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…
The prophet here employs the memory of the past as a motive to repentance. He would fain persuade the people to return to the better ways in which their fathers walked. The calamities that were falling so heavily upon them were the result of their having forsaken those good old ways. Let them consider how they have fallen, search out the real causes of the trouble and sorrow they endure, retrace their wandering steps, and the old prosperity shall come back to them again. Note here -
I. THE DIVERSE WAYS MEN TAKE, diverse as regards their moral quality and issues. "Stand ye in the ways." Think of the various kinds of moral life that men are leading. Amid the social conditions and relations of this world we are as travelers with many paths branching out in different directions before them, who must choose their own. We may know little of the internal experiences of our associates in the pilgrimage of life, but the broad types of character, the general tendencies of moral habit, are open enough to our view. The "ways" are many, but there is only one path of eternal rectitude and blessedness. There is the way of reckless transgression, of thoughtless indifference, of base avarice, of exclusive devotion to earthly ambitions, of mere virtuous respectability, of religious indecision, etc.; and there is the way of faith and piety, "the path of the just which is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Men cannot help to some extent revealing outwardly the tenor of the life within them. Every one of us bears more or less clearly upon him the stamp of a certain distinctive character. Whatever the bent of his spirit may be, it will always betray itself, in look, manner, speech, conduct, by the books he reads, the friendships he forms, the places he frequents, the gratifications in which be delights, through a thousand channels of self-revelation. We are all "living epistles" of something - some type of character, some order of moral life - "known and read of men."
II. THE THOUGHTFUL OBSERVATION THESE CONDITIONS DEMAND. "Stand in the ways, and see." It is a great thing to know how to "see" There are those who "seeing, see not." One of the first lessons in the moral science of life, as in physical science, is observation - to know how to note facts and trace laws and draw conclusions, to know how to learn and to turn what is learnt to good account. The characters and lives of others are not to be to us mere matters of amusement or philosophic speculation, much less ill-natured criticism; but sources of instruction, teachers of practical truth. They all have their admonitory and exemplary use. The higher advantages of social life have never been reaped, the very rudiments of our duty as social beings have not been mastered, till we thoroughly apprehend this. Let the young specially lay the lesson to heart. Their position is favorable - the plain of life before them, not yet entangled in a network of circumstantial difficulties, nothing to undo that ought never to have been done, no false steps to retrace that were rashly taken. But how soon may they be drawn into forbidden and dangerous paths if they do not consider! As the ship glides imperceptibly from the open sea into the broad mouth of the river, whose distant banks are hidden, so easily are they led captive to the power of evil if they allow themselves to drift with the tide of outward influence and inward impulse, and will not think. At the same time, enlarged experience of life may be expected to give added force to its moral lessons. Beset as a man may be with associations that seem to determine his course for him in spite of himself, it is always possible for him to pause and consider his way. The darkness and confusion of the storm may be too great to allow the sailor to take his observations and find out his real place on the pathless ocean; not so with any man as concerns his relation to the heavenly powers and the eternal realities. He has always light enough to "discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Malachi 3:18). The true way of life is clearly revealed to those who are willing to "see." "The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein" (Isaiah 35:8).
III. THE PRACTICAL RESULT TO WHICH SUCH OBSERVATION MUST LEAD. "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein." Asking and acting, inquiry after the right way, and a resolute determination to follow it; when these conditions are supplied there can be little doubt as to the issue. A life of practical godliness, based on faith in revealed truth, springing from the inspiration of the spirit of truth and purity in the secret soul, - this is the way. It is the "old way." New as regards the light Christianity has shed upon it, new as regards the revelation of him in whose redeeming work its deep foundations have been laid, it is "old as regards its essential principles of faith and righteousness. The martyrs, prophets, and holy men of every age have left their glowing footprints upon it. Elijah ascended from it in his chariot of fire. David made the statutes of the Lord his delight as he pursued his pilgrimage along it. Abraham trod the same path, led on by the star of promise. Upon it Enoch walked in lowly fellowship with God. It is stained with the blood of righteous Abel.
Our glorious Leader claims our praise
For his own pattern given;
While the long cloud of witnesses
Show the same path to heaven." The way is as plain as Divine teaching and human experience can make it; let us gird up the loins of our minds to "walk in it."
IV. THE REWARD OF PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. "Ye shall find rest unto your souls." "Rest," for beings such as we are, is the repose of the mind in discovered truth, the pacification of the conscience in the assurance of Divine forgiveness, the satisfaction of the heart in the embrace of real good, the balance of all our powers in a holy service. In the life of faith and godliness, the life Christ gives to all who come to him, can such rest alone be found. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me... and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29). - W.
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.