Walk on the Old Paths
Based on a sermon from Singapore
Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it;” (Jer 6:16a)
Why did the Lord urge the Israelites to walk the old paths? Aren’t new ways better? God answers, “Then you will find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16b). We will find rest if we walk the old paths. We may then ask, what are these old paths? Do all old paths lead to the good way?
Sometimes, these old paths may be good, but we can no longer return to them. As we age, physically, we can only do a fraction of the things we used to do in the past, and we know that whilst we can reminisce over the good old days, we cannot return to those bygone years. Then there are other old paths that may not necessarily be the good way. A person who worships idols may say “My grandfather worshipped these idols. My father worshipped these idols. We have been worshipping these idols as long as I can remember!” Obviously, this old path is not where the good way is. What then are these old paths where the good way is?
Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” (Jer 2:2b)
Which period of the wilderness journey was God referring to when He said “You went after me in the wilderness”? After all, countless Israelites had fallen there because they lacked faith. In fact, God was referring to the time when they left Egypt. Exodus 24 beautifully depicts how Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, with Moses instructing them on the words of the Lord (Ex 24:3), and how they responded, “All that the Lord has said, we will do and be obedient” (Ex 24:7). God made a blood covenant with them (Ex 24:8–10), and the leaders ascended the mountain where they saw God and ate and drank with Him (Ex 24:9–11).
This was the beginning of their covenant with God. This was unadulterated, undefiled, and pure faith, which God described as Israel’s first love (Jer 2:2). Some say that first love is a time when everything around you is transformed to become beautiful. Such was the faith of the Israelites; although they had nothing in the wilderness, in "a land not sown,” their eyes were fixed on God, and their hearts belonged to God.
Today, God wants us to return to the old paths, where the good way of our faith is. It could be the faith of the early believers in the Bible, the faith of our predecessors, or even the beginning of our personal faith. When we first believed, we had nothing, and yet, we had everything because our eyes were fixed only on God. With this in mind, let us explore three areas of faith where we ought to walk on the old paths where the good way is.
THE OLD PATHS OF TRUTH
First, we must walk on the old paths of the truth. What are the old paths of the truth, and why is there an urgent need to return to these paths? During the time of Prophet Jeremiah, the Israelites did not realize that they were about to be invaded by the Babylonians. False prophets were still preaching messages of peace so God urgently called out to them to return to the old paths, to the law that God had given them in the first covenant.
Today, we are facing urgent times as well. Apostle Paul has forewarned us that in the last days, there will be people who corrupt and resist the truth. They will not endure sound doctrine but will gather up for themselves teachers to soothe their itching ears. It is important that we are not influenced by them.
Now, how do we determine what the old paths of the truth are?
Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. (Eph 2:20)
Paul reminds us that the church of God is founded on the apostles and on Jesus Christ who is the chief cornerstone, as He is the central message of the entire Bible. Hence, the apostle provides us with the answer to our question: it is from the very Scriptures that we can see the old paths of truth.
Yet today, many doubt the Bible. Some say that the New Testament is merely a commentary of the apostles, while others claim the Old Testament is merely a shadow of the things to come and hence, need not be read. But we believe that the Bible is the measure with which we judge any doctrine. We have to return to the Bible as the basis for all doctrines.
In Jeremiah 6:16, God calls out to His people to seek out the old paths very carefully. First, they must stand in the ways and see, because they should not set out first, and ask for the right way later. Then, they should ask where the good way is, for the old paths may have been neglected or even forgotten. These paths may be difficult to find, being covered by weeds. The people have to search diligently before walking in these paths. Otherwise, they risk taking the wrong road.
The apostolic church had great passion for the truth. Acts 2 relates how the first believers congregated daily at the temple to listen to the apostles’ doctrine. Our predecessors in the True Jesus Church were just as diligent with the truth; their motto was to return to the old paths, to return to the apostolic church. According to the records of an early worker, the True Jesus Church was already practicing all five basic doctrines: water baptism, footwashing, Holy Communion, Holy Spirit, and Sabbath-keeping, even before 1920. Although our early workers’ understanding of these doctrines might not have been comprehensive, they recognized that these were the teachings of the apostles, essential for salvation. They were also very particular about the truth. Like the Bereans, they searched the Scriptures to examine whether what was preached was according to the Bible. In fact, these are the traditions we have received:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess 2:15)
Although we did not receive these traditions directly by word of mouth from the apostles, we have received these teachings through their epistles in the New Testament. Sadly, we have believers today who no longer accept these teachings. They openly challenge and question these beliefs.
In Matthew 13, Jesus spoke the parable of a man who found a treasure in the field and sold everything he had to buy the field. When we first believed, we were like this man; we treated the truth we had received as treasure. We were very passionate and eager to verify whether these teachings were biblically sound. But do we still see the treasure in the field now, or do we only see a field of grass? We have to continue to hold fast to the doctrines that we were taught.
THE OLD PATHS OF EVANGELISM
Second, we need to walk on the old paths of evangelism. Before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, He commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel. The early apostolic church responded to this commission: the apostles preached the word with all boldness (Acts 4:13), and the believers, despite persecution, traveled far and wide to preach the word (Acts 8:4). They preached throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Antioch and even as far as Rome. The church father, Tertullian, once said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” testifying how the church was established on the blood of those who bore witness and gave their lives for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The same zeal was found in the early days of the True Jesus Church. During that time, our church’s growth was phenomenal. Our believers traveled by foot or by ship, sometimes having to go without food and shelter. Wherever they went, they preached the gospel and established churches. An article depicting a nine-month journey in 1920 details how our members established a total of forty-two churches.
When we first believed, we were just as eager to preach the gospel, be it to our friends, schoolmates, parents, colleagues, or to anyone who was willing to listen. However, when no one believed, our initial zeal took a beating. We were like Prophet Jeremiah who felt discouraged to speak the word of God. The Lord sent him to warn the people, but nobody listened and believed him. Instead, they mocked and laughed at him. Jeremiah was so dejected that he decided to keep his mouth shut and not preach to them anymore. “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name’” (Jer 20:9a). Perhaps Jeremiah thought: “Why should I continue to warn them? I am just a laughingstock before them.” Yet did he stop speaking as a result? “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jer 20:9b).
Even though Jeremiah resolved to stop speaking to the people, he could not contain the word of God inside him.
O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. (Jer 4:19)
The Babylonians had yet to be at their doorsteps, but Jeremiah could hear the sound of the trumpet and the alarm of the impending war in his soul. He knew the people would perish if he remained silent. How could he withhold God’s word from them?
During the Second World War, there was a German Christian congregation who attended services in a small church. A railway rack ran behind that church. Each Sunday morning, this congregation would hear the whistle from passing trains. One Sunday, they noticed something different: cries were coming out from the train as it passed by. Later, they realized that the train was transporting Jews to the concentration camps. Week after week, that train whistle would blow. Everyone dreaded to hear the sound of the whistle because the Jews would cry out to them, “Help us! Help us!” Since these church goers could not help these poor people, they decided to stop their ears from listening. So whenever the train went by, they would sing at the top of their voices to drown the cries of the Jews.
Like these German Christians, we have heard the cries of the people of the world. Are we, like them, going to mask out the cries of the lost souls? Or are we going to be like Jeremiah, unable to hold back the word of God? Paul encouraged Timothy in this manner: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2a).
Quite often, the gospel is out of season with the people of the world, especially in our modern society where everyone is busy. Not only are we busy, the people around us are also very busy, and it is difficult to even find someone with the time to listen to the gospel. But, if we do not preach the word in and out of season, we will easily miss the opportunity to preach.
Recently, I went to a computer lab at my office to do some work. I had not been there for quite some time. I met a colleague who initiated a conversation with me. In the past, I thought that he probably would not be interested in Christianity. To my surprise, he told me that he had started to read the Bible recently and found it very good. He even asked me, “Where is your church?” and so I invited him to attend our evangelistic service.
Circumstances do change, and so does the state of mind of those to whom we have preached. People who were uninterested in the gospel in the past might be receptive to the gospel today. The more pertinent question is whether we are there to preach to them when they are ready to listen. Therefore, let us reignite our evangelistic zeal to preach to our friends, and invite them to our church.
THE OLD PATHS OF PRAYER
Third, we need to walk on the old paths of prayer. The apostolic church always esteemed and emphasized on prayers, especially prayers for the Holy Spirit. The apostles waited and prayed for the Holy Spirit before they embarked on God’s work. When the believers in Samaria had not received the Holy Spirit, the church sent the apostles to pray for them. In Ephesus, the first question that Paul asked the believers was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you first believed?” To the early believers, receiving the Holy Spirit was the most important thing in their Christian journey.
In Isaiah 60:17, God says, “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, instead of iron I will bring silver, instead of wood, bronze, and instead of stones, iron.” God tells us that He makes superior what is inferior and hence, God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us become a better person.
We believe that praying for the Holy Spirit is of utmost importance. But as time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus and pray with the same urgency. Sometimes, we comfort ourselves by thinking that God will eventually give us the Holy Spirit before we die. Whilst it is true that there are testimonies of brethren who received the Holy Spirit just before they died, there are also countless others of whom no one knows whether they received the Holy Spirit before they died. We who are still alive should not leave such an important matter to chance and procrastinate in praying for the Holy Spirit.
If we recalled the time when we first believed, we remember how we used to pray with persistence and earnestness. Then, we only had one thing on our mind: receiving the Holy Spirit. What about now? Let us return to the old paths of prayer where the good way is. Let us rekindle our initial fervor, and pray earnestly for the promised Holy Spirit. Hebrews 10:35–36 exhorts us: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”
In the United Kingdom, there is a society known as “Ramblers,” and their aim is to promote walking to preserve the country’s footpath network. They realize that these footpaths would become overgrown with grass, and over time, fall into oblivion if they are not being cared for. Let us strive to be like these ramblers and return to the old paths where the good way is. Let us be a rambler for the truth, for evangelism, and for prayer.