Volume 51 | Number 4 | October–December 2023

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Ask for the Old Paths (Reprint - June/July 2005)

By Dr. H. T. Spence

A most appropriate and imperative command for our times is found in Jeremiah 6:16-17:

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. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.

These words are found as part of the second message Jeremiah gave to what he called “backslidden” Israel and “treacherous” Judah. He cried to his audience the words of Jehovah, “Stand ye in the ways!” It was the Lord’s plea for them to station themselves on or by the roads, or at the meeting point of different roads in order to make inquiry as to the “old paths.”

Antiquity carries with it a presumption of rightness; the ancients were nearer to the days when God spoke with man, often through mighty shepherds appointed by God. Such ancient leaders are viewed in Job 8:8-9:

For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers: (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow).

Although there are many pretended “ways,” there is but one way which has the Lord’s blessing:

And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them (Jeremiah 32:39).

The Lord called through His prophet, yea, His watchman Jeremiah, to stand by the roads and “ask for the old paths.” The strong Hebrew word ask means “to demand, to require, to interrogate.” Jeremiah calls for them to ask in order to find the old paths and walk in them. Regretfully, the people’s emphatic response was “we will not walk therein.” To compound the sad reality of stubbornness and rebellion, they no longer desired a watchman to sound the trumpet from his tower on the wall. Although the prophet warned them, they would not hearken to him.

The Church Is Found Within the World

The growth of movement, church, or Christian institution in its history is accompanied by various dangers. Because Christianity is found in the world (although it is not to be of the world), there is the constant potential of the world system, its philosophy and influence, creeping into the sanctity of its fortress. Alongside this danger are the ever-increasing powers emerging from the false church.

Our last Straightway article presented the distinction between the Wheat and Tares throughout history. The tares were sown almost immediately after the wheat was sown in the book of Acts. It is evident by the language of Matthew 13:25 that the tares were sown among, or around, or on top of the wheat. The epistles of the New Testament prove the tares were within the very churches to which the apostles were writing. Throughout history each has grown alongside the other creating two distinct churches on earth: the remnant true church and the apostate institutional church. The generation in which we live gives clear evidence that the latter church is in control of the public display of Christianity, an apostate Christianity. The remnant true church is getting smaller as we near the coming of Christ.

Christ is the Head of the True Church, the remnant, but who is the head of the public Church today? The Bible declares several sobering observations concerning the powers that be. First John 5:19 acknowledges that the whole world lieth in the Wicked One. Second Corinthians 4:4 declares that Satan is the god of this world, and three times John will acknowledge that Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Satan is also the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), which means that he is the ruler of the demons, who are the powers of darkness that are in this lower region called “the air.” He can marshal these demons anytime; they are ready to tempt men and do mischief in the earth at his bidding.

Another truth about the devil is found in Luke 4:5-7. In this passage the Devil takes Christ to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The word “world” in verse five is oikoumene, or the “inhabited earth.”

And the devil said unto him, all this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.

Though Christ denied the offer, there is coming a man who will accept it, the Antichrist. It is evident from this passage that the Devil controls the inhabited world. Matthew 13:38 clearly relates the fact that the tares are the children of the wicked one, thus declaring the institutional church on earth. As Christ is the Head of the remnant true Church on earth, Satan is the Head of the apostate, public Neo-Christianity Church that is the visible church of Christianity today. The tares and wheat are now so close in the earth, only the rapture can finally reveal who is who and what is what. Deception is so fine-tuned that “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).

This is the greatest hour in the history of the church for deception within the institutional church. Within the institutional church (for we all attend and are affiliated with some church body) both wheat and tare are found. Who is in control of the pulpit, the choir, the church board, the teachers, etc? Is it possible that in one generation wheat Christianity could be in leadership and then in the very next generation a subtle, deceptive tare religion could take over, bringing the people into the influence of Neo-Christianity?

The Proclivity of History

Every generation of leadership must heed the warning of history, including the leadership of Christian churches, denominations, and educational institutions. Although apostasy can take over any Christian entity at any stage of its existence, history reveals a typical pattern of four generations needed to bring about a spiritual demise. Amidst the humanities and frailties of the founding of a godly work, the heart’s desire of a genuine founder is for the ministry to be exclusively based upon the Scriptures. He will give his life fighting for the clarity of such a hope. While observing this first-generation leadership, the second-generation leadership will tend to secretly look with disdain on some stands that were taken and the contentions that came from such stands. They will look on the weaknesses of the leadership of the previous generation with hidden mockery. Therefore, they will surmise that neutrality is the better road to take in the battle, although a few stands will be taken to ease the conscience. Nevertheless, such neutral heart and actions will produce confusion in the thinking of the third generation. The third generation, observing the neutrality in certain areas of the second-generation leadership, will take advantage of the non-committal attitude and bring forth compromising decisions in regard to biblical standards and principles. In turn, this will lead the fourth generation to become bold in its changes, believing such changes are for the benefit and progress of the work of God. This final state of heart is what brings forth apostasy in that ministry. And, sad to admit, the people following these changing leaderships will desire these changes. This is why it is very important for every Christian leader to know where he is in history and thus fight against the natural tendencies that vie for his heart and thoughts in leadership. Can the proclivity of such a history be broken? We dare not believe that such a fourfold decline is a sovereign decree of God, but history has proved it to be the proclivity in the history of denominations, churches, and academic institutions.

A Coming New Breed of Fundamentalists

Fundamentalism is now facing the transition of leadership between the third and fourth generation of its history. What do our youth see as they rise to take over the helm of the ship? What will they ask for when the opportune time comes for their voice to be heard? The reading of our history reveals that the “public” Fundamentalism of today is not historic Fundamentalism. The subtle, gradual changes that have been made along the way have now brought to this generation’s leadership a new mindset, a new way of viewing the age in which we live, and a new concept of approaching our contemporary.

Though Fundamentalism has endeavored to be strong historically in ecclesiastical separation, one of its great weaknesses from its beginning has been its lack in personal separation. Because of this deficiency in personal separation throughout its history, we are now witnessing in the third and fourth generations a greater toleration for the absence of dress standards, the inroads of contemporary Christian music, the acceptance of various ungodly TV programs, mixed-bathing in youth camps and church gatherings, and an overall worldly mindset within the church. This is greatly contributing to the sand of a different foundation, which will inevitably yield to the powers of erosion before the world. When this new generation steps forward and gives voice to what it has been thinking for some time now, we will hear a new perspective given; this perspective will not include the old paths of antiquity.

The ancient men were men who walked with God in intimate fellowship; they knew the anointing of the Spirit of God; they preached and prayed with power and conviction; they were bold in their stand without apology; and they were strong in the trumpet warning. In contrast, our generation believes they have arrived with better methods, better ways of handling the world, better approaches to dealing with the separated brethren, and better ways of facing the MTV generation. Such reasoning will transform the spiritual concepts of Scripture into a different view altogether. Prayer will become more of the protocol for appointed times rather than the constant breathing of the soul in deep seasons of searching; the Scriptures will be viewed more from the scholastic point of view rather than the thirstings and cryings of the heart; preaching will become more professional and scholastic with the absence of heart passion as a result of waiting before God. The prophet’s voice will be suppressed and the watchman on the wall will be told to leave his post of duty.

The Line of Demarcation Is Being Erased

The line of demarcation that existed between the Separatist Fundamentalists and the Neo-Evangelicals is now being intentionally erased through a slow blending of these two identities by the leadership of the next generation. The erasure of the demarcation between the separated beliefs in Evangelicalism and the ecumenical spirit of Neo-Evangelicalism has been prompted by the secret desires of a new generation during their years of preparation.

The up-and-coming music composers and arrangers have been fascinated by the variations of sound and modern harmony of the Neo crowd. These musicians have been secretly listening to Neo-Evangelical music composers, which they have now made to be their “models and masters.” The musical diet a composer listens to will automatically come out in his writing. If the musical diet is Neo-Christianity, then the music writing will unconsciously be Neo-Christianity.

Then there is the new generation of preachers and teachers who have been secretly reading and hearing with admiration the Neo-Evangelical preachers, commentators, and teachers. They have admired their scholastic, tangible growth in the world, their polished presentation of “the gospel,” and their greater acceptance by the conservative world.

There once existed a “gray area” that lay between the Separatist way and the Neo-Christianity way. God’s people were warned for years of that existing gray area: it was that compromising area through which one would travel to finally arrive at the Neo way and life. But the new leadership coming on the scene is becoming content to live in that gray area, with a greater sympathy for Neo-Evangelicalism than their forefathers had. Accompanying this greater sympathy is an increased accommodation marked with a gentler consideration of the other side of “the camp.” Because of this growing sympathy, their thoughts about God, standards, evangelism, education, etc. will change, and the day will arrive when God will allow the “fruit of their thoughts” (Jeremiah 6:19) to become a reality. What was one time only in thought will be emboldened with words and writings. The older men will either step back and say nothing when such thoughts are expressed, or they will rise up for God and demand the old paths, the old separations, the old warnings, and the old message of Truth.

As our Supreme Court is now interpreting the Constitution of the United States according to “public policy” rather than according to what the founding fathers meant, we are witnessing new interpretations to accommodate a new generation rising to take over fundamental churches. They have bided their time while the “ancients” have been slipping away; a new breed is rising to reinterpret and redefine Fundamentalism. Whether acknowledged or not, the key difference between Separatist Fundamentalism and Neo-Evangelicalism is the absence of biblical separation doctrinally, ecclesiastically, and practically. The “crossover” is coming! It is not Neo-Evangelicals becoming Separatists, but rather Fundamentalists (who have for the most part dropped the term “separatists”) are becoming Neo-Evangelicals. There must come a day when someone will rise up and declare the truth of the matter. The music of modern day Fundamentalism has become Neo-Evangelicalism; it has taken on the sound of the contemporary. Many of the churches have already become sympathetic to the Neo crowd. Even the “old” is now being redefined to accommodate the more “up-to-date” views of contemporary Fundamentalism. What will we witness to take place in the name of “progress” and “growth” in the next five years under the discolored banner of Fundamentalism?

Proverbial phrases are now being offered for the whitewashing of the changes taking place. “It is a matter of culture” becomes the reasoning for the diminishing of dress standards that are the product of the world’s philosophy; “it is a matter taste” becomes the logistical reasoning for condoning “worldly” styles of music; “it is a matter of methodology” becomes the reasoning for changes against the Word of God.

We are called upon to preserve God’s words and works without change. It comes down to this question: “Will we preserve or change?” My dear earthly father, Dr. O. Talmadge Spence, often stated the following as a warning to his students:

If a person changes in human things without those changes being of the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit, he will sooner or later change in the larger truths. A successor of any kind in any ministry carries with his office responsibility of being loyal to three generations: first, the generation which he succeeded; second, his own generation; and third, the generation coming after him. No founder had that responsibility: he only sought root in the earth in his generation in order that there would come fruit in the next generation for his successor.

One may keep the “orthodox” doctrine all the days of his life, but it will be his changes in the policy, standards of holiness, and daily living that will give insight to the change of his heart from the past.


One of the sad contributions for the rise of new thinking in the emerging new Fundamentalism in our present day is the “silence” of the ancients who are still living or who have recently died. As a preacher enters his final years, there can be a subtle intimidation thrown upon him by the leadership of the next generation, implying that he has been too hard, too severe, and too demanding upon the movement, congregation, or student body in calling them to conform to the Word of God. Therefore, the elder preacher is forced to think that he is archaic, puritanical, and in need of stepping aside for the younger to rise in the ranks of authority and leadership. Because of this subtle intimidation, the ancient tends to back off in demanding principle and in declaring the biblical voice for God. Another reason for his silence is that the up-and-coming youths are his own sons, grandsons, or sons-in-law; there is a natural softness of heart about saying anything to them. Perhaps there is a third reason for silence: the reality of his own failures and sins in certain areas that he personally refused to get right, or certain compromises that became obvious to others. Whatever the reason, God will not forget these dangerous silences. There will come a day when the changes will finally catch up; then, hope of recovery will be too late. It is not so much our present generation that we need to be in touch with; it is the God of our forefathers that we must be in touch with for our generation.

We must pray that we (and I plead for myself) as leaders will not fall prey to the modern mood of new “wrappings” believing these will fortify and strengthen the message of the Gospel and its acceptance for this unique generation. Often such new wrappings are what entice changes, believing they will be good for growth. May God raise up a remnant of preachers, musicians, teachers, and church leaders to stand in their churches, their choirs, their schools, and their homes and ask—yea, plead—for “the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein.” This article is such a plea. May we not say under our breath, “We will not walk therein.” May we not cry against the watchman with the trumpet, “We will not hearken.”