In this crazy world we can lose our way. Under the influences of the culture surrounding us we can become like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water; so unaware of what is actually happening that we don’t even comprehend the danger of our situation. Truth is being attacked at an increasing rate and it is crucial that we know what is True and what is counterfeit; where we are headed and why we are going there.
To accomplish this, we must become diligent students of God and His Word. This is where we find Truth and direction.
As J. C. Ryle says in his book Old Paths :
“Inspiration, in short, is the very keel and foundation of Christianity. If Christians have no Divine book to turn to as the warrant of their doctrine and practice, they have no solid ground for present peace or hope, and no right to claim the attention of mankind. They are building on a quicksand, and their faith is vain. We ought to be able to say boldly, “We are what we are, and we do what we do, because we have here a book which we believe to be the Word of God.”
When I was 15 years old my family started a small homeschool store that we ran from our home. It too was called “Old Paths” and the name was taken from Jeremiah 6:16:
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.
Those words, and the lesson they contain, made a lasting impression that has stayed with me through my whole life.
A few years ago it struck me how perfectly this verse was summed up into three parts: Seek, walk, rest. In classical education we are very familiar with the Latin word “Trivium”. The meaning translates to “the three-fold way” or “place where three roads meet” or simply, “three roads”. In education we apply this to three of the seven liberal arts. I think it also has a perfect application here. The old paths are a “three fold way” – Seeking, Walking and Resting – intersecting into one.
“Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way …”
The first step on our journey – and the one we must take before we can ever take another in the right direction – is to seek God and His Ways. Scripture is full of the vital importance of this:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness Matthew 6:33
Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and that seek Him with the whole heart. Psalm 119:2
Order my steps in Thy Word. Psalm 119:133
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3:5,6
…Neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee. 2 Chronicles 20:12
I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me. Proverbs 8:17
And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
Without direction and purpose we will wander aimlessly, drifting hither and yon in whichever way the wind is currently blowing. We must seek His paths and find our course by studying the Guide Book we’ve been given. It is this that will navigate us safely through all the twists and turns of our journey.
The old paths are not very popular and are likely to be overgrown and hard to find. To slice through the weeds, obstacles and confusion we need our Two-Edged Sword of the Spirit; to illuminate the way we need the Lamp to Our Feet and the Light to Our Path.
In James 1:5-7 God has promised to give wisdom to those who seek it:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
There is a caveat to this promise though. We must be faithful to obey the truths He reveals to us:
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
“Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.” (Proverbs 4:26) “Established” means “fixed”, “stable”, “secure”, “make firm”, to “be enduring”. Once God has shown us His path we must stand firmly on it as we walk steadfastly in it.
“…And walk therein…”
With my whole heart have I sought Thee: O let me not wander from Thy commandments. Psalm 119:10
That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory. 1 Thess. 2:12
In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. Deut. 30:16
This is where the rubber starts to hit the road, which as Christian discovered on the way to the Celestial City, can have rough, weary and lonely stretches. There will be trials and testing. There will be mountains. There will be times when the old paths lead straight through deep valleys; where the way seems so dark we can hardly put one foot in front of the other . Here is where we hold fast, press on and persevere to the end; with our Sword in one hand and our children led by the other.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Deut. 6: 7-9
As we are faithful to love Him with everything in us, to seek and walk in His ways and to bring our children along, the old paths will be restored. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 58:12:
And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
We are called to build our lives, homes, families and culture for His Kingdom and glory, not only for now, but for generations still to be born. We can be the ones restoring the old paths so that others coming along behind can more easily find the way. Like the determined Israelites who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem we are “doing a great work” (Nehemiah 6:3)
Here is another key point: the old paths are not to be strayed from. As we journey through life they are to be our dwelling place. This does not mean, however, that we stay in one spot; we are to steadily make forward progress always learning, growing and advancing.
There is a powerful paradox here. We move forward as we look back. Not in the way the Israelites longed for Egypt and Lot’s wife mourned Sodom. A thing is not virtuous simply because it is old and once was. We do not look backward just to cling to what is familiar. Much is better left in the past.
As Matthew Henry puts it:
We must not be guided merely by antiquity, as if the plea of prescription and long usage were alone sufficient to justify our path. No; there is an old way which wicked men have trodden, (Job 22:15). But, when we ask for the old paths, it is only in order to find out the good way, the highway of the upright.
We look back instead at “Ebenezers” raised in remembrance of what God has done, and to obey as the Israelites did when the lost book of the law was found and hidden truth was rediscovered. Semper Reformanda – “Always reforming” – leads us to Truth, and Truth has always been.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time. ~ T.S. Eliot
These old paths are where it is all supposed to happen. This is where we rule over the domain God has given us. This is where we teach our children. This is where we raise our armies for Him. This is where the battles are fought and won. This is the road we take as we advance Christ’s kingdom.
“…And ye shall find rest for your souls.”
As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in Him. 2 Samuel 22:31
But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Proverbs 4:18
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. Psalm 119:35
For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalm 84:11
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11
Seeking God and walking in His ways leads us to joy, blessing and rest.
Wait a minute though (cue music screeching to a halt) …what about the times when we cry out to Him and He seems silent? What about when we are barely getting through the days, and they are exhausting and hard. What about when we feel like we are crawling along – pulling ourselves forward by our fingernails with the whole weight of our little worlds on our backs and there seems to be no relief in sight? What about when the the Enemy whispers in our ear that what we are dong is worthless and wasted and we find it hard to disagree? What about when everyone around us thinks we’re crazy – and they look so sane and rested? What about when we feel all alone on the journey? What about when we feel too tired to even want to be encouraged and reminded of why we are on this road in the first place? Aren’t all those ideals we hold to impossibly out of reach anyway? Where in the world is our rest and strength in Him then?
Here is a crucial (but sometimes painful) point to remember: Though God may at times give us physical strength, refreshment and renewal, we aren’t necessarily promised physical rest here on earth. We are, however, promised something that goes far deeper: Rest for our souls:
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; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15
When we seek Him, we learn to trust Him, when we trust Him we are able to rest in Him. It is the soul rest that is the deep spring from which our joy comes; the oasis that refreshes us on the long and weary road, the well in our valley of Baca. It is quiet confidence in the Lord that gives us strength, it’s rest in Him that rescues us – that keeps our hope and vision alive; without it we lose our purpose and our way. It is faith that causes us to cry out to Him for help and sees Him answer in all the little details. It is what gives us delight and peace and joy like we’ve never known. It is what we fall back on and what pushes us forward. Our trust in Him strengthens us to obey Him and our obedience leads to even greater trust. It is soul rest that undergirds us and gives us a sure foundation on which we can stand even when the winds blow hard. When we are built on the Rock (Matt. 7:24) He holds us up even (and especially) when we come to the end of ourselves :
Sometimes on the Rock I tremble,
Faint of heart and weak of knee,
But the Steadfast Rock of Ages,
Never trembles under me.
If we could walk this road in our own strength we would not learn to depend on God the way we do when we fall exhausted and despairing at His feet – and when we learn to depend on Him, then we also glorify Him. Instead of patting ourselves on the back and feeling satisfied with our wonderful accomplishments we point to our faithful God and know the only reason we accomplish anything is because of His grace and mercy.
Let us return to the beautiful old paths, the “three-fold way” – keeping God’s standard ever before us as we “Run the race that is set before us” and “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” When we come to the end of our journey, may we be able to say with Paul:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day… 2 Timothy 4:7”