“The peace of God,” says the Apostle, “which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” There are many things in the Gospel to alarm us, many to agitate us, many to transport us, but the end and issue of all these is peace. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.”
It may be asked indeed whether warfare, perplexity, and uncertainty be not the condition of the Christian here below; whether St. Paul himself does not say that he has “the care,” or the anxiety, “of all the Churches, and whether he does not plainly evince and avow in his Epistles to the Galatians and Corinthians much distress of mind? “Without were fightings, within fears.” [2 Cor. vii. 5.]
I grant it; he certainly shows at times much agitation of mind; but consider this. Did you ever look at an expanse of water, and observe the ripples on the surface? Do you think that disturbance penetrates below it? Nay; you have seen or heard of fearful tempests on the sea; scenes of horror and distress, which are in no respect a fit type of an Apostle’s tears or sighings about his flock. Yet even these violent commotions do not reach into the depths.
The foundations of the ocean, the vast realms of water which girdle the earth, are as tranquil and as silent in the storm as in a calm. So is it with the souls of holy men. They have a well of peace springing up within them unfathomable; and though the accidents of the hour may make them seem agitated, yet in their hearts they are not so.
Even Angels joy over sinners repentant, and, as we may therefore suppose, grieve over sinners impenitent – yet who shall say that they have not perfect peace? Even Almighty God Himself deigns to speak of His being grieved, and angry, and rejoicing – yet is He not the unchangeable? And in like manner, to compare human things with divine, St. Paul had perfect peace, as being stayed in soul on God, though the trials of life might vex him.
For, as I have said, the Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not – like some well in a retired and shady place, difficult of access. He is the greater part of his time by himself, and when he is in solitude, that is his real state. What he is when left to himself and to his God, that is his true life. He can bear himself; he can (as it were) joy in himself, for it is the grace of God within him, it is the presence of the Eternal Comforter, in which he joys.
He can bear, he finds it pleasant, to be with himself at all times – “never less alone than when alone.” He can lay his head on his pillow at night, and own in God’s sight, with overflowing heart, that he wants nothing – that he “is full and abounds” – that God has been all things to him, and that nothing is not his which God could give him.
Madonna del Velo by Ambrogio Bergognone c. 1500
More thankfulness, more holiness, more of heaven he needs indeed, but the thought that he can have more is not a thought of trouble, but of joy. It does not interfere with his peace to know that he may grow nearer God. Such is the Christian’s peace, when, with a single heart and the Cross in his eye, he addresses and commends himself to Him with whom the night is as clear as the day. St. Paul says that “the peace of God shall keep our hearts and minds.”
By “keep” is meant “guard,” or “garrison,” our hearts; so as to keep out enemies. And he says, our “hearts and minds” in contrast to what the world sees of us. Many hard things may be said of the Christian, and done against him, but he has a secret preservative or charm, and minds them not.
These are some few suggestions on that character of mind which becomes the followers of Him who was once “born of a pure Virgin,” and who bids them as “newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby.”
The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence, no affectation, no ambition, no singularity; because he has neither hope nor fear about this world. He is serious, sober, discreet, grave, moderate, mild, with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.
There are persons who think religion consists in ecstasies, or in set speeches; he is not of those. And it must be confessed, on the other hand, that there is a common-place state of mind which does show itself calm, composed, and candid, yet is very far from the true Christian temper.
In this day especially it is very easy for men to be benevolent, liberal, and dispassionate. It costs nothing to be dispassionate when you feel nothing, to be cheerful when you have nothing to fear, to be generous or liberal when what you give is not your own, and to be benevolent and considerate when you have no principles and no opinions.
Men nowadays are moderate and equitable, not because the Lord is at hand, but because they do not feel that He is coming. Quietness is a grace, not in itself, only when it is grafted on the stem of faith, zeal, self-abasement, and diligence.
May it be our blessedness, as years go on, to add one grace to another, and advance upward, step by step, neither neglecting the lower after attaining the higher, nor aiming at the higher before attaining the lower. The first grace is faith, the last is love; first comes zeal, afterwards comes loving-kindness; first comes humiliation, then comes peace; first comes diligence, then comes resignation.
May we learn to mature all graces in us – fearing and trembling, watching and repenting, because Christ is coming; joyful, thankful, and careless of the future, because He is come.