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  • Jun3Fri

    The Pathway of Duty

    An Army that's disciplined will not only be better at service, but will be a much more accurate reflection of Jesus Christ. June 3, 2011 by Lieutenant Robert Jeffery
    Filed Under:
    Opinion & Critical Thought
    There's a path that's sometimes thorny,
    There's a narrow way, and straight;
    It is called the path of duty,
    And it leads to Heaven's gate.

    In a recent discussion about the upcoming release of the new Salvation Army Song Book, a colleague of mine said that he hoped the song By the Pathway of Duty wouldn't be included. Caught by surprise, I listened as he outlined his reasons as to why a song I thought was fairly innocuous should be removed from our collection of hymns. His primary argument was that the well-known hymn espoused a theology of works: By the pathway of duty flows the river of God's grace. As I reflected on these words, they did seem to suggest that it is our good works that save us. Where is the message of solo gratia (grace alone) that is key to our Protestant understanding of salvation?

    But is the song really saying that at all? Are we to equate the word duty with works? After further reflection, I would have to say no. I guess I'm reluctant to totally let go of the notion of duty. I hear people say, “One should serve God out of love, and not out of a sense of duty.” While that is absolutely true, I would caution that one must have a firm understanding of the word love if they're going to use it as a reason to serve God and others.

    My reluctance stems from people's tendency to consign love to the realm of feeling. Service to God and the requirements of Christian living should come from our love for God. When things are going well in our lives, it's easy to say that our Christian service originates out of the love we have for God. But what about those other days when things are not going so well? Those days when we're sick and tired, when we don't feel especially nice and, dare I say, when we don't feel especially Christian? What is it that holds us to our faith? The answer may not be duty, but rather discipline.

    “By the pathway of discipline” may not be the actual words of the song, but I think they work well, given that duty and discipline can be used interchangeably in the context of the song's meaning. When we don't particularly feel like serving God, it is discipline that keeps us going. This discipline is not generated from ourselves, but one that is given by God's Holy Spirit.

    Discipline is the key to an army's effectiveness and The Salvation Army is no exception. Yes, wearing your uniform every Sunday may be one way to show your discipline as a soldier, but if that's the only way we show our discipline then we're in trouble. Attending church regularly is also a discipline. I tell my people on occasion that although they may not feel like coming to worship on any given Sunday, their absence may be causing someone else to stumble in their faith. Soldiers and adherents must be encouraged to develop discipline in their prayer lives. Fasting, meditation, study and worship should be encouraged as a means to draw closer to God. And the fact remains that when we're close to God, we can continue to serve him even on the days we don't feel like it. Discipline matters.

    An Army that's disciplined will not only be better at service, but will be a much more accurate reflection of Jesus Christ. We'll be the deep pools of spiritual refreshment that others can drink from. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster acknowledges that the classical disciplines “invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.” Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

    Regardless of what you think of the song, I hope there's room in your spiritual vocabulary for discipline and duty. Wherever there is discipline, mercy and grace are soon to follow.

    While we tread this path of duty,
    We will find our needs supplied
    From the river of God's mercy
    That is flowing close beside.

    Lieutenant Robert Jeffery is the corps officer of Spryfield Community Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Married to Hannah, they have two children.


    On Wednesday, February 10, 2021, Colin Alley said:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the beautiful song of commitment, The Pathway of Duty. I agree with your thoughts on the song. My thoughts are that if we serve God out of love then service is no long a duty but a service of love. I also agree that those of our Salvationist who see duty just ad duty then they are serve only out of a spirit of social and not as a service of Salvation for the Kingdom of God. I sadly feel that in Australia that some our policy maker in TSA are doing just that, social over Salvation. William Booth saw them as joined at the hip while winning the world for Jesus. Yes, By the Pathway of Duty does Flow the river of Grace. Colin


    On Friday, September 14, 2018, Obongodiong IKPE said:

    This is a great piece of exposition Lieutenant Robert (maybe Captain Now). I totally agree with your assertion about this song but I'll chip in a few points.

    If I may ask, what is the divine assignment of Jesus to every believer? I think we'll agree that it is to go into the world and Preach the gospel of salvation (great commission, Matt. 28:19-20). This entails a 'duty' for every believer to accomplish in the course of his Christian journey. It is as a result of the furtherance of the this divine responsibility that Grace is being multiplied to the church. Therefore, in the course (pathway) of this 'duty' that the 'river' of God's grace flows to enable the believers accomplish their task.

    Also Paul The Apostle when talking about the Fivefold Ministry of Apostles, Prophets,Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers in Ephesians 4:11-12 brought the dichotomy in the dimensions of their 'duty' in the body of Christ. This brings about specialization with respect to how they will discharge this commission.

    It is no doubt the each of these sets of people are in dire need of the the grace of God to accomplish this call to service. Hence, this song "by the pathway of duty" is a solemn reminder of believers that as they press into reaching their Christian goals, the Grace of God is always sufficient to them. Thus, this is piece of music is expedient for the empowerment and edification of the Soldiers of Christ.

    Obongodiong Ikpe Proudly A Salvationist.


    On Saturday, October 4, 2014, Glenn Butts said:

    I was at work today when I realized that I was whistling the tune to this song. That is a little surprising since I have been in the Church of the Nazarene for over 20 years. I remember my folks singing this song as a "special" during service many years ago. They were Salvation Army officers now gone to Glory. I got home and googled the song and got here. I think the song is still a beautiful number that reflects the message of James 2:14-26. BTW - I still love the Army!

    On Friday, March 15, 2013, Sandy Moynan said:

    I Googled the phrase "path way of duty" and came to this article and was surprised to see the controversy which in my humble opinion is based on a wrong understanding of the point of the song. I am preparing a message on forgiveness and how we express the sense of being forgiven and by taking each letter of the word forgiven I have attached a word that should be in our lives as a result of being truly forgiven. So the letter G represents not just grace bestowed and grace received but grace expressed in the life of the believer. We are to be people of grace. Just go through the references Paul makes and you will see what I mean. I list a few examples to make the point that there is saving grace and it is by grace we live the Christian life.
    1Co_15:10 (ESV) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
    1Co_3:10 (ESV) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
    2Co_9:8 (ESV) And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
    Heb_12:28 (KJV) Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
    I lived in Dunfermline in Scotland next door to the salvation army captain so I attended some meetings from time to time and this is where I first heard this lovely expression.
    The point being as we respond in obedience to the call to serve God we discover in accepting that responsibility of duty we discover the stream of God's grace flowing alongside. Indeed this is what we are called to do all the time in Hebrews 4: 14-16 (ESV) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
    So let us keep on experiencing the grace of God in the daily tasks that lie to hand each day of our lives! There is no conflict between saving grace and keeping grace. There is grace to keep me spotless day by day in Christ for me. One is salvation the other is sanctification. Sandy moynan

    On Friday, December 14, 2012, Sven Ljungholm said:

    Love God with all your heart; duty follows freely...

    On Wednesday, September 14, 2011, C.M. Cole said:

    While I have no suggestions for rewording the song; I do agree that singing it makes me uncomfortable, especially (as in last Sunday), it followed a message indicating all the rules and laws that it is necessary for us to follow.

    Tempering the law with the message that you're not alone in your walk, and that the gift of grace is your primary way of being acceptable before God is necessary. Sticking to "you have to" types of messages only pushes people away.

    On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, karen osborne said:

    In my opinion, duty and grace has nothing to do with one another. Duty is something expected of us. Grace is a gift, something unexpected and unearned.

    On Saturday, June 4, 2011, markbraye said:

    good stuff, Rob.

    here's something i think about when this song is mentioned...

    it depends on how we use the word "by."

    do we mean "near" or "through the agency of."

    near to the path of duty is the river of God's grace that suppies needs; that empowers duty. (grace)


    through the agency of duty, flows the river of God's grace. the former provides the latter. (works)

    Cox seems to be using "by" as in "near," "close beside."

    On Friday, June 3, 2011, Kaitlin said:

    I must disagree. The only word change to this song that I could see to be an appropriate reflection would be, "By Jesus’ faith follows the river of God’s grace," as that is the be all and end all of what will lead us to “heaven’s gate.” I agree that spiritual disciplines will draw us closer in communion with God, they will not however, be enough for us to deserve salvation, no matter how much we do or how disciplined we may be. It is only through the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is freely given. There is nothing I have done, can do or will do, that will allow me entrance into heaven on my own merit. This song suggests, not that discipline or duty will draw us closer in relationship but that our actions will be the means that lead us to the gate of heaven, and therefore I do not feel it appropriate to include for theological reasons within our songbook upon revision.

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