By J.R. Miller
Peace is one of the most suggestive words in the Bible. It appears in very ancient promises, as the richest and ripest fruit of trust in God. It is found in the angel's announcement of the birth of the Savior, as one of the blessings of his coming. It is the bequest of the Master to his disciples at his leaving them. It runs through the epistles as the greatest of the blessings of redemption-- peace with God, the peace of God.
Paul exhorts us to "let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts". A marginal reading suggests another rendering, "Let the peace of Christ arbitrate in your hearts." It is to sit on the throne and have undisputed sway in our life. When, in the circumstances of any day, things arise which naturally would trouble us, break into the calm and composure of our hearts--peace is to sit as arbiter, settling all conflicts of feeling, and bringing all strifes and differences to quiet adjustment.
We are exhorted to let this peace rule. So we can hinder its ruling if we will. It cannot rule unless we let it. We have the same truth everywhere in the Bible--nothing can enter our heart and have sway there--unless we let it. Christ stands at the door; he wants to enter to bless us--but we have to let him in. He will never lift the latch of the door with his own hand. "If any man opens the door--I will come in." So it is with peace. It seeks to enter our hearts, and wants to rule there--but it will not force its way in. We must let it rule.
Sometimes people are discouraged when they find how high is the ideal of Christian life, in this matter of peace. We must remember, however, that while the ideal is high, the attainment is always progressive. No one begins with the accomplished ideal. Peace is a lesson which has to be learned, and learned slowly. In our Lord's wonderful promise, he says that he will give rest to all who come to him--rest as an immediate gift. Then he says, farther on, that if we will take his yoke upon us and learn of him--we shall find rest. The full and complete rest has to be learned. We must enter Christ's school. We must accept his training and discipline. The same is true of Christ's peace. When we begin, we find it impossible to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts fully and continually. We go stumbling on our way, making many mistakes. It takes years to reach the complete standard. But there should be growth every day. Ruskin, in speaking of Christian growth, has this suggestive sentence, "He alone is advancing in life--whose heart is growing softer, and whose spirit is entering into loving peace." The growing spirit, is one that is entering more and more fully into peace.
The whole matter of spiritual culture seems to be included in this thought. "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18. Every day should see us advancing, learning more of Christ, and growing more and more into the beauty of Christ.
The other day it was said of a Christian man, who has been active in many forms of usefulness, and whose life has been full of good deeds--that he is growing irritable, that he is getting easily vexed and fretted, that he is losing his sweetness of temper, and is becoming easily provoked. This may be the result of ill health. We dare not judge another man when we see, or think we see, such faults manifesting themselves in his disposition. There may be a physical reason for this apparent deterioration in spiritual life. There are certain conditions of health, which make it very hard for a man to keep sweet. When we see a Christian sensitive, touchy, easily hurt, hard to get along with, we must beware that we do not think or speak uncharitably of him. There may be a reason--ill health, business trouble, disappointment, and a hidden sorrow. God understands, and we must not judge or condemn.
Nevertheless, we should mark well the lesson--that one phase of Christian growth should be this--the spirit entering into more and more loving peace. If the peace of Christ is ruling at all in our hearts, it should rule a little more fully today than yesterday, and tomorrow than it does today. We should be growing continually in all that belongs to peace.
Worry is not only a sin--it is also one of the most disfiguring of the vices. It mars and spoils the beauty of a life. Discouragement is a sin, and discouragement hurts a life immeasurably. If we have the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts we will be getting farther and farther away from worry every day. Peace sweetens the life, sweetens the disposition. It puts a stop to discontent, to complaining; it makes a man patient with others, gentle to all, humble and lowly in his thought of himself. What does worrying ever accomplish? Does it make the way sweeter, the burden lighter?
"I've learned as days have passed me,
Fretting never lifts the load;
And that worry, much or little,
Never smooths an irksome road;
For you know that somehow, always,
Doors are opened, ways are made;
When we work and live in patience
Under all the cross that's laid.
"He who waters meadow lilies
With the dew from out the sky;
He who feeds the flitting sparrows,
When in need for food they cry,
Never fails to help his children
In all things, both great and small;
For his ear is ever open--
To our faintest far off call."
A recent writer, speaking of the habit of worry and of the evil that comes from it, asks: "What is the effect of your presence in your home? Does your look fall like a sunbeam--or like a shadow across the breakfast table? Does your conversation lie like a strip of summer sky, or a patch of midnight, across the family life? Upon what subjects do you speak with largest freedom and keenest relish--troubles and failures, or the things which are beautiful and noble? For your own sake, and for the sake of others--you ought to bring your soul into a jubilant mood. All Christian virtues grow best under a sky filled with sun. The man who persists in being gloomy, sour, and moody--will have his home filled at last with weeds, brambles, and briers."
So we see that the lesson of peace is not a mystical and unpractical one--but one that is most practical. Our hearts make our lives. If we are not learning this lesson--if peace is not ruling more and more in our hearts--our lives are becoming less and less beautiful. We do not ourselves, like people who are sour, contentious, and censorious, who are dictatorial, tyrannical--and who are not disposed to be kindly, accommodating, and agreeable. And what is not beautiful to our eyes, in others--is not likely to be lovely to the eyes of others, in us. Our religion must be winsome; else it is not the religion that Christ teaches us. "Whatever things are lovely," is one of the features which we find in Paul's wonderful picture of true Christian character.
We need to look well, therefore, to the matter of the growth of gentle peace in our life. Wherever it rules in the heart--it produces beauty in the disposition. It makes the whole life more and more loving. In horticulture they tell us that thorns are only leaves which through heat or lack of water or some other unfavorable conditions, have failed to grow. The thorns which we so dislike, would have been beautiful leaves--but for the hindering conditions under which they grew. It is, no doubt, true of the things in us which are disagreeable--and we all have them--that they are blemished or arrested growths. God meant them to be lovely qualities in us, marks of beauty, adornments to make our lives more Christ-like. But in some way, they have been stunted, dwarfed, blemished--and in actual life are thorns, instead of shining leaves. Instead of being blessings to other lives--these marred growths in us hurt them. Instead of being leaves to give shade to those who seek shelter from the heat, they are thorns which pierce, give pain, and wound!
We need to look well to the culture of our lives, that in every feature there may be beautiful; and that we may be blessing to others, in the largest measure. And in no way can we attain such spiritual culture so surely, so richly--as by letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Peace is the composite of all the graces. Love, joy, gentleness, thoughtfulness, humility, kindness, patience--all are blended in peace. The absence of peace in a heart, produces a life without beauty. Peace ruling in the heart, gives a life that is full of all lovely things.
Christ wants us to be beautiful. There is a little prayer in the ninetieth Psalm which means a great deal, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." God himself is beautiful. All moral excellences are in him--truth, justice, purity, patience, gentleness, patience, love; and the ideal Christian life--is one in which all these features and qualities are found. A Christian ought to be gentle like his Master, full of helpfulness, good tempered, slow to anger, enduring wrong without resentment, returning good for evil, refined and courteous, sincere in his friendships, in honor preferring others, humble, not seeking his own advancement. As Christian people, we should seek to be like our Master in all things; we should be above reproach, without blame in all matters, even in what may be called the minor moralities.
Our dispositions should be sweet, and our conduct in all things so beautiful, that all who know us, or do business with us, or are associated with us in any capacity--will testify to our Christ-likeness; and will receive from their contacts with us--touches of blessing and of beauty. The way to have such a character, such a disposition, is to let the peace of Christ have sway in our hearts.
The trouble with us, is that we do not let this peace rule in us. Instead, we let a thousand other things--cares, disappointments, discontents, anxieties, fears, doubts--rule and mutiny against peace, the rightful heart ruler. No wonder we have so little of the reign of quietness and calmness in us. If we would let peace take its place on the throne, and control all our life--it would soon grow into beauty. Then joy would sing its sweet songs wherever we go.
We do not begin to realize the blessings that a heart truly controlled by the peace of God, will bring into our life. We do not know the possibilities of loveliness of character there are in us--if only we would let peace dominate everything. We do not dream of the good we might do in the world, the comfort we might be to others, and the cheer and inspiration we might give to discouraged ones, those who are in great troubles, and those who are in sorrow--if we would let the peace of Christ arbitrate in our hearts. We do not know how many souls we might win for Christ, how many lives we might redeem from base things and evil ways--if only the peace of Christ truly dwelt in us, transforming us into the beauty of the Lord. Nothing so wins others to better things--as the influence of a sweet, disciplined and radiant personality.
Must we go on forever, in the unsatisfactory way in which many of us have been living? Must we still allow our peace to be broken by every passing cloud, every fear, and every shadow? Shall we not set the peace of Christ on the throne, allowing it to arbitrate all our affairs, and to give its beauty to our disposition? We cannot understand the reason why this or that suffering, sorrow, or disappointment comes into our life. But we do not have to understand! God is wiser than we--and we may leave the whole matter in his hand. That will give us peace!