By Andrew Bonar
HOW LOOKING TO THE PERSON OF CHRIST TENDS TO PROMOTE THE PEACE THAT PASSES UNDERSTANDING.
No one could be supposed to have seen the Alps, if he tells you that all he saw was some rocky ridges of hills which his eye felt no strain in looking to. The Alps are not such hills; they tower to the clouds. Equally true it is that no one can be considered as having really seen sin, who never saw it to be very great; or to have got real rest to his soul, who has not seen the Saviour to be very great. Indeed, very great salvation is needed in order to give any true peace to a soul truly awakened; such salvation as is discovered when the soul discovers the Person of the Saviour. Then it sings, "Jah Jehovah is my strength and song, and has become my salvation" (Isa. xii. 2). "In Jah Jehovah*
*These are the only passages where that particular combination occurs, "Jah-Jehovah;" as if to gather up the fulness of Godhead-existence in one clause, when singing of Him who is our salvation.
He from whom every drop of being came is mine!
is the Rock of ages" (xxvi. 4).
Even one sin makes peace flee from the soul, as we see in the case of Adam and Eve. Even one sin fills the soul with suspicions of God and suggestions of fear. Of course, then, the conscience of every sinner abounds in materials for fear before God. Achan may be secure for a time, while his wedge of gold and his Babylonish garment remain hid in the tent; but let a hurricane from the howling wilderness shake the cords and canvas of his tent, threatening to blow aside the covering of his theft, and then he is full of alarm! Now, to the conscience of the sinner, every sin is like Achan's theft. There may be a present calm in the air, but who can promise that there shall not arise a stormy wind? a hurricane threatening to tear up the stakes of his earthly tabernacle? Who can engage that every sin shall not be laid bare? Who can give security that the sinner shall not in the twinkling of an eye be sisted at the bar of the Holy One? It is a small matter to say that at present all is at rest within. A city may be wrapt in slumber, and under the calm moon may seem as quiet as a cemetery; and yet the first beams of the morning sun may awake sleeping rebels, and witness the burst of revolutionary frenzy.
Every sin is secretly uttering to the man God's sentence of death; insinuating uneasy forebodings regarding coming wrath. Every sin mutters to the sinner something more or less distinct about having wronged God, and about God being too holy and just to let it slip from remembrance. And when the quickening Spirit is at work in the conscience, every sin cries loudly to the Lord for vengeance against him in whose heart it has its abode.
For such a state of soul only one thing can avail - namely the discovery which the Spirit makes to the man in conversion, the discovery of Christ's full sacrifice for sin. Therein may be seen a propitiation as full and efficacious as conscience craves, because it was wrought out by Him who is God-man. Therein may be seen the whole Person of the Saviour presented to the soul as the object to be embraced, and that person associated with the merit of all He has done and suffered. Nay more; every act and suffering of that glorious Person confronts the case of every sinner. Not only does he remedy the case of every individual sinner of all that "multitude which no man can number," but besides He meets every individual sin, and applies out-poured life to each stain, to blot it out. This is exactly what was needed. If I see Him who is the atonement to be God-man, then I see an offering so vast, and so extensive in its applications, that every crevice of the conscience must be reached.
He is our peace, not by His death only, but by His life of obedience also, imputed to us. The more, therefore, we go into details with His Person (the Person of Him whose every act and agony has an infinite capability of application because of His being the God-man), then the more shall we see good reason why our peace through Him should be peace "passing understanding" (Phil. iv. 7). Let us exhibit some details of the kind we refer to - viz., His personal acts and sufferings meeting my personal disobedience and my personal desert of wrath.*
* "His humiliation expiates our pride; His perfect love atones for our ingratitude; His exquisite tenderness pleads for our insensibility" (JOHN NEWTON, Sermon I.).
I confess the sin of my nature, my original sin; "Behold! I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. li. 5). But I see in Christ one who, while He was "that Holy One," was born to be holiness to others (Luke i. 25). His dying was fully sufficient to remove the guilt of my conception, and my connection with Adam; while His doing was holy from the womb. Behold! then, here am I in my substitute! My infancy without iniquity, nay, with actual purity, in the eye of Him who is well pleased with my Substitute.
I confess the sin of my childhood. My childhood and youth were vanity. But I find in Christ, God-man and my Substitute, deliverance from all this guilt. "The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke ii. 40). I get all the positive merit of this childhood of my surety, full as it was of holy wisdom, and free from every taint of folly and thoughtlessness; and along with this I get the atoning merit of His death. And thus I present to God both satisfaction for the trespasses I have done in my childhood, and also obedience equivalent in full to what the law had right even then to expect or claim from me.
I confess more particularly the sin of my thoughts, "Every imagination of the thoughts of my heart has been only evil continually" (Gen. vi. 5). But I discover Him who not only by death perfected the atonement for me, but who also obeyed my obedience in the thoughts of the heart, saying, "Thy law is within my heart" (in midst of my bowels) (Ps. xl. 8).
I confess the sin of my words, my idle words, my evil words. For it is written (Matt. xii. 36), "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." But I find in this great atonement the penalty paid for my every idle word. I find, at the same time, the rendering of the obedience due by me, inasmuch as his mouth was a well of life, "grace was poured into his lips" (Ps. xlv. 2), and men never heard him utter aught but words of holiness.
I confess the sin of my duties; for example, the sin of my careless worship in the sanctuary. But I find my glorious Substitute worshipping for me in the synagogue. (Luke iv. 16), "He came to Nazareth, and as His custom was He went into the synagogue." I find Him vindicating the honour of His Father in the temple-service. (John ii. 17), "Make not My Father's house an house of merchandise. And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." His songs of praise, His deep attention to the written Word there read, His joining in the public prayers, all this He puts to my account, as if I had done it acceptably and done so always, - while in the same moment, by His shed blood, He blots out every accusation against me for omissions and guilty acts.
I confess my prayerlessness in secret. It has grieved the Lord to the heart. But I find my Surety "rising a great while before day, and departing to a solitary place to pray" (Mark i. 35); or, "continuing all night in prayer to God" (Luke vi. 12). This He will impute to me, as if I had so prayed every day and night; at the same time plunging my sins of omission into the depths of the sea.
I confess and deplore heart-sins of various kinds. I lament instability of soul; my goodness is like the early dew. But He was "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," both God-ward and man-ward (Heb. xiii. 8). I feel hardness of heart. But He imputes to me His own tenderness, and reckons to my account His own yearnings of soul for the glory of His Father. I am stubborn; but He can say, "The Lord God opened mine ear, and, I was not rebellious, neither turned away backwards" (Isa. 1. 5). In me is guile; but "in His mouth was no guile found" (1 Pet. ii. 22). And thus there is ready not only the warp of satisfaction for transgression, but also the woof of rendered obedience.
Let me still go on a little in this application of my Lord's active and passive righteousness. Do I feel my soul in anguish, because of indulging ambitious projects, seeking to be somewhat? I find Him "not seeking His own glory" (John viii. 50): and this fold of His robe He will cast over me, while by His blood He washes me from all my self-seeking.
I have pleased myself. But of Him it is testified, "He pleased not Himself" (Rom. xiv. 2). I have sought my own will. But He could declare before the Father and to men, "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John v. 30). And thus has He fully given the very form of obedience that I have omitted to render. He gave what I withheld; and He will give it for me, at the same time that my guilt in withholding it is hidden in His blood.
I have been worldly. I have loved "the world and the things that are in the world" (1 John ii. 15); not only the objects it presents, but the very place itself, in preference to place and things wherein the direct presence of God might be enjoyed. But He did not. "He was not of the world" (John xvii. 14). He never had any of its treasure; it is doubtful if He ever possessed or handled any of its money; we are sure He had nowhere to lay His head.. The world hated Him, "because He testified that the works thereof were evil" (John vii. 7). And all this He has at hand to impute to me, while He washes me from guilt.
I have been often double-minded. His eye was always single. "I have glorified Thee" (John xvii. 4) was always true of Him. I have been inconsistent; but even Satan could find "nothing in Him" (John xvi. 30). And He could challenge His foes, "which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John viii. 46).
My pride and haughtiness have need of One who was "meek and lowly." And such I find in Him; and I find Him calling me to come to Him as such, and use Him (Matt. xi. 29).
If I have backslidden, yet my Surety's course was truly like "the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. iv. 18). "He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke ii. 52). Instead of lukewarmness ever on any occasion appearing in Him , such was His zeal for men's salvation that at one time friends stood by and said, "He is beside Himself" (Mark iii. 21); and at another, His disciples were irresistibly led back to the words of the Psalmist, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up" (John ii. 17). Now, all this active righteousness in Him is for my use. He will throw over me this other fold of His robe, as well as apply His infinitely precious death, - and thus no one shall ever be able to accuse me of backsliding, God accepting my Surety's work for me.
I have grieved the Spirit. But oh, how Christ honoured Him! Such blessed things He said of Him! "The Comforter," "the Spirit of truth," "the Holy Spirit," were names which He applied to Him; and Himself had been led by Him in delighted acquiescence. "Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (Luke iv. 1). He has something here to present instead of my provocations; and what He has, He will use for me. Only let me know the treasures hid in His Person, and my consolation must abound.
I have been unthankful; but oh! how my Surety abounded in thanksgivings, - thanksgivings for food, - thanksgivings for the Gospel revealed to babes, - thanksgivings for the communion table, because it proclaimed His dying for us. Herein I find obedience to a law I broke, the law of gratitude - while in the sacrifice of Calvary I find expiation for my guilty ingratitude.
I think upon my unconcern for souls. And I find the remedy for that iniquity in Him whose heart burned "to seek and save that which was lost," and who plunged into the sea of wrath in order to redeem - for every step in His atonement has in it something of obedience as well as satisfaction.
Oh, inconceivable fulness for us in Him! whatever be the special sin which our conscience at any moment is feeling. Only let us ever keep Christ Himself in view, Christ clothed to the foot in that garment of active and passive righteousness.
It is thus we get the sea, with all its multitudinous waves*
* There is a wave of it for ministerial failures; for He never failed, but could appeal to His Father, "I have declared thy faithfulness, and thy salvation" (Ps. xl. 9,10). His Shepherd's heart and work cover over ours. And so let a teacher repair to Him for the hiding of sins in teaching. "In the day-time He was teaching in the temple" (Luke xxi. 37). "I ever taught in the synagogue and in the temple" (John xviii. 20).
(Isa. xlviii. 18, "righteousness like the waves of the sea"), to flow up every creek and sweep round every bay. His Person being such, His work completely fits into the soul's necessities. And all this is so great, that not only does it affect us negatively, - not only does this full view of Christ remove every tremor from the soul, - it works besides into the heart a positive bestowal of bliss.
It is as sometimes in nature when every breath of wind is so lulled asleep that not a leaf moves on the bough of any tree; the sun is shedding his parting ray on the still foliage; and the sea rests as if it had become a pavement of crystal. This is peace in nature. Your heart feels, amid such a scene, not only the absence of whatever might create alarm or disquiet, but the presence also of some elements of positive enjoyment, as if there were an infusion of bliss in the scene. Now, infinitely more is this the case in the kingdom of grace. The presence of Christ in the heart (the Spirit there testifying of Christ) lulls fear to sleep; and while He makes disquiet almost an impossibility, never fails to bring in positive delight and bliss. There is something in it to "keep the heart and mind" (garrison, and so preserve secure) (Phil. iv. 7). And what is this positive element but the real outbreathing of direct friendship and love for Him whose heart we now know? He removes the barriers out of the way and out of sight, in order to bring in Himself with all His love, - Himself rich in all affections and bowels of mercy. And is not this the true "healing" of the "hurt"? Was not the "hurt," our separation from the Holy One, caused by sin? Is not this the "healing," then, our return to fellowship with Him?
It is worth while asking, in every case of apparent peace, whether or not this positive element exists. Is there not only the absence of dread and a calmness in looking towards the Holy One, but, in addition to this, is there direct enjoyment of Him who gives the peace? The work of Christ, if seen apart from His Person, may give freedom from dread of wrath, but it can scarcely impart that positive delight in His restored friendship, which alone "keepeth the heart and mind."
"HE is our Peace," says Paul, in Eph. ii. 14. And when, in Phil. iv. 7 he spoke of His peace keeping the heart and mind (" the thoughts"- in the original), he said it was "by Christ Jesus." Was not Paul here directed by the Spirit to insert this clause in order to fix our eye on the Person who is our peace - the true "Jehovah-shalom?" (Judges vi. 24). And is not the reason of this to be found in the fact that in proportion as we see the Person, our soul's peace spreads and deepens? Certainly, all who have tried it find this to be the case. The more they know of Him, the more complete is their souls' rest. It is shallow peace (if it be indeed the "peace of God" at all), when the Person of the Peacemaker is not directly realised.
And now, seeing we have such advantages above Old Testament saints, who saw the Person so dimly, are there not duties and responsibilities resulting? "The darkness is past and the true light now shineth" (l John ii. 8). Therefore (says John) there is for you "A new commandment." He seems to mean that the increase of light has given force to every demand for obedience; and especially that the appearing of this Light, the Person Jesus, has brought with it peculiar motives to obedience. May we not say that if we get such peace in Jesus Christ, and have Himself to calm our souls, the Lord may well expect at our hands a higher style of obedience than in former days?
Peace has its responsibilities - such peace through such a Redeemer, has no common responsibilities. We are freed from burdens in order to work for God - we are fully justified in order to be the more fully sanctified. Carry this kind of peace with you everywhere, and you cannot fail ever. where to show that you are with Jesus; for it is Himself realised that gives it. Your claim to real peace implies your seeing Christ Himself, and enjoying His fellowship. If so, then you may well be expected to show likeness to Jesus; for "he that walketh with the wise men shall be wise" (Prov. xiii. 20). Your peace will be characterised by purity, as all ever is that comes from God (Jas. iii. 17), and as all must be that is the direct effect of an eye fixed on "God manifest in the flesh." Your peace "in Jesus Christ" will keep you daily at His side, engaged in His work, guided by His look, satisfied with His smile, living to do His will. Who could have his eye on that Saviour continually, and there see "peace in heaven" toward himself, and yet at the same time turn his feet into the by-paths of unholiness?
Were your peace gotten or maintained by looking at an act of your own - viz., your having once believed, or having done the thing called believing, then possibly you might be at peace, and yet after all not walk with God. But in as much as true Scriptural peace is gotten and maintained by the sinner's eye resting at the moment on the Person of Him who is our peace - on the person of Jehovah-shalom*
* Judges vi. 24, "Jehovah is peace;" like John iv. 8, "God is Love." It is at the altar of sacrifice that "Jehovah is peace."
- it is not possible to be at peace and yet at the same time willingly wander from fellowship with the Holy One. Christ, our Peace-maker, walks among us wherever is to be found anything "true, or honest, or just, or lovely, or of good report " - wherever is to be seen "any virtue or any praise" (Phil. iv. 8).
And he who has peace by having his eye on Christ cannot enjoy this peace without being led at the same moment to these walks of Christ. Hence it is that Paul writes to the Philippian Church - to Lydia, and the Jailor, and Euodias, and Syntyche, and Clement - that "the God of peace would be with them" while they pursued these objects (Phil. iv. 8, 9). If they were found at any time wandering from these holy paths, it would be a sufficient sign to them (as it will be to us also), that they had for the time taken off their eyes from Him who was their peace - and so, ere they were aware, had lost the enjoyment of that deep, profound peace, which "keepeth the heart and mind."