Thus said the LORD, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein…
It is noticeable in the order of nature how God has secured the true adjustment and hence the highest well-being of his universe by means of the action of contrasted and opposite forces. By means of that power which the mighty mass of the sun has to draw everything to itself - if this were left alone to operate, the whole of those innumerable orbs that now circle round the sun as their center would be drawn in upon it and perish. But this is prevented by the action of an opposite force, called the centrifugal, as the first-mentioned is called the centripetal. This opposite force tends, by the velocity with which the planets revolve around the sun, to drive them off and away from it: thus, by the effect of these opposite forces, that perfect harmony and unerring order of the whole stellar universe, which has been the admiration of all observers in all ages, are preserved. Chemistry also can furnish illustrations not a few of the beneficent action of opposite forces, where either left alone would work only harm. In the great law of sex, the constitution of all life, plant life as well as animal, as male and female, this in all its aspects is another marked instance of the same Divine method. In political life, the two great tendencies, monarchial and democratic, or the rule of the one versus the rule of the many - the mutual strugglings of these two - keep the world in such equilibrium as we see. In religion, the Catholic principle which makes self nothing, and the Protestant principle which makes self all-important, each man having to give an account of himself to God, - these are both designed to contend the one against the other, and whilst Catholicism is to cheek the selfish individualism into which Protestantism is apt to lapse, Protestantism is in its turn to struggle against that servility of mind into which the principle of self-abnegation, the essential principle of Catholicism, is prone to degenerate. It is in the resultant of these two forces that the purest form of religious life is found. And in regard to the life of obedience to God, the life which he would have us live here on earth, that, too, is governed by the action of opposed laws. There is the law which works through our bodily nature, and which if left alone would make us, not in body only but in soul, of the earth earthy, forever "groveling here below." But there is the opposed law which works through our spiritual nature; but, blessed as it is, it needs to be disciplined and made perfectly healthful to us by means of the salutary necessity of giving heed in due measure to the lesser law just spoken of. The first preserves us from being mere enthusiasts, the second from the far greater peril of enslavement to the world, the flesh, and the devil acting through them. And in those two tendencies, one of which is plainly referred to in this sixteenth verse and the other implied, the love of the old is contrasted with the love of the new. Here, again, we have set before us two great forces in humanity, which by their mutual contentions preserve it in tolerable health and comfort, and ensure its steady, onward progress. Conservatism and liberalism are not the products of any one national revolution, like our own in 1688, but they are two God-implanted tendencies of the human mind, each of which has its appropriate and most useful function, and neither of which can be dispensed with without harm to the whole body politic' in every nation under the sun. To lie like a log on the ocean of human life, useless and despised amid the nationalities of the world, is the doom of those who will blindly close their eyes to the fresh light and truth which are forever breaking forth upon the world; to run upon the rooks and make shipwreck of everything is the doom of those who despise the teachings of experience, and care only to be forever finding out some new way and to follow some new guide. But let these two act and react each on the other - the love of the old upon the love of the new, the tendency to be always looking back upon the tendency to be always looking forward, and then the result is that men will come generally to practically act upon that prudent, though to many minds most prosaic, maxim which counsels -
"Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside." But in regard to the way in which God would have us go, our text teaches-
I. THAT THERE ARE NO NEW WAYS. From the beginning that which the Lord God hath required of man has been, even as it yet is, that we should "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God." The gospel of the Lord Jesus is not to supersede or make void this eternal law, but to establish it as it never had been or could have been before. "What the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh," did, "that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us." For this end, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the burden of guilt is taken off from us, and a new heart and a right spirit given. But the law of life is ever the same. It is the old and good way.
II. NEVERTHELESS, MEN ARE CONTINUALLY DEVISING NEW WAYS. It was so in Jeremiah's time; it is so in our own. By denials of truths most surely believed amongst us for many generations, or by additions thereto, or by substitutions of other forms of faith, men have done to-clay as in the days of old. Every magazine and newspaper, besides innumerable volumes ever issuing from the press, - all alike are popular as they throw over old ideas and propound "some new thing." Science and secularism and superstition between them would, lung ere this, have destroyed the good old way, had it not been so firmly constructed that all these powers combined are not adequate for such a task.
III. IN THESE NEW WAYS WHAT IS TRUE WILL BE FOUND TO BE OLD, AND WHAT IS NOT OLD WILL BE FOUND TO BE NOT TRUE. For there are tests by which new teachings may be tried, and ought to be tried, and by which the prophets of God tried the new teachings of their day.
1. The test of conscience. The human conscience confesses God. It is borne in upon the human heart that God is. Nothing can permanently stifle or destroy that confession, which Conscience, left to herself, would ever make. The very word "conscience" implies the recognition of some other being as with us, in us, around and about us. It confesses God. All teachings, therefore, that deny God, or explain him away as a blind force or law, or identify him with his universe, the pantheist's God, - these teachings by this sure test are tried, and found wanting.
2. The test of result. Note what is the result of any professed truth upon personal happiness. God, who has given us so many things richly to enjoy, must from his very nature purpose the blessedness of his children. But if a system be offered us, the inevitable result of which is to blot out hope, to shut us up to this often most miserable life, as all they would do who would take from us the Christian hope. then its drear and dread effect upon the heart of man proclaims it false. See, too, how any teaching tells upon character. Here is a surer test still. Whatever else is dark and obscure, goodness and truth must ever be right. But if any new doctrines tend to deteriorate character, as many of them do, to make sin easier and virtue more difficult; if they throw the reins upon our lower nature; if they take away the great motives to nobleness of life; - then again they are demonstrated false. And note their effect upon society generally. Can the denial of God's existence, of the religious basis of morality, as Mr. Herbert Spencer denies it, of the authority of Holy Scripture, of the sanctity of the sabbath, of the Divine mission of the Son of God, of the resurrection of the dead, the judgment and future blessedness or woe depending upon our lives here; - can the denial of any of these things, which, alas! is common enough now, tend to the good of society? Must not the general well-being of mankind be greatly threatened if such doctrines be generally accepted? But doctrines that would thus destroy good are ipso facto declared to have no part nor lot in the kingdom of truth. By these tests of conscience and result let the new ways be tried, and it will be seen that what in them is true is old, and what is not old is not true.
IV. WHEREFORE, THEN, DO MEN DEVISE THESE NEW WAYS? The causes are sometimes:
1. Intellectual. Mental restlessness on the part of some will lead men, even in the most perilous matters, to be doubting the old and devising what is new. And God often suffers them to wander in the far and drear country of mental unrest, and to feed upon its husks, and so come to themselves, and arise and go back to their Father's heart and home, from whence it had been better had they never strayed.
2. Sometimes, and more often, moral. Religion is that which binds. It is a ligature, a restraining cord upon the evil propensities of our nature. If, therefore, doctrines be offered which will relax that little-loved bond, they will be eagerly welcomed. A faith that will give not true liberty, but "license," men will ever love.
3. And always spiritual. Where the heart is surrendered to Christ the mind will not be ensnared by these subtleties of the evil one. If the Holy Spirit of God have wrought in us the great regenerating change, we shall have liberty and deliverance from all these. Safety from the wanderings of the intellect, as well as from the worse wanderings of our sinful nature, are alike ensured to him who has given himself up unreservedly to God.
V. BUT THOSE WHO WOULD WALK IN THE WAY GOD WOULD HAVE THEM GO MAY KNOW THE WAY BY ITS BEING "OLD" AND GOOD. All old ways are not good, but the way of God is both. It is old, therefore familiar to many; has been often described, is well marked out; its different stages are well known. "The wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein." And it is good. It leads to him who is the supreme Good - God. It has been the chosen way of all the good. It makes those good who walk therein. He who alone on this earth of ours was perfectly good - our Lord Jesus - walked in it, and lives to enable us to walk therein also. It is the will of God that we should walk therein. "Its ways are all ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace." "Ye shall find rest to your souls." For all these reasons it is the good way as well as the old; therefore let us "stand," "see," and "ask" for this way, and this way alone. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.