At Peace with God
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ — by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. And hope makes not ashamed — because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commends His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son — much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Even to lie on a sick-bed, at peace with God, is happy. For to be at peace with God must be happy, under any circumstances. The apostle begins with the happiness — and then goes on to speak of the tribulations; as if he would have the afflicted Christian first be filled with thoughts of his happy state, as being justified by faith and at peace with God — and then look at his trials in the light of that happiness.
What comforting words! "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." The believer is justified from his sins — that is, he is reckoned innocent by God. This is by his faith, his faith in Christ. He is guilty, but for Christ's sake, he is reckoned guiltless. For Christ has died for him, and he believes. When he is thus justified — then he is at peace with God. It was sin that made him at enmity with God. Now that the sin is forgiven and taken away by the blood of Christ — he is at peace with God. But all through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is all of grace, through faith.
When we are thus at peace with God through Christ, then we can draw near to Him without fear. "We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" — into this state of favor and acceptance to which God has brought us, and in which we live, and by His help stand fast. And living thus, we are able to rejoice. We can rejoice even in present things, in the peace with God which we feel, in the happy thoughts of God that we have, in the many inward comforts which He gives us. But much more we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God. In the midst of suffering — we can think of what God has prepared for them that love Him, of that glorious place where we hope to dwell forever with Him. And when we can do this, how light do our sufferings seem!
But the apostle goes further: "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also." Glory in them, or rejoice in them, for it is exactly the same word as before. Now this seems strange. We could understand being patient in tribulations, but this goes beyond that. This is rejoicing in them. And we could perhaps understand rejoicing in them; that is, rejoicing in the midst of them, rejoicing when suffering them, on account of our forgiveness and acceptance in Christ and the happy home which lies before us. But the apostle, from what follows, seems to go even beyond this. He seems to mean rejoicing in the very tribulations themselves — on account of the good which they do to us; actually rejoicing in them, not in spite of them.
What good do they do to us? "Tribulation," he says, "works patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." This is all good. Patience is good; experience is good; hope is good. But they all come from tribulation, in a kind of chain, one following on another. Therefore tribulation is good too, when rightly improved, as here. And therefore he rejoices in it.
But let us look at this a little more closely. "Tribulation works patience." How so? In this way. We cannot bear trouble aright — if we have none to bear. We cannot be patient — if we have nothing to be patient under. Graces grow by exercise. Besides, tribulation, when taken aright — brings down our pride and humbles us under the hand of God. And so we often see that a person who was anything but patient when first affliction fell on him — becomes patient as the trial goes on, and more and more patient. He is in God's school. God Himself is teaching him patience by tribulation. Thus "tribulation works patience."
"And patience works experience." This means probably experience of God's grace and love. We never feel them more than when we are patiently bearing His will — never so much perhaps. God gives special comfort for special sorrow — and special help in special need. Sometimes an unspeakable sense of His love is given to one in affliction — such as even turns a time of deep affliction into a time of joy. And often such help and support are given to the patient sufferer as carry him through what he would have thought he never could bear. This "experience" of God's grace and love is precious indeed.
It leads to a fuller and firmer hope. One who has thus found God to be a very present help in trouble, is strengthened to hope that He will be so in all trouble that may yet come. God's Word is one source of hope to us; as the Psalmist says, "I hope in Your Word." Our own experience of His goodness is another: "Because You have been my help — therefore in the shadow of Your wings will I rejoice." It is one of the greatest helps against despondency, to remember what God has done for us in past troubles. Thus experience works hope.
And this hope is a sure hope, one that will never make us ashamed or disappoint us. For it is built upon the love of God to us in Christ; and that love, or a sense of it, is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. We believe it — we feel it — God has taught us to do so.
Well may we believe in that love! It brought the blessed Son of God from Heaven to die for sinners. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And we were not even friends when Jesus gave His life for us. "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." It would be much that one should be willing to die for the best and kindest of men — for one who was not merely righteous and good but also kind, affectionate, unselfish, and engaging; yet we can just conceive such a thing possible. But "God commends His love towards us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Yes! Before we loved Him, before we believed in Him, before we even had any desire toward Him — while we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us! Even "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son."
If we are no longer enemies, if through grace we have repented and sought mercy through Christ, if we have come unto God by Him and have thus become reconciled, justified, and at peace — then we may well hope in His love. If He sought us when we were afar off — then will He not receive us now that we have come near? If He had compassion on us while we were yet in our sins — then well may we think with comfort of His mercy and love when we have turned to Him and sought Him in Christ Jesus. "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son — then much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
For He is a living Savior. "He ever lives to make intercession for us." There is no blessing which we may not seek through Him. There is nothing really for our good, which God will withhold. "If He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all — then how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" All things. More than safety, more than pardon, more than the blotting out of our sins. He will give us all things in Christ.
Already we have "received the atonement," already we have become reconciled to God — and now we are able to rejoice in Him through our Lord Jesus Christ. Not merely to look forward to rejoicing hereafter, but to rejoice now. To "rejoice in God," to feel happy in thinking of Him and praying to Him, to take pleasure in realizing His presence and in holding communion with Him in secret. This is what every true believer may do. This is what God would have him do. "Rejoice in the Lord always," says the apostle, "and again I say, rejoice!"