TEXT: JOHN xiv.27. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you."
THE word which the Saviour here makes use of in speaking to His disciples has with us a twofold meaning. It suggests to our minds a condition of human society which, when it has been interrupted, we all long to recall; a state in which alone we look for universal contentment, and all things going on prosperously. But it has also another meaning; for we all know by our own experience the inward strife that goes on in the heart of man, and as its opposite, -- a peace often interrupted, it is true, and seldom perfect -- but still, the peace of the Lord. The Saviour could not promise peace of the first kind to His disciples. Referring to that, He said, I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. He had told them before, and could tell them nothing different, that they would be hated and persecuted as He was, that like Him they would have to fight with spiritual weapons in the cause of His kingdom. But now that His work in the souls of His disciples was so far accomplished, He could promise them that which He had lovingly announced from the beginning, the rest that He invited troubled souls to come and find in Him; He could assure them of that inward peace even now, when He was just about to leave them. This word of the Saviour directs our thoughts, then, to the inmost depths of each individual soul, and shows us what is and ought to be wrought there by the Saviour, who claims this as His own work in our souls. Let us, therefore, in connection with these words, take this thought as the subject of our consideration -- how each individual soul who is a partaker in Christ's redemption discerns, in the peace which He leaves to His people, in His peace, a fulness of divine wisdom such as no imagination can surpass. Let us first inquire what the Saviour's peace really is; and then reflect, and ask whether there does not lie in that, and in that alone, the whole fulness of the divine wisdom that can be revealed to a human being.
I. First, then, what is the Saviour's peace, which He left to His people? Is it the peace which He Himself had, or is it a feeble image, a dim shadow of it, a slight approach to it? What was the peace of the Saviour? His peace was grounded on this -- that He was eternally, and in all respects, one with His Father; that whatever His eye rested on around Him, His spirit considered as a work of God; that He suffered His will to be determined by no emotion of His own mind, without having first recognised the will of God in what was required of Him; and that thus the one effect constantly kept pace with the other. He studied the works of His Father, and the Father showed Him greater and yet greater works; He did the will of the Father, and was ever more vehemently impelled to the fulfilling of that will, until He could say that all was finished. And as the divine will is nothing but almighty love, this oneness of will with God, by which the Father's will, and no other, was always His, could be in Him also nothing but an eternal fulness of love welling up from His heart. It was a love that was ever offering to men, sunk in the misery of sin, the greatest gift it could bestow, the gift of fellowship with His own life, so that they should be able to draw from His fulness, peace and truth and oneness with God; but it was also an indulgent and compassionate love, which did not refuse to men even the meaner things they craved, but with tender hand provided help for their bodily need. And this love, with the greatest gift always in store, but ready, at the same time, to bestow the lesser blessings -- this love, making itself felt on all sides -- this was the peace the Saviour had. And nothing whatever could disturb this peace, just because He had no plans, and took no step in His life that could have been out of harmony with the will of His and our Father, -- just because He knew nothing whatever of an inward strife, but all within Him was, and remained, agreed in harmony, as it had been from the beginning. But certainly He would not have been able to carry in His heart this fulness of a love so moving, ever reaching forth to others, and offering itself to them; indeed, He would not even have seen the works of God which His Father showed Him, and no purpose of God would have ripened in His soul into a definite act; unless, sinless as He was, He had had the keenest and most thorough sympathy with the misery of sin. He saw men who were capable of being like Himself, for that was what they were meant to become -- men whom, for that very reason, He did not scorn to call His brethren -- sunk in that state of bondage from which the law had not been able to save them, for the law only brought them the knowledge of sin; and in this sympathy with sinful men the sinless One passed His life on earth; yet this had never power to disturb His peace, but rather was a living and essential element of it. How strongly floes this compassion for the misery of sin come out in all His discourses, in which he sought to awaken a true conviction of sin in men who carried it in their hearts, and yet had so little sense of it! How deeply did this very sympathy enable Him to see into the human heart, even with regard to that which could have no place in His own pure heart! And the further He proceeded in His great work, the war of the divine Word against the sin of the world, so much the greater became this compassionate sympathy. If He could have thought it a possible thing that the power of sin, and His power to overcome sin, could exist together without sin being utterly vanquished by Him, He might have used, as the utterance of His own feeling, the words which could only be the expression of this sympathy with the sin of the world, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" But even then there was in His soul the same peace in which, a few moments later, He commended His spirit into the hands of His Father.
This, my friends, this is the peace that the Saviour had. Now when He says, "My peace give I unto you," is it this same peace, or is it something else? It is the same; and it becomes the same just in proportion as we can say with His true disciples and apostles, "The life that I live in the flesh . . . I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me": in this same sense and manner His peace becomes our peace. The Saviour could not say those words until He had given His disciples the promise that goes immediately before, -- the promise of the Spirit, the Comforter, whom the Father would send in His stead, and who would bring all things to their remembrance that He had said to them. And He has left the remembrance of those things not only to them but to us; and it is the very beginning, the deepest and holiest foundation of our peace. That peace rests, not on the letter of Scripture, which relates to us certain incidents of His life and preserves for us some of His discourses; but on the power of the Spirit, without which the letter would be dead; and which could always, even apart from the written letter, have called forth the word that has carried the image of the Saviour down through all the ages. It is in this remembrance that peace is given to us; the more His image fills our souls, the nearer do we come to His peace; the more our life is pervaded by His, we feel ourselves drawn the more into agreement with God, and into such repose of spirit as He had, about what the Lord has ordained for us, and what He brings to pass among us.
But our position, it must be admitted, is different from that of the Saviour in this respect, that we know sin, not merely by sympathy with the condition of our brethren, but as what we are abidingly conscious of in ourselves. His soul was ever tranquil and unruffled: in ours there are continually storms to be subdued. If the Christ in our heart is asleep, the storms rage the more fiercely, the waves of passion swell the more mightily, until in the agitation and conflict we might often despair; but when we call on Him to awake, He hushes the storm, and rebukes us as fainthearted to be able to think we could perish, when He was in the ship with us. And in the subduing of this storm we feel the more strongly the power of the Divine life which He imparts to us. That might indeed be so, perhaps some one may say, if the storm only arose to be stilled by the awakened Saviour, if we had only to fight to be always sure of victory! But who can undertake to say this of himself? Which of us is not often worsted in the conflict of the flesh against the Spirit? And yet, my friends, let us hold fast the persuasion, that if only we never come to think that we were obliged to sin, or that, at least, it was allowable for us to do so, in order that the power of grace might be the more manifest; if we never cease to condemn sin; then out of every conflict, even if we have been defeated, we shall draw new gain in the way of self-knowledge and watchfulness; and with the consciousness of this, if the soul comes back to the Saviour, we may at once feel again His peace in our hearts. We struggle amid the waves, but He stretches out His hand and keeps us from perishing; he who rises from a fall is held up by Him with the same love that leads Him to leave the ninety-and-nine sheep in the wilderness, and go after the one that has gone astray until He find it. And be cause He thus goes after the lost, we too feel the drawing of His love in our hearts when we have fallen, and thus His peace comes back to us. And as eternally springing love establishes its throne in our hearts; as He, being one with His Father, comes to make His abode with the Father in our hearts; as we become more able in all we do to say, The love of Christ constraineth us; we gradually attain to a position in which our feeling toward sin, against which we fight with the whole armour of the Spirit, is only compassion in regard to something that has become alien to us. For as His soldiers we feel ourselves set in opposition to all sin, even to that which is in ourselves; and if it is the power of His love that influences us, it must be also His life which we live -- a life in which we find ourselves utterly opposed to sin, as those who desire to have no part in it. And in thus regarding the Saviour, and in ever seeking to have Him live anew in our hearts, how can we help contemplating the picture of His peace, and receiving it into our hearts? If we thus go on growing richer in the experience which He has promised us, obeying His teachings and seeking to act in His strength, we become conscious that the power is from God, and that by it we are drawn more and more closely into fellowship with Him.
This, then, is the peace that the Saviour gives to us; a peace which belongs entirely and undividedly to Him, for He alone is its source, -- a peace which, as Christ came to overcome the world, will certainly more and more overcome everything in us that still belongs to the world, -- a peace which, because all things work together for good to them that love God, enables us to see in the whole chain of the divine procedure what the Saviour Himself saw in it -- nothing but the almighty love of the Father in heaven.
II. Now, my friends, the more nearly this peace which the Saviour imparts to us approaches the perfection of that which He Himself experienced; the more free we become, through our life in Him, from the power of anything to disturb or perplex us; the more, we may be sure, shall we feel our hearts lifted up to give spontaneous utterance to the feeling that truly there is no higher good for the human soul, no more satisfying position that man can imagine, than that which is his when he can say that the Lord gives and leaves to him His peace. But it belongs to the nature of our present existence, and our having constantly to deal with the contrast between the great and the little in all the concerns of our lives, that if we wish to convince our selves that the gift of peace is, in fact, the complete bestowal of the inexhaustible riches of God, we must compare the condition which it produces with something different. But with what shall we compare it? Not with the wavering condition of a soul which has, it is true, entered into some relation with Christ, but fails to maintain it. And just as little with the conditions which we regard, in the Christian world in which we live, as not depending on Christ. Neither of these comparisons would meet the case. If we wish to institute a comparison to convince ourselves that the peace which the individual soul obtains in Christ is the most perfect thing that can be imagined, we must compare what Christ has effected with what might be if there were no Christ. It is always, indeed, a dubious proceeding to try to look at what does not exist; but this view of the subject is so closely connected with the true, full, and cordial recognition of the divine counsels of salvation in Christ, that we cannot avoid it.
If we wish thoroughly to examine this subject, we must, in the first place, keep this clearly in view, that we have all along to deal only with man, and that we cannot imagine man without at least the capability of sin, even if possibly free from actual transgression. In this connection, our thoughts naturally turn to the picture presented to us in various lights, yet difficult or impossible to fill up, of the first parents of our race, -- a period in whose lives is laid before us, in which, while sin was certainly possible to them, it had not come to actual life. And when we think of that happy state of human life, in which as yet no want or sense of need had awakened any .sinful desire in man's heart, and in which an easy life called forth only a slight exertion of his faculties, we are ready to ask whether it would not have been better to continue in that condition. But let us consider the subject as a whole. Imagine the whole human race in a condition like that, and the whole habitable earth as just such a scene of innocent existence as we are accustomed to picture that garden of God at the beginning of our race; compare that with the form which our earthly life has assumed since x sin appeared; see how everything, from the memorials that remain of all past ages down to the present day, bears witness to the alliance or the strife of human powers; how everywhere are to be seen the traces of art and science; and we must see clearly that all this could not have been without the incitement of pleasure, or the struggle caused by man's sin. If we compare these two conditions; will they not appear to us, the one like the pure, guileless countenance of an innocent child, on which there lies as yet, it is true, no shade of dark memories, but on which also no definite characters are written; and the other as the face of a man, deeply furrowed with the lines of many cares; -- the face of one who has had experience of the world, and has battled with it both in his own heart and without? Which is the higher position? Which is the richer? in which is the higher manifestation of power, and therefore the greater glory to God? There can be no doubt as to your verdict. But I do not intend at present to go back on the great features of man's history; rather let us confine our inquiry to one point in regard to these two phases of his life, and say to which of the two we would really give the preference. And certainly we do not wish to picture man before sin began, as leading an idle life. No, he might be anxious to acquire knowledge, and disposed to work; he might obey the call to have dominion over the earth; but life would be for him. without allurement, and without conflict; for wherever there is conflict, there has already been sin. Hence he would know nothing of the strength that comes only from conflict sustained; and the consciousness of his powers, which is only acquired in struggling to the utmost against temptation, would also be lacking to him. For if sin has once found a place in our nature, it becomes so closely connected with everything else, that our consciousness can only be complete when the sin has become actually manifest.
And the second condition? Well, let us suppose sin to have actually appeared, and that man has found himself engaged in the continuous warfare of spirit against flesh, but that he is to carry on this warfare by his own powers, and that no such Saviour as ours has been made known to him. If we compare even this position with our own, we must admit that, judging of men only according to outward appearance, so to speak, there will be no great difference. Our whole present life is maintained, as it were, out of the stores and at the expense of nations before us who knew nothing of the Saviour, because He had not yet come, and who therefore certainly sustained this warfare of spirit against flesh in their own strength. The Apostle Paul bears this testimony to them, that so little had the revelation of God, originally written on their hearts, been capable of being effaced, that having no law given to them as to the Jews, they had become a law to themselves. This law was in every heart, and every one recognised the demand and the power of conscience in regard to that which, as right and good, it set in opposition to evil. And how should we still so frequently linger over the works of those long extinct peoples in their dead languages, if it were not that we find in them shining examples of all human virtues? There is no sacrifice, no manly energy, no self-devotion of the individual for the common weal, of which instances could not be found among them; the names of the virtues -- the names by which we still designate everything good and noble in human conduct -- come down to us from those times. But shall we therefore give the preference to their position? There were two things lacking to them, and which would always have been lacking to every man so long as we had been left to ourselves in this warfare. The first is just that eternally outflowing love of the Saviour, which embraces the whole human race; that going out of His heart to all His brethren on earth; the supreme satisfaction that came to Him from the assurance that although by the will and counsel of God His work on earth was confined to a very narrow space, yet He should, after His departure, move all mankind. At first no eye had seen this love, no ear had heard of it, nor had the thought of it entered into the heart of any man; neither would it have done so if the Word had not become flesh. A darkness rested on the earth that kept the nations apart, so that each saw and loved only its own people. It was necessary that a light should shine from above to illumine them for each other; they needed to behold the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father, and in Him to see God as a Father, in order to recognise and love one another. Only through Him could we be brought to look for a kingdom of God that should embrace all men; and what would every thing else be in comparison to this? But still more! Let us suppose that the constantly extending commerce of men, the increasing intercourse of the nations, the ever-advancing maturity of mind in the whole human race, should have in course of time subdued the enmity among men? and checked the selfishness that stood in the way of universal love; and that just by these means a love at least similar to that which we have spoken of could have been produced towards all men; yet how entirely different a form would this have taken! and it could always only have been in this way, that wo had become a law to ourselves, though possibly a better law than all former ones.
And in the second place, the pure image of the man who walked the earth without sin, the idea of a soul constantly one with God, -- whence should that have come to us? The crowning point of our knowledge would have been lacking had He not been! What has more elevating power than this, that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; that He who was thus one with God gave us the right to call ourselves His brethren, to become children of God. No, without this fulness of vital power and joy which we receive through the Saviour, I do not care to live!
There is a fable that has long been current among men, and which is often heard even in these days. Unbelief invented it, and little-faith accepts it. It speaks of a time that is to come, or that may perhaps be already come, in which the case of this Jesus of Nazareth will be fairly concluded. Every human influence, it is said, is effective only for a certain time: the human race may have much to thank Him for; God may have done great things through Him; but He was only, after all, one of ourselves, and His time to be for gotten must come. If He was in earnest in wishing to make the world entirely free, it must also have been His wish to make it free from Himself, that God might be all in all. Then men would not only perceive that they had power enough in themselves to fulfil the divine will; but in the right perception of this they would be able even to go be yond the measure He laid down, if they only chose to do so. In short, it is not to be until the name of Christian is for gotten, that a universal kingdom of love and peace will be established, in which there shall be no longer any seed of enmity, such as has been sown from the beginning between those who believe in this Jesus, and the rest of the children of men. But never will this fable become fact. Since the days of His flesh the Saviour's image is indelibly impressed on the human race; and even if the written word should perish, which is only sacred because it preserves that image for us, the image itself will remain for ever; it is too deeply engraven ever to be effaced; and the words of the disciple will always be true, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!"