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THE PEACE OF CHRIST.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”—JOHN, xiv. 27.
THERE is a singular beauty and depth of meaning in these words. Every spiritual mind owns this directly, whatever difficulty it may have in analysing and entering into all the meaning. Like many words of St John, they address more directly the spiritual instinct than the spiritual intelligence. We feel them more than we can explain them. They meet our silent aspirations. They give an answer to our deepest longings.
Christ came to give peace on earth. The promise of the Advent was, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth Peace.” The promise might seem to have failed of its fulfilment. Men strive for the mastery as of old, and amidst 49the movements of human ambition, and the contradictions of human opinion, peace seems as far off as ever. This is true, and yet the text is also true. The peace which our Lord came to give—which He left with His own when He went away—which He gives now—not as the world giveth—to all that ask it, is not peace as men often mean by the word. It is not external quiet, or ease, mere composure or comfort such as men desire and crave after. The Gospel is nowhere said to be a Gospel of earthly comfort. The happiness which Christ promised is not happiness in the sense of exemption from trouble, or danger, or sorrow. On the contrary, the Lord assured His followers that in the world they would have tribulation. Even as He had been tried and suffered, so would they. The servant was to be as his Lord, the disciple as his Master—in this respect and in others. Yet they were assured of peace. The “weary and heavy laden”—those on whom the burden of care or sorrow might fall most heavily—were to have “rest” unto their souls. Their peace was to work through patience and suffering. It was not only to be compatible with conflict and danger and toil, but in and through these it was to come; and while all things were shaken 50around them, and “without were fightings, within were fears,”2525 2 Cor. vii. 5. “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” was to “keep their hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”2626 Philip. iv. 7.
What we think of most naturally in connection with such a subject is our Lord’s own life—so majestic in its repose—so grand in its peacefulness—with such a pervading depth of calm in it, and yet so troubled outwardly. And here no doubt is the key to the meaning. Our Lord’s own life—His spiritual manifestation in life and death—is the best interpreter of all His profoundest sayings. For the Christian lives only in Christ. He has no life apart from Him. All Christian thought is hid in Him. All Christian experience grows out of Him.
According to the terms of the text, our Lord makes first an explicit promise of peace as His gift to His disciples; and then sets in contrast with His own gift the gifts of the world. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” We will best bring out the meaning of the divine gift by placing in front the gifts with which it is contrasted.
I. Christ frequently draws in sharp and decisive 51terms the contrast betwixt Himself and the world. We “cannot serve,” He tells us, “God and mammon.”2727 Matt. vi. 24. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”2828 1 John, ii. 15. It is nowhere said that the world is worthless, or that mammon is unattractive. On the contrary, the very sharpness of the antagonism drawn by Christ implies that what is called the world has powerful attractions for man. It has fair and promising gifts to offer him; otherwise there need have been no such decisive contrast drawn betwixt Himself and it, and no such solemn warning that we cannot serve both Him and it.
Now, what are the gifts of the world? What is meant by the world, and the attractions by which it lures man? There can be no doubt of the general meaning. The world is the outside life of man. Its gifts are possessions, dear to his senses, his intellect, and even his heart. It rewards with its own. If we serve it, it will not disown us. To the ambitious man, who knows how to use skilfully the instruments of ambition, it gives influence and authority. To the self-indulgent man, it gives the means of indulgence. It tempts the sight with seeing, and the ear with 52hearing. It ministers enjoyment in a thousand forms. To the industrious, it yields the fruit of industry; for the careful, it heaps up riches; for the clever and adventurous, it presents endless resources of satisfaction and scope of enterprise.
It is needless to speak lightly of such things. They have naturally a great attraction for all. To get on in the world and receive of its best gifts, is a legitimate aim. It is an incentive to youthful aspiration and middle-aged ambition. It is the inspiration of some of the most definite and valuable forms of social virtue and domestic happiness. It is the spur of social progress—the spring of industry and civilisation. Therefore there is and can be nothing wrong in so far using the world. There is nothing to be disparaged in the things which the world gives, if they are given for honest work. Our Lord nowhere hints that we are not to touch its gifts, but rather to condemn and cast them from us. But what He everywhere implies is, that these gifts at the best are not enough for us. They minister enjoyment—they are means of usefulness; but there is that in man which they cannot reach. It is, in short, the abuse and not the use of the world which our Lord reprobates. 53It is when the heart so loves the world that it has no room for other love; when the mind so fills itself with the things of sense, or intellect, or imagination, or passion, as to exclude the sense of higher, Divine things, that judgment is passed upon it, and it is clearly true that whosoever “loveth the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
It will be always difficult to persuade the young that the world cannot satisfy them—that its gifts, however fair and attractive, are, if not delusive, yet inadequate to the higher wants of the human soul. They seem so far from the fulness that the world can give them. They stand at such a distance from its giddy heights of ambition, of pride, of pleasure, that they believe, or often do so, that they would be happy if only they once reached those heights, and could look back from them with a proud complacency on all that they had gained. Yet if there is anything more frequently verified by experience than another, it is the fact that the very highest triumphs of the world do not give happiness. And always the more is this the case where the nature that has sought such happiness is a true and noble nature. The more profound the springs of life, the more difficult 54are they to reach. The more real the heart, the less easily can it be filled. There are depths in almost every human being that no merely outward gift can reach. The success after which we strive fails to gratify. The joys which have spurred us on perish in the using. The brightest of them wear out, and there is no spring of renewal in them. The glittering height that tempted from afar is found when reached to be a barren level. The knowledge which was dear in the prospect is fruitless in the possession. The glory of the gift vanishes with its realisation. The “light that never was on sea or land,” and has drawn the youthful spirit from afar, fades into the common day. The very capacity of enjoyment decays, and is ready to vanish away. The eye is no longer satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The intellect is no longer tempted by inquiry; and out of the very pride of aspiration comes the weakness of exhaustion, or the despair of truth.
Such are the world’s gifts at the best. Taking the highest view, they fail because they leave the spiritual side of our nature untouched. They fail, moreover, in themselves, because, like all outward realities, however real, they do not last. 55The life goes out of them. It withers like the grass, “and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth.”
II. Now the gift of Christ is the opposite of all this.
(l.) It is primarily inward, while the gifts of the world are outward. Our Lord knew what was in man. He was Himself a man, profoundly conscious of all the higher qualities and activities of our being. He saw that the root of human misery was the attempt of man to satisfy himself with this world, or with things merely external. This it was that made Him lay His ban upon the world as His own special antagonist. It was not the outside in itself that He condemned; nothing external, in so far as it was merely external or natural, did He for a moment interdict—for that would have been to interdict His own work. But He denounced the outward when it absorbed the inward and took its place. The world in His view was the displacement of the spiritual by the material—not matter itself, or any form of external advantage, glory, or beauty, but the heart materialised, the mere good of earth in room of the higher good of the Spirit. No happiness, He 56assured man, could be reached in this way. The nature of man demands spiritual as well as natural food. It cannot live by bread alone. It cannot quench immortal longings by mere draughts of sensual or even intellectual gratification. These are good to give you what they have, but you need more than they have; and God Himself can alone give you all you need. And I who am the Revelation of the Father—of His grace and truth—can alone satisfy the wants of your souls. “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”2929 Matt. xi. 28. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”3030 John, iv. 13, 14.
There is something in the very language of the text that suggests the immediate relation of the soul to God, and the deep inwardness of the gift which it promises. Peace is an inward resting. A mind at peace is a mind not only calm and unruffled in its temporary mood, but profoundly composed in its unseen depths. There is not merely quiet upon the surface, but a deep-seated rest of the inner life—57
“It is not quiet, it is not ease,
But something deeper far than these.”
The expression itself betrays something of this deeper meaning even in its ordinary application—as when we look abroad upon the sea, or the silent hills as they sleep in the tranquil folds of the evening light, and say, How peaceful they are! we mean not merely that the wind is down or the air is still, but that Nature rests in her inner central depths.
It is such an inward reality—quiet within the soul—a restful life beneath all other life—that Christ gives to them that are His. It is something deeper than sense, or intellect, or passion, or all the shows of that life which we can see, or hear, or touch. It is no mere harmony of natural powers—although it is also this; but it is a positive spiritual endowment—a gift from the Divine—something which at once settles and stays the spirit on a foundation that cannot be moved, though the earth be removed, and the waters roar and be troubled. It is the consciousness of God Himself as our loving Father, and of the strength of the Divine Will which we have chosen against all human selfishness and sin.
Christ did not concern Himself with man’s outward life. He did not try to change the 58direction of His external activities, although some have conceived His mission after this manner. He nowhere says to His disciples, “You are to come out of the world.” At the close of this very discourse His prayer for them is, not that they should be taken out of the world, but that they should be kept from the evil that is in it.3131 John, xvii. 15. He leaves alone man’s outward career; and through the power of His mighty sympathy—of His living affinity with all his true wants—He lays hold of man’s inner life. Here was the root of good or evil—of happiness or misery. Here was the spring which, as it was sweet or bitter, imparted health or disease, life or death, to all the forces of human activity. And our Lord applied the remedy here. He took of His own and gave it unto man. He seized the root of his personal life and planted it in God. And this is to do everything for man—to satisfy his most restless craving, as well as give meaning to his highest aspirations—to reduce all the discords of his life to a unity; so that whatever may befall him, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” shall keep his mind and heart through Jesus Christ. From within outwards 59the change is wrought. Settled in the Divine—at one with God—there goes forth from this sure stay—this bright confidence—a silent yet potent influence bringing every thought and feeling and act into obedience to Him, gently yet strongly binding all into that unity of the spirit which is the bond of peace.
(2.) But further, the text enables us yet more fully to understand the peace of which it speaks. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” The peace which Christ gives is His own. Can we say more distinctly what this was? whence it was? The peace of Christ was the fulness of the Divine in Him. It came forth from the perfect unity of the Father and Himself. It was the expression of this unity—the natural reflection of His entire self-surrender to the Father’s will. His peace was unbroken because His obedience was unmarred. It was His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him, and finish His work. His life on earth was the perfect life of God—the incarnation of the Divine. He dwelt in the radiant fulness of the Divine Presence, daily His delight rejoicing before Him; and so resting with undimmed trust in the Divine, He could have no fear. No shadow of 60unrest could touch Him. None ever did touch Him, save at the last, when the darkness of the world’s sin so covered Him that He cried out in agony. This momentary interruption of our Lord’s peace shows more clearly than all else its character and depth. For alarm could only reach Him through the inner hiding of that Presence which had never before forsaken Him. Unrest only came when the darkened burden of His sin-bearing upon the cross obscured the light of that ineffable love in which He had hitherto dwelt, and left Him for the time as it were alone—without God.
The source of Christ’s peace, then, was union with God. It was the enjoyment of His nearness to God, and the fulness with which he rested in the Divine love. The peace which He gives is the same which He enjoyed. Our peace, like His, can alone come from the living unity of our will with the Divine Will; we must be one with the Father, as He is. This unity was in Him originally as the Father’s eternal Son; it is in us derivatively through the Son. “The glory which Thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we arc one: I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may 61know that Thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me.”3232 John, xvii. 22, 23.
In Christ we are made one with God, “who hath reconciled us to Himself.”3333 2 Cor. v. 18. Eph. ii. 13, 14. “Now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition.” And thus reconciled to our heavenly Father, we are made partakers of His own nature—reinvested with the fulness of His own image—consecrated by His own Spirit. Christ is created within us unto all good works. The old selfish nature is destroyed. The new life of self-sacrifice, purity, and love, lives and grows in us. The same nearness to God—or something of this same nearness—the same enjoyment in the Divine Presence and in divine work—the “mind that was in Christ” become ours in Him. “We apprehend Him of whom also we are apprehended.” We enter into His life; we are “joint heirs in His Sonship.” And as this higher life grows strong, peace waxes more full. Perfect love casteth out fear—the fear of the guilt that we own, of the evil we have done, of the death that we deserve. All sense of wrong, and the misery that comes 62from it, fall gradually away. And while the gifts of the world lose their attraction, and the sense of all lesser enjoyment grows feebler by experience, this increases in the very use of it. The relish of the Divine is sweeter the larger it is tasted. The joy of God is deeper the longer it is known. The peace that passeth all understanding is yet the more understood the more it is cherished.
(3.) This peace, we may further say, touches every aspect of our spiritual being. From within it radiates all around. It illumines the reason, and quiets the conscience while it sustains the heart. There is light in it as well as rest. It penetrates the intellect, and suffuses it with its own strength. It gives stability amidst the many fluctuations of our mental mood. It stays the mind as in a stronghold, when assailed by the arms of doubt. Yet, from its nature, it comes to us mainly in the form of trust. It is relief from a burden more than a solution of difficulties. It is the haven of the spirit returning to God from weary and vain voyaging after other good, more than satisfaction of the intellect seeking after Truth. It is quiet fruition rather than clear vision. It is affection rather than knowledge. It is the soul cleaving unto God with 63the strong pinions of faith and hope, amidst darkness and storm still holding on, rather than the soul dwelling in clearness and seeing face to face. It is strength in Another, and not in ourselves. And what is this to say but that it is religion and not science? It is the grasp of the absolute amidst the accidental, of the Immutable amidst the mutable. It is the consciousness of an abiding Love, to whose bosom we may ever fly when all else threatens us—when we are broken and wounded by the way, and our hearts are beginning to fail us for fear. It is, in short, nearness to God—the blessed assurance which God Himself can alone give that He is there, whatever our cold doubts may say—that the everlasting arms are around us, even when we do not feel their quiet and strong embrace.
In God such peace is ours through Jesus Christ. In God alone. Elsewhere we may get many things, but we shall not get this. The world may give us its choicest gifts; but unless we sink utterly away from God, we shall need more than these. Religion, if it be a reality at all, is the greatest reality. The peace of God and of Christ, if it be not a devout illusion, is a fact which should be at the root of all our life. 64It can never be something which we only need at last, when we come to die, and having exhausted the gifts of the natural life we are warned to prepare for another. No; it must be ours now if we would enjoy it then. It must be the pith of our common labour, and the inspiration of our daily happiness, if we should have its joy at last, and finally enter into its fulness in the presence of God—at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
“Now the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.” Amen.65
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