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.
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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.
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.