"ASK FOR THE OLD PATHS" (1)
Reading: Luke 15
Our confrontation is with the world and worldliness, – and a confrontation is what it is as we try to fight the good fight. Our confrontation presents us with an obvious challenge that we all have to meet daily. However, as we are constantly reminded, there is another battlefield that is quite different with the enemy much more insidiously camouflaged, and the warfare far more subtle.
That battle is about our unity, our fellowship, the maintenance of Divine law and order, and the need for us to carefully watch out for the enemy within our ranks, as well as for the obvious enemy without.
Man has organised so much of ordinary life today so that broad grey areas exist right across it. They are there to provide more lateral movement for those who desire what they term ‘freedom’; but, as we should be well aware, in the Divine way there is no greyness at all.
Yahweh’s way is very clear, – there is black and white, very well defined, and our duty, our absolute duty to our Heavenly Father, through the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, commencing at baptism, is to maintain His Truth in all its purity.
Brethren and Sisters, are we doing that?
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5;
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
We can only answer that for ourselves, but as we do so, let us also take a note of caution from Proverbs, where we read: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16.25).
This, as you will no doubt have gathered refers to the way driven by ‘sin in the flesh’. So; it is right that we constantly consider our own position, and pray earnestly, as David did so many times:
“Shew me thy ways, O Lord.”
“Teach me thy way.”
Clearly, the need to proceed along Yahweh’s way and to prayerfully maintain doctrinal purity is powerfully shown to us.
The apostles also warn us to beware of those who will infiltrate the Ecclesias and lead many astray with their wayward thinking, likening them to “wolves that will not spare the flock.”
So, Brethren and Sisters, from all that, we realise that there is only one right way, and that way must be maintained in its doctrinal purity.
Scripture tells us that this stance will come under attack from within our own ranks.
We all probably realise the need — yes, the need — for doctrinal purity, but how are we going to maintain such purity?
Perhaps Jeremiah can help, for he certainly was a man among men. Look with me at Jeremiah 6.16-17:
Note what the prophet was telling the people. Stand in the way, see, and ask for the old paths, walk therein, and listen to the watchmen.
Yahweh is saying to His people, including spiritual Israel, and we pray that that is us: He is saying, “Stand, ask, walk and listen”.
In an everyday setting these are activities that are somewhat out of vogue today.
Modern thought says, “Don’t stand around; move on, make some progress”.
Jeremiah says the opposite. “Stand!”
He also says. “Ask!”
Modern thought says “No, don’t ask, if you want to do it, then do it”.
But Jeremiah says. “Stand and ask”.
Modern thought says: “We don’t want to walk that way again; that’s been done for a long time”.
But Jeremiah is suggesting that is just what we should do.
He also says we should “listen”.
Nobody likes listening today: We constantly hear, or see actions which imply — “I’m not listening to him; I’ve heard all that before.” Indeed, today if a person has the same values, views and morals as previous generations he would probably be encouraged by this modern world to think again, because he surely must be old-fashioned and out-of-date.
Paul, in a passage we should quote every Sunday, compliments the Corinthian brethren for maintaining the “ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” 1 Cor 11:2. The word “ordinances” in the Greek would be better translated ‘traditions’, and Paul clarifies what he means in verse 23, where he says “for I have received of the Lord that which I also I delivered unto you…”
In nature, ‘purity’, when achieved, needs constant vigilance in order to maintain, as any scientist will confirm; and the slightest pollution in a controlled environment spoils, indeed ruins, the total effect.
Brethren and sisters, The Truth is no different. The only purity of doctrine and practice to which we must aspire relates to practice and instruction given some two thousand years ago.
It is very, very old-fashioned.
It does not change. Neither does the author of such doctrine and practice, even Yahweh Himself.
There is to be no new enlightened way, no fancy change of direction, and no switched-on new approach.
To us the watchword is maintenance.
And even in temporal things how wearying maintenance can be: around the house, the garden, around the hall or with the modern machines we all have.
It requires constant effort. As soon as we have done one job there is another, and we have very little to show for it. Yet if we leave it, very serious wear, breakdown and finally ruin will result.
Doctrinal purity is exactly the same: “Stand in the ways, and walk therein”, says Jeremiah.
The maintenance of doctrines can only be upheld by continual reminding of the correct way to walk, and walking in the centre of the path with similarly determined company is the only way to keep your path straight.
In Jeremiah’s time the very fabric of society for him and his contemporaries was being shaken, just as is ours, and his plea was for the maintenance of purity.
Where could it be found?
In new ways?
In new ideas?
In new concepts?
Through a different approach?
No to all of those suggestions, but it could, and still can, be found in the old paths!
When we look at that passage in Jeremiah 6, we should note that the word for ‘paths’ is “a well-trodden way”.
Paul recommends to us; “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess 2:15)
In a similar way, should we not listen to our forbears, those faithful pioneers of the Truth who have left us the result of their studies?
Yet, sadly, some babes in Christ think they know better – we even had a letter presented to a business meeting at an Ecclesia we had to do with, condemning the respect for the pioneers as held by those older members there—which means the breakdown is, or was in that case, in our very midst, Brethren and Sisters. The very sad thing is that of those who presented the letter, a number have left the fold.
Jeremiah does not counsel us to talk, speak and conjecture over possibilities or hypotheses; he counsels us to listen. Yes, there is a lot to learn and remember, but we are talking about doctrinal purity.
If we were all given a piece of paper, I wonder how many of the thirty foundation stones of our Statement of Faith we could list?
How many of the thirty-six doctrines to be rejected we could list?
How many of the fifty-five commandments of Christ that we hold as being essential to our fellowship could we list?
Perhaps more to the point, here is a question we could all answer: When was the last time we actually read through the Statement of Faith?
Well then, perhaps it would be a good starting point for us each to read it through, and at the end of it say, “Yes, I agree with that, and I intend to defend its doctrines zealously”.
What does that truly mean?
It means that we really must take on the practical and active role of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper, so that, actions, comments, suggested doctrinal changes, additions to, or deductions from the Statement of Faith, or subtle shifts of emphasis, however small, relating to matters in our Statement of Faith, must be dealt with promptly and directly.
It is the easy route to keep quiet when we disagree, or even to avoid the issue completely, but the injunction of Scripture is quite clear.
That does not mean we speak (gossip?) to all and sundry, all those who will still listen to us about what we think everybody else believes and who said what. If we have a problem with a brother or sister, there is a scripturally designated procedure to follow.
These matters are the core of our unity and our fellowship.
There are those who go on and on, ad infinitum, about core values; Brethren and Sisters, our core values are proclaimed in the Scriptures of Truth, the Commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Statement of Faith as drawn from those pure Scriptures.
Our age is one of negotiation, conciliation, and one in which we are told to consider the consequences of our actions. And in one sense these are the attributes of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
However; it is dangerous to confuse such ideals when they become entangled with matters of doctrine, commandment, or principle. If any principle is at stake there can be no negotiation, compromise or conciliation, or even any human mercy; it is not ours to give. They are not our principles; we only accept and acknowledge them.
As in the laboratory or controlled environment, where there is any breach of standards, methods or protections, it becomes an immediate emergency, to be dealt with swiftly, efficiently and above all, conclusively, and so it is in the Truth.
We do not help anyone, ourselves included, by holding back because of potential repercussions from those holding or countenancing strange or different views. It is a loving duty to strive to achieve and maintain purity, not a theoretical ideal.
There is also the advice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt 7:6).
There we are exhorted that only so much can be done, if the response is continually against that which is right, with the flesh presenting itself in anger and hate, one is not glorifying Yahweh in persisting with attempts to convert those who do not wish to be converted, when they have had the Truth shown to them, then they must react rightly for we cannot do it for them.