A Nation at the Crossroads

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it.”—Jeremiah 6:16

Around the year A.D. 600, a man was planting a sapling of yew in the old English village of Selborne.

By the time of King Henry VIII, the yew tree was approaching the thousand-year mark, and indeed by the 20th century it had become part of life itself. Children played around its massive width, and old men sat in its shade. And then one night, the great storm of Jan. 25, 1990, brought down the grand old tree. People passing by the next day could hardly believe it. It had always been there. And now, after 1,400 years, it had gone.

At this present period of world tumult—and with America facing its crucial presidential election—we may allow the moving story of the Selborne Yew to symbolize what can happen to entire peoples and their belief systems.

For although the Christian faith once seemed to be spreading its protective shade over education, family, worship and law, there are today political storms seemingly designed to bring down the one mighty understanding of life that animates our civilization.

This had been the Prophet Jeremiah’s own driving concern 2,600 years ago. What had happened to Judah’s longstanding relationship with the Lord? With menacing Assyria on the march—and the neglect of belief by Jeremiah’s own people—the ancient faith looked like it was being dismantled, and the nation itself seemed to be at the crossroads.

Jeremiah’s words spoke into his own era and indeed into ours:

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

At decision time for any nation, it is—in the economy of Heaven—the saints of God who ultimately play the key part in the shaping of the future! And this is so, regardless of who finally may occupy the official seats of power. “All things are yours,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the beleaguered Christians of Corinth, “whether … the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Jeremiah’s words to his people at the crossroads of decision have their application in our own day—with four sturdy words of command:

First, We are to stand at the crossroads

“Stop! Stand still! Reflect!” Judah was indeed at the crossroads. With vivid images of a seething boiling pot, a smashed water jar, a wooden yoke and a basket of figs, the prophet paints the picture of a nation in crisis, and insists—like his predecessor Isaiah—that “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

At times of national gravity, the faithful ones are those who refuse to be cowed or distracted by rowdy hype, by embattled debate or media frenzy. Instead we are to prayerfully detach ourselves, and stand—taking steady and sober stock of our strategic calling as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20, 21). That is the winning ticket!

Second, we are to look

Jeremiah’s desire surely was that the recently rediscovered parchments of the law (2 Chronicles 34) would cause his listeners to look, not only at their own sinful disregard of the Lord, but also at His saving power. For history has consistently proved the point that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). No political or commercial “vision” is here referred to. It is the loss of God’s eternal law in His given Word that can cause a people to perish and fall apart morally and socially, and so to disintegrate—without even knowing why.

As Argentine evangelist Luis Palau once warned on British TV, “It’s back to the Bible—or back to the Jungle.”

Third, we are to ask

Ask for the ancient paths … where the good way is,” declared Jeremiah. The call is for a prayerful yearning in the hearts of God’s people. Not for a fresh new teaching or an exciting new emphasis, but rather a coming back to the proven paths that were known of old. The way forward is to go back! That has been learned by a long parade of faithful witnesses, including the 15th century Reformers, the Pilgrim Fathers and uncountable heroes and martyrs of today.

Just to ask for a return to those ancient paths is to engage in that God-given way by which we cooperate with the very purposes of Heaven itself; and we ask supremely by prayer and obedience.

Finally, we are to walk

“Ask where the good way is—and walk in it.”

John Chrysostom, a mighty preacher of old, declared that just as a beautiful coat only looks best when worn on a body, so the Scriptures—though wonderful when proclaimed in public—are far more stupendous when they are being lived out by the people who hear them! That is the final test of God’s people at the crossroads. What of Christlike character and behavior? That is what changes a people!

Ultimately, by the promise of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18), although the church itself becomes battered by the storms of every century, nevertheless—unlike the Selborne Yew—it has never been brought down. It never will. D ©2016 Richard Bewes

Richard Bewes is a preacher, broadcaster and hymn writer. He serves on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the United Kingdom and is the former rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version. The Scripture quotation marked KJV is taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.