Vital Godliness: A Treatise on
Experimental and Practical Piety

By William S. Plumer


"Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don't let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful." (John 14:27)

Peace is the opposite of war, persecution, temptation, condemnation, alarm, tumult, strife, contention, controversy, quarreling. In the Scriptures, the word peace relates to several different things. By nature we are all enemies to God, and by wicked works we evince and strengthen our aversion to God and holiness. But "being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom. 5:1. By this peace with God we are freed from condemnation. We are no longer hostile to God, nor he to us. We no more contend with the Almighty, nor he with us. Christ is our Surety, our Sacrifice, our Peace. "Thorns grow everywhere, and from all things below; and from a soul transplanted out of itself—into the root of Jesse, peace grows everywhere too from Him who is called our Peace, and whom we still find the more to be so the more entirely we live in him, being dead to the world and self and all things besides him."

The repose of the soul in its God and Savior is wonderful. "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you; because he trusts in you." Isa. 26:3. This "peace of God passes all understanding." Phil. 4 7. In its basis and in its effects no mortal has adequate conceptions of its richness as a blessing from God. "When he gives quietness, who then can make trouble?" said Job, chapter 34:29. And Jesus Christ himself said, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don't let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful." John 14:27. Nothing can finally destroy this peace. "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." Romans 8:34.

Peace is one of God's richest blessings. It is the sum and beginning of all mercies. It is a pledge that we shall never perish. This covenant of peace is between God and every soul who flees to Jesus. "The chastisement of our peace was upon him." Isa. 53:5. By Him we have access to God. We are entitled to call him our Father and our God. God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. When God thus pardons and accepts us, every creature in the universe, whose friendship can do us permanent good, is made to be on our side. The angels become ministering spirits to aid and befriend us, as God shall commission them. The stars in their courses no longer fight against us. He has even made a covenant for his chosen "with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground." Hos. 2:18. We may therefore speak boldly to all who have made peace with God by Jesus Christ, and say, "All things are yours . . . the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours; and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." 1 Cor. 3:21-23.

Paul seven times uses a phrase nowhere else found in Scripture. It is this, "The God of peace." And surely a more striking delineation of the blessed character of God could not be given in so few words, unless we except those words of John, "God is love." Let every man "acquaint himself with God, and be at peace." Job 22:21. So also our Savior is "The Prince of peace." In him we have reconciliation with God and all other good things. He was sent "to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:79. His "kingdom is not food and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Rom. 14:17. So "to be spiritually-minded is life and peace." Rom. 8:6. And so also no greater blessing could be asked on others than this: "Grace be unto you, and peace, from him who is, and who was, and who is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth." Rev. 1:4, 5.

From peace with God through Christ, naturally flows peace of conscience. This is a vast treasure. Nothing can compensate the lack of it. Nothing can make us happy without it. In the angels above, peace of conscience is the fruit of innocence. In man it is the purchase of a Savior's blood. We must have our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, else the sting will remain and rankle forever. Heb. 10:22. Yes, we must have our consciences purged from dead works, or we never can acceptably serve the living God. Heb. 9:14. If we are ever to be made perfect as pertaining to the conscience, it cannot be "without blood." Heb. 9:7, 9. The blood of Christ "turns our fears into hopes, and our sorrows into songs; it settles the agitations of our spirits; it silences troubles in us; it is a ground of peace to us. That which has been a sweet savor to pacify God, lacks not a savor to appease our consciences.

The great misery of the wicked is that to them "there is no peace." Isa. 48:22, and 57:21. "The way of peace they know not." Isa. 59:8; Rom. 3:17. Conscience of sin remaining, no man can be otherwise than a poor trembling, self-condemned creature. Nor can he by hardening his heart erect any strong bulwarks against the sudden invasion of extreme terrors. This peace of conscience is often interrupted by our sins and follies. When worldliness takes the place of a tender walk; when biblical principle is impinged on; when practice is made to conform to temptation; when the things of time seems more important than eternity; then we may know that sooner or later there will be an uproar in our consciences. But "great peace have they who love your law." Psalm 119:165. It is in vain for any one to hope for a blessing when he is saying, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart." Deut. 29:19.

A third kind of peace is when God disposes our fellow-men to regard us with so much favor as to let us alone, not to tease, torment, persecute, or malke war upon us, but to think, speak and act in a friendly way towards us. This is a great blessing, and when it is made sure to us we ought to give hearty thanks to God for it, for he is its author. "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." Proverbs 16:7. Thus for a long time Solomon "had peace on all sides round about him." 1 Kings 4:24.

It is true that this peace is not, like other other graces—such as faith and love—essential to our piety, or our happiness. Jesus Christ said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matt. 10:34. And the effect of true piety under all dispensations has been to provoke the malice of wicked men, though oftentimes it is restrained by the good providence of God. He turns men's hearts wherever he will.

But the word 'peace' is also applied to our habits, pursuits, and dispositions towards OTHERS. "Follow peace with all men." Each of the other kinds of peace is a rich blessing. This is a weighty duty. On this point the Scriptures are very clear and full. Thus even to Nabal David sent this message: "Peace be both to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be unto all that you have." 1 Sam. 25:6. So Jeremiah sent a letter to all his brethren, captives in Babylon, saying, "Build you houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; and seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall you have peace." Jer. 29:5, 7. The circumstances of the people to whom this message was sent were such that, if anything in the shape of wrong could have justified revenge, they surely would have been at liberty to seek the ruin of the city that had dealt so proudly and cruelly with them. But God, by the mouth of his prophet, condemns all such proceedings, and requires a line of conduct quite the opposite. The prophet delivers his message in an extreme case, and yet with the utmost clearness and consistency with other parts of God's word.

Paul also says, "Let us follow after the things which make for peace." Rom. 14:19. "God has called us to peace." 1 Cor. 7:15. "The fruit of the Spirit is peace." Gal. 5:22. "Live in peace." 2 Cor. 13:11. "Endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." Eph. 4:3. He also commands us to pray for our rulers, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty." 1 Tim. 2:2.

The apostle James also says, "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3:17, 18.

Our blessed Savior also said to his disciples, "Be at peace one with another." Mark 9:50.

So that there is not left the shadow of a doubt, respecting the binding obligation upon all men to have and to manifest peaceable dispositions at all times. Nor should we ever forget that the duty is enjoined with great frequency and solemnity. We should therefore address ourselves to this with much seriousness and earnestness. Nor are we at liberty to limit our endeavors after peace to friendly relations. We must "follow peace with all men." We are not at liberty to confine our efforts in this behalf to a few, and those of our own circle or party. We must let our endeavors extend to all with whom we have dealings. "If a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not vex him." Lev. 19:33.

What then is enjoined on us in maintaining peace with our fellow-men? The answer is, that first, of all we are bound to entertain peaceable and friendly THOUGHTS respecting all men. In the heart is the seat of every virtue. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." If men be not in their temper and disposition peaceable, it is certain that they do in their hearts violate the whole spirit of the gospel. Nor will it be possible for such to make their outward conduct conform to the scriptural standard. "It is hard to act a part for very long; for where truth is not in the heart, nature will always be endeavoring to return, and will peep out and betray herself one time or other."

Another thing to be done in fulfillment of our duty is, to SPEAK peaceably. The peace of neighborhoods is often destroyed by words. "Grievous words stir up anger." Proverbs 15:1. "For lack of wood a fire goes out. Without gossip, a quarrel dies down. As coals are to hot embers, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindling strife." Proverbs 26:20, 21. "The words of a talebearer are as wounds." Proverbs 18:8. "Render not railing for railing." 1 Pet. 3:9. Paul warns us against "strifes of words." 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 2:14. Rash words may have as ill an effect—as those which are the fruit of a truly malignant design, in destroying the peace of families and of neighborhoods. "A whisperer separates chief friends," Proverbs 16:28; and "an angry man stirs up strife." Proverbs 29:22.

We cannot therefore be too guarded in our speech. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Proverbs 18:21. And every prudent man will pray, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips!" Psalm 141:3.

A godly man has said, Before we allow ourselves to find fault with any person behind his back, we should ask ourselves three questions:

1. Is it true?

2. Is it kind?

3. Is it necessary?

A little heart-searching, even a little reflection before a harsh speech, would effectually prevent much misery. John Newton says, "In mixed conversation, it is a good rule to say nothing, without a just cause—to the disadvantage of others." Again, "I was once in a large company, where very severe things were spoken of Mr. W, when one person seasonably observed—that though the Lord was pleased to effect conversion and edification by a variety of means, he had never known anybody convinced of his sin or his error—by what was said of him behind his back. This was about thirteen years ago, and it has been on my mind a useful hint ever since."

Another matter required of us is, to ACT peaceably. "A man that has friends must show himself friendly." Proverbs 18:24. And here the Scriptures furnish us both with rules and with examples. Take the case of Abram and Lot—the uncle and the nephew. These two great men had each many flocks and herds and tents. "Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land was unable to support them as long as they stayed together, for they had so many possessions that they could not stay together, and there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock Then Abram said to Lot, "Please, let's not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives. Isn't the whole land before you? Separate from me: if you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left." (Genesis 13:5-9)

Strife can hardly subsist where such a peaceful disposition is manifested. There is no fuel to keep the fire burning. The wisdom of the course adopted by Abram, was conspicuous in these things:

1. In keeping individual interests from clashing. It is a great trial when godly men are so situated that they cannot avoid collision of interests. Here is an example. Let them follow it.

2. Abram refused to listen to the stories of his servants. They seem to have been men ready for strife. It is hard, but it is wise, to avoid mingling ourselves with the quarrels into which our servants get with others.

3. Abram showed his wisdom by leaving all his personal interests in the hands of God. If we will mind God's glory—he will mind our welfare.

The last generation was adorned by one who, in some respects, and especially in faith and peaceableness, particularly in his latter days, was a spiritual child of Abraham. I refer to the pious Simeon of Cambridge, England, who said, "The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself in relation to the following subjects:

1. To hear as little as possible, what is to the hurt or defaming of others.

2. To believe nothing of the kind, until I am absolutely forced to it.

3. Never to drink into the evil spirit of one who circulates a bad report.

4. Always to moderate as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed towards others.

5. Always to believe that, if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter.

I consider love as wealth; and as I would resist a man who should come to rob my house, so would I a man who would weaken my regard for any human being. I consider too, that people are cast in different molds; and that to ask myself—What would I do in that person's situation?—is not a just mode of judging. I must not expect a man that is naturally cold and reserved to act as one that is naturally warm and affectionate; and I think it a great evil that people do not make more allowances for each other in this particular. I think Christian people are too little attentive to these considerations."

It is hardly possible that a man honestly holding and practicing such views should fail to be esteemed as a godly man; or would fail to enjoy general quietness of life, and the respect of all godly men who know him.

One of the most serious HINDRANCES to the peace of many men and many Christian churches is found in occasional outbursts of bad or angry temper. Some men are constitutionally moody. They are not, and without a miracle they could not be—steadily tranquil and peaceful. Their feelings vary with the wind, with the state of their stomachs, and with other mutable things. Others are of a anxious temperament. Some are naturally easily moved to unreasonable or excessive anger—they are hot-tempered and excitable.

Many from early infancy have had bad precepts and worse examples held up before them. Some are fretted and crossed in childhood and youth, until they are like the whelps of the tiger. All this is to be greatly deplored; for "a wrathful man stirs up strife." Proverbs 15:18. Indeed, the first outbursts of passion are often like coals thrown among shavings. There is no telling what will be the end of the mischief done. It would vastly conduce to peace, if men could be induced to guard against all causes, occasions, and beginnings of discord. "Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control." Proverbs 17:14. "Nip the evil in the bud," is one of the best rules.

Nor do we follow peace when we allow ourselves to be made parties to arguments which do not concern us. "Getting involved in an argument that is none of your business is like going down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears." Proverbs 26:17.

One of the greatest disturbers of peace is PRIDE. It is sure to be insolent and arrogant. It struts, and boasts, and brags—and provokes others. "He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife." Proverbs 28:25. "Pride only breeds quarrels." Proverbs 13:10. " The proud and arrogant person, named "Mocker," acts with excessive pride." Proverbs 21:24.

Unholy AMBITION also begets many contests. There never was a more unhappy state of feeling in the family of our Savior than when "there was a strife among them which of them would be the greatest." Luke 22:24.

It would greatly conduce to the advancement of peace, if men could be induced to put a just estimate on its value. In the eyes of a wise and good man, peace is always of high value. In Scripture it is mentioned side by side with the most excellent things. God says, "Love the truth and peace." Zech. 8:19. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Heb. 12:14. So that if truth and holiness are of great price in the eyes of God and godly men, so is peace.

In his old age John Newton wrote, "Peace and holiness are the peculiar characteristics of a disciple of Jesus; they are the richest part of the enjoyments of heaven; and they are more inseparably connected between themselves than some of us are aware of. The longer I live, the more I see of the vanity and sinfulness of our unchristian disputes; they eat up the very vitals of religion."

Our great guaranty against a disturbed, disquieted existence, is to be found in God alone. He is our refuge as well as our strength. Thus says David, "You shall hide them in the secret of your presence from the pride of men; you shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." Psalm 31:20. Nor can we easily overestimate the evils that flow from a state of carnal strife between man and man, or between the sections of a church community. "Where envying and strife is, there is contention and every evil work." Jas. 3:16. "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another." Gal. 5:15.

Yet so inveterate is this spirit-of contention, and so dreadfully does it blind the mind, that it is with great difficulty men of strife can be brought to believe that they are injuring and degrading themselves by all their malice. "Avoiding a quarrel is honorable. After all, any stubborn fool can start a fight." Proverbs 20:3. Such a sentence is either not heeded by them, or it strikes terror into their consciences. Other portions of God's word are no less explicit. Paul puts wrath and strife in a list of vices of the most hateful character. Gal. 5:19-21. James says, "But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, stop boasting and lying against the truth." Jas. 3:14.

Nothing should more arouse us to this duty than the example of our blessed Lord, of whom it was foretold that "he shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets." Matt. 12:19. "When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." We can now see why our blessed Savior spoke as he did concerning those who, with a good will, seek to promote peace around them. "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God." And can any imagine a more interesting sight than a church community regulated by such principles as the gospel enjoins on this subject, where would be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God's holy people?

But the question arises, How far are we to bear and forbear; how much must we yield for peace? Is it possible for us to control other people's minds and acts in this matter? And here it is pleasant to be able to say that the Bible prescribes no impossible tasks. Its language is, "If it is possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men." Rom. 12:18. How plain and how safe is this rule. Up to the measure of our ability we must go, but the law extends no further. Nay, the Scriptures tell us of one great and good man whose lament was, "I have lived too long with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I talk about it, they only talk about war." Psalm 120:6, 7. They go further, and tell us of some who "preach Christ even out of envy and strife." Phil. 1:15, 16.

There is no limit to the contentious propensities of some. They introduce virulence even into their most solemn public acts in religion. Some do all this, and yet make 'great professions of love'.

We are not at liberty to forsake God or deny his truth, in order to promote peace. On the contrary, we must obey God rather than man. We must contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. We must never make shipwreck of faith. We must never part with a good conscience. "Buy the truth, and sell it not"—sell it not even for peace. The world asks too dear a price for its smiles or its favor—when it asks us to renounce our beliefs, or purity of mind.

Nor is it necessarily proof of a wrong spirit in us to refuse to surrender our just and legal rights, merely because others choose to attempt to take them from us. Paul exclaimed, "I am a Roman citizen." "I appeal to Caesar." Nor can any sober man deny that his retention of his rights in these cases was every way justifiable. This will suggest our right course respecting lawsuits. We should not engage in these from ambition or a love of contention. We should not be litigious. Oftentimes "a bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit." Those who love to resort to lawsuits seldom thrive. As the wolf spends all his strength in escaping from the dogs and the hunters, although he eats many sheep—so the enormous expenses of the practiced litigant, even when successful, very much exhaust his means, and keep him poor.