The Peace of God.

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THE PEACE OF GOD.
Rev. Thomas E. Peck, D. D., LL. D.,
PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY I THE UIO THEOLOGICAL
SEMIARY I VIRGIIA.
"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the
peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts
and
minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. iv. 6, 7.)
CARE is the necessary result of a sense of responsibility
combined with a sense of weakness. The brutes that
perish know nothing of the burden of care, because they
know nothing of responsibility. The end of their being is
accomplished in obeying the impulses of a merely animal
nature ; and looking neither before nor after, their satisfac-
tion is disturbed by no remorse for the past, nor anxiety for
the future. The angels that excel in strength know nothing
of care, though possessing the keenest sense of responsibility ;
because they know nothing of weakness. They are crea-
tures, indeed, and, as such, are perfectly conscious of limita-
tions upon their powers ; but they know nothing of weakness
in the sad significance of that word to mortal men. Their
powers are exactly and critically adjusted to the mea-
sure of their obligations, and whatever they are bound to do
is done with ease, and therefore with delight. But man is a
sinner, weak, as well as responsible, and consequently cannot
but be burdened with care.
By the very constitution of our nature, it is impossible for
us to exist, much more to attain the highest ends of exist-
ence, in a condition of isolation or solitude. The author of
our nature has ordained society as the sphere in which we
are to live, and move, and have our being. But society gives
rise to manifold relations, and these relations to manifold
' This sermon was preached March 8, 1863.
86
The Peace of God. 87
duties ; and these duties bring with them a sense of responsi-
bility so great as to be often harrassing and well-nigh intol-
erable. Man is born to care as the sparks fly upward. It is
further worthy of remark that an increase of care is the
necessary condition of the development of the individual
man, and of the progress of society. The social relations of
a savage state are few and simple. The man of the forest
or the desert is roused to exertion by the pains of hunger, or
the cries of his wife and children for food, or by the neces-
sities of defence against the violence of his fellow-savage or
the ferocity of the beasts of the field. His j)ressing wants
in regard to sustenance or protection being satisfied, he re-
lapses into a condition of torpor amounting almost to insen-
sibility. The man of civilized life sustains many and com-
plex relations which make the burden of care incessant ; and
in proportion as he rises in the scale of usefulness and honor,
as his relations and duties are multiplied, his responsibilities
become graver, and his cares heavier. o such cares as
afflict the heart of the President of the Confederate States,
in the present perilous times, are known to the chief of a
savage tribe.
Care, then, being the inexorable law of our condition here,
and an increase of care the law of development and progress,
it seems strange that we should be exhorted to "be careful
for nothing," and that, too, by a man exalted to such a pitch
of usefulness and honor as to be burdened with "the care of
all the churches." Must we understand it as an exhortation
to abandon ourselves to a light-hearted epicurean disregard
of the stern responsibilities of life ? Are we advised to adopt
the philosophy of the stoic and fortify ourselves against the
assaults of care by a heroic resolution to recognize no distinc-
tion between pain and pleasiu-e, and to accept all evil as only
partial good? By no means. What, then, must be under-
stood by this, "Be careful for nothing"? I answer, that the
"word rendered "careful" in the original signifies, according
88 Miscellanies.
to its etymology, to "divide," and generally expresses that
sort of care which divides or distracts the mind. It is-
opposed to the "peace which passeth all understanding.'*
The epicurean notion of serenity, or tranquility of mind, in
which the philosophers of that atheistic school asserted the
chief good of man to consist, was an entire freedom from all
care, a serenity incompatible with any serious views of
human life, with any just views of its responsibilities, or any
earnest endeavors to fulfil them. It was the balance of the
two sides of an empty pair of scales. The "peace which
passeth all understanding" is founded upon a conviction
that, great as the burden of care may be, there is a counter-
balancing support in the presence and sustaining power of a
personal God. It is the equilibrium of the two sides of a
pair of scales produced by heavy but equal weights in both.
The soul is not relaxed, but tense. It is earnest and glow-
ing in the discharge of its manifold duties, but dwelhng
safely, as in a garrison (see verse seven in Greek), from the
assaults of torturing care.
I. But how is this peace to be obtained ? By prayer, is
the answer of the apostle in the text: "but in everything by
prayer," etc.
The efficacy of prayer in relieving us from distracting care^
and in securing the "peace which passeth all understand-
ing," may be shown in several ways.
(1), As care is the result of a combined sense of responsi-
bility and of weakness, prayer relieves us, because, while it
brings us into the immediate presence of that God whose
will creates the responsibility, it also assures us of his ability
to help our weakness. It brings us into contact with a God
whose providence cares for us in our minutest concerns.
This is the argument of Peter (1 Peter v. 6, 7): "Humble
yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he
may exalt you in due time ; casting all your care upon him ;
for he careth for you"; and of the Psalmist (Iv. 22): "Cast
The Peace of God. 89
thy burden upon the Lord, and lie shall sustain thee; he
shall never suffer the righteous to be moved" ; of the Saviour
himself (Matt. \i. 25-34), where the word rendered "Take
no thought," is the same as that rendered in the text, " Be
careful for nothing." He "helps our infirmities," or (as the
figure seems to be in Rom. viii. 26) takes hold of one side
of the burden, while we carry the other. And here I beg
you to note the immense contrast between Paul and the
philosophers who undertook in his day to reheve the burdens
of mankind. The two schools of philosophy which were
most popular in the Eoman Empire, where he was publish-
ing the glad tidings, were those already alluded to, the Epi-
cureans and the Stoics (Acts x\di. 18); more popular than
the more ancient and noble schools of Plato and Aristotle,
because more ethical and practical. It was a time of trouble.
The glory of the Greeks had departed; their liberties had
perished first under the iron heel of the Macedonian, then
of the Roman. The nobler class of the Romans themselves
mourned over the extinction of the republic and the erection
of a splendid but cruel despotism upon its ruins. Men's
hearts were filled with disappointment and oppressed with
gloomy forebodings. They looked to the philosophers for
comfort. The Epicureans told them that all things, including
the earthly lot of men, were the sport of chance, and that
serenity of mind could only be found in seizing the pleasures of
the passing day. " Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die !"
This was the favorite philosophy of the Greek, mercurial,
and fond of pleasure and excitement. The sterner and nobler
Roman was more inclined to listen to the oracles of the Stoic,
as he taught that all things, including not only the destiny of
men, but the destiny of gods, were the slaves of a bhnd and
remorseless fate, and that serenity of mind was possible only
for those who stubbornly ignored the existence of pain and
evil, who regarded all things as equally normal developments
of the universe. either Epicurean nor Stoic spoke of
90 Miscellanies.
prayer as an antidote of human care. Alas ! they knew no
God who could see, or hear, or help. The cries which ago-
nized nature extorted from the sufferer were poured forth to
an idle divinity, who ""took no part in administrating, as he
he had taken no part in creating, the universe ; or to a
mysterious impersonal power, whose movements were at once
necessary and resistless; or, at best, to "an unknown God."
In contrast with these gropings in the dark, these desperate
utterances of an earth-born philosophy which could find no
remedy for the woes of man except in unmanning him, in
annihilating and mutilating his nature ; in contrast so sublime
and exalted as to force the conviction upon us that he spoke
by the inspiration of the Almighty — Paul announces the
remedy in the text. Let us praise God, my fellow-travellers,
through this vale of tears, that we have this clear shining in
this dark place, till the day dawn and the day-star arise in
our hearts! Let us praise him in these perilous times, when
our liberties are threatened with a deluge from the orth,
and the dragon stands ready to devour the new-born man-
child of the South ; let us praise him that we can appeal to
the righteousness of his throne and the might of his arm!
Let us praise him, my fellow-Christians, not only that we
have this revelation of God and his providence, but that he
has enabled us, by his Spirit, to recognize it and to rejoice
in it, while so many, even now, with the Bible in their hands,
are drivelling still about chance, or fate, or force, or law, as the
controlling agency in human affairs ! Let us praise him that
we know him not as the logical, abstract, passionless God of
the schools, but as the living, feeling, yearning Father of the
Bible, whose " soul is grieved for the misery of Israel," who
sees the returning prodigal afar off, and runs and falls upon
his neck and kisses him! who, in all our affliction, is himself
afflicted ; who says that whosoever toucheth us toucheth the
apple of his eye !
We are abundantly justified in ascribing to prayer such an
efficacy in relieving the burden of care, because.
The Peace of God. 91
(2), In the second place, it not only brings us into contact
with a God who exercises a special and benignant providence
over our concerns, but because it brings us to a God who
sustains a special covenant relation to all who are in his Son
Jesus Christ. The phrase "through Jesus Christ," with
which Paul closes the exhortation, determines the complexion
of all its parts. It is through Christ Jesus we are to make
knowTi our requests unto God, because he is the trustee of
the covenant, and all its exceeding great and precious pro-
mises are in him yea, and in him Amen. He is the heir of
all things, and in him all things are ours, whether Paul, or
Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or Ufe, or death, or things
present, or things to come ; all are ours, and we are Christ's,
and Christ is God's. " I will be thy God " is the formula of
the covenant. God has given himself to his people as their
all-comprehending good as well as their all-disposing Lord.
He is their sun and their shield; he will give grace and
glory ; no good thing will he withhold from them who walk
uprightly. The warrant and measure of our prayers, there-
fore, is this boundless covenant with all its promises, a cove-
nant formed in the depths of eternity, sealed with the blood
of the Lamb, and confirmed by an oath. (Heb. vi. 13, etc.)
Having such promises (and these are only a few out of an
almost countless number in the word of God), having such
promises to plead in prayer under the pressure of our cares,
how can we fail to find relief, and to experience that " peace
which passeth all understanding." For all spiritual bless-
ings, faith, love, repentance, gratitude, patience, increase of
grace and perseverance therein to the end, we may pray
without limit or condition. The fountain is infinite, and the
only limitation upon our blessing is our capacity to receive.
"According to your faith be it unto you," is the comprehen-
sive charter. "All things are possible to him that believeth,"
We are not straitened in God ; we are straitened in ourselves.
But in reference to temporal blessings, health, food, civil
92 Miscellanies.
liberty, etc., we have no absolute expression of the purpose
of God, our Father, and must, therefore, pray in submission
to his unknown will. We have the absolute assurance, how-
ever, that he will withhold "no good thing" from them that
walk uprightly. When he denies us anything, then, he
denies it because it would not be good. We know not what
is good for ourselves all the days of our vain life which we
spend as a shadow; and like passionate children we often
cry for that which it would be ruin to obtain. When we go
to our heavenly Father with our cares, we may go with the
utmost confidence that he will either do what we ask or some-
thing far better ; that if it should not please him to remove
them, he will convert them into a salutary discipline for our
distempered natures ; that he will either take away the bur-
den, or make it such a burden, to use the expression of one
of the old fathers, as sails are to a ship or wings to a bird,
serving to waft us the more swiftly to our home in the bosom
of Christ. We know with a transcendent certainty that he
who has given the greater will not withhold the less ; that
having spared not even his only Son, he will freely give all
other things which his wisdom sees needful for us. "For we
know that all things work together for good to them that
love God, to them who are called according to his purpose."
And now, beloved, in reference to the dark shadow that
rests upon our whole country, deeper, like the shadow of an
eclipse, in some parts than in others, but gloomy and por-
tentous in all. Here is the faith and patience of the saints.
It is the work of him who bought us with his blood. The
same voice that uttered amidst the dying agonies of the cross
that memorable prayer, " Father, forgive them, for they know
not what they do," has now mustered the hosts to battle.
All power is given him in heaven and earth, and in the exer-
cise of this power he is working out upon fields of blood, in
desolated homes, in chambers of bereavement and sorrow,
by scarcity of food and all manner of straits and necessities,
The Peace of God. 93
the wondrous purposes of his grace. And in like manner as
the devil was taken in his own devices in procuring the cruci-
fixion of the Sou of God, and was conquered in the very-
hour of his imaginary triumph, so, I doubt not, it will be
manifest in the end, that this war, barbarous and cruel, which
by his instigation our enemies are waging against us, is only
another example of that righteous judgment of God by which
the wicked and their master are snared in the work of their
own hands. It is a time of winter with the people of God,
of windstorm and tempest; the trees of his garden are
stripped and bare, to all appearance dead; but glorious
summer will succeed, and the golden fruits which will then
adorn those new naked boughs will demonstrate the wisdom
and the goodness of the great husbandman. The multipli-
cation of their cares has multiplied their errands to the
throne of their Father in heaven, and they have been
strengthened with strength in their souls.
This great fact that God is our God in covenant is not only
our consolation and support under the pressure of present
cares, but the bulwark against torturing apprehensions of the
future. He is not only the " I am," but the " I will be." He is
known by his name Jehovah. His covenant name embracing
in its composition the past, the present, and the future, "the
Lord God Almighty, who is, and who was, and who is to
come." Let your conversation be without covetousness, and
be content with such things as ye have ; for he hath said, I
will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may
boldly say,' " The Lord is my helper and I will not fear what
man can do unto me." (Heb. xiii. 5, 6.) The promise con-
tained in these words is full enough to keep house upon in
the darkest times. Our version gives a very inadequate
impression of strength. Two or more negatives in Greek
strengthen the negation, instead of destroying it as in Eng-
lish. ow, in this promise, as expressed in the original,
there are no less than five negatives. We might have a
94 Miscellanies.
feeble imitation of tlie foim by repeating the negations, tbus :
** I will noti 1 will not leave thee; I'll never, no never, no
never forsake thee."
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes ;
That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake.
Surely such a God may well say unto us, " Take no anxious
thought for the morrow!" The morrow of trouble, such as
your gloomy forebodings depict it, may never come ; but if it
should come, God will be with it and with you in it. If
prayer brings us into communion with such a God, it may
well produce that "peace which passeth all understanding."
(3), As God chooses our cares for us as our covenant-God,
and as prayer compels us to recognize that fact, so also
prayer is the antidote to care, because it brings us to an issue
with ourselves and compels us to recognize the fact that not
only were those relations and conditions which are the source
of our cares chosen, for the most part, by ourselves, but that
they are still chosen, notwithstanding the cares they bring
with them. Illustrate by children and servants. Dr. Palmer,
in presenting this point, refers to the vision in the Spectator,
in which men were seen depositing their burdens in separate
heaps, and, upon being allowed to choose freely any of them,
were seen each to choose again that which he had laid down
before.
(4), The eflScacy of prayer as the antidote of care may be
further illustrated by its effect upon the general tone of the
Spirits Every scholar knows the effect upon his own mind
of communion with some master-spirit of our race, whether
that communion be enjoyed with the living person through
the medium of speech, or with the departed genius speaking
through the written or printed characters, in which his pre-
cious life-blood has been embalmed and treasured up in
' See Palmer's Sermon on this text.
The Peace of God. 95
order to a life beyond life. He is gradually lifted up out of
his own lower sphere into that of the Spirit of a nobler
mould. The range of thought and feeUng is widened and
elevated. He is placed upon an eminence, from which he
looks down upon the objects which formerly engaged his
attention, diminished and dimmed by the distance, and de-
scries new and more commanding objects, which the lowness
of his position before would not permit him to see. The
atmosphere is bracing, and an athletic tone is imparted to
the whole man. The whole soul beats with a quicker and
stronger pulse, and the man is amazed that trifles light as
air could have hung like dull weights upon him.
If such, my friends, be the effect of communion with a
superior human soul, a Bacon or a Milton or a Howe, what
may we not expect from communion with the Father of
Lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of
turning? The loftiest genius of earth is but a spark from
that eternal mind ; the noblest and most magnanimous senti-
ments that ever glowed in the hearts of apostles, prophets,
and martyrs are but faint reflections of the love and majesty
which reside in the bosom of God. Behold how the man
who once breathed threatening and slaughter against the
innocent followers of the Lamb now burns with generous in-
dignation against the wrong done to the weakest and meanest
of the saints. See how the soul once absorbed with the low
ambition of upholding the glory of a narrow pharisaical
bigotry now expands and swells with the great thoughts of
redemption and pours itself out a libation upon the offering
of the whole Gentile world unto God ! How^cheerfuUy he
endures the ignominy of scourging, when by the simple utter-
ance of the magic words, "I am a Roman citizen," he might
have escaped it, and all for the honor of Christ and the
safety of the little band of believers in Philippi ! How glori-
ously does his triumph over the dungeon and the stocks
express itself in rapturous songs of praise to him whose grace
96 Miscellanies.
was thus magnified out of the very "bellj of hell"! And
why this change? The soul of Paul had been living in
unceasing, prayerful communion with the Father of glory.
(5), Lastly, prayer is the remedy for care because, as is
contained in the text, thanksgiving is a part of prayer. We
cannot pray for more without being thankful for what we
have already received. " In everything give thanks," in want
and affliction, in prosperity as well as in adversity. A thank-
ful spirit is a peaceful spirit from the very nature of the case.
Balance your mercies against your cares, and you cannot fail
to see that your mercies greatly preponderate. You concede
this yourselves by still choosing as beforesaid the relations
and conditions which are the occasion of your cares. Those
relations and conditions must be attended with many mercies
if you still choose them, in spite of the cares they bring.
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