PEACE WITH GOD
Phil. 4:7:—"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."
The exact phrase which we have given as the subject of our reflection this afternoon, though one of the most familiar phrases in our religious speech, has a very slender claim to be looked upon as Biblical. It occurs but once in the Bible (Rom. 5:1), and then, as it seems to me (though on this the commentators differ), not in its fundamental sense, or in the sense in which it is probably most prominent in the minds of most of us here this afternoon, but in its subjective sense of consciousness of peace with God. The thing denoted by the phrase is of course a frequent and basal idea in Scripture, though not expressed by the exact phrase now before us. The correlated terms "enmity," "reconciliation," "peace," occur with sufficient frequency and express what may properly be called a fundamental idea of the Gospel.
We are told that we are naturally "enemies" of God, that God looks upon us as such, and that we cherish the feelings appropriate to that condition—being enemies in our minds by wicked works, and because of a carnal mind necessarily at
enmity with the Holy God. This enmity we are told Christ has "abolished," "slain" on His cross, "reconciling" us with God by His propitiatory work. As a result of this "propitiation," we are told, He has made "peace" (Eph. 2:18); and, therefore, He is called "our peace," and His Gospel, "the Gospel of peace" (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15). His whole work was "that we might have peace in Him" (Jno. 16:33), and His gospel consisted in "preaching peace by Jesus" (Acts 10:36). Even in the Old Testament prophecy, He is promised as the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6), and it is clearly perceived that He is such because the "chastisement of our peace shall be on Him" (Isa. 53:5); in other words, because that punishment by which our sins are expiated and we are reconciled with God should be borne by Him.
There is no lack, therefore, of the most explicit enunciation in Scripture of the fact which our phrase expresses; it is rather one of the pervading representations of Scripture that we are at enmity with God and can have peace with Him only in the blood of Christ. Only it so happens that the connection in which the word "peace" occurs most frequently in Scripture is one which raises our eyes rather to God as the giver of peace than emphasizes the fact that it is with Him that the peace is established. "Peace from God" happens, therefore, to be a commoner Scriptural locution than "peace with God." "I will give unto him my covenant of peace" (Numb. 28:12), though not spoken with this broad implication may almost be represented as the primary promise of the Old Covenant, under which the longing of God's people expressed itself in the assurance that "He would speak peace with His people and to His saints" (Psa. 85:8). Wherefore that Old Covenant saint upon whose glad eyes the dawn of salvation had fallen, expresses his joy that the coming of the Day-spring from on high was a promise that now, at length, the feet of God's people should be guided in the way of peace (Luke 1:79). Accordingly Jesus represents the result of His work as giving peace to His followers (Jno. 16:33)—"My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (Jno. 16:27), and His disciples going everywhere "preached peace by Jesus" (Acts 10:36). It is the "peace of God" that passeth all understanding, that the Apostle would have rule in the hearts of His converts (Phil. 4:7); and the prayer that "peace from God" should be on them became the fixed form of Apostolic benediction (Rom. 1:7).
This pervading longing for peace and promise of it as one of the most precious gifts of God, certainly enhances our sense of its value. Perhaps we may say that the chief difference in the feeling of the two terms "peace from God" and "peace with God" is that the primary emphasis in the former falls naturally on subjective peace—
though by no means to the exclusion of objective peace; while, with the latter the reverse is the case. When we speak of "peace from God" coming upon us, of the peace of God that passes all understanding "sentrying" our hearts and thoughts, of the peace of Jesus which He left with us, when He added: "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful," we necessarily think first of all of the deep sense of inner peace and satisfaction which pervades the hearts of none in the world who have not "found their peace" as we say, in Christ. On the other hand, when we speak of "peace with God" our thoughts go primarily back to that great transaction on Calvary when He who is our peace reconciled us to God by His cross, having slain the enmity thereon; and we who were alienated in our wicked minds from Him were brought nigh in the blood of Christ. We cannot think of the one, indeed, without thinking of the other; nor can one exist apart from the other. We cannot have peace of heart, until our real and actual separation from God is bridged by the blood of Christ. We cannot have the breach between God and us healed without a sense of the new relation of peace stealing into our hearts. And possibly we cannot do better to-day than just to realize how interdependent the two are and how rich the peace is which we obtain in Christ Jesus. To this end, let us consider (1) the utter lack of peace which man suffers by nature; (2) the fullness of peace brought to us by Jesus; and (3) the process by which this peace is made the possession of the mind and soul.
It is a curious thing if you look at it, how little peace man out of Christ, that is, apart from God and His right relation to him, has in the world; how utterly out of joint he is—at war, in fact— with even his physical environment. Every other creature finds a place for itself in nature; nature cares for them all. "She spreads a table for the tiger in the jungle, for the buffalo on the prairie, for the dragon-fly above the summer brook." But she spreads no table for man. Foxes may have holes and the birds of the air, nests; but like his Lord, man has no place in nature where he can safely lay his head. As a mere animal, he is the weakest and most helpless of all, with no natural covering to keep him warm, with no natural weapons to protect himself, with no speed for escape, and no cunning for hiding. The sun burns him and the winter freezes him. A brilliant writer, upon whom I am drawing very freely in these paragraphs, calls him justly, the stepchild of time. Revelation accounts for it by the fall. Man stood at the gate of Eden, an exile, facing a wild world, a world of briers and thorns, of hostile fears, of death. What man out of Christ thinks of it, the myths he has invented tell us; from the shrinking terror of the fetish worshipper at every old bone or bit of stick, to the weird shapes and glowing myths of our own Scandinavian fathers. Man knows himself to be at war with the world.
It is much if he can get his food. Most do not. But food does not satisfy him. "Put an ox in a fat pasture beside a clear stream and the ox is as happy as an ox can be. The hungry tiger with reeking jaws, tearing the slaughtered buffalo, is happy to the utmost limit of tiger nature." But after man has conquered nature, he is still not at peace with her. He is no happier in the palace than in the hut.
"In the cool hall with haggard eyes
The Roman nobly lay;
Then rose and drove in furious wise
Along the Appian Way.
He made a feast, drank fierce and fast
And crowned his head with flowers,
No easier and no swifter passed
The impracticable hours."
Man assuredly is at odds with nature; but not only with nature, there is something deeper than that. Man is at odds with himself. So that, even though he were not the stepchild of nature and all that is external to him existed only to do his pleasure, so that like the lotus-eaters he could merely lie and be happy; man would not be happy. The deep unrest of his nature has a deeper cause than merely his lack of physical adjustment to his environment. He is out of joint with himself. He has a conscience and knows the right. But he also knows what is not right. And this sense of sin, ineradicable instinct in every soul, is the source of a restless uneasiness which knows and can know no peace. His very disquietedness with nature receives half its terror from it. If man merely felt that he must manipulate nature for his comfort, he might, at least, be inwardly easy or troubled only by those natural anxieties for the future that cluster around the questions, What shall I eat, and what shall I drink, and wherewith shall I be clothed. But his inward unrest clothes nature with a thousand terrors; her forces become avenging furies, her thunders the voice of an accusing God, her lightnings and tornadoes—her quietly working poisons of miasma and disease—become the tools of God's anger. Because he is a sinner, man's inward war is inflicted on his outward environment. And his conscience it is that will give him no peace.
But neither is conscience the ultimate fact. As the terrors of nature are due to the fact that they are not ultimate but point upwards and inwards to the war in the heart, so the terrors of conscience are due to the fact that they, too, are not ultimate but point upwards to a higher Power. Conscience is the voice of God proclaiming war in man; and through it man knows that he is not at peace with God. Hence its pain and terror.
Everywhere, man knows that because he is a sinner, he is at enmity with God. Man's sense of enmity with God is the source of all his terror, all his unrest, all his misery. It is ineradicable and universal. It must abide so long as man knows he is a sinner. But so long as it abides, he cannot be other than miserable.
Now the Apostle, in the text, recognizing this state of things, promises us as if it were the fundamental blessing, the peace of God. And he promises it to us in language which exhibits his high appreciation of its nature. He calls it, a peace that passes all conception. And he promises it as something that will guard or "sentry" our hearts and thoughts—as if it were able to keep us pure and holy as few things can. Let us note then in opposition to the restlessness of man's heart by nature the surpassingness of God's peace.
And here, note especially, the universality of this peace of God; how it supplies the whole lack of peace in which we are by nature.
It is fundamentally peace with God. "But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were afar off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself of the twain one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through his cross, having slain the enmity thereby." Christianity does not come crying peace, peace, when there is no peace, and when we know there is no peace. It does not come crying that God is love and nothing but love, and the Father of all, not at enmity to us, not needing any reconciliation. It comes recognizing the enmity and laying an adequate foundation for peace. It recognizes our sin and guilt and offers an atonement for it. It recognizes our condemnation and makes provision for its reversal. It institutes peace out of war, and that by a method which commands our assent as complete, availing, effective. Thus it makes peace between us and God.
And just because it does not talk of a peace already existing when our hearts know there is war, it relieves also our unrest of conscience and brings us to peace with ourselves. Looking upon the satisfaction of Christ, the heart can comfort itself in the knowledge of a reconciled God and receive His promises that on the basis of that atonement the Spirit shall come and work peace in the soul.
And once again, this peace of soul mightily works to produce peace in our environment, for now the soul no longer looks upon the external world as its enemy and no longer on the laws of nature as purely natural forces, grinding out evil for it. It sees that in nature and above nature a Father sits—truly a Father, now, that He is reconciled to us in Christ, and that all Providence is in His hands, touching us. In nature itself—in history—the reconciled soul meets God and perceives everywhere the hand of One who loves him and cares for him. Amid all happenings he is peaceful and serene; he knows nothing can harm him now; he knows nothing can take away his peace; he knows that all things shall work together for good to him. The external world is no longer his enemy, but his friend.
In our absorption with the weightier matters of the fundamental reconciliation of the soul with God in Christ and the operation of the Spirit working peace in us, we are apt to neglect this element of peace, in which we are ourselves at peace in the world, no longer orphans but communing with God in all our happenings. How important an aspect of the matter it is may be advertised to us by the comfort which the theologians of the school of Ritschl find in it, the only form of communion with God they acknowledge, and how it fills their hearts to be able by the revelation of Christ to look on the world as God's Kingdom in which His children are not orphans but sons of a living God.
The inestimable value of the peace of God is apparent next from the reasonableness and surety of this peace. There may be a peace which is not reasonable; a peace which is not assured. The worldly man's peace on which he strives to stay himself is of this kind; the peace of a drunkard in a house on fire, the peace of a lunatic who fancies himself a king, the peace of a fool who cries Peace! Peace! when there is no peace. Such a peace can be maintained only by shutting our eyes to what we are and where we are and the relations that actually exist about us and between us and God. Any accident that calls us to ourselves destroys it. Any ray of true light arising in our conscience extinguishes it. And when evil and death come, where is it then? But God's peace is a rational peace, and a stable peace. It arises not from shutting our eyes to our real state, but from opening them to it, and the more our eyes are open and the more we realize our real condition, understanding what Christ is, what we are, and what He has done for us, the more peace flows into our hearts. The more searching the light we turn on the scene, the more glorious the prospect. Light turns a false peace into torment. Light awakes in the countenance of the true peace, happy smiles.
Is this peace ours? How can we obtain it? Whence obtain it? We must distinguish. It is not our peace; it is God's. We do not make it; He makes it. But we can by God's grace enjoy it more and more.
(1) Its foundation is, of course, in Christ and Christ's work. It can be had on no other basis, in no other way. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." We cannot go about to
establish it; we should be doomed to utter failure. We are by nature at enmity with God. No peace can be found until that enmity is removed. It cannot be removed by aught but a perfect sacrifice, a perfect righteousness. Christ alone can do it. For the inestimable peace of God, therefore, we must look to Christ. It can have no other foundation than His perfect work.
(2) Its formation in us is, of course, by the Holy Ghost. We cannot produce it for ourselves, even on the basis of Christ's work. A fountain cannot rise higher than its source and a sure and stable peace—an everlasting peace—an infinite and perfect peace—must be the work of Him who is Himself all this. "Now the works of the Spirit are love, joy, peace."
(3) But the cultivation of it is placed by God's grace in our hands. Christ may have died for us; the Spirit may have applied that death savingly to us; and yet we may still hold back from the full consciousness of our safety; wrong thoughts and feelings may stand in our way. We are at peace with God; our conscience knows it. But we may so seldom look to Him who is our Peace, and so much to ourselves, that we fail to take the true comfort and joy of our changed position.
Hence a good old writer (William Bridge) draws two useful distinctions: a distinction between Fundamental Peace and Additional Peace; a distinction between Dormant Peace and Awakened Peace,—peace in the seed and peace in the flower. Fundamental Peace, he tells us, is that peace which naturally and necessarily arises from our justification; those who are justified by faith have peace with God. We cannot cultivate this, we have it; it cannot be less true or be made more true. But it is objective. There is, then, the subjective peace, founded on this: the additional peace that arises from the sense of our jusfication. This we may neglect to cultivate; it may be lost for a time. As the thief breaking in at night can steal the accumulated income hoarded in the safe, but cannot steal the capital invested in the land; so the great thief of the universe, Satan, may take away our additional peace but never the fundamental. So we may also speak of Dormant peace—a peace we have ever in heart but do not realize always; and Awakened peace, which manifests itself to the soul.
On the one hand, the wicked man may give himself great comfort till the day of death comes, but when trouble breaks forth upon him, he is at length awake. The sin and guilt were in his heart always; they lay sleeping there, but now they are awakened. So the German poet sings:
The heart hath chambers twain,
Sweet joy and bitter pain:
Oh joy, take thou good heed!
Lest pain should wake indeed!
Just so, on the other hand, men may have a great reservoir of true peace within them, and yet have never drawn on it for the supply of their needs. After a while the need arises that breaks the retaining wall and the whole soul is flooded with peace. This is peace indeed! 0, that we may have this peace! Not merely Fundamental peace—though that is the main thing—but Additional peace; not merely Dormant peace, but Awakened peace—the sense of being at peace with God.