Human Longings for Peace and Rest
Timothy Shay Arthur
There are few whose idea of happiness does not include peace as essential. Most men have been so tempest-tossed, and not comforted — that they long for a closing of all excitements at last in peace. Hence the images of the haven receiving the shattered bark, of the rural valley remote from the noise of towns — have always been dear to human imagination. Hence, too, the decline of life away from severe toil, rapid motion, and passionate action, has often a charm even beyond the kindling enterprise of youth. The cold grave itself repels not altogether — but somewhat allures the imagination — "How still and peaceful is the grave!"
Especially has Heaven risen to the pious mind, in this complexion of tranquility. It is generally conceived as free from all disturbance, broken by not a sound, save of harmonious anthems, which, like murmuring water, give deeper peace than could be found in silence.
But man so longs for rest and peace, that he not only soothes himself with these images from afar — but hopes to foretaste their substance. And what are his views to this end? He means to retire from business to some spot where he can calmly enjoy what he has in vain panted for in the race of life. Perhaps he tries the experiment — but finds himself restless still, and learns the great lesson at last, that peace is not in the landscape — but only in the soul; and the calm sky, the horizon's circle, the steady stars, are only its language, not itself.
Perhaps he seeks peace in his home. Everything there is made soft to the feet; each chair and couch receives him softly; agreeable sounds, odors, viands, regale every sense; and illuminated chambers replace for him at night, the splendor of the sun. But here again he is at fault. Peace comes not to him thus, though all the apparatus seems at hand to produce it. Still he may be outshone by a neighbor; or high estate may draw down upon him envy and ill-will; or his senses themselves may refuse the offered bliss, and ache with disease. Peace is not in outward comforts, which the constitution sharply limits; which pass with time, or pall upon the taste. The human mind is too great a thing to be pleased with mere blandishments.
Man has a soul of vast desires; and the solemn truth will come home irresistibly at times, even to the comfortable epicure. Something is lacking still. There is more of pain than peace, in the remnants of feasting, and the exhausted rounds of pleasure.
Man has sometimes sought peace in yet another way. Abjuring all sensual delights, he has gone into the desert to scourge the body, to live on roots and water, and be absorbed in pious raptures; and often has he thus succeeded, better than the vulgar hunters of pleasure do. But unrest mingles even with the tranquility thus obtained. His innocent, active powers resist this crucifixion. The distant world rolls to his ear the voices of suffering fellow-men; and even his devotions, all lonely, become selfish and unsatisfying.
All men are seeking, in a way better or worse, this same peace and rest. Some seek it objectively in mere outward activity. They are frequently restless within — seeking rest by traveling, by running from place to place, from company to company, ever changing their sky — but never themselves. Such persons, deeply to be pitied, seek by dress — to hide the nakedness of their souls, or by the gaiety of their own prattle — to chill the fire which burns away their hearts. The most melancholy souls, pinched and pining — sometimes stare at you out of the midst of superficial smiles and light laughter.
Others seek rest in more adventurous action. Such are mariners, soldiers, merchants, speculators, politicians, travelers — impelled to adventurous life to relieve the aching void in their hearts. The hazards of trade, the changes of political life, cause them to forget themselves, and so they are rocked into oblivion of internal disquiet, by the toss of the ocean waves. They forget the hollowness of their own hearts, and cheat themselves into the belief that they are on their way to peace.
Is peace, is rest, so longed for, then, never to be found? Yes! it has been found — though perhaps but seldom, and somewhat imperfectly. That is a state of rest for the soul, when all man's abilities work harmoniously together, none conflicting with another, none hindering another. This rest is complete when every special ability in man's nature is active, and works towards some noble end, free to act, yet acting entirely in harmony, each with all, and all with each. That is what may be called self-command, self-possession, tranquility, peace, rest for the soul. It is not indifference, it is not sluggishness; it is not sleep: it is activity in its perfect character and highest mode.
Some few men seem born for this. Their abilities are well-balanced. But to most it comes only by labor and life-struggle. Most men, and above all, most strong men, are so born and organized, that they feel the riddle of the world, and they have to struggle with themselves. At first they are not well-balanced. One part of their nature preponderates over another, and they are not in equilibrium. Like the troubled sea, they cannot rest. The lower powers and propensities, must be brought into subjection to the higher. All the powers must be brought into harmony. This requires correct views of life, knowledge of the truth, a strong will, a resolute purpose, a high idea, a mind that learns by experience to correct its wrongs. Thus he acquires the mastery over himself, and his passions become his servants, which were formerly masters. Reason prevails over feeling, and duty over impulse. If he has lost a friend, he does not mourn inconsolably, nor seek to forget that friend. He turns his thoughts more frequently to where that friend has gone, and so he goes on until it becomes to him a loss no longer — but rather a gain — a son, daughter, brother, or wife, immortal in the kingdom of God, rather than mortal and perishing on earth. Gradually he acquires a perfect command of himself, an equilibrium of all his active powers, and so is at rest.
What is more beautiful in the earthly life of Jesus, than this manly harmony, equipoise, and rest? He enjoyed peace, and promised it to His friends. And this peace of His, He did not for others postpone to a distant day, or shut up altogether in a future Heaven — but left it to His disciples on earth. What, then, was His peace?
His peace was not inactivity. They must mistake, who give a material sense to the images of Heaven, as a state of rest. If Christ's life represented Heaven, its peace is not slothful ease — but intense exertion. How He labored in word and deed of virtue! He walked in coarse clothing from town to town, from city to city, from the dessert to the waves of the sea. His ministry was toil from the day of His baptism to the scene upon Calvary. And yet His life was peace. He expressed no wish to retire to an unoccupied ease. His absorption in duty was His joy. He was so peaceful — because so engaged. His labors were the elements of His divine tranquility.
And so active and earnest must we be — if we would have calmness and peace. An appeal may here be made to everyone's experience.
Everyone will confess that when he had least to do, when mornings came and went, and suns circled, and seasons rolled, and brought no serious business — then time was a burden; existence was a weariness; and the hungry soul, which craves some outward satisfaction, was found fallen back upon itself and preying upon its own vitality.
Are not the idlest of men, proverbially the most miserable? And is not the young woman often to be seen passing restless from place to place, because exempt from the necessity of work, until vanity and envy, growing wildly in her vacant mind, makes her far more an object of compassion — than those who work hardest for a living?
The unemployed, then, are not the most peaceful. The laborer has a deeper peace than any idler ever knew. His toils make his short pauses refreshing. Were those pauses prolonged, they would be invaded by a miserable boredom. Perfect peace will be found here or hereafter, not when we sink down into torpor — but only when the soul is wrought into high action for high ends.
Another element of the peace of Jesus was His sinlessness. And all human experience testifies that nothing has so much disturbed tranquility as conscious guilt, or the memory of wrong-doing. Peace is forfeited by every transgression. Angry words, envious looks, unkind and selfish deeds — will all prevent peace from visiting our hearts.
We have noticed already another element of peace — mental and moral harmony. There is a spiritual proportion when every power does its work, every feeling fills its measure, and all make a common current to bear the soul along to ever new peace and joy. Our inward discords are the woes of life. The peaceful heart is quiet, not because inactive — but through intense harmonious working.
The cravings of the human heart for peace and rest must seek satisfaction in the ways indicated, or fail of satisfaction. There must be activity, abstinence from guilt, and moral harmony. Thus alone can we receive the peace which Jesus said He would leave to His true followers.