I. The peace which Christ preaches is the result of His conflict and victory on the cross
In the passage from which my text is taken, it is first said that Christ “made peace,” and then that He “preached peace.” And this is very important to be noted. He did not make peace by declaring it; He declared it because He had made it. Men often put words before deeds, and promises before performances; but Christ never does. His work stands ever as the solid background of His word. What He promises to us is always backed and buttressed by what He has performed for us.
Now, I think the great mistake which superficial readers of the New Testament make about the gospel is, that they do not recognise the antecedent relation of Christ’s work to His gifts and promises. The scheme of salvation which they deduce from the Scriptures is deficient in this, that it lacks perspective, if I may say so; like a Chinese picture, in which all the objects are in the foreground, with no relief of darker shades and deeper lines, so that they see Christ’s peace and pardon as the prominent things in the gospel, without seeing the cross, the punishment of sin, the battle with death, and the bloody victory over the powers of darkness, which constitute the groundwork of this peace.
Why cannot God pardon sin, and give the sinner peace, it is asked, without the intervention of atonement? When your child has offended, and is sorry, and asks forgiveness, you do not feel obliged to require one of the other children to stand as substitute for him, and to receive the chastisement that belongs to him, before you can consent to pardon him; and why should God require such a condition? Well, perhaps the family is not a perfect picture of the universe. There may be holy spectators to the scene of human guilt to whom it may be needful to make an exhibition of God’s hatred of sin. There may be other worlds than ours which have heard of God’s ancient decree, ” The soul that sinneth it shall die,” and before whom a righteous God must show Himself true to His word.
There is much of mystery about the punishment of sin, as there is about the origin of sin. We do not profess to solve the mystery. But, since human relationships have been referred to, we do assert that in the dealing of man with man it is constantly found impossible to forgive and remit the penalty of wrong-doing. When a man in the highest circles of society has committed forgery, and confesses his crime, and is deeply penitent, declaring that he did it under the pressure of overwhelming and well-nigh irresistible temptation, why cannot the governor pardon him at once? Ah! there is the sanctity of law, which he is sworn to protect; there are the claims of justice, which must be vindicated; there is public sentiment, watching with its hundred jealous eyes, which he dare not defy. Hence, however deeply the heart of the chief magistrate may be touched at the sorrow of the offender and the distress of his family, he cannot, he dare not pardon him. And so I take the question which is often asked, and asked with an assurance which implies that it settles the whole controversy, “Is God less merciful than man?” I answer, No! He is infinitely more merciful. He can pardon where man can only punish. He can make heaven’s doors swing open to men whose prison doors we dare not open. He can accept men in the other world whom we have been obliged to swing out of this world on a gallows. Ay; man can be merciful where the claims of justice do not forbid; but only of God can that magnificent thing be said, that He is “just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”
To come back now to the point which I am emphasizing. The thing which we want as sinners is peace with God. And I say to you now, with the fullest confidence in the truth of what I utter, that that peace may be yours, on this very day, and at this very hour, if you will accept it. It is not a peace which is fenced about by hard conditions. It is not a peace that has to be wrung from God’s hand by any prolonged toil and agony of soul. It is yours, if by the simplest exercise of faith you will receive it. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But, while this is all true, it is equally true that, on Christ’s part, that peace is at the cost of unutterable toil and conflict. Pluck the fruit of peace with God, O sinner! — it is ripe and ready to drop into your soul at the gentlest touch of faith. But, oh, forget not that the only tree in the universe that yields that peace is the cross of Christ. And that tree is a tree of life to us only because it was a tree of death to Christ. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations, only because He was punished there “by whose stripes ye were healed.” It gives peace to the world now, only because there the Captain of our salvation fought with death and conquered for us. And this is the answer we would make those who object to the terms of peace which we propose, on the ground that they make no demand for heroic endeavour on our part; that they lay no necessity on us for spiritual effort and toil; that they call for surrender instead of conflict and valour. Yes; but there was conflict enough on the part of the Redeemer to purchase that peace for us. If it is a free gift to us, it was costly enough for Him.
When Caesar had bestowed a rare present upon one of his friends, the recipient of the gift said to him, “This is too costly a gift for me to receive.” — “But it is not too costly for me to give,” said the Emperor. The peace of God may be too costly a gift for us to receive, for the mere taking of it; but it is not too costly for Christ to give. He earned it, if we are not required to earn it. He paid enough for it, though it is without money and without price to us. No, we are not mistaken in saying that peace is proclaimed from the cross of Christ, and that it can come to you through a single look at that cross. But let us go around to the back side of the cross and study the awful conflict that was behind this front of blessed peace. We shall find that each benediction that is offered to us is rooted in the exceeding sorrow of Him who for our sakes was made a curse. We shall find that each thread in that robe of righteousness that is put on us was wrought by His bleeding toil who was made sin for us, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” And thus we shall learn anew that Christ preached peace to us only because by His death He had conquered peace for us. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” It costs us only faith to be justified. “Being justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” It cost Christ His own blood to justify us. “My peace I give unto you,” says Jesus. — Nothing for us to do but simply to take it. “Having slain the enmity by the cross, so making peace,” that is what it cost Christ to give us peace. And that great price must always be kept before us, lest we lightly esteem our peace. And, more, it must be always kept before us, that we may be assured of the solid ground on which that peace rests.
Have you ever noticed as bearing on this point that inimitable description of Christ’s first announcement of His peace after His resurrection? If an ambassador were to go to a rebellious people, carrying the tidings of peace, he would be likely first to announce the proclamation of peace, and then to show them the written documents and credentials to support it. So did Jesus. He had just risen from the dead. “And at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, then came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed them His hands and His side.” Yes, Thou mighty ambassador from God! These were the proofs and credentials of Thy peace! These scars of Thy conflict are our security. These marks of Thy passion are our title-deeds of peace; these nail-prints and spear-marks are our certificates to assure us that Thy ransom was accepted when Thou didst offer up Thyself without spot unto God. Here, then, O believer, is the ground on which your assurance rests. Christ’s conflict, waged for us, and waged to the end, is the present and eternal security for our entering into peace. And when that gentle benediction is let fall upon your heads, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” remember that that benediction rests upon the accomplished and eternal fact that ” the God of peace hath brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, in the blood of the Everlasting Covenant.”
Observe again, that —
II. The peace which Christ preached has its security now in the person of Christ on the throne
For in this connection we find it said not only that He “made peace,” but that “He is our peace.” This, you see, refers to His person, as the other expression refers to His work. And this again corresponds with what is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews in regard to Christ’s present office, — He has gone “into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us;” not to do for us or to die for us any more, but to appear for us, to present Himself to God on our behalf. Since, then, He Who is our peace is there, our assurance of faith depends not upon that clear, discriminating inlook by which we can say, “I see where I stand,” but upon that penetrating and unclouded uplook by which, with the dying Stephen, we can say, “I see Jesus standing at the right of God.”
Understand what I mean. It is the external fact that gives value and certainty to inward experience, and not vice versa. If you are a believer, you have “Christ in you the hope of glory;” but Christ in you is but the appropriation and realization of that unchanging fact of Christ for you on the throne. Therefore no inner experience is of any value which does not come to us as the apprehension and transcript of this outward reality. And to fix your faith on Christ within you as the basis of your assurance were like the astronomer pointing his telescope to the reflection of a star in the water, instead of pointing it to the star itself in the heavens.
I am not disparaging Christian experience, or undervaluing the testimony of consciousness for establishing the believer’s peace; only it is not sufficient of itself. Feeling may be the reflection of feeling, emotion the reflection of emotion, all beginning and ending in the heart itself. One, by too habitual attention to his frames and feelings, can turn his soul into a whispering-gallery for echoing, and resounding his own emotions, instead of making it, as he ought, an oratory for receiving and recording communications from the Lord. There is no authority in feeling. There is no infallibility in consciousness. The “I am” and the “I say” of our Lord are our final appeal, and ever must be. And it is faith’s supreme office to transform that which is true for us in Christ into something true, and living, and real, in our own experience. It strikes the revealed and indisputable fact of what Christ is, and reasons down to what we are by virtue of our union with Him through faith. “As He is, so are we in this world,” says John. And we are not to reverse God’s method, and in searching for peace to gather up the hints and intimations which we find in our own hearts, and frame them into an assurance. We are to grasp the great central fact of Christ our peace, and rest in it as the end of all controversy, — no longer trying to make peace or to keep peace with God, but letting the peace of God that passeth all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Have we sufficiently noticed how the Scriptures, in seeking to assure us of our standing as Christians, take our eyes away from ourselves and carry our vision always up to the risen Lord upon the throne? Hear Paul. “Who is he that condemneth?” And what follows as the ground of his exulting challenge? Does he appeal to the testimony of an unwavering personal conviction? Does He bring forward the evidence of a clear conscience? No. “Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God.” He knew not simply that he had believed, but he knew whom he had believed. And the sight of His radiant, glorified form above, was for him the end of all controversy. He knew that God’s eye, resting on His Son, saw an adequate reason for the salvation of every believing soul, and he rested and riveted his eye upon the same object, and challenged the world to shake him from his confidence.
There stands our Redeemer, preaching peace, not by what He says, but by what He is. O brethren, it is not the eloquence of fervid speech and pathetic intercession by which He pleads our cause. “He is our peace.” The ineffaceable wounds of His passion and His obedience unto death are sufficient. His scars are our security; His crucifixion marks are our credentials. He need not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets of the New Jerusalem. He, He Himself, is there, and that is enough. And from all the tumult and perplexity of a troubled conscience we may lift up our eyes to Him, saying, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at Thy right hand I shall not be moved.” I am persuaded that it is at just this point that we most frequently pervert the simplicity of the gospel. We want to believe because we feel, when God wants us to feel because we believe, and to believe because of what Christ is and has done. Our faith should rest on His word, as His written or spoken word rests upon Himself, the living Word.
Now, it seems to me that when it is said of Christ that “He is our peace,” it is an expression that comprehends all else that is said about Him. For in His glorified person we have a “summary of His whole redemptive work. The scars of His vicarious woe, still visible on His body, are the perpetual reiteration of His atonement; the unchanged and unchangeable human form which He for ever wears is the archive in which all He has done and suffered for us is treasured up. Think of that sublime definition of Himself which He gives from the throne: ‘I am He that liveth and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore.’ — ‘Was dead’ points backward to the cross and the sacrifice, never to be forgotten and never to lose its power in all the endless years. ‘Alive for evermore’ tells of the glorified life to which the Master taught us to fasten our hope, when He said, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ All past, present, and future are contained in this definition. Let us see, then, how it meets our needs. I stand looking towards the throne, guilty and trembling, and asking the question, ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in His holy place?’ And the answer comes, ‘He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.’ I look at my hands, and they are unclean. The stain of countless wrong-doing is upon them. I look at my heart; it is all impure. The gilt of untold sinful thoughts and motives is there. And, no matter how long and how intently I look, the case grows worse and worse, and I get no comfort. But from self I look up, and “‘Lo, in the midst of the throne’ there stands ‘a Lamb as it had been slain.’ I know Him; I accept Him; I believe in Him; and I am at peace. For this is He that was dead. By His death we have the blood that cleanseth from all sin. And through this blood I have clean hands and a pure heart. I stand no longer afar off, smiting on my breast. I hear the summons, and I obey it: ‘Having, therefore, brethren, bo1dness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw nigh with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.'”
This is what a look of faith towards Him, who is “our peace,” can do for us. And this is what I mean by Christ’s glorified body containing in itself a summary of His redemptive work. He comprehends all His past in His present living personality. We drop our former years one by one, and they perish. He gathers up all the years of His redeeming toil and travail spent on earth, and lives them in perpetual offering in heaven. As the tree gathers up all the growths of successive summers, and contains them in its trunk, so Christ, in His ever-living person, is all that He ever has been, and preserves all for our redemption that He has ever done. I see peace written in His cross, written in His blood, written in His words; but in His exalted and enthroned person I read it as in a living word that sums up all other expressions in one, “For He is our peace.”
See, then, O believer, how every question concerning your peace with God is answered there. Did Christ die for your sins, proffering to God His own blood as the price of your redemption? How know you that the price has been accepted? There is the receipt in the throned and glorified One above. Did Christ conquer death and the grave for you? How know you that that conquest is complete? There is the indisputable evidence of it, the Victor returned from the conquest, having “led captivity captive.” There is no question touching our peace that is not answered there.
And now this peace is preached “to you which are afar off, and to them which were nigh,” that is, to both Gentiles and Jews. We Gentiles were once afar from God, strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus are we not only “made nigh by the blood of Christ,” — as nigh as the Jew ever was, — but as members of that “new man,” taken from both Jew and Gentile, we are brought into a nearness to God which the Jew knew nothing of. We are brought into His very presence-chamber, where we can speak to Him face to face, and hold with Him direct and unhindered communion; “for through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
Such, O believer, is your heritage. And now let this peace of God rule within you, making you strong and victorious in all your conflicts with temptation, while you wait for the day when “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet.”