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Things That Matter Most: Devotional Papers
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VIII

THE BEQUEST OF PEACE

“MY peace I give unto you.” These words gain immensely deepened significance from the circumstances in which they were spoken. When we put them into their surroundings they shine like a radiant gem with a foil of dark background. When the Lord spake these words He was not resting in the domestic love and quietness of the home at Bethany. The air was thick with rumours, and the betrayer had gone out, and was even now engaged in his treacherous mission. Even Peter’s loyalty threatened to surrender to evil popular will. Crucifixion was not twenty-four hours away. Christ’s enemies were at the very gate. It was in circumstances like these, turbulent and stormy, that our Lord quietly claimed to be in possession of deep and mysterious peace.

“Peace I leave with you.” The form of the speech is that of a customary salutation or farewell. “Whatsoever house ye enter let your peace be upon it.” But our Lord’s speech is widely different from the common convention. People had fallen into the habit of saying “Peace” as we have got into the habit of saying “Good-morning” or “Goodbye,” and there was as little vital content in one as in the other. The salutation had lost its sanctity. It had become a formality of life. The customary speech was used just to break an awkward silence; the Lord’s was used to renew and enrich the heart. The conventional speech was idly ceremonial; the Lord’s was a gracious achievement. At the best, the popular speech was an expression of affability; the Lord’s benediction was an invaluable bequest. When He said “Peace,” there was something accomplished, something done. It was not an affair of empty words; it was a glorious transaction. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, they are life.” The salutation was, therefore, vital and effective; it was a holy minister, conveying inconceivable treasures to the hearts of men.

“My peace I give unto you.” What is the nature of this peace? First of all it is rightness with God. When the Lord Jesus Christ brings His own peace into the hearts of men, they become inherently sound by becoming fundamentally at one with God. It is very significant that the radical meaning of the original word is suggestive of union; two sundered things are brought together again. And the gift of peace means a recovery of healthy fellowship between the soul .and the eternal God. Now let it be understood at once that the gift of peace does not imply perfection. There may be a general “rightness” in the relationship between man and wife, and yet there may be an occasional misunderstanding, even a temporary outburst of temper, while nothing fundamental becomes crooked or perverse. A general “rightness” or healthiness of the body is consistent with an occasional chill or superficial scratch or pain. There may be a temporary derangement while the heart is as sound as a bell. Our Lord acknowledged this possibility in His own gracious teachings. Men may be essentially right with God who are not yet by any means perfect. Even a man who has been bathed “needeth to wash his feet.” And so peace consists essentially in this innermost “rightness” with God. The general life tends toward the highest. Its primary ambitions are fixed upon the good pleasure of God. There is intimacy of fellowship. There is an open road. There is a ladder of communion, on which the angels ascend and descend continually. The peace that the Lord gives enables the soul to say with glad humility, “I and my Father are one.”

And secondly, if peace is fundamental rightness with God, it is also fundamental union with God’s universe. Natural forces become the friendly allies of men who are right with God. “The whole creation groaneth and waiteth for the manifestation of the children of God.” When a man is one with the Maker he has the co-operation of all the Maker has made. The winds and currents are his friends. “The stars in their courses” fight on his side. There is established “a covenant between him and the stones of the field.” And so peace is the condition of the soul in its God-purposed relationship of being right with Him and one with the movements of the Divine order in the world.

Now, our Lord had this peace. It was His through all His changing days. It was independent of seasons, and He had it “in the dark and cloudy day.” And, therefore, there are certain things we can say about it. This peace can exist in the midst of apparent defeat. It does not require success to assure one of its presence. We can have God’s peace and yet be apparent failures in the world. For look at our Saviour Himself. Look at His position when the words were uttered. The antagonism of the multitude was approaching culmination. Despite His wealth of gracious deeds He was everywhere met with deep and fierce resentment. Even His own disciples pathetically misunderstood His mission. After a training of three years, when He had daily led them into the realm of the Spirit and into communion with the Highest, they had just been quarrelling one with another, “Who should be greatest.” One of the disciples was the victim of greed, and he deliberately sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. The rest of the disciples were becoming fearful, and the mood of desertion was upon them. Crucifixion was at hand. What an apparent failure! From the worldly point of view everything had gone wrong. And yet, in spite of everything, the Lord retained His condition of peace. And so it may be with the Lord’s disciples. The applause of men may not gratify our ears. No worldly garland may be put upon our brow. We may climb unto no high place in the world’s esteem. We may stumble along a painful way, we may be continually jostled and elbowed into the rear of the competing crowd, and yet we may have fundamental “rightness” with God and share with Jesus the condition of heavenly peace.

If Jesus Christ had this peace, then its possession does not make us incapable of sorrow. No; it would be more true to say that this peace makes us more capable of sorrow, for to be right with God is to be sensitive to His joys and sorrows, and to share them. The Master who spake about “My peace” wept over Jerusalem, and His heart was torn by the contemplation of the sins of the city. He wept by the grave of Lazarus as He called to mind the accumulated common sorrows of the world. He wept over the vagrant, aimless multitude, for what is “compassion” but a most refined and delicate form of grief? He saw that the crowd was wayward and vagrant, purposeless, moving here and there in constant danger, and He pitied the crowd with a pity that redeemed it. Thus the Lord had an infinite capacity for sorrow, and yet He was in possession of peace. It is even so with His disciples. The Apostle Paul used words which are seemingly inconsistent with one another, “What sorrow I have!” “What travail!” “How I agonize!” And yet he could also speak of “The peace of God which passeth understanding.” He was fundamentally right with God, but the fountain of tears was not dried up.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?

On Jesus’ bosom naught but peace is found.

And then, in the third place, it is evident that the possession of peace does not banish the possibility of temptation. Our Master, who claimed the possession of peace, was tempted on every side. He had the temptations that besiege the flesh and seek the unlawful gratification of appetite. He had the temptations which assail the mind and seek to entice it to mental presumption. He had the temptations which waylay the soul and seek to seduce it into illicit homage. And these temptations were repeated throughout His life. He was essentially at one with the Father, and yet temptations were never away from His door. It is well for us to remember this. We are sometimes inclined to suspect the reality of our union with God by the number and prevalence of our snares. We are apt to regard our temptations as signs of our detachment from the Master. We may be at peace when temptations crowd the field. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” God’s saints have in all generations sat at that table, and their souls have been filled with holy laughter in the confidence of their God.

Now this wonderful peace is the gift of the Lord Jesus. “I give unto you.” All that is requisite for us to possess the gift is in the power of the Lord Jesus. In Him we have the forgiveness of sin. In Him we obtain the mystic union with our God. In Him we find the secret strength of holy continuance. All are “His and His alone.” This peace is not the perquisite of some particular temperament. It is not the attainment of painful effort and service. It is not the refined fruit of prolonged culture. It is a legacy. “Peace I leave with you.” It is a gift; “My peace I give unto you.” “He is our peace.”

And there are two ways in which this gift of peace differs from the gifts of the world. In the first place, it differs in the matter of the gift. When the world seeks to give peace it addresses itself to conditions; the Lord addresses Himself to character. The world deals with things; the Lord deals with kinships. The world keeps in the material realm; Jesus Christ moves in the spiritual realm. The world offers to put us into a fine house; the Lord offers to make a fine tenant. The world will introduce us into “fine society”; Jesus will make us at home with God.

In the second place, our Lord differs from the world in the manner of His giving. The world always gives its best at the beginning. It offers gaudy garlands, brimming cups, and glittering crowns. “But knowest thou not it shall be bitterness in the latter end?” It makes an imposing fire, but we are speedily left with the ashes. It leads us to a showy feast, but we soon encounter aches and pains. It blinds us with the “garish day”; then come chill twilight and uncompanionable night. “Not as the world giveth give I.” He keeps His good wine until last. He leads us from grace to grace, from faith to faith, from glory to glory. “Greater things than these shall we see.” His gifts grow deeper, richer, fuller, right through the eternal years.

IX

SEEKING THE BEST

THE Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls.” This sentence gives us one great characteristic of the kingly life, for the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Heaven are the kingly men and women. They move in great stateliness through the Word of God. They are distinguished by humility and dignity, by a certain retirement which is allied with the most mysterious glory. Great images are used to suggest the greatness of their character. They move in impressive lordship and liberty. They are kings and priests unto God. And here I say is one of their distinctions; they are seeking goodly pearls.

And so the kingly life is a life in quest of big things. Everyone is painfully familiar with the temptation to fritter away life in interests that are small and mean. There are many Scriptural types of the wasteful and belittled life. There are those who spend their strength in seeking money. The concentrated purpose of their days is a quest for gold. They are zealous for artificial gems and they miss the goodly pearls. Judas Iscariot had the priceless privilege of communion with his Lord. He had the incomparable glory of living with the Master day by day—the opportunity of entering into the “inheritance of the saints in light,” and he used his privilege in the quest for money, and all that he got out of his supreme advantage was thirty pieces of silver. He missed the pearls.

And here is another Scriptural type described as “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” They sought the transitory rather than the eternal. They were more intent upon the carnal than the Divine. They were out seeking rockets and ignoring dawns. All that they got from life was a transient flash. They missed the goodly pearl.

Here is another from the Scriptural gallery of disastrous failures. “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present evil world.” Think of that man’s opportunity! He had the privilege of the fellowship of the Apostle Paul, but he “loved the garish day,” and he preferred glamour to serenity and a loud sensation to an ideal friendship. The world offered a Bohemian hour, and he took it, and the end thereof was found in. the white, cold ashes of moral defeat. Thus life is frittered away on a thousand trifles, and at the end of the restless quest we have no pearls.

Now the big things of life belong to the realm of spirit and character. It is in the region of the soul that we find the pearls. The really goodly things, the big things, are inside and not outside the man. The big thing is not luxury, but contentment; not a big house, but a big satisfaction; not accumulated art treasures, but a fine, artistic appreciation; not a big library, but a serene studiousness; not a big estate, but a large vision. The big things are not “the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen.” “Seek peace and ensue it.” “Seek the things that are above.” “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Such are the goodly pearls.

But the quest of the kingly man is not only for the big things—it is for the bigger things among the big, and for the biggest among them all. The merchantman was not only in search of goodly pearls; he discriminated among the values of pearls, and he knew when he had found “one pearl of great price.” There are gradations of value even among good things. There are pearls and better pearls, and the true king in life is known by his pursuit of the best. Knowledge is a good thing, the mastery of the secrets of the visible world; wisdom is a better thing, the possession of fine judgment and delicate intuition, of moral and spiritual discernment. Acquaintance is a good thing; friendship is a better thing; love is the best thing. The respect of others is a good thing; self-respect is a better thing; a fine, untroubled conscience is the best thing. Love for our lovers is a good thing; love for our neighbours is a better thing; love for our enemies is the best thing. There are pearls and there are pearls of great price. And so this, I say, is a mark of the children of the kingdom. They are always in quest of something beyond. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I press on.” There is ever a height beyond, a better pearl still to win. “Glories upon glories hath our God prepared, by the souls that love Him one day to be shared.” Such is the aim of the kingly quest. It is in search of the goodliest among the goodly pearls.

Now let us look at the quality of the quest. A kingly man is “like unto a merchantman.” So the pearls are not found by the loafer, by the mere strolling fiddler along life’s way. We are to have the characteristics of business men, even when we are engaged in the affairs of the Highest. If only we assume that requirement as an essential condition of the Kingdom of Heaven, a thousand religious failures will be at once explained. The majority of us are about as little like merchantmen in our religious life as could be very well conceived. And yet this is the Master’s demand. We are to be business-like in our search for pearls. And if we are to be business-like what will be some of our characteristics?

First of all, we shall have breadth of outlook. A good merchant has an eye for new markets, for fresh opportunities in new fields. He watches drifts and tendencies, movements of population, and he is the alert friend of every new discovery. His eyes roam over wide areas in quest of new openings to push his trade. And so it is in the Kingdom of Heaven. The man of the kingly life must seek his pearls in many markets and over wide fields. He must seek them in worship and in prayer and in praise. He must look for them in the crowded places of human fellowship. He must search the wide expanse of literature. He must busy himself with the treasures of history. He must be curious in the bright domain of wit and humour. He must be wakeful even on the battlefield, when he is in combat with hostile forces, as well as in the quieter places of human service and communion. He must assume that anywhere and everywhere he may find a goodly pearl. So he must have an eye for markets at every hour of the day and amid all the change and varieties of human experience. This he must do if he would be a “merchantman seeking goodly pearls.”

And, secondly, he must have the ability to fix attention on details. The vision of a merchantman is not only telescopic, it is microscopic. “He lets nothing escape him.” He knows the weight and force of apparent nothings; he knows the value of seeming trifles. He often finds his treasure in things that other men despise or throw away. He is very inquisitive when he finds apparent waste, if by chance he may turn it into gold. So must it be in the quest for the goodly pearls of the Kingdom. We must give keen attention to the neglected trifles of life. Lowly duties must be carefully scanned. Small disappointments must be examined as though they were dark caskets containing possible treasure. Even commonplace courtesies must not be scouted, but must be regarded as a possible hiding place of priceless gems. The Master Himself described the man of fine quest as being “faithful in that which is least.” He does little things in a great way, and he makes great discoveries in doing them.

Thirdly, the kingly life must be distinguished by method and order. A fine business man must have method in his work. He has not only principles, he has rules; he has not only a general system, he has a detailed order. Men who have no method are soon compelled to close their doors. And so it is in the life of the Kingdom of Heaven. We do not stroll carelessly up to the pearls and find them in some haphazard and vagrant loitering. No man lounges into any treasure that is worth having. And that is why so many of us are very poor in the things of the Kingdom. We have no order and method, and the work of one hour is undone by the hour that succeeds it. Look at our prayers. How unmethodical and disorderly? Are they likely to find any pearls? Look at our worship. How little intelligent quest is in it! Is it likely to discover any pearls? Look at our service. How careless it often is and how pointless and unprepared! There are abundant signs that even our Lord Himself regulated His life and refused to allow it to frivol away in indefinite purpose and desire.

Lastly, the man in search of goodly pearls must be distinguished by decision. A competent merchantman knows when to act, and at the decisive moment he acts with commanding promptness. He watches circumstances when they are ripening, and at the proper moment he plucks the fruit. There are times in a business man’s life when promptness requires great courage. There is a demand for risk and speculation and untried enterprise, and timidity would let the promising circumstance go by and lose its bounty. So is it in the Kingdom of Heaven. Here, too, there are “tides in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, lead on to fortune.” It is a great thing to know when the hour is ripe for decision. It is one of the fine arts of living to know when to act upon an impulse, and when to accept the hints of emotion as the signs of a favouring gale. Here again our Lord is our example. He was very patient, but He was always very decisive. No one could move Him before the appointed time. No one could stop Him when He said, “The hour has come.” Such is to be the quality of our quest. We are to be like merchantmen, broad in outlook, vigilant for detail, intelligent in method, and decisive in action.

With such a spirit we shall undoubtedly discover the goodly pearls, and we shall discover the best of all, “the pearl of great price.” But for that pearl we may have to sell many others. What are we prepared to give for it? What are we ready to surrender? According to our consecrated enterprise will be our holy gains. If we refuse to part with Mammon we can never possess the Lord. If we contentedly hug the good we can never gain the better. If we take our ease in the realm of the better we can never enter the best. What are we ready to lose for Christ?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my life, my soul, my all.

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