PEACE: TRUE AND FALSE
Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
Inasmuch as salvation is the bringing of a sinful creature into right relations to God, it necessarily follows that that salvation, in all its parts, must ever be viewed from two sides: the Divine and the human. God is the Savior, a human being the one saved. In the work of salvation, God does not deal with fallen men as inanimate and irresponsible entities, but as moral and accountable agents. The power which He puts forth in the realm of grace is quite different from that which He exerts in the sphere of material creation: the one is spiritual, the other is physical. God works in us so that we are moved to will and to do of His good pleasure. Thus, by noting the effects produced through us, we are able to trace the cause wrought in us: the fruit attests the root.
Inasmuch as salvation is the bringing of a sinful creature into right relations with God, it necessarily follows that that salvation, is both an objective and a subjective thing; that is to say, it is both legal and experimental. Or, in simpler language still, it is both something which is done for us and something which is wrought in us. A salvation effected by a vicarious satisfaction rendered to the Law, but which left the sinner unchanged personally, would be a salvation at the expense of holiness. On the other hand, a salvation which effected the requisite change in the sinner but ignored the demands of the Law, would be a salvation at the expense of justice. Thus, justification and sanctification are inseparable.
Inasmuch as salvation is the bringing of a sinful creature into right relations to God, it necessarily follows that for peace to be adequately established, both the claims of Divine justice and of Divine holiness must be met and maintained. Now this is only another way of saying that the wrath of God must be appeased, and also that the enmity of men must be slain: the curse of the law must be removed, and a love for the law implanted in the human heart. The sword of Divine justice must be sheathed, and the sinner must be made to throw down the weapons of his rebellion against the Law-Giver. Nothing short of this could be a satisfactory peace between the Creator and the creature. "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). No indeed. Then what fellowship can there possibly be between a guilty rebel and a righteous but frowning Judge? Sin has severed the friendship which originally existed between the Creator and His creatures. As it is written, "But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their Enemy, and He fought against them" (Isaiah 63:10).
In consequence of this, "he who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36): note the present tense—the holy indignation of God will not only be upon the wicked in the Lake of Fire, but it rests upon them now; it cannot be otherwise, for "the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18). "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
"Their enmity against God does not lie still, but they are exceedingly active in it. They are engaged in a war against God. Indeed they cannot hurt God, He is so much above them; but they do what they can. They oppose themselves to His honor and glory: they oppose themselves to the interests of His kingdom in this world: they oppose themselves to the will and command of God: they oppose Him in His government. While God is doing one thing, they are doing the contrary, and as much as in them lies, counter-working; God seeks one thing, they seek directly the contrary. They list under Satan's banner, and are his willing soldiers" (Jonathan Edwards).
God has a controversy with the world, and bids His sinful and rebellious creatures cease their controversy with Him. Because they will not, He frequently gives signs of His displeasure and portents of the future storm of Divine judgment which shall yet burst upon the wicked and wholly engulf them. Every epidemic of disease, every severe storm on land and sea, every pestilence and famine, every earthquake and flood, is a mark of the Creator's anger, and presages the Day of Judgment. They are Divine calls for men to cease fighting against God, and solemn warnings of His dreadful and future vengeance if they will not.
But God is not only just and righteous, but gracious and merciful. Accordingly He has Himself laid a foundation for sinners to be at peace with Him. This is made known in the Gospel, which is designated "the Gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15). In the Gospel an announcement is made both of what God (in His grace) has done, and of what God (in His holiness) requires from sinful rebels. In that Gospel God has made known the terms upon which amity with Him may be obtained. But, sad to say, we are living in times when the Gospel, like everything else, has been grievously perverted: when that aspect of it which is acceptable to the carnal mind has been made prominent, but when that aspect which is repellent to the flesh has been guiltily concealed. The more clearly God enables the writer to discern this, the more impelled is he to declare and expose it.
There are a great many tracts being circulated today the substance of which purports to give a conversation between an evangelist and some earnest soul who has not yet entered into the full assurance of faith. The latter is represented as "seeking to make his peace with God," whereupon the former flippantly replies, "You are two thousand years too late." The evangelist is then pictured as asking the one to whom he is speaking, to open the Bible and read Colossians 1:20, "Having made peace through the blood of His cross." Then the assertion is made, "All that is required from you is to believe that statement and rest upon the finished work which Christ did for you."
We greatly fear that thousands of precious souls have been fatally deceived by such superficial and faulty dealings with them. First of all, let it be duly recognized that Colossians 1:20 was not addressed to unsaved people, but instead to "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ" (Col. 1:2). Any man who makes it his custom to take the "children's bread" and "cast it to the dogs" at once demonstrates that he is totally unqualified to deal with souls about Divine and eternal matters. O how many such are now running without being sent of God! How many "novices" (1 Tim. 3:6), are bringing the holy Truth of God into disrepute by a fleshly zeal which is not according to knowledge! Far better for "young converts" to keep their mouths closed altogether, than to open them to the dishonor of God. "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:19), is a much disregarded word these days of feverish activity.
In the second place, let the interested and earnest reader (who desires to please the Lord, rather than follow or be admired by men) turn to the book of Acts, and see if the Apostles ever preached to unsaved people anything resembling Colossians 1:20. If that important book be read through, it will be found that the message which the Apostles delivered to promiscuous crowds was radically different from the "evangelistic" preaching of these degenerate days. Even to Cornelius and his household, who had reverently gathered together to hear "all things that were commanded by God," Peter declared "preaching peace by Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all" (Acts 10:36). Peace comes to the sinner not simply by his believing on Christ as "Savior," but first by his bowing to Him as Lord: compare Colossians 2:6.
In the third place, to dwell exclusively on that aspect of truth declared in Colossians 1:20, is to ignore what has been pointed out in the opening paragraphs above, especially the second and third. Colossians 1:20, like Romans 5:1 and Ephesians 2:13-16 treats only of the legal and objective side of the subject, telling of what Christ did for those who repent and believe. But is it right, is it honest, is it pleasing to God, is it helpful to perishing souls, to remain silent upon the experimental side of reconciliation, and to say nothing of what God requires from rebellious men before any of them can have applied to them what Christ did for His people? Such men are either handling the Word of God "deceitfully" (2 Cor. 4:2), or in great ignorance.
In the fourth place, such tracts as we now refer to, and the type of teaching which they embody, betray a sad lack of acquaintance with Holy Writ. In Isaiah 27:5 we find Jehovah Himself saying, "let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me, and he shall make peace with Me." Why that repetition, but that God, in His omniscience foresaw the evangelistic errors of these perilous times! The same teaching is found in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus declared, "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:31-33), which means he cannot be a Christian—see Matthew 28:19, Acts 11:26.
"The way of peace have they not known" (Romans 3:17): not "known" in a practical way—neither approved nor trodden it. The primary reference here is to an experimental ignorance of that way in which men must walk so as to further the good of their neighbors, for "peace" makes for concord and friendship. It is man's ferocity which has filled the world with animosities, murders, rebellions and wars. It has been truly said, "The most savage animals do not destroy so many of their own species to appease their hunger, as man destroys his fellows to satiate his ambition, his revenge, or cupidity" (Robert Haldane). Yet though the primary reference be unto man's relations unto his fellows, these words "the way of peace have they not known" may well be given a higher application. The way of peace is the way that leads to peace.
There are many who have an intellectual acquaintance with the ground of peace with God (namely the perfect satisfaction which Christ made unto Divine law and justice), but it is greatly to be feared that the vast majority of them are total strangers experimentally to the way of peace. How few today even perceive that there must be a zealous renunciation of all those things which have furthered estrangement between God and men. How few today recognize the imperative necessity for casting away the weapons of rebellion against God, the bewailing of our highhanded crimes against Him, and the complete surrender of ourselves to His Lordship. "There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 57:21), and there never will be until they make their peace with their offended Maker.
By "making our peace" with God, we do not mean the performing any works of merit, or doing something which entitles us to His favor. No indeed: that is utterly impossible. Instead, we mean that the sinner must heed the terms of such a verse as, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return (having, in Adam, departed) unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7). God certainly will not pardon our sins while we deliberately remain in them. By "making our peace with God" is meant that the rebel against God's holy Law must truly repent, and until this is done, all the "believing" in the world is useless and worthless.
Genuine repentance is a heart anguish for having despised and flouted the authority of the all-excellent God. It is a ceasing to be at enmity against God, and a becoming at enmity against sin. There cannot be peace with God while we are at peace with sin! We must, by Divine grace, be resolved to war against the world, the flesh, and the Devil, which constitute the trinity of evil—the arch-enemies of the Blessed Trinity. Peace is the unity and concord of men with God, and it is a contradiction in terms to speak of being at peace with Him if I am still striving against Him.
But there are some superficial people who (to their great loss despise the study of "theology") imagine that what has been said above sullies the glory of Christ and detracts from the efficacy of His "finished work." As well might they argue that His present intercession on High does so. What do these people suppose Christ came here to effect? To be the Condoner of sin? To render God less holy? To give a reprieve for the lusts of the flesh? To grant an indulgence for carnal walking? Far, far different was the case. He came here to magnify the Law and make it honorable (Isaiah 42:21), to procure the Holy Spirit to regenerate and sanctify His people (Gal. 3:13, 14), to leave them an example that they should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21).
Christ died not to reconcile God to our sins, but to bring us into the service, love, and enjoyment of God. True, our repentance and reformation would have been useless had not Christ lived and died; yet His atoning sacrifice avails no man who does not repent and surrender to His Lordship. Christ is most honored when His servants teach that He died to save His people from their sins, and (by His Spirit's work) enable them to live holy lives in this present evil world. "And you, who were (not "are"!) once alienated and enemies (to God) in your mind by wicked works, yet now has He reconciled" (Col. 1:21). How? By His Spirit overcoming their enmity, changing their hearts, turning them unto God.
True, our reconciliation to God is no cause of God's reconciliation to us, yet according to the method which He has settled upon as being most agreeable to His glorious Being, to His pure holiness, His hatred of sin, the justice of His government, and the truth of His Word, we cannot say He is actually reconciled to us, until we are to Him. We must learn to distinguish between reconciliation purposed by the Father, purchased by Christ, applied by the Spirit, and appropriated by us through repentance and faith.
"When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them" (1 Thess. 5:3). Those words have something more than a "dispensational" reference: they have a practical application. There are many ill-informed "evangelists" and "personal workers" who are saying "Peace and Safety" to those who give a bare assent to John 3:16, but "sudden destruction" shall yet come both on themselves and on their poor benighted victims.
O my reader, as you value your soul, examine well the "peace" which you fancy you are enjoying. Has it brought to an end your rebellion against God's law, your resistance to the motions of His Spirit, your love of the world, your living to please self? If not, it is a false peace. Throw down the weapons of your wicked warfare against God. "Make peace" with Him before His fury cast you into Hell.
"Take care, my dear friend, to clear away as far as possible everything that would hinder your believing. Now you may depend upon it that going into sin hinders believing. You cannot continue in willful sin and yet become a believer: sin cherished in the heart is an effectual hindrance. A man cannot be tied to a post and yet run away at the same time; if you bind yourself to your sin, you cannot escape. Withdraw at once from evil company— it is very deadly mischief to young seekers. You hear an impressive sermon, but then you go away talking with idle gossips, and you fall into frivolous chit-chat on the Sabbath afternoon: you cannot expect your soul to grow in the right direction under such influences. Get to your knees, get to solitude, get to your God, get to Jesus Christ; this it is that will roll away the stone which blocks the door" (Spurgeon from sermon on John 6:24).