Where The Hot Tub Was

I’m up early this morning. It’s dark outside. I can just about make out the line of the hills in the east. Every so often, I glance out of the kitchen window, watching the sky change colour as the dawn comes up. Soon, I can see that the hills are white with snow. I look down: it’s only a light dusting in the backyard and on the garage roof.


All seems peaceful, nothing untoward - no, hang on a moment! There’s something missing from my neighbours’ backyard! There, on the decking: where the hot tub was, now there’s just a dark circle - that, and a couple of cloths, and an abandoned coffee cup.

A hot tub? In the backyard of a small terraced house in an area of town notable more for the affordability of its accommodation than for the affluence of its inhabitants? Certainly! My neighbour told me all about it. It was going at a good price from a friend of hers, a portable frame with inflatable walls, complete with heater, jacuzzi feature, and underwater lighting. 

For several weeks, our neighbours and their friends and relatives, especially the grandchildren, have been luxuriating in its steamy ambience for an hour or two after dark, solar lights ranged round them, sipping drinks and chatting and generally chilling out, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms.

In neighbourly fashion, we were invited to make use of it. It would have been a pleasant experience, I'm sure.

But now it’s gone, leaving only the lights on the tables, those cloths, and that yellow coffee cup, all forlorn.


Interests and enthusiasms and fads and fashions come and go. Looking towards the gate, what do we see? It’s an abandoned barbecue from a few summers ago, rust eating it away, ready for a trip to the tip when the spring clear-out comes. Under the plastic sheeting with its sprinkling of snow is a bike, also abandoned to its fate; my neighbour bought it with every intention of getting fit and losing those extra inches around his waist. I seem to remember his ill-concealed amusement when I mentioned walking and weight lifting; but I’m the one with the flat stomach, and he’s still straining the waistband of his trousers.

These fads and fashions for leisure and pleasure, they come and they go; they don’t do much harm, even if they tend to take up more time and money than seems sensible. It’s when fads and fashions become the be-all and end-all of church life that we need to worry.

I don’t know how old you are, or how long your Christian life has lasted, but I would guess that many readers will have seen the churches of which they were a part, or other churches in their area, being caught up in The Next Big Thing: some new message or methodology that seemed so successful at the time, but which proved to be damaging and divisive in the end.

At this point I was going to give examples of the deplorable doctrines, movements, messages, and methods that have so seduced our churches over the last century. However, it occurs to me that if I were to do so, the inchoate rage that it would provoke would mean that most people would never read anything I wrote, ever again.

So, let me skirt around the issue.

From time to time, a well-intentioned preacher or teacher will take us to Jeremiah 6.16: 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. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” And then they will hark back to some golden age, long gone: a period of revival, perhaps; or their first fellowship, where all was sweetness and light; or the church where they were in charge of this, that, or the other, where they were the centre of attention, when there was so much blessing, and all was well with the world. What they used to preach, teach and practice back then: surely, this is what we want! Certainly, that is where we should be!

Even E. A. Johnston, generally sound and sensible, falls into this trap, lauding the late fifties and early sixties as a golden age, before the church - and America itself - turned lax and sour. I have my doubts, unless he’s thinking of the Golden Age of Rock and Roll, which seems highly unlikely in his case.

My question is this: “the ancient paths”, “the good way” - we know that, for the most part, the church in this country has forgotten all about them; but what about us? Would we know them if we saw them, or if they were pointed out to us?

Why do I wonder? Here is part of the introduction to an article in Christianity Today by Mark Hopkins.

In March 1887, Spurgeon published in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, an article titled “The Down Grade.” The article, published anonymously but written by Spurgeon’s friend Robert Shindler, declared that some ministers were “denying the proper deity of the Son of God, renouncing faith in his atoning death.… ” They were, Shindler said, on a slippery slope, or “Down Grade,” away from essential evangelical doctrines.

In the following month’s Sword and Trowel, Spurgeon wrote, “We are glad that the article upon ‘The Down Grade’ has excited notice.… Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon justification by faith.” That summer Spurgeon wrote further on Shindler’s theme. Controversy developed, Spurgeon became the focal point of the charges, and the Baptist Union, which was bitterly divided over the question, ultimately voted to censure him.

Some of you will be familiar with this controversy; if not, it’s well worth reading up on it. What followed from it? To take Shakespeare’s words entirely out of context:

O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down”.

How many generations of churchgoers have come and gone since 1887? Wouldn’t it be fair to say that it’s been downhill all the way since then? Let me ask again: “the ancient paths”, “the good way” - would we know them if we saw them?

Here’s what John Gill has to say on Jeremiah 6.16. It may be more than you want to read at this time, but you can always come back to it later, if you so wish.

Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see. These are the words of the Lord to the people, whom he would have judge for themselves, and not be blindly led by the false prophets and priests; directing them to do what men should, when they are in a place where two or more ways meet, and know not which way to take; they should make a short stop, and look to the way mark or way post, which points whither each path leads, and so accordingly proceed. Now, in religious things, the Scriptures are the way mark to direct us which way we should take: if the inquiry is about the way of salvation, look up to these, which are able to make a man wise unto salvation; these show unto men that the way of salvation is not works of righteousness done by them, but Christ only: if the question is about any doctrine whatever, search the Scriptures, examine them, they are profitable for doctrine; they tell us what is truth, and what is error: if the doubt is about the matter or form of worship, and the ordinances of it, look into the Scriptures, they are the best directory to us what we should observe and do. 

Ask for the old paths; of righteousness and holiness, which Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others, walked in, and follow them; and the way of salvation by Christ, which, though called a new way, Hebrews 4.20, yet is not newly found out, for it was contrived in eternity; nor newly revealed, for it was made known to Adam and Eve immediately after the fall; nor newly made use of, for all the Old Testament saints were saved by the same grace of Christ, and justified by his righteousness, and their sins pardoned through his blood, and expiated by his sacrifice, as New Testament saints; only of late, or in these last days, it has been more clearly made known; otherwise there is but one way of salvation; there never was any other, nor never will be; inquire therefore for this old path, which all true believers have trodden in. 

Where is the good way, walk therein; or, "the better or best way", and more excellent way, which is Christ, John 14.6, he is the way of access to God, and acceptance with him, and the way of conveyance of all the blessings of grace; he is the way to the Father, and to eternal happiness; he is the living way which always continues, and is ever the same; and is a plain, pleasant, and safe way, and therefore a good one; there is no one better, nor any so good; and therefore this must be the right way to walk in, and to which there is great encouragement, as follows. 

And ye shall find rest for your souls; there is rest and peace enjoyed in the ways of God, and in the ordinances of the Gospel; wisdom's ways are ways of peace, which are the lesser paths; and in the doctrines of the Gospel, when the heart is established with them, the mind is tranquil and serene, and at rest, which before was fluctuating and wavering, and tossed to and fro with every wind; but the principal rest is in Christ himself, in whom the true believer, that walks by faith in him, has rest from the guilt and dominion of sin, from the curse and bondage of the law, and from the wrath of God in his conscience; and enjoys a spiritual peace, arising from the blood, sacrifice, and righteousness of Christ, Matthew 11.28.

But they said, we will not walk therein; in the old paths, and in the good way but in their own evil ways, which they chose and delighted in; and therefore, as their destruction was inevitable, it was just and righteous.

The first church of which I was a member was a Baptist Church - a Baptist Union Church, in fact. It was evangelical, after its fashion. I remember looking into an unused room, upstairs, filled with old furniture, ancient hymn books, and discarded oddments. On top of an old piano was a white marble bust. Who was this? No one seemed to know. An old gentleman, passing the door, suggested that it might be Spurgeon. Who was he? He shrugged his shoulders. A Baptist minister, well-known once upon a time? I thought no more about it.

 What I was told there, by my elders and betters, I took on trust. Why wouldn’t I? How was I to know how far we had come, down and further down that slippery slope? It wasn’t until The Affair Of The Adulterous Pastor that I realised that we had wandered a long way from the Old Paths; but that’s another story, and, sadly, not the only one of them.

I’ve just looked out of the window again. It’s snowing, coming down quite heavily. It’s getting colder, as well.

It’s a pity that the hot tub has gone. It would have been good to luxuriate in its warmth, with the snowflakes drifting down in the lamplight.

It would have been better still to have immersed myself in the Word of God earlier on in my Christian life. Then, I might more easily have found my way along the old paths, and not have allowed myself to be led up the garden path quite so often.