The relation of God to his elect people, be it under the Mosaic or the New Covenant, is one wherein he is the LORD and sets the terms and conditions. This does not mean – as in a modern contract – that he is the Major Partner in a situation where the minor partner has negotiating rights. The truth of the matter is that God, the LORD, establishes the covenant and creates all its parts, including the response required by his chosen people.
Therefore what the LORD God said to the people of Israel, when they failed to fulfill their basic duties in the covenant is also what he says to the modern church, when it also fails to keep the terms of the covenant of grace.
Through Jeremiah, the prophet, the LORD God spoke with powerful and tender clarity:
Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”
Today, through the Scriptures, as God’s Word written, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, says the same thing to the church.
Regrettably, and disastrously, we learn that in Jeremiah’s time: They [the covenant people of God] said, “We will not walk in it.” (6:16) Let us fervently pray that our response today will be the very opposite of Israel’s.
In this text, the LORD our God requires of his people three basic duties which are presented as commands. They are:
To stand by the roads and look [at the signposts],
To ask for the ancient (but not obsolete) paths,
To walk in the good way.
The picture we need to have in mind to grasp these commands is that of travelers reaching a point in their journey where there are several possible roads that they can walk on and they have to make a choice.
First of all, they are to stand at the place where the roads all begin. That is, they are to stop moving and come to a standstill. Then they are to look carefully at, or to gaze upon, the guideposts and signposts that are provided for each of the roads. Certainly they should seek to avoid ending up in a wilderness or at the top of a precipice.
Secondly, they are to make inquiry concerning which of the routes is “the ancient paths”, the well tried and sure road to the destination.
Thirdly, having made the observations and done the thinking, they are to walk in “the good way” which they have determined is the road of the “ancient paths.”
The result of so doing will be that they will find rest for their souls both on this journey and at its end.
Now to the application of this word of the Lord to the Church of God, and particularly to the present condition of the mainline church known as The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. [ECUSA]. This Church is certainly at the crossroads in that it has to make very serious decisions in June 2006 at its General Convention as to where it will walk in the years ahead. Recently, it has been walking away from, and out of step with, sister provinces in the Anglican Communion of Churches. In fact it appears to be desirous of rushing into the wilderness of even heading to leap over the precipice.
God the Father in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit calls out to this body, and especially to its leadership (bishops, clergy and laity), with tenderness and urgency. He does so both directly speaking to the consciences of Episcopalians and also indirectly through the Many messages from overseas bishops:
- Come to a standstill and ponder what you have become through your innovations of doctrine, worship and discipline and where you are heading if you do not change your course.
- Take a every serious look, examine most carefully, the biblically-rooted Anglican Way of Reformed Catholicism, which is your heritage and which you have been consistently setting aside for last forty years.
- Choose the good way, the way that has always been seen as good by faithful Christians through the centuries; that is, the way that is based truly upon the holy Scriptures as God’s Word written and which worships the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit in the beauty of holiness. This is not a dead, unthinking conservatism but a dynamic, traditional faith.
- If you truly choose, beseeching God’s help, to forsake the broad way that leads to destruction and to enter the narrow way which leads to life, then you will truly find “rest for your souls.” You will know what it is to be at peace with God, in a right relation to him and living in union with him daily as you do his will, and as you move to the final and eternal rest of the people of God.
And the final word that the Father through the Son is graciously communicating to Episcopalians is filled with poignant grace: “Do the very opposite of what ancient Israel did! Do not say with pride and arrogance, ‘We will not walk in the old paths;’ but say, ‘By thy help, O God, we shall walk together in those old and holy paths’ which have been hallowed by thy Son.”
In the light of all this, the best that any pilgrim and sojourner in this world can do is to engage in fervent, intercessory prayer for this people known as Episcopalians that their stubborn wills, moved by new and holy resolutions in their minds and by new and holy affections in their hearts, shall choose to walk in the way that is pleasing to the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)