"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." –John 14:27
And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. He said, "Peace be with you." –Luke 24:36
"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." –John 16:33
"Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us." –Romans 5:1
"The heart never rests until it finds rest in God." –Augustine, 410.
"Jesus came to me in the third watch of the night, walking upon the waters. He stilled the tempest in my soul--and lo! there was a great calm!" –Halyburton, 1670.
"Oh, that I might effectually recommend to you the full possession of that precious legacy of our blessed Savior--peace." –Hall, 1574.
No shadow of the "Great Rock in the weary land," is more precious to the children of humanity than this. The circumstances in which the Savior uttered these words were interesting and peculiar, and give a deep pathos to His declaration. It was at a time, one would have thought, of the deepest unrest and anxiety to His own soul; a time when the saying, "My peace I give unto you," would have seemed a strange and questionable blessing--for the shadows of the cross were gathering around Him; the Prince of darkness was prowling on His path; and the dreadful scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary were close at hand. And yet it was then (yes, at the very moment when the Rock of Ages was wrapped in portentous gloom), that Jesus speaks of the calm and the rest awaiting those who find shelter in its clefts. He was delivering His final charge to His disciples; imparting to them directions, comforts, and promises--His farewell benediction. Some consolation, higher than earth could afford, was needed, when the Shepherd was about to be smitten and the sheep to be scattered. In the clouds of that dark, troubled horizon He sets the rainbow of covenant Peace. His utterance was more than a promise--it is couched in the formula of a last Will--a Testamentary deed. It is the dying legacy which the Prince of Peace bequeaths to His Church and people in every age.
Taking these words of Jesus more specially to guide our thoughts, let us advert to three, out of many characteristics of this priceless legacy.
I. It is A WELL-FOUNDED PEACE--and in this respect it is "not as the world gives." By reason of the great original apostasy, the soul of man has lost its peace; and fallen nature, not unaware of the loss, yet all ignorant where the forfeited blessing is to be recovered, is engaged in a perpetual effort to effect the restoration. In ten thousand ways does the world "minister to a mind diseased," singing its siren lullaby--"Peace, Peace;" while, from the unsatisfied aching voids of the heart, the echo is returned, "No peace." The object desired being too often sought either at forbidden or at polluted fountains, multitudes fail to secure the coveted prize.
The Peace enjoyed by the believer in Jesus, is full, complete, satisfying. It rests on the broad foundation of His atoning work and sacrifice, ratified by the Father and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. It is the death of the Divine Testator which enables us, by law, to enter on this bequeathed heritage--"Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the Testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead--otherwise it is of no strength at all while the Testator lives." Never was a Will so "proved" and "attested" as this. The adorable Redeemer surrendered His precious life, in order that (in the words just quoted from the Epistle to the Hebrews) it might be rendered "of force." Moreover, unlike all mere human and earthly Testators, He rose from the grave and ascended to His Father's right hand, to see its provisions and bequests implemented. He who executed this testamentary disposition is still our Advocate in the Court of Heaven--and, as such, He will take care that all His heirs are granted the purchased blessings.
It is a peace founded on the principles of everlasting truth and everlasting righteousness. As its primary condition, it secures alike the vindication of the divine law and the manifestation of the divine glory; for the Angels who came to announce the restoration of the lost heritage, sang--"Glory to God in the highest," before they proclaimed "Peace on earth." Let us think of it, then, as a peace purchased by Jesus--"Peace through the blood of His cross." In no other way could it have been procured. By no other could it be bestowed. No voice, but the voice which exclaimed in dying accents, "It is finished," can say to the troubled tempest-tossed soul--"Peace, be still."
In the familiar Bible narrative, we see the heathen sailors rowing hard to bring the vessel to land, in whose hold was the fugitive Prophet. It was in vain. "The sea raged, and was tempestuous"--wave after wave baffled strength of oar and muscle. What then was their recourse? The sacrifice of the one life was demanded and surrendered for the sake of the others. So it was with the true Jonah. When He was taken and cast into the deep--that deep was hushed into a calm--its fury stilled--every tumultuous billow rocked to rest--"The sea ceased from her raging." "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." As it was sin that was the cause of disharmony, so the Redeemer, by His propitiatory, meritorious sacrifice, has taken that cause away. He has effected the atonement, ("at-one-ment.") "He is our peace, who has made both one." We are "made near by the blood of Christ."
In a striking passage in Isaiah, God and man, by a bold figure of speech, are represented as at war with one another--God "going through the wicked" as "briers and thorns" and "burning them up together." But a gracious alternative is also provided and offered--"OR, let him take hold of My strength that he may make peace with Me, and he shall make peace with Me." "He SHALL." Peace is uncertain and precarious in other things. It is often a hollow truce, which hushes for a time the clang of arms, only to have the strife resumed. But it is certain here--for the "one offering" of the Great Peacemaker, who is God's "Strength,"--"the Arm of the Lord"--"the Man of His right hand"--has given Him the prerogative to utter the words, "You shall find rest unto your souls."
Let all those who are going about seeking peace and finding none, shelter themselves under the eagle-wings of this glorious truth. That peace is no simulation--no counterfeit. There is no flaw in these title-deeds. It is a perfect peace--peace with God above, and peace with conscience within--peace secured by the Sufferer on the Cross, and ratified by the Kingly Intercessor on the Throne. Like the weary bird, after tracking its way across long leagues of waste ocean, the believer can sink into the crevice of the Great Rock, and sing the song of an older heir of covenant blessings, "Return unto your Rest (your Peace), O my soul."
II. Another characteristic of the peace of Christ is, that it is a PRESENT peace; and as such, "not as the world gives." The world's visions of peace are most generally prospective; the world's notes are promissory. Many of its best blessings are mere hopes and wishes for the future. Its hope 'deferred' too often makes the heart sick. Its future is full of air-castles in due time to be raised; but when the longed-for season of realization comes, how often they turn out to be airy nothings, "baseless fabrics of a vision."
Many a man has a lifetime to wait, before the hopes of youth are fulfilled; and when the wealth or the leisure he has aspired after, or the broad acres he has hoped to inherit come to him, frequently he cannot enjoy them. The zest of life is over; the tinted soap-bubble he has for long years been inflating collapses, and new worries and troubles take the place of the old ones! Not so the peace of Jesus. It is a peace, indeed, largely of future enjoyment in a better world; but it is a peace, if not in degree, at least in kind, possessed in the present also. The moment the offers of grace are closed with and accepted, the charter of peace is put into the believer's hands. He receives the first instalment of the gracious benefaction, "We who have believed DO enter into rest." "All who believe are justified." "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." "I AM pacified," says God, "towards you." "Beloved NOW are we the sons of God."
The Prodigal, in returning to his Father's house, had not first to undergo years of probation before he received the kiss of peace and reconciliation and love; he had not to wait until the flush of health had filled his sunken cheeks, or until clad in proper attire he could venture into his Father's presence. No--just as he was--in all the rags of the 'far country'--with haggard face, and trembling limb, and sunken eye--he receives the paternal welcome, and gets the best ring, and robe, and shoes, put upon him.
Reader, think of this! If you have been brought, self-renouncing and sin-renouncing, to the foot of the cross, the peace of God and of His Christ is already yours. If that peace had been in any way your own procuring, then might its attainment be effected only after years of laborious effort. But being purchased, you have only to come and accept it as a free gift, a blessed gratuity; being bequeathed to you, you have only to claim joyfully the inheritance, and enter on its possession--"giving thanks unto the Father, who HAS made us fitt to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." It was a common salutation among the Jews in entering a dwelling of old, "Peace be upon this house." So Jesus, standing by the threshold of every believing penitent soul, says, as He said to His gathered disciples on the evening of His resurrection day, "Peace be unto you." "My peace I GIVE unto you" (not "I shall give"). "O, my dove, who is in the clefts of the Rock."
III. A third characteristic of the peace of Jesus is, that it is a PERMANENT peace--and as such, it is "not as the world gives." Many of the world's best blessings, those which are considered to minister most effectually to outward happiness and inward tranquillity, may be ours today--but be gone tomorrow. We have no pledge or guarantee for their continuance. They are fed from the low marshy grounds of earth, dependent on fitful seasons and capricious showers. But the peace of Christ being from Heaven, is a perennial stream; it is fed from surer supply than glacier Alps, and it rolls on in undiminished fullness and volume, in summer's drought and in winter's cold.
It is the greatest of mistakes to suppose that mere outward things--fame, wealth, property, honors, give peace. It is often the reverse. They give care and anxiety. They give birth to envyings and jealousies, to discontent and ingratitude. They are as often a man's curse as a blessing. But the peace of Jesus is irrespective and independent of all outward accidents. It bears up and sustains amid the annoyances of business, the crushings of poverty, the weariness of sickness, the pangs of bereavement, the shadows of death.
Yes! if you would wish to understand the true meaning of that phrase, "the peace of God which passes all understanding," go to the believer's dying couch; see (what may be witnessed again and again) when earth is dimming from the view--when the footsteps are standing on the threshold of the mysterious spirit-world, and all that is held dear is to be parted from forever. Listen to the words so often whispered, "All is peace--perfect peace." And as the color fades from the cheek, and the smile of heaven suffuses the now hushed and silent lips, oh, how is the promise--(realized indeed, all through life--but never more so than in life's closing hour)--how is that promise then fulfilled--"You will KEEP him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You."
Among the glorious army of MARTYRS, who have then witnessed and exemplified the sustaining peace of God, those at all events familiar with Scottish annals, may recall one whose calm heroism is made more memorable in a familiar picture. There God's noble-minded servant is represented reclining on a crude couch. He has the horrors of execution before him on the morrow; yet he lies in tranquil slumber, like a babe on its mother's breast. When the waves of death are dashing at his feet, he calmly reposes in this Rock-cleft of peace! Well may the gifted author of the "Pilgrim's Progress" give the name of "PEACE" to the chamber "in which Christian lay," and whose "window opened towards the sun-rising."
We may conclude with a word of EXPLANATION, and a word of exhortation.
It must not be imagined, from what has been said, that the believer's history is one of unclouded calm--a sky in which there brood no storms--a path in which there lurk no briars. That strange paradox of the apostle will be true to the last in the Christian's experience, "sorrowful yet always rejoicing." Paul, even when he speaks of peace, exhorts to have "the feet SHOD;" for, notwithstanding its possession, the road is often a rough and a thorny one. The same voice which proclaims, "My peace I give unto you," adds, "In the world you shall have tribulation." The way to peace is often through the channel of unrest and trial; just as the water that sleeps quietly in the pool has found its way there over jagged rock and foaming cataract.
The disciples' way to land, and that too at their Master's bidding, was through a stormy sea, "toiling in rowing." The Israelites' road to the rest of Canaan was through the barren wilderness. Jacob's way to spiritual victory, and a peace to which he was a stranger before, was through a night of wrestling and soul-struggle. The afflictions of life--temptation without and corruption within--are ever and always ruffling the calm repose of the soul, and reminding that true peace and abiding rest are above. "Beloved," says Peter, "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you." This is the history of every harpist on the glassy sea, "These are they who came out of great tribulation."
Amid all trials, however, it is the believer's consolation, that, despite of outer disquietudes, the true peace of Christ itself cannot be disturbed. The former are only like the surface-heavings of the ocean. That surface alone is fretted and ruffled. Go down into its unexplored depths, among its luscious wildernesses of sub-marine seaweed--its coral rocks and wondrous mosaic of pebble and sand, and all is peaceful and still. No rolling billow is heard there--no roaring breaker--no scream of storm-birds. So with the soul! In its lowest, truest depths, all is peace. The ship may be tossed, but its moorings are secure. In the same sentence in which the pressure of present corruption impels Paul to cry out, "O wretched man that I am;" he adds, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He bemoans the tossings of the frail bark in one breath--he remembers the strength and security of the anchor in the next.
The believer's subjective peace, the calm assurance or consciousness of his interest in Christ, may be often assailed. But the peace itself cannot be. The clouds, engendered by sin and weakness and unbelief, may at times obscure from his vision the rays of the Sun. But the Sun, notwithstanding, shines brightly as ever. Once that peace is his, he knows it never can be finally forfeited. The flowing of the spiritual river may be impeded; there may be opposing rocks which here and there disturb the even course of its current--but it will surmount them all, and mingle its waters at last in the ocean of eternal peace and love in heaven.
Meanwhile, beware of creating such obstructions as will tend to mar your peace--indulged sin, or neglected duty. You may be personally responsible for diverting the river from its channel, and leaving your soul "a dry and thirsty land where no water is." "Great peace," says the Psalmist, "have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." Keep out of the way of temptation; avoid the brink of the precipice if you would avert a fall. Keep beyond reach of the fire lest you be burnt. "Oh," exclaims the great Giver of peace, speaking to His backsliding Israel, "Oh that you had hearkened to My commandments, then had your peace been as a river." What is the apostle's recipe for the preservation of peace? "Be anxious for nothing," says he, "but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving . . . and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts." Walk," he again enjoins, "in the Spirit;" and what is the result? "The fruit," he adds, "of the Spirit is love, joy, PEACE."
Let us add yet a word of EXHORTATION. Some may fancy themselves in the happy position of not requiring this gospel blessing of which we have been speaking. They are undisturbed by any fears of guilt. They know no accusations of conscience. They contrive to banish the thought of death and what is after death. Aye, even when they come to that solemn crisis hour, the Psalmist's description may be true of them--they have "no bands in their death; their strength is firm."
Is this, however, peace? Yes. But it is the peace of the cemetery. The dead "know not anything." No voice reaches the ears in that silent land. The voice of affection, the sobs of the disconsolate, may break over the grassy turf; but they hear them not. The "loud stunning tide of human care" may go surging past the narrow homes--the speechless tenants listen to no footsteps; the clang of battle may be heard raging close by, profaning the sanctity of 'God's acre;'--the sound of no trumpet or clarion, no clash of arms nor roll of drum, wakes one echo in that 'empire of oblivion'; silence sways her unchallenged scepter. It is the dread stillness and peace of death! Beware of such a peace of the soul as this. It is possible to continue, even to the last, self-deluded and self-deceived, and to die with a lie in your right hand. But be assured, from such a peace there will be a terrible awaking. It is only the portentous silence which, in the outer world, holds nature silent before the bursting of the thunderstorm. "There is no peace"--there can be no peace, "says God, to the wicked."
Be it yours to ascertain, before it be too late, on what foundation your peace rests. Give up the vain dream of procuring peace in anything short of Jesus. No wealth can give it; no wealth of money, no wealth of intellect, no wealth of affection. Live near the cross, and peace is yours. "How beautiful upon the mountains" are the feet of the divine messenger who "publishes peace!"
You may now be racked with care, fevered with disappointment, and, worse than all, bound and fettered with sin. Like the maniac of old dwelling among the tombs, you may be roaming the moral wastes, crying and cutting yourself with stones. One voice alone can tame you, and change the storm of the soul into a calm--that one is JESUS. There (at His cross and His feet) you will have possession of peace--peace from the condemning sentence of the law--peace from the accusations of a guilty conscience--peace amid the trials of life--peace in the prospect of approaching dissolution. You will have peace in the gladdening, sustaining conviction that all events are under your Redeemer's control--that He orders all that concerns your temporal and eternal well-being. You can sleep securely in the tempest, for the helm is in the hands of Him whom these winds and waves obey. "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever."
Speed, then, your flight, O weary wanderer, to the true Ark. The true Noah, the "Rest," the Peace-giver, invites you within. Seize the olive-branch, and wing your way across the stormy waters. The bough on which your earthly nest was built, may have been felled by the axe or broken by the storm; but "He is our peace." And as driven by the windy tempest your cry is, "O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me Your peace!"--O Rock of Ages, cleft and smitten for me, grant me Your shelter!
May it be yours to listen to the glad response, "My peace I give unto you"--"Though you have lived among the pots, yet shall you be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold."