vol. x. pp. 307, 317. W. Brooke, Sermons, p. 50. VI. 16-19.—W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (3rd Series), p. 163. VI. 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 890. VI. 29, 30.—VII. 9, 10.—T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 107. VII. 12.—" Plain Sermons "by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. i. 168. VII. 18.—W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (3rd Series), p. 207. VII. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2301. VIII.—Ibid. vol. xlii. No. 2491; vol. xlix. No. 2858. VIII. 6.—Ibid. vol. iv. No. 169. VIII. 7.—Ibid. vol. xlix. No. 2858. VIII. 11.—Ibid. vol. xxviii. No. 1658. J. Wordsworth, The One Religion, Bampton Lectures, 1881, p. 217. VIII. 14.—H. W. Webb-Peploe, Calls to Holiness, p. 175. VIII. 19, 20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 608. VIII. 20.—Ibid. vol. xxvi. No. 1562. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 154. S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 39. J. Parker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 177.
I have likened the daughter of Zion to a comely and delicate woman.
The shepherds with their flocks shall come unto her; they shall pitch their tents against her round about; they shall feed every one in his place.
Prepare ye war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out.
Arise, and let us go by night, and let us destroy her palaces.
For thus hath the LORD of hosts said, Hew ye down trees, and cast a mount against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her.
As a fountain casteth out her waters, so she casteth out her wickedness: violence and spoil is heard in her; before me continually is grief and wounds.
Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall throughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn back thine hand as a grapegatherer into the baskets.
To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
Therefore I am full of the fury of the LORD; I am weary with holding in: I will pour it out upon the children abroad, and upon the assembly of young men together: for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days.
And their houses shall be turned unto others, with their fields and wives together: for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD.
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.
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.
Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.
Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them.
Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.
To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.
Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbour and his friend shall perish.
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth.
They shall lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea; and they ride upon horses, set in array as men for war against thee, O daughter of Zion.
We have heard the fame thereof: our hands wax feeble: anguish hath taken hold of us, and pain, as of a woman in travail.
Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way; for the sword of the enemy and fear is on every side.
O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us.
I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way.
They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters.
The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away.
Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them.