OLD Paths

"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" (Jeremiah 6:16).

On October 31st, 1517, a Roman Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther walked up to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. In his hands were a hammer, a nail, a piece of paper on which he had written 95 theses. In those days, when an academician wanted to call for a debate, he would write his proposition or theses and have them nailed to the door of the church, which essentially served as a notice board. Dr Luther was calling for a debate. But the debate did not take place. Apparently, no one dared to take up the challenge. Luther wanted a debate on what he perceived to be the abuses and errors of the Roman Catholic Church especially in regards to the substitution of penance (performance of various acts to atone for one’s sin) and indulgences (payment of money to reduce time spent in purgatory) for true repentance. Luther was hoping that there might be some who would be willing to defend the church’s position. But none stood up. Instead, the vast majority of the common people and academicians could see the wisdom and rightness of what he was saying. The result was that many eagerly copied down the theses, and someone even had it printed using the recently invented printing machine, and then distributed it far and wide throughout Germany and beyond. And everywhere, whenever the document was read, fires of religious zeal flared up, and people sought to return to the ways of the Lord. Luther’s 95 Theses became instrumental in the hand of our Sovereign Lord to awaken His people who had too long been held under Roman shackles of legalism and superstitions. The 16th Protestant Reformation had begun.

A good thing happened in the Reformation of the Church that ensued. The true Church of Christ which had largely been hidden in the wilderness from Medieval days emerged as a credible and powerful movement, which at the same time highlighted the apostasy of Roman Catholicism starkly.

But 487 years have passed. What has happened to the Reformation? Roman Catholicism is still an apostate synagogue of Satan for she cannot change her doctrine. But what about the Protestant Church?

Thank God that all around the world there are still churches, which remember the Reformation and can trace their doctrine and practices to the magisterial Reformers such as John Calvin and John Knox, or are honestly adhering to the great Protestant Confessions such as the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. But sadly, however, large swaths of Protestantism today have forgotten about the Reformation. Indeed, many so-called Protestant churches have veered so far away from biblical Christianity that they are arguably worse off than Roman Catholicism. Pelagianism, Liberalism, Antinomianism, Relativism, Easy-Believism, Ecumenism, Charismaticism, Evolutionalism… these are just some of the isms that have overwhelmed so many so-called Protestant Churches that it is almost an oxymoron to speak of ‘the Protestant Church.’

What shall we do in the face of the dire confusions of our day? We must do no other, I believe, then to do what the Reformers sought to do, namely, to return to the Old Paths, and to stay on them tenaciously.

But what are the ‘Old Paths’?

What are the Old Paths?

The Old Paths, we must realise, are not simply some ancient paths, for some of these ancient paths were ways that led to death. "Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden?" asks Eliphaz (Job 22:15).

We must therefore not make the mistake of thinking that whatever is older is better as many traditionalists seem to think. No, no; we must not think that if a practice was found in the 16th century, then it must be good, for if old is better than new, then the practices of the 14th century must be better than those of the 16th century! But we know that in the 14th century, the church was in the darkness of the medieval ages.

What then are the Old Paths? The Old Paths must refer to the "way everlasting" (Ps 139:24), "the good way" (Jer 6:16) and the way of life (Prov 16:11). They refer to the ways of the eternal God. "Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths" (Ps 25:4), pleads the Psalmist. They are the ways that are long settled in heaven in the counsel of the Godhead and prescribed in the Word of God, for says the Psalmist: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps 119:105). The Old Paths as such, is the narrow way of life (Mt 7:13-14) that is cut out by the Law of God (cf. 119:35). Thus to ‘work iniquity [Grk. Lawlessness]’ (Mt 7:23) is to walk on the broad way that leads to destruction. And since the Law of God is summarized in the Ten Commandments, to violate God’s Commandment, is to walk out of the Old Paths.

Of course, since we are by nature "without strength" (Rom 5:6), none of us can walk in the Old Paths by our own ability. Luther was the first Protestant to highlight this fact when he reminds us that "The just shall live by faith" (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4).

Walking in the Old Paths, in other words, requires that we know not just the Law of God, but that we know Christ and be covered by His righteousness, and endowed with the power of His resurrection.

It is true that Jeremiah makes no direct mention of the Messiah when urging the people to look for the Old Paths and to walk in them. But if anyone would seek to walk in the Old Paths of holiness and righteousness with any honesty, he shall soon find it impossible to do so, and then shall he be shut up to Christ who alone can deliver us from our sins. But as sin is lawlessness (cf. 1 Jn 3:14, in the Greek), when Christ has delivered us from sin, we must walk according to God’s laws. It is as such foolish to claim to have been redeemed by Christ if we refuse to walk in the Old Paths of God’s Commandment.

How shall we Return to the Old Paths?

We must return to the Old Paths by studying God’s Commandment afresh.

Indeed, I am more and more convinced that one of the greatest failures of the ‘Protestant Church’ is that too many parties, having departed from Romish legalism have sped past the Old Paths and headed into the side road of antinomianism. Too many are saying: "We live under grace, not law, and therefore we need not be restricted by the Law." Or "We are saved by grace through faith, let us not be held under the bondage of the commandments any longer." The truth is the moral law of God, is the ‘perfect law of liberty’ (Jms 1:25), or as David puts it: "I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts" (Ps 119:45). When we ignore God’s law, we end up getting lost and falling into the bondage of the wicked one.

But of course, there have been many different thinking about the Law of God. Which one is correct? Well, I have no doubt that the Calvinistic Reformers have got it mostly right. And I have also no doubt that one of the most convincing and accurate expositions of the Law of God is found in the exposition of the Ten Commandments in the great Reformation Catechism, known to us as the Westminster Larger Catechism (see esp. WLC 91-151).

As such, I am convinced that a prayerful study and application of the Ten Commandments with this tool that God has given us by His providence is one of the most effective ways today to rediscover the Old Paths and to walk in them.

If we honestly apply what we learn from this great exposition of the Ten Commandments many things will change in our lives. Our attitude towards God will change. Our worship will change. Our day to day life as Christians will change. By the grace of God, we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2).

Consider the 1st Commandment. Our Catechism teaches us:

"The duties required in the First Commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honouring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of Him; believing Him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in Him; being zealous for Him; calling upon Him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please Him, and sorrowful when in any thing He is offended; and walking humbly with Him" (WLC 104).

This statement is drawn out of 28 verses in the Scripture! And we have not quoted what our Catechism highlights as being forbidden by the same Commandment, which is a summary of 67 verses!

No one who is seeking to keep the 1st Commandment as the Scripture and our Catechism teaches us will continue to relate to God as an optional appendage in life rather than as our great, holy and glorious Creator and Redeemer to whom we owe everything. Thus, those who understand the 1st Commandment will walk lovingly, humbly and gratefully in the way that their heavenly Father has prescribed for them. And no one who so walks in the fear of God will tamper with biblical doctrine about God and what duty He requires of us in such a way as have produced much of the heretical isms of our day.

Likewise, no one who is seeking to keep the 2nd Commandment honestly will trivialise worship or introduce human inventions into it. Those who understand the 2nd Commandment know that God will not only reject all modes of worship not sanctioned in His Word, but will also regard those who so worship Him as hating Him. Those who rediscover the Old Paths implied in the 2nd Commandment know that the church has no future, except they first return to Biblical Worship.

So too, no one who is striving to keep the 3rd Commandment will call evil good and good evil by condemning Christian churches that are seeking to walk in the Old Paths while calling those that have apostatised brethren. No church which understands the 3rdCommandment will dare to call itself ‘Christian’ when it is functioning more like a worldly organisation and is having entertainment for worship.

What about the 4th Commandment? The Puritan pastor Matthew Henry (1662-1714) once asseverated that "the stream of all religion runs either deep or shallow, according as the banks of the Sabbath are kept up or neglected." In the three hundred years since those words were penned, the banks of the Sabbath were being eroded, at first gradually, and then with ferocity. The result is that Christianity has been flooded with worldliness, scepticism and every wind of false doctrine.

Those who are seeking to keep the 4th Commandment in the way that the Scripture and our catechism enjoins will find themselves setting apart one whole day in seven just to enjoy and glorify God. And they will find themselves deepening in their understanding and enjoyment of God in a way that they would hitherto not be able to because of the pressures of the modern world.

The same may be said about the rest of the commandments. If we would out of love for Christ, honestly walk according to the commandments of God, we will be walking in the Old Paths; and we shall know God best and find God’s rest.

Consequence of Failure to Walk in the Old Paths

On the other hand, if we refuse to keep the commandments of God, then we will be walking in the way of the Jews of old, heading into apostasy and damnation.

God did not cast away the Jews of old immediately, although they had forsaken the fountain of living waters and hewn out broken cisterns for themselves. Through the prophet Jeremiah and other prophets, God patiently showed them the Old Paths and called them to walk in them.

But the Jews were a stiff-necked people. They said: "We will not walk therein" (Jer 6:16). Then the Lord set over them watchmen who warned of calamity to come and who said: "hearken to the sound of the trumpet." But again they said: "We will not hearken" (Jer 6:17). The people had shut their ears to admonition and warnings, no matter how vigorous the messengers of the Lord might be.

The people would not walk in the Old Paths. They would not hearken unto God’s words, or His law. Instead, they rejected it (see Jer 6:19). The patience of God has a limit, and by and by, He gave them up unto idolatry and as Jeremiah says in chapter 18, verse 15, they were caused "to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up" (Jer 18:15). That is to say, they went into uncharted territory, and made a mess of their lives.

More than that, God refused to accept their worship:

"To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? [He says] your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me" (Jer 6:20).

Their worship became meaningless and hypocritical in God’s sight. They had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof.

Although God tolerated them for a while, he did not leave them unpunished. He punished them by sending the Babylonians to capture and scatter them. He says in Jeremiah 18:17: "I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity."

What about us? Will we not learn from the examples of the Jews that it is not safe to walk in new and innovative ways, or ways which our fathers in the faith have not known, and ways which cannot be proven from the Scripture?

The Lord Jesus warns us of the broad way that many will walk in. He says that at the last day, those who walk in it would even call Him "Lord, Lord," and say: "have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" (Mt 7:22).

And then will the Lord say: "depart from me ye that work iniquity" (Mt 7:23), or "depart from me ye that work [lawlessness]." These words of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be a wake up call to us because we live in a day where there is rampant disregard for God’s laws as well as a multitude of innovative doctrines being paraded as good. And not only so, but our fathers in the faith who sought to walk according to the Old Paths are caricatured with all sorts of names and warned against in vehement terms. But "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isa 5:20).

The Old Paths is the only way that leads to life. It is the way that saints redeemed by the blood of Christ will walk in. The Jews in Jeremiah’s days departed from the way to seek after false gods. The liberals of our day have done exactly that. They are walking in the paths of destruction since they fear not the living and true God. The Pharisees in the time of the Lord and the legalists of today emphasised the letter of law while neglecting the gospel. They imagine that they can walk in the path of life in their own strength. But they are sadly mistaken. Unless our hearts are first changed, we will not truly be walking in the Old Paths. On the other hand, there are libertines or antinomians who emphasise the gospel without the law. These also imagine that they are walking in the path of life. But in so far as they are living lawlessly outside the Old Paths, they are really walking on the broad road that leads to damnation.


Do not mistake what we are saying. The 16th century Reformation was not a moral Reformation. It was a doctrinal, theological Reformation. The Reformation did not begin as a reaction to lawlessness in the church. John Calvin made this very clear in his reply to the Roman Catholic Cardinal Sadoleto:

"[There are] many examples of cruelty, avarice, intemperance, arrogance, insolence, lust, and all sorts of wickedness, which are openly manifested…, but none of those things would have driven us to the attempt which we made under a much stronger necessity. That necessity was that the light of divine truth had been extinguished, the Word of God buried…"

What we are saying is that by the grace of God, when the Reformation has begun, the people of God, saturated with the truth of the Gospel began to walk in the Old Paths. But sadly today, many assuming that they know the truth of the Gospel, and having dichotomised the Gospel from the Law, have turned away from the Old Path of the Law and begun to walk in the broad road of lawless Christianity.

Many think that the Old Paths or the ancient paths are out of fashion. They are not attractive to modern would-be believers, they are bigoted and unsuitable for the modern society or the modern Christian. We need not answer those charges.

But I would ask you: "choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Jos 24:15); "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kgs 18:21). Oh, let us serve the LORD according to the Old Paths that God has revealed in His Word and our fathers in the faith have taught in their writings, and sealed with their lives!

Yes, the Old Paths of the Gospel and the Law were for a while covered under several generations of traditions, human inventions and false doctrines. But thank God for such men as Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox who during the 16th century Reformation blew away the dust of the Bible and uncovered the Old Paths.

Today, as we remember that Great Reformation, let us return to the Old Paths and keep on it rather than craving to walk along the broad way which is invented by modern Christianity and a lawless society. Amen.

—JJ Lim.

"Impiety [has] so stalked abroad, that almost no doctrine of religion was pure from admixture, no ceremony free from error, no part, however minute, of divine worship untarnished by superstition. Do those who contend against such evils declare war against the Church, and not rather assist her in her extreme distress? And yet you would take credit for your obedience and humility in refraining, through veneration for the Church, from applying your hand to the removal of these abominations. What has a Christian man to do with that prevaricating obedience, which, while the word of God is licentiously contemned, yields its homage to human vanity? What has he to do with that contumacious and rude humility, which, despising the majesty of God, only looks up with reverence to men? Have done with empty names of virtue, employed merely as cloaks for vice, and let us exhibit the thing itself in its true colors. Ours be the humility, which, beginning with the lowest, and paying respect to each in his degree, yields the highest honor and respect to the Church, in subordination, however, to Christ the Church’s head; ours the obedience, which, while it disposes us to listen to our elders and superiors, tests all obedience by the word of God; in fine, ours the Church, whose supreme-care it is humbly and religiously to venerate the word of God, and submit to its authority" (Calvin, further in his reply to Sadolet)