Peace is one of the great words of the Holy Scriptures. It is woven through the Old Testament and the New like a golden thread. It inheres and abides in the character of God, --
"The central peace subsisting at the heart
It is the deepest and most universal desire of man, whose prayer in all ages has been, "Grant us Thy Peace, O Lord." It is the reward of the righteous, the blessing of the good, the crown of life's effort, and the glory of eternity.
The prophets foretell the beauty of its coming and the psalmists sing of the joy which it brings. Jesus Christ is its Divine Messiah, its high priest and its holy prince. The evangelists and prophets proclaim and preach it. From beginning to end the Bible is full of the praise of peace.
Yet there never was a book more full of stories of trouble and strife, disaster and sorrow. God Himself is revealed in it not as a calm, untroubled, self-absorbed Deity, occupied in beatific contemplation of His own perfections. He is a God who works and labours, who wars against the evil, who fights for the good. The psalmist speaks of Him as "The Lord of Hosts, strong and mighty in battle." The Revelation of St. John tells us that "There was war in Heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon." Jesus Christ said: "I came not to send peace, but a sword."
It is evident, then, that this idea of "peace," like all good and noble things, has its counterfeit, its false and subtle versary, which steals its name and its garments to deceive and betray the hearts of men. We find this clearly taught in the Bible. Not more earnestly does it praise true peace than it denounces false peace.
There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked (Isaiah 48:22).
For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace (Jer.8:11).
If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes (St. Luke 19:42).
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Romans 8:6).
There never was a time in human history when a right understanding of the nature of true peace, the path which leads to it, the laws which govern it, was more necessary or more important than it is to-day.
The world has just passed through a ghastly experience of war at its worst. Never in history has there been such slaughter, such agony, such waste, such desolation, in a brief space of time, as in the four terrible years of conflict which German militarism forced on the world in the twentieth century. Having seen it, I know what it means.
Now we have "supped full with horrors." We have had more than enough of that bloody banquet The heart of humanity longs for peace, as it has always longed, but now with a new intensity, greater than ever before. Yet the second course of war continues. The dogs fight for the crumbs under the peace-table. Ignorant armies clash by night. Cities are bombarded and sacked. The barbarous Bolsheviki raise the red flag of violence and threaten a war of classes throughout the world.
You can never make a golden age out of leaden men, or a peaceful world out of lovers of strife.
Where shall peace be found? How shall it be attained and safeguarded? Evidently the militarists have assaulted it with their doctrine that might makes right. Evidently the pacifists have betrayed it with their doctrine of passive acceptance of wrong. Somewhere between these two errors there must be a ground of truth on which Christians can stand to defend their faith and maintain their hope of a better future for the world.
Let me begin by speaking of Peace in the Soul. That is where religion begins, in the heart of a person. Its flowers and fruits are social. They are for the blessing of the world. But its root is personal. You can never start with a class -- conscious or a mass -- conscious Christianity. It must begin with just you and God.
Marshal Joffre, that fine Christian soldier, said a memorable thing about the winning of the war: "Our victory will be the fruit of individual sacrifice." So of the coming of peace on earth we may say the same: it will be the fruit of the entrance of peace into individual hearts and lives.
A world at war is the necessary result of human restlessness and enmities. "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members?" Envy, malice, greed, hatred, deceit, -- these are the begetters of strife on earth.
A world at peace can come only from the cooperation of peaceful human spirits. Therefore we must commence to learn what peace is, by seeking it in our souls through faith.
Christ promised peace to His disciples at the Communion in that little upper room in Jerusalem, nineteen hundred years ago. Evidently it was not an outward but an inward peace. He told them that they would have a lot of trouble in the world. But He assured them that this could not overcome them if they believed in Him and in His Father God. He warned them of conflict, and assured them of inward peace.
What are the elements of this wondrous gift which Christ gave to His disciples, and which He offers to us?
I. First, the peace of Christ is the peace of being divinely loved. Nothing rests and satisfies the heart like the sense of being loved. Let us take as an illustration the case of a little child, which has grown tired and fretful at its play, and is frightened suddenly by some childish terror. Weeping, it runs to its mother. She takes the child in her arms, folds it to her breast, bends over it, and soothes it with fond words which mean only this: "I love you." Very soon the child sinks to rest, contented and happy, in the sense of being loved. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." In Jesus Christ God is stretching out His arms to us, drawing us to His bosom, enfolding us in the secret of peace. If we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, He makes us sure of a Divine affection, deep, infinite, inexhaustible, imperishable. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God, who "spared not his dearly-beloved Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" "Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
II. The Christian peace is the peace of being divinely controlled. The man who accepts Jesus Christ truly, accepts Him as Master and Lord. He believes that Christ has a purpose for him, which will surely be fulfilled? work for him, which will surely be blessed if he only tries to do it. Most of the discords of life come from a conflict of authorities, of plans, of purposes. Suppose that a building were going up, and the architect had one design for it, and the builder had another. What perplexity and confusion there would be! How ill things would fit! What perpetual quarrels and blunders and disappointments! But when the workman accepts the designer's plan and simply does his best to carry that out, harmony, joyful labour, and triumph are the result. If we accept God's plan for us, yield to Him as the daily controller and director of our life, our work, however hard, becomes peaceful and secure. No perils can frighten, no interruptions can dishearten us.
Not many years ago some workmen were digging a tunnel, when a sudden fall of earth blocked the mouth of the opening. Their companions on the outside found out what had happened, and started to dig through the mass of earth to the rescue. It was several hours before they made their way through. When they went in they found the workmen going on with their labour on the tunnel. "We knew," said one of them, "that you'd come to help us, and we thought the best way to make time pass quick was to keep on with the work." That is what a Christian may say to Christ amid the dangers and disasters of life. We know that He will never forsake us, and the best way to be at peace is to be about His business. He says to us: "As the Father sent me, even so send I you."
III. The Christian peace is the peace of being divinely forgiven.
"In every man," said a philosopher, "there is something which, if we knew it, would make us despise him." Let us turn the saying, and change it from a bitter cynicism into a wholesome truth.
In every one of us there is something which, if we realize it, makes us condemn ourselves as sinners, and hunger and thirst after righteousness, and long for forgiveness.
It is this deep consciousness of sin, of evil in our hearts and lives, that makes us restless and unhappy. The plasters and soothing lotions with which the easy-going philosophy of modern times covers it up, do not heal it; they only hide it. There is no cure for it, there is no rest for the sinful soul, except the divine forgiveness. There is no sure pledge of this except in the holy sacrifice and blessed promise of Christ, "Son, daughter, thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace."
Understand, I do not mean that what we need and want is to have our sins ignored and overlooked. On the contrary, that is just what would fail to bring us true rest. For if God took no account of sins, required no repentance and reparation, He would not be holy, just, and faithful, a God whom we can adore and love and trust.
Nor do I mean that what we need is merely to have the punishment of sins remitted. That would not satisfy the heart. Is the child contented when the father says, "Well, I will not punish you. Go away"? No, what the child wants is to hear the father say, "I forgive you. Come to me." It is to be welcomed back to the father's home, to the father's heart, that the child longs.
Peace means not to have the offense ignored, but to have it pardoned: not to the punishment omitted, but to have separation from God ended and done with. That is the peace of being divinely forgiven, -- a peace which recognizes sin, and triumphs over it, -- a peace which not merely saves us from death but welcomes us home to the divine love from which we have wandered.
That is the peace which Christ offers to each one of us in His Gospel. We need it in this modern world as much as men and women ever needed it in the old world. No New Era will ever change its meaning or do away with its necessity. Indeed, it seems to me that we need this old-fashioned religion to-day more than ever.
We need it for our own comfort and strength. We need it to deliver us from the vanity and hollowness, the fever and hysteria of the present age. We need it to make us better soldiers and workers for every good cause. Peace is coming to all the earth some day through Christ. And those who shall do most to help Him bring it are the men and women to whom He gives Peace in the Soul.