“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” - Colossians 3:15
here is something in these words that might surprise us. It might surprise us to find that peace is urged on us as a duty. There can be no duty except where there is a matter of obedience; and it might seem to us that peace is a something over which we have no power. It is a privilege to have peace, but it would appear as if there were no power of control within the mind of a man able to insure that peace for itself “Yet, says the apostle,” let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”
It would seem to us as if peace were as far beyond out own control as happiness. Unquestionably, we are not masters, on our own responsibility, of our own happiness. Happiness is the gratification of every innocent desire; but it is not given to us to insure the gratification of every desire; therefore, happiness is not a duty, and it is nowhere written in the Scripture, “You must be happy.” But we find it written by the Apostle Paul, “Be ye thankful,” implying therefore, that peace is a duty. The apostle says, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts;” from which we infer that peace is attainable, and within the reach of our own wills that if there be not repose there is blame; if there be not peace but discord in the heart, there is something wrong.
This is the more surprising when we remember the circumstances under which these words were written. They were written from Rome, where the apostle lay in prison, daily and hourly expecting a violent death. They were written in days of persecution, when false doctrines were rife, and religious animosities fierce; they were written in an epistle abounding with the most earnest and eager controversy, whereby it is therefore implied, that according to the conception of the Apostle Paul, it is possible for a Christian to live at the very point of death, and in the every midst of danger-that it is possible for him to be breathing the atmosphere of religious controversy-it is possible for him to be surrounded by bitterness, and even take up the pen of controversy himself-and yet his soul shall not lose its own deep peace, nor the power of the infinite repose and rest of God. Joined with the apostle’s command to be at peace, we find another doctrine, the doctrine of the unity of the Church of Christ. “To the which ye are called in one body,” in order that ye may be at peace; in other words, the unity of the Church of Christ is the basis on which, and on which alone, can be built the possibility of the inward peace of individuals.
And thus, my Christian brethren, our subject divides itself into these two simple branches:
I. The unity of the Church of Christ.
II. The inward peace of the members of that Church.
I. The first subject, then, which we have to consider, is the unity of the Church of Christ.
And the first thing we have to do is both clearly to define and understand the meaning of that word “unity.” I distinguish the unity of comprehensiveness from the unity of mere singularity. The word one, as oneness, is an ambiguous word. There is a oneness belonging to the army as well as to every soldier in the army. The army is one, and that is the oneness of unity; the soldier is one, but that is the oneness of the unit. There is a difference between the oneness of a body and the oneness of a member of that body. The body is many, and a unity of manifold comprehensiveness. An arm or a member of a body is one, but that is the unity of singularity. Without unity, my Christian brethren, peace must be impossible. There can be no peace in the one single soldier of an army. You do not speak of the harmony of one member of a body. There is peace in an army, or in kingdom joined with other kingdoms; there is harmony in a member united with other members. There is no peace in a unit, there is no possibility of the harmony of that which is but one in itself. In order to have peace you must have a higher unity, and therein consists the unity of God’s own Being. The unity of God is the basis of the peace of God-meaning by the unity of God the comprehensive manifoldness of God, and not merely the singularity in the number of God’s Being. When the Unitarian speaks of God as one, he means simply singularity of number. We mean that He is of manifold comprehensiveness-that there is unity between His various powers. Amongst the personalities or powers of His Being there is no discord, but perfect harmony, entire union; and that, brethren, is repose, the blessedness of infinite rest, that belongs to the unity of God-“I and my Father are one.”
The second thing which we observe respecting this unity is, that it subsists between things not similar or alike, but things dissimilar or unlike. There is no unity in the separate atoms of a sand-pit; they are things similar; there is an aggregate or collection of them. Even if they be hardened in a mass they are not one, they do not form a unity: they are simply a mass. There is no unity in a flock of sheep: it is simply a repetition of a number of things similar to each other. If you strike off from a thousand five hundred, or if you strike off nine hundred, there is nothing lost of unity, because there never was unity. A flock of one thousand or a flock of five is just as much a flock as any other number.
On the other hand, let us turn to the unity of peace which the apostle speaks of, and we find it is something different; it is made up of dissimilar members, without which dissimilarity there could be no unity. Each is imperfect in itself, each supplying what it has in itself to the deficiencies and wants of the other members. So, if you strike off from this body any one member, if you cut off an arm or tear out an eye, instantly the unity is destroyed; you have no longer an entire and perfect body, there is nothing but a remnant of the whole, a part, a portion; no unity whatever.
This will help us to understand the unity of the Church of Christ. If the ages and the centuries of the Church of Christ, if the different Churches whereof it was composed, if the different members of each Church, were similar-one in this, that they all held the same views, all spoke the same words, all viewed truth from the same side, they would have no unity; but would simply be an aggregate of atoms, the sand-pit over again-units, multiplied it may be to infinity, but you would have no real unity, and therefore no peace. No unity-for wherein consists the unity of the Church of Christ? The unity of ages, brethren, consists it in this that every age is merely the repetition of another age, and that which is held in one is held in another? Precisely in the same way, that is not the unity of the ages of the Christian Church.
Every century and every age has held a different truth, has put forth different fragments of the truth. In early ages, for example, by martyrdom was proclaimed the eternal sanctity of truth, rather than give up which a man must lose his life..... In our own age it is quite plain those are not the themes which engage us, or the truths which we put in force now. This age, by its revolutions, its socialisms, proclaims another truth-the brotherhood of the Church of Christ; so that the unity of ages subsists on the same principle as that of the unity of the human body: and just as every separate ray-the violet, the blue, and the orange make up the white ray, so these manifold fragments of truth blended together make up the one entire and perfect white ray of truth. And with regard to individuals, taking the case of the Reformation, it was given to one Church to proclaim that salvation is a thing received, and not local; to another to proclaim justification by faith; to another the sovereignty of God; to another the supremacy of the Scriptures; to another the right of private judgment, the duty of the individual conscience. Unite these all, and then you have the Reformation one-one in spite of manifoldness; those very varieties by which they have approached this proving them to be one. Disjoint them and then you have some miserable sect-Calvinism, or Unitarianism; the unity has dispersed. And so again with the unity of the Churches. Whereby would we produce unity? Would we force on other Churches our Anglicanism? Would we have our thirty-nine articles, our creeds, our prayers, our rules and regulations, accepted by every Church throughout the world? If that were unity, then in consistency you are bound to demand that in God’s world there shall be but one color instead of the manifold harmony and accordance of which this universe is full; that there should be but one chanted note the one which we conceive most beautiful. This is not the unity of the Church of God. The various Churches advance different doctrines and truths. The Church of Germany something different from those of the Church of England: The Church of Rome, even in its idolatry, proclaims truths which we would be glad to seize. By the worship of the Virgin, the purity of women; by the rigor of ecclesiastical ordinances, the sanctity and permanence of eternal order; by the very priesthood itself, the necessity of the guidance of man by man. Nay, even the dissenting bodies themselves-mere atoms of aggregates as they are-stand forward and proclaim at least this truth, the separateness of the individual conscience, the right of independence.
Peace subsists not between things exactly alike. We do not speak of peace in a single country. We say peace subsists between different countries where war might be. There can be no peace between two men who agree in every thing; peace subsists between those who differ. There is no peace between Baptist and Baptist; so far as they are Baptists, there is perfect accordance and agreement. There may be peace between you and the Romanist, the Jew, or the Dissenter, because there are angles of sharpness which might come into collision if they were not subdued and softened by the power of love. It was given to the Apostle Paul to discern that this was the ground of unity. In the Church of Christ he saw men with different views, and he said, So far from that variety destroying unity, it was the only ground of unity. There are many doctrines, all of them different, but let those varieties be blended together-in other words, let there be the peace of love, and then you will have unity.
Once more: this unity, whereof the apostle speaks, consists in submission to one single influence or spirit. Wherein consists the unity of the body? Consists it not in this-that there is one life uniting, making all the separate members one? Take away the life, and the members fall to pieces: they are no longer one; decomposition begins, and every element separates, no longer having any principle of cohesion or union with the rest.
There is not one of us who, at some time or other, has not been struck with the power there is in a single living influence. Have we never, for instance, felt the power wherewith the orator unites and holds together a thousand men as if they were but one; with flashing eyes and throbbing hearts, all attentive to his words, and by the difference of their attitudes, by the variety of the expressions of their countenances, testifying to the unity of that single living feeling with which he had inspired them? Whether it be indignation, whether it be compassion, or whether it be enthusiasm, that one living influence made the thousand, for the time, one. Have we not heard how, even in this century in which we live, the various and conflicting feelings of the people of this country were concentrated into one, when the threat of foreign invasion had fused down and broken the edges of conflict and variance, and from shore to shore was heard one cry of terrible defiance, and the different classes and orders of this manifold and mighty England were as one? Have we not heard how the mighty winds hold together as if one, the various atoms of the desert, so that they rush like a living thing across the wilderness? And this, brethren, is the unity of the Church of Christ, the subjection to the one uniting Spirit of its God.
It will be said, in reply to this, “Why, this is mere enthusiasm. It may be very beautiful in theory, but it is impossible in practice. It is mere enthusiasm to believe, that while all these varieties of conflicting opinion remain, we can have unity; it is mere enthusiasm to think that so long as men’s minds reckon on a thing like unity, there can be a thing like oneness.” And our reply is, Give us the Spirit of God, and we shall be one. You can not produce a unity by all the rigor of our ecclesiastical discipline. You can not produce a uniting in some form of expression such as this, “Let us agree to differ.” You can not produce a unity by Parliamentary regulations or enactments, bidding back the waves of what is called aggression. Give us the living Spirit of God, and we shall be one.
Once on this earth was exhibited, as it were, a specimen of perfect anticipation of such a unity, when the “rushing mighty wind” of Pentecost came down in the tongues of fire and sat on every man; when the Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, the “Cretes and Arabians,” the Jew and the Gentile, each speaking one language, yet blended and fused into one unity by enthusiastic love, heard one another speak, as it were, in one language, the manifold works of God; when the spirit of giving was substituted for the spirit of mere rivalry and competition, and no man said the things he had were his own, but all shared in common. Let that spirit come again, as come it will, and come it must; and then, beneath the influences of a mighty love, we shall have a nobler and a more real unity.
We pass on now, in the second place, to consider the individual peace resulting from this unity. As we have endeavored to explain what is meant by unity, so now let us endeavor to understand what is meant by peace. Peace, then, is the opposite of passion, and of labor, toil, and effort. Peace is that state in which there are no desires madly demanding an impossible gratification; that state in which there is no misery, no remorse, no sting. And there are but three things which can break that peace. The first is discord between the mind of man and the lot which he is called on to inherit; the second is discord between the affections and powers of the soul; and the third is doubt of the rectitude and justice and love wherewith this world is ordered. But where these things exist not, where a man is contented with his lot, where the flesh is subdued to the spirit, and where he believes and feels with all his heart that all is right, there is peace, and to this, says the apostle, “ye are called”-the grand, peculiar call of Christianity-the call, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
This was the dying bequest of Christ: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth I give unto you:” and therein lies one of the greatest truths of the blessed and eternal character of Christianity, that it applies to, and satisfies the very deepest want and craving of our nature. The deepest want of man is not a desire for happiness, but a craving for peace; not a wish for the gratification of every desire, but a craving for the repose of acquiescence in the will of God; and it is this which Christianity promises. Christianity does not promise happiness, but it does promise peace. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” saith our Master, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Now, let us look more closely into this peace.
The first thing we see respecting it is, that it is called God’s peace. God is rest the infinite nature of God is infinite repose. The “I am” of God is contrasted with the I am become of all other things. Every thing else is in a state of becoming, God is in a state of being. The acorn has become the plant, and the plant has become the oak. The child has become the man, and the man has become good, or wise, or whatever else it may be. God ever is; and I pray, you once more to observe, that this peace of God, this eternal rest in the Almighty Being, arises out of His unity. Not because He is a unit, but because He is a unity. There is no discord between the powers and attributes of the mind of God; there is no discord between His justice and His love, there is no discord demanding some miserable expedient to unite them together, such as some theologians imagined when they described the sacrifice and atonement of our Redeemer by saying, it is the clever expedient whereby God reconciled His justice with His love. God’s justice and love are one. Infinite justice must be infinite love. Justice is but another sign of love. The infinite rest of the “I am” of God arises out of the harmony of His attributes.
This next thing we observe respecting this divine peace which has come down to man on earth is, that it is a living peace. Brethren, let us distinguish. There are several things called peace which are by no means Divine or Godlike peace. There is peace, for example, in the man who lives for and enjoys self with no nobler aspiration goading him on to make him feel the rest of God; that is peace, but that is merely the peace of toil. There is rest on the surface of the caverned lake, which no wind can stir; but that is the peace of stagnation. There is peace amongst the stones which have fallen and rolled down the mountain’s side, and lie there quietly at rest; but that is the peace of inanity. There is peace in the hearts of enemies who lie together, side by side, in the same trench of the battle-field, the animosities of their souls silenced at length, and their hands no longer clenched in deadly enmity against each other; but that is the peace of death. If our peace be but the peace of the sensualist satisfying pleasure, if it be but the peace of mental torpor and inaction, the peace of apathy, or the peace of the soul dead in trespasses and sins, we may whisper to ourselves, “Peace, peace,” but them will be no peace; there is not the peace of unity nor the peace of God, for the peace of God is the living peace of love.
The next thing we observe respecting this peace is, that it is the manifestation of power-it is the peace which comes from an inward power: “Let the peace of God,” says the apostle, “rule within your hearts.” For it is a power, the manifestation of strength. There is no peace except there is the possibility of the opposite of peace, although now restrained and controlled. You do not speak of the peace of a grain of sand, because it can not be otherwise than merely insignificant, and at rest. You do not speak of the peace of a mere pond; you speak of the peace of the sea, because there is the opposite of peace implied, there is power amid strength. And this, brethren, is the real character of the peace in the mind and soul of man. Oh! we make a great mistake when we say there is strength in passion, in the exhibition of emotion. Passion, and emotion, and all those outward manifestations, prove, not strength, but weakness. If the passions of a man are strong, it proves the man himself is weak if be can not restrain or control his passions. The real strength and majesty of the soul of man is calmness, the manifestation of strength; “the peace of God” ruling; the word of Christ saying to the inward storms, “Peace!” and there is “a great calm.”
Lastly, the peace of which the apostle speaks is the peace that is received-the peace of reception. You will observe, throughout this passage the apostle speaks of a something received, and not done: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” It is throughout receptive, but by no means inactive. And according to this, there are two kinds of peace; the peace of obedience-“Let the peace of God rule” you; and there is the peace of gratefulness-“Be ye thankful.” Very great, brethren, is the peace of obedience: when a man has his lot fixed, and his mind made up, and be sees his destiny before him, and quietly acquiesces in it, his spirit is at rest. Great and deep is the peace of the soldier to whom has been assigned even an untenable position, with the command, “Keep that, even if you die,” and he obediently remains to die.
Great was the peace of Elisha-very, very calm are those words by which he expressed his acquiescence in the Divine will. “Knowest thou,” said the troubled, excited, and restless men around him-“Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to-day?” He answered, “Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.” Then there is the other peace, it is the peace of gratefulness: “Be ye thankful.” It is that peace which the Israelites had when these words were spoken to them on the shores of the Red Sea, while the bodies of their enemies floated past them, destroyed, but not by them: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
And here, brethren, is another mistake of ours: we look on salvation as a thing to be done, and not received. In God’s salvation we can do but little, but there is a great deal to be received. We are here, not merely to act, but to be acted upon. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts;” there is a peace that will enter there, if you do not thwart it; there is a Spirit that will take possession of your soul, provided that you do not quench it. In this world we are recipients, not creators. In obedience and in gratefulness, and the infinite peace of God in the soul of man, is alone to be found deep calm repose.