Peace Versus War!
Archibald G. Brown, July 17th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
[Editor's note: Brown is referring to the French-German War, July 19, 1870 - May 10, 1871]
"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you His peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all." 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Since last Lord's Day when together we meditated upon the glorious truth that the very wrath of man is made subservient to Jehovah's praise — momentous and stirring events have transpired. War has been declared between the two leading countries of Europe, and France and Prussia now stand only awaiting the word to commence the grim and hateful struggle. The political sky, which but a few weeks ago was declared to be clear of every cloud, is now dark with Hellish passion; and in a few days (unless some unforeseen circumstance steps in at the eleventh hour) it will be all in a glow with the crimson clouds of battle. Our soul sickens at the thought, and it feels ready to exclaim in the language of one of England's sweetest poets:
"Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumor of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war,
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,
My soul is sick, with every day's report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled."
It is humiliating to our race, to find that after well-near nineteen centuries of Christian time have passed, the clumsy method of war yet remains the last resource of arbitration for the nations. Humiliating did I say? Yes, and something infinitely more: it is a crime only worthy of its father, Hell!
Strip war of its outward pageantry and pomp,
tear from it the gaudy cloak called national honor;
look at it in its naked reality —
and was ever so loathsome and horrid a specter seen, outside of Hell?
This is the monster that has so unexpectedly stalked upon the scene, carrying dismay and panic and grief into the hearts and homes of myriads. Who called this demon up? What compensation is there for the curse? These questions are soon answered. This war is only the food demanded by accursed pride in order to glut its insatiable appetite; men are to become mere food for the cannon, to maintain what is libelously called national glory. It looks like bitter sarcasm to contrast the paltry causes, and the awful results, of war.
Some petty point of etiquette neglected — some ridiculously little slight which, in ordinary everyday life would be counted unworthy of any notice, becomes (when offered to a nation) sufficient motive to lead it to the battlefield. To wash away some tiny stain supposed to be found upon the robe of honor — a stain not worthy of the shedding of a tear — lo! a very ocean of blood is spilt! To avenge an insult, maintain the old bugbear of the "the balance of power," or glorify the ambition of a man — countries are to be desolated, trade paralyzed, blood spilt in unknown measure, agonies endured by those who are as innocent of the quarrel as new-born babes, and all the miseries contained in that one word War let loose upon the continent!
I again repeat that it is horrible and sickening beyond all description, to think that even this week there will be heard, in all probability, the beat of the war drum, the roar of the cannon and the sharp crack of the rifle, carrying death to a thousand hearts! Who can bear to contemplate without a sigh, the wives that will be made widows, and the multitudes of children that will shortly become orphans?
Let us rather this morning think of these things as a dark foil to give extra beauty to the language of our text, and only employ the thunder cloud of battle as a background on which to paint the rainbow of peace.
Doubtless many present have often with the speaker gazed upon a well-known engraving taken from a painting by one of England's greatest artists, entitled "War and Peace." In the picture of the former, you have the cavalry soldier lying dead upon the ground, with his charger over him, while around in heavy wreaths there hangs the smoke through which can be discerned the ruined cottage with the creeper still clinging by the shattered window. In the picture of the latter you have a pastoral scene — the sheep are gently feeding in a field in the midst of which there lies a dismounted gun, into the mouth of which one of the flock is fearlessly and wonderingly looking. The contrast is complete: war beautifies peace — and peace intensifies the horror of war.
It is my desire now, if possible, to accomplish the same result. During the past week we have all been riveted before the spectacle of the upcoming war; it has met us in our reading, it has sounded in our ears on every hand, and in a large degree it has absorbed our thoughts. Like the glittering eye of a serpent, it has fascinated us and chained us to the spot; but blessed be God, the light of the Sabbath morn has broken the charm, and with infinite relief we turn from the bloody picture to its fairer companion, one of peace. In place of garments rolled in blood — we have green pastures and still waters; and for the roar of hateful artillery — we hear words sweet as the music of the spheres. Listen to them!! "The Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all."
We have in the text three blessed things, all breathing peace:
a designation, "the Lord of peace;"
a supplication, "Give you His peace;"
a blessing, "May the Lord be with you all," and
we close with an interrogation, "Do you have this peace?"
I. First then we have a Peaceful Designation.He who is the eternal and omnipotent Jehovah, "The man of war," "The lion of the tribe of Judah," is here described as "The Lord of Peace." This title is only in accordance with that given him by the prophetic tongue of the eloquent Isaiah, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared nearly eight hundred years before that, "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9.6
This concluding name forms the glittering apex of the pyramid of titles, whose massive foundation is "Wonderful." Never did a name so perfectly portray the character. Our Savior is, as well as called, "The Lord of Peace." Let us for a few minutes try and demonstrate it.
He is so in His disposition. Peace like a silver sheen is woven in His nature.
His life manifested it,
His words breathed it,
His looks beamed with it,
His prayers pleaded for it,
His chastisement was to procure it,
and His death was to seal it.
The escutcheon of Hell is a roaring lion with bloody fangs seeking whom he may devour. But on the escutcheon of Heaven there appears a Lamb as it had been slain.
How beautifully was the peaceable disposition of the Lord unveiled by His own hand during His sojourn on earth. How He seemed to dwell with delight on the theme of His own compassionate tenderness. And if at times the holy anger of the Lamb was kindled, and burning words dropped from His lips, how soon they were followed by the language of peace, made more soothing by its very contrast.
Just as the atmosphere is sometimes the cradle of the storm and the chariot of the thunder — but generally it is the gentle nurse that kisses the floweret's cheek, and bears on its bosom the song of the bird, so it was with Jehovah Jesus. Peace, Peace, Peace, was the psalm of his lip and life.
You will find a touching illustration of this in the commencement of His public ministry. He has just come to the quiet town of Nazareth, and on the Sabbath morn he enters, as was His habit, into the synagogue; and he signifies His willingness to read. The book of the prophet Isaiah is handed to Him. I can imagine the breathless stillness that pervaded the people as He opened the roll and selected a portion. What will He read? Will it be some of the stern denunciations and dreadful threatenings that are to be found within that book? Will the words breathe fire and sword against a wicked and adulterous generation? No! for He found the place where it was written, "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord," Luke 4.18-19. He stops there, not reading the next sentence, "and the day of vengeance of our Lord." Isaiah 61.2. He closes the book and returns it to the minister, while the eyes of all present are fastened on Him. He speaks!! Listen to the short sermon!! "This day this scripture is fulfilled in your ears." Oh gracious words, how befitting to Him who in His nature and disposition is the Lord of Peace.
Yet later on, His loving disposition found vent in words that have been like a heavenly balm to weary wounded souls for ages, and will as long as the word of God shall endure. He had just spoken some of the most scathing words his lips ever uttered to the favored but guilty cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Yet behold, how the storm gives way to an invitation, sweet and soft as the evening dew, "Come to me all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Mat 11.28-30.
Truly our Savior — the Lamb of God — is in His disposition, the Lord of peace. This fact may be still more clearly seen if we remember how long-suffering He is with His enemies.
What trifles may prove sufficient to light the torch of war, if there is first the desire for war. An affront, however slight, and half of that imagined; some little disrespect, and that perhaps more than half invited — are quite sufficient; and before their influence, the slaughter of a myriad of men becomes of secondary importance. The tinder being dry with war fever, it requires nothing but a single spark.
Contrast with this what our Lord bears from His avowed foes and His long-suffering towards them, and you will then be enabled in some measure to grasp the peaceableness of His disposition. Oh what affronts He receives — and yet forbears to strike. What indignities are heaped upon Him. How His name is profaned — His Sabbath desecrated — His laws broken — His book derided — His worship neglected. What monarch on earth has ever been so openly defied — and by creatures who are at His mercy for their very breath and bread!!
How have His ambassadors been received? If He considered every slight that they received was a cause for war with the human race, in what age would there ever have been peace? Time would fail to tell of all His representatives that have suffered from the world's governments and kings. They have been scourged, racked, broken on the wheel, and burnt at the stake by the thousands! And in all their agonies, the apple of His eye has been touched — and yet He has held in His wrath. Ambassador after ambassador has been sent with messages of mercy, and offers of free pardon. Still they are found pleading on His behalf to a world that turns a deaf ear. The very existence of His enemies, proves He is the Lord of peace.
The peace-loving disposition of our Lord can also be demonstrated by His forbearance with His friends.
A slight from an open enemy is insignificant in its power to wound, compared with one that comes from a professed friend.
In the former case, it is expected and provided for — hard though the blow may be, it falls on a breast that is covered with a coat of armor.
But in the latter case, we are taken at a disadvantage, and the iron enters right into the soul and rankles there, while the lips murmur in the language of the psalmist, "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship." Psalm 55.12-14.
The more we love — the more we feel the wound the loved one gives us.
The warmer the friendship which is violated — the more intensely our heart is crushed.
Now who among even the most peaceable, could for one day put up with the treatment that Christ receives from His friends? What weakness, what base ingratitude, what falseness of affection are shown to Him, by the very ones whose names are engraved on His heart! And yet He bears with us and loves us still. Surely God's grace is not more marvelous in its first love, than in that love's continuation. It is only pure grace that will not let me go!
The long-suffering of the Lord received a grand exemplification in the history of His chosen people Israel, and they were no worse than we are — but faithful types of the elected church. Turn with me to psalm seventy-eight and read from verse thirty-six, and see if the words do not apply with equal force to us. "Nevertheless they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath!"
Oh! how many a time He has withheld His just ire from us, and turned away from His great wrath! How often He has said to us as to Israel. "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man — the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath!" Hosea 11:8-9. Thus we find Him ever patient and seeking peace.
The Lord is also the "Lord of peace" in His actions. This is seen in the fact, that He purchased his rebellious people at a tremendous cost.
Nothing is so easily commenced as war, or so easily lost as peace. It required but the one sin of Adam to light the torch and break the harmony existing between the Creator and His creatures. But it required the blood of the second Adam to quench the war fire, and cement the peace. The only way to judge a person's true admiration for anything, is by the amount he is willing to forego and endure in order to attain it. Judging our Lord's love of peace by this standard, what must it not have been?
Peace could only be procured by His voluntary humiliation, sufferings, and death. Did He shrink from the cost? Blessed be His name — No! For peace, He gave His sacred shoulders to the bloody scourge in Pilate's Hall, for "the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed." To purchase peace, He gave Himself up to the death, for He made "peace through the blood of His cross." His tears and groans — His sighs and blood — His shame and death — all proclaim His estimate of peace.
Not only did He purchase peace — but He was also the messenger of it. He came from Heaven bearing in His hand the white flag. He was heralded by the angels as such. Their Christmas carol on the hills of Bethlehem was "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2.14. At His baptism the peaceful nature of His mission was again made known, by the descent of the Holy Spirit. In what form was it that the Spirit alighted upon Him? Was it that of the royal eagle with outspread wings and threatening talons? Far from it, for "John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode on Him." John 1.32. That dove-like inauguration of our Master to His public work, was but prophetical of His ministry, for he went "and preached peace," and many bore testimony to the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth.
But not only was He the purchaser and messenger of peace, He is now the preserver of it. It has well been observed by one of the old writers, that "it is only Christ that keeps matters from coming to an open rupture between us, and the court of Heaven."
Having procured peace by His death, He ascended to preserve it. He is His peoples' ambassador above; and while He remains our representative there, our peace is secured, and in glorious truth, "He ever lives to make intercession for us." Heb 7.25.
Oh, what would we do, beloved, amid all our sins and imperfections, if we had no advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. But we have. The peace that was purchased by His blood, is now secured by His life, and He only waits to place the crown upon the whole by perfecting our peace.
Sweet though the realization of peace on earth is, it is yet imperfect. Refreshing though its streams are — the fountain is better, and we have yet to drink of that, and,
"If such is the sweetness of the stream,
What must the fountain be,
Where saints and angels draw their bliss,
Immediately from Thee!"
Its sweetness we shall soon know, for it is the will of Him who has purchased and now preserves peace — to make his people know its glorious perfection. Peace without the alarm of battle — peace beyond the noise or even rumor of strife — peace, deep and calm as a mountain lake unruffled by a breeze — yet glittering in the sunlight, is the sweet consummation of the dealings of the Lord of peace with us.
So much then for our first point. I have dwelt so much longer upon this first portion of my sermon than I intended, that only a little time remains for meditation on the other parts of the verse. I can but give you the thoughts, and leave it to you to beat them out in private. We have in the second place,
II. A Peaceful Supplication."May the Lord of peace, give you peace." Peace here means, I think, all kinds of peace . . .
peace in the conscience,
peace in the home,
peace in the church,
peace in view of the future.
We will but mention two which are mainly intended here.
First, a peace of conscience. This is one of the greatest gifts the Lord can bestow. What is a man without it? He may be surrounded by every luxury — but if he lacks this peace, he lives in a perpetual Hell — there is a gnawing worm within that makes his very outward comforts like so many mockeries. Let him but possess it, and he has an unfailing source of joy that will sustain him under every privation. The effect of a lack of peace of conscience has been well illustrated by the following anecdote:
A man once said he could cause a sheep to starve to death with plenty of food close by. This being doubted, he placed the sheep in an iron cage with an abundance of grass — but in an adjoining cage, he placed a ravening wolf; too terrified by the proximity of its foe to eat, it soon pined away and died. So it is with man; there can be no enjoyment of life, while at hand there rages an unpacified conscience. But Jesus gives this peace, and who can describe its sweetness? To use the beautiful words of the late Dr. Hamilton,
"Peace is . . .
love on the green pastures,
love beside the still waters,
that great calm that comes over the conscience when it sees that the atonement is sufficient,
unclouded azure in a lake of glass,
the soul which Christ has pacified, spread out in serenity and simple faith, and the Lord God, merciful and gracious, smiling over it."
This peace is a hidden one; it cannot be detected by the eye, though sometimes its reflection may be seen on the countenance. It is not a peace that smiles on the surface — but one that fills the great deeps of the heart. To see a Christian as he often is, tossed about with care and well-near overwhelmed with tempestuous floods — one might be easily induced to ask, "Where is the peace that he possesses, above others?" Our answer is, "Within!"
The ocean, under the might of the hurricane, is lashed into huge foam-crested waves, and made to boil like a pot. But it is only so on the surface; deep down, the waters are as still as an autumn noon; not a ripple or motion disturbs their quietude. So it is with the saint; unseen to mortal eye, there are serene ocean depths of peace, calmed and kept calm by the voice of the Lord of peace.
That this happy experience might be theirs, was prayed for by the apostle. But as these words were addressed to the church at Thessalonica, they may also be understood as praying for their church peace. A church without peace is in just as wretched a condition as a heart without peace. No country has ever suffered half so much through the ravages of war, as God's church has from its internal strifes. Will the present war trample down the golden grain, and turn the smiling vineyards of the Rhine into the desolations of a wilderness? If so, it will but illustrate the future of any church that does not have peace in its borders. What harvests of souls have been neglected, and how has the beauty of the Lord's vineyard been destroyed, while Christians have fought!
And alas, as in other wars, what trifles kindle the flame. Some little grievance between two members, which a word of explanation on either side would heal at once — is allowed to grow and rankle, while partisans flock to the rival standards, and the few neutrals that are left find themselves powerless to avert the calamity.
This I believe is the way in which one half of the internal battles of the Church arise. God save us, as a people, from so great a catastrophe, and long continue for us the happy peace now reigning in our midst.
Notice, further, that the peace desired was a perpetual one. "Peace always" was the Apostle's prayer. Very different is this from the peace which has been Europe's of late. Peace did I say? I would have spoken more correctly if I had termed it an armed truce. So little confidence has there been of its continuation, that the nations, though not warring, have been standing ready, armed to the teeth. Something far higher than this is prayed for. A peace so long, that war shall be forgotten — a peace so complete that the probability of war shall cease. A peace that shall abide and rule in the heart, and only know change when it gives way to the perfection of peace in Heaven.
Yes, peace always — in the dark hour as well as the bright — in adversity as well as prosperity — in cross-bearing as well as crown-wearing — in surrounding tumult as in surrounding calm — in the hour of death as in the days of life.
It was also to be a peace that came by all means. "May every privilege (Paul seems to say) which you possess as Christians, be so many golden-pipes, conveying to your hearts the oil of joy and peace! When you pray, may you lose your burdens and your cares, and find in it sweet peace. When you gather for the holy purposes of public worship, may a heavenly calm be yours, and may you find the sanctuary a means of peace. When alone, you meditate upon the promises, may they be to you like songs of consolation. Ah, dear friends, what a blessed thing it would be if, from this morning, we were all to receive peace by every means, even our Father's chastisement included!
III. A Peaceful Blessing.I have but a moment or two to give to this last — but not least, sweet portion of my subject. "May the Lord be with you all." What is not included in these words? What blessing can our hearts desire that they shall not receive, if this blessing is but theirs? If the Lord is with me — what can I lack? If the Lord is with me — for what shall I pine?
"May the Lord be with you all" — let us roll these sweet words under our tongue, for they are sweet to our taste. Think for a minute of all they embrace.
May His presence be with you to comfort you. May you never miss his smile or mourn His absence. In your journey through the wilderness — may your beloved's arm be ever around you. Abroad or at home, in the shop or the field, in sickness or in health, in poverty's valley or abounding in wealth — still may your Lord be with you.
May His power be with you to keep you.
In the seasons of temptation, may He hold above your head His shield.
In times of weakness, may He make you strong, and gird you with his might.
In climbing hills of difficulty, may his right hand assist you.
In descending into the valley of humiliation, may His arm uphold you.
May His Spirit be with you to guide you. In the daytime, may a cloudy pillar go before you, and in the night season, may a pillar of fire direct you. In your ears may a voice be heard, "this is the way, walk in it;" and in all the winding paths of life, may the Shepherd's voice and staff preserve you, and guide your feet in the road that leads to Heaven. All these and countless other precious blessings are embraced in, "May the Lord be with you all."
IV. An Interrogation.I will now close by asking you all, "Do you have this peace?" Is there within your breast a pacified conscience and a soul that has found its rest? Thank God many of us can say, "Yes! We have learned by experience, the joyful peace that the "Prince of peace" can give; our hearts are kept by it, and our spirit rejoices in it."
But I fear that out of the number present, many are strangers to it. Do you want it, dear friend? Are you seeking for it as for a hidden treasure? Then go to Calvary, and on a cross there you will behold a dying God-man. Cast yourself at his feet, and as a sinner, receive him as your only Savior. Look to him as your only hope, and cry, "Lord Jesus, Lord of peace, give me peace." Believe me, He will say to you as He has said to thousands, "Your sins are forgiven — go in peace." And now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace always, by all means. May the Lord be with us all. Amen.