Old-Time Religion

I remember singing the song “Give Me That Old-Time Religion” back in the 1980s. Back then it was just another song, but these days I seem to have somehow developed a sincere longing for that old-time religion. Interestingly, the song dates back to 1873, which means people singing this song in the 19th century also wanted some of that old-time religion. It then also occurred to me, that reformation never involves the discovery of something new. It has always been the recovery of something old that had been lost.

This is exactly the kind of reformation the nation of Judah experienced under the reign of King Josiah recorded in 2 Kings chapters 22 and 23. Josiah sent his secretary to the temple to assist the high priest in counting out money from the temple treasury to pay the workmen making temple repairs. While cleaning out the temple storeroom, the high priest exclaims to the king’s secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD!”

He found it?! How did they lose the Book of the Law? Years ago, someone must have stashed it there. How do you even “stash” the Book of the Law? Did some priest at some point think to himself, “This book is always getting in the way, let’s just leave it here in this storeroom?” I can’t imagine how the priesthood could even function without the Book. They must have fallen into such a habit of simply performing the rituals of their religion as they had always seen them done, giving no thought to the Book of the Law upon which they were based and which gave those rituals significance and meaning. Significance and meaning which was found in the promises of grace and truth which were to come through Christ Jesus. Without the Word of God, it had become a religion without Christ.

The high priest gave the Book of the Law to the secretary who read it immediately. The secretary then took it to the king and read it to him. When the king heard the words of the Book, he tore his clothes. The religion they had been practicing was not the old-time religion. They had provoked the LORD’s anger by “all the work of their hands” in making offerings to other gods, the gods of their own making. The king then read the Book to all the people. What followed after the hearing of the Word of God, was the most comprehensive reformation the world had ever seen.

The prophet Jeremiah pleaded similarly with the people of Judah in his day:

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.'”

Jeremiah 6:16

The LORD then speaks of the destruction He is bringing upon them “because they have not paid attention to my words.”

The Reformation of the 16th century was also a rediscovery of the Word of God giving rise to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the teaching that God’s Word alone is the source of authority for the Christian life. A story in “Selections from the Table Talk of Martin Luther” tells of a Catholic Bishop who by chance happened to get his hands on a Bible, and was reading it for about four hours when a member of his council entered his chambers. Surprised to find the Bishop reading a Bible, he asked what he was doing with that book. The Bishop replied, “I know not what this book is, but sure I am, all that is written therein is quite against us!”

How do we get back to the old-time religion? I would say we must begin with hearing the Word of God and being wounded by it. This Word is sharper than any two-edged sword and cuts deep. It is a Word that speaks out against us. When he finished writing the Book of the Law, Moses commanded it be placed beside the ark of the covenant and there serve as a witness against Israel, because God told him they would not keep the commands written in it. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day, “Has not Moses given you the law, yet none of you keeps it!” We, like Israel, have not kept the commands of the LORD.

If the Word of God has pierced our hearts, where do we turn for healing? To the Word of God! The Word of God is more, so much more, than just commands and precepts. The Word of God is the promise of healing, forgiveness, mercy, and life. Job understood this in declaring “For He wounds, but He binds up; He shatters, but His hands heal.” The wounds of the law are healed by the gospel of grace. Those bitten by the serpent, looked to the image of a serpent lifted up on a pole and were healed. Christ Jesus was also lifted up, so that all who look upon Him may find healing. Christ said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” and as the psalmist prophesied, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”


For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?

John 7:19

For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.

Job 5:18

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

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