Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
ONE DAY as I walked through the crowded streets of Edinburgh I came upon two small boys fighting. The fists were tiny but were doing severe damage. The onlookers were curious but passive. I stepped between the lads and asked in my alien accent, "Why are you fighting?" A stream of braid Scots issued from both mouths simultaneously and incomprehensibly (to me). "If I gave each of you a penny," I asked, "would you stop?" They nodded eagerly. With some solemnity I handed out the coins and stipulated, "Now shake hands with one another." Instead they fell into each other's arms and went frisking down the street, leaving me to reflect uneasily upon the ethics of my action.
Peacemaking is a divine activity according to Jesus. But does peacemaking consist in breaking up fights with
bribes or compromises or cajolings or threats of force? Is there some other meaning to our Beatitude that dooes not appear upon the surface? Is our Lord saying "Well done" to my little intervention in Edinburgh, or is there a more profound theological significance to the peacemaking that needs to be brought to light? It was evident to me at the time that something was missing. I had gone the first mile and had stopped the "battle," but I had not really made peace, I had only brought an armistice.
Jesus says that there is a second mile; that God never intended to leave us clinging to the Cross. Good Friday leads to Easter. The Resurrection is ours also. We have "the sentence of death in ourselves" (2 Corinthians 1:9) only in order that we may be delivered to a new life of righteousness and usefulness in Christ. The fruit of righteousness, according to James, is first sown by the peacemakers (3:18). To live the Christian life, then, is to follow peacemaking, and we had better find out what the Beatitude means.
Does it mean we are to seek disarmament in the world? Are we to bend our energies toward pacts in the Middle East, the reunification of Germany, the abandonment of nuclear and missile development, coexistence with Communism and the strengthening of the United Nations? Certainly it means this: that before a man can make peace with anyone, he must first establish peace with God and with himself.
Let us go back to what we discovered earlier: that the Beatitudes are not simply platitudes and axioms of virtuous behavior. They are really descriptions of Jesus Christ.
What He taught, He lived and was. In discussing the peacemaker, Christ is first of all painting a portrait of Himself, and then depicting the "blessed" in whom His Spirit dwells. He is not only the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), He is our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). Yet He deliberately chose not to set Himself up as an arbitrator or umpire between men, such as we might expect a peacemaker to be ("Who made me a judge or a divider over you?" [Luke 12:14]).
The very expression "peacemaker" is a curious one. Edward L. R. Elson, in a sermon preached before the Queen of England and the President of the United States, suggested that in this Beatitude Jesus did not extend the blessing to include the peaceful, the peace-lovers, the peaceable, the peace-speakers, peace-wishers, or pacifists. He blessed the peace-makers. But the maker of peace is not the one who merely steps between two fighters. The maker of peace is the one who brings about reconciliation. The Treaty of Versailles was not peace, nor was the truce of Panmunjom. In all the history of the human race there has been only one real peace treaty. That was at Calvary, where "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." There was peace; all else has been but a confusion of bloody battles with occasional truces, armistices, and pauses for breath and ammunition.
Jesus Christ brings peace through the Cross. He reconciles man to Himself, and He reconciles men with each other and he reconciles all to God. He restores the divine fellowship that was broken by our stubbornness,
fear and pride. He reaches out with a love that saves, and bids us take hold. He removes our guilt and nullifies the sentence by proclaiming an amnesty. "Turn in your weapons and go home," He says, "The battle is over. Peace has been declared."
Obviously the peace of Jesus is not something that is related directly to the agenda of some "summit meeting." Such meetings remain important; we have our "first-mile" obligation to do all that we can as good citizens to live peaceably with all men. Yet Jesus Christ always goes beyond to the "second mile," which is above and beyond the call of duty. His will is not simply to stop nuclear testing, or segregation; His will is to bring in the whole Kingdom of God through sacrifice.
The true peacemaker is not just the discriminating voter, not just the citizen who breaks up quarrels or the statesman who quells aggression by stripping nations of their war potential. The true peacemaker is the reconciler who offers his own life for the peace of the brethren, and whose own peace pact was signed at a "summit meeting" on a hill outside Jerusalem.
* * * * * * *
Robert E. Fitch has given us an interesting definition of a pietist. A pietist (whether in religion or science), he says, is one who proposes simple solutions to complex problems, who sees all issues naïvely and out of context, and who makes absolute moral judgments when the need is for compromise and adjustment. And he adds that if
the pietist is allowed to have his way, he will either purge the world or destroy it.
The astonishing fact about this statement is that it fits the New Testament description of Jesus Christ. The Gospels tell us of a Man who is simple, naïve, and absolute in matters of faith and conduct. He cuts through the snarl of our ambiguities as Alexander severed the Gordian knot. "Have salt in yourselves," He says, "and have peace one with another" (Mark 9:50). Thus He disposes of the whole war question from Galilee to the moon. Imperialism? Race? Economic dislocation? Bombs? Refugees? He leaves no blueprints and establishes no principles except two: "Love God" and "Love your neighbor."
It is time for us to ask, therefore, what kind of peacemaker Jesus Christ is. His words are well known: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (John 14:27). It is obvious that He is not speaking of world peace, but what other kind of peace is there? How is it made? And what good is it?
Let us take another look at the Beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God," or to speak more exactly, "the sons of God." No other Beatitude has quite the same ending; our Lord must have had a special reason for choosing it. Like father, like son. Peacemakers are called sons of God because they resemble their Father, who must therefore be The Peacemaker. What Jesus is suggesting, then, is
"Blessed be God the Father, who makes peace, and blessed are all who follow His divine pattern."
All through Scripture there are overtones and nuances that reflect the godly origin of peace. To Isaiah God is most explicit: "I am the Lord, . . . I make peace" (45:5, 7). Jeremiah declares that not only does He make peace, He breaks it: "I have taken away my peace from this people, saith the Lord" (16:5). Peace comes through the sanctuary, says Haggai: "I will fill this house with glory . . . and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts" (2:7, 9). Paul strengthens the unilateral view of peace-making: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). When we settle accounts with God, when we "make our peace" with Him, says the apostle, it is really the Lord who makes His peace with us through Jesus Christ.
There is no use trying to resolve the paradox. On the shadow side of salvation it always seems as if we are doing it all; we groan and pray and strain after the Lord. But on the sunlit side it is always God, God all the way, God who "separated me from my mother's womb," God whose Holy Spirit draws men to Him in His own time, and who has been in complete command from the start.
If the world does not know peace today it is because it does not know God. Millions of young Americans and Europeans and Asians are being taught daily that it is quite impossible to believe in God. He is "no longer a useful hypothesis." He is the "opiate of the people." He is
"a projection of the father-complex." He is a supernatural gimmick invented to keep society within bounds. He is an outmoded etiological configuration belonging to the childhood of the race. He is an artifact in the museum of the department of anthropology. God, said Nietzsche, is dead.
How tragic to grow up thus educated to live in delusion and to die without hope! What are we Christians doing about it? Shall we wait until the Iron Curtain is melted to proclaim, "But now is Christ risen from the dead"?
Let us take heart; it is Nietzsche who is dead, not God. We know our Lord to be a living Lord because we have received His Spirit, and we know He is the Author of Peace because of the words of Jesus Christ: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace" (John 16:33). It may well be peace in the midst of tribulation, it may be the hush at the vortex of a tornado, but it is still a peace that passes all understanding.
Jesus foresaw not world peace but wars and rumors of war. The New Testament pictures of the end of things are not gentle. We are reminded again of Robert Fitch's prophetic words, "If the pietist is allowed to have his way, he will either purge the world or destroy it." Jesus Christ the Peacemaker will not need to destroy the world, of course; it is increasingly evident that apart from God the world will destroy itself. Bertrand Russell says that if we do not solve our problems there is a
fifty-fifty chance that not a human being will be left on the planet in forty years. So little time for the purging of the sons of peace. It is time to respond to act!
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat,
He has sifted out the hearts of men before his judgment seat;
O be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant, my feet . . .
* * * * * * *
While serving as an Air Force chaplain during World War II I happened to pick up a little book by a Hebrew chaplain explaining the Passover to Jewish soldiers. The writer, I recall, made an earnest effort to interpret the tragedy of war and suffering in our century within a religious framework. He used words akin to these: "You will discover inevitably in life that the innocent must suffer for the guilty. Such is the way to peace. But instead of its being all wrong, it is the answer to everything. The secret of life is sacrifice." Without realizing it the rabbi was preaching the Cross of Jesus Christ, for on His Cross the innocent was sacrificed for the guilty, and became our peace.
It is possible during the reading of these pages that we have found the Christian faith presented differently from what we supposed it to be. We may have thought of it as a kind of cultural tonic or perhaps an individual morale builder. We know better now. We realize that to go through the gates of Jerusalem is to go straight to our own crucifixion. There is no way around the Cross for a Christian, no way under and no way over; but there is a way through.
We are studying a Beatitude about peace. The peace that Jesus gives is a peace with a price on it, and the price is the cost of sacrifice. Isaiah says, "the chastisement of our peace was upon him." And Paul explains: "For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself" (Isaiah 53:5, Colossians 1:19-20). God having purchased peace for us at so great a price the suffering of His innocent son on behalf of the guilty now presents us with His peace terms: unconditional surrender.
There is always a temptation to make a kind of festival out of Palm Sunday. If only Jesus Christ had ridden a white stallion instead of a donkey into Jerusalem, we think. There are grounds for believing that the "triumphal entry" of Jesus Christ into the Holy City was actually a very small affair; a scattering of children and curious adults, a handful of dusty peasants in from the country, some disorganized singing, a few palm branches and a donkey ridden by an itinerant prophet.
If you would watch a triumphal procession you must turn to Roman, not Hebrew history. Rome developed the triumph to its ultimate art. The returning conqueror, the general-consul-war hero, would wait outside the city gates with his troops until invited in by the Senate. Then, after some sixty-thousand couches had lined the streets, he would make his entrance. First would come the lictors bearing the fasces, then the magistrates of the city, then the trumpeters, then the spoils the standards, the statues, the loot, running as high as seventy-five million dollars
in treasure then the white oxen prepared for the sacrifice, and the royal prisoners (Pompey brought 322 princes), then the victorious general clad in purple and gold, seated in a chariot drawn by four horses, and followed by all his soldiers shouting "Io triumphe!"
How mean our Lord's entry into Jerusalem seems alongside such a display! And it was to come to an even meaner end. For this same Rome that welcomed the Caesars so lavishly was to strip Jesus of Nazareth of the only robe He had, and submit Him to the treatment reserved for its most contemptuous criminals. Christ's Palm Sunday entry did not bring Him clattering through the public square to the palace steps, there to receive the accolades of the weeping populace and the tributes of royalty. Rather it brought Him to the lash and the nails and the cry of dereliction: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
The peace of Jesus Christ is not the peace of the conqueror, it is the peace of the loser in this life. The heroes of Rome found that their garlands wilted quickly and their victories ended in bitterness. Not so our Lord! Jesus Christ became a victim that He might become the eternal Victor. Thus when we sign God's peace conditions in His Name we have lost, we have surrendered command of our lives; but because of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ we receive the Holy Spirit of God who raises the dead. Out of the fellowship of Christ's sufferings comes the power of the Resurrection. Not by the might of the legions, not by the power of the atom, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
* * * * * * *
Nearly twenty years ago I lost my heart to a river, but in return it gave to me something I have treasured ever since peace. Few things in this life bequeath peace like a river. Isaiah the prophet knew it, for the Lord spoke to him on the subject. "For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream" (66:12). "Peace like a river" in their imagery, these are among the most inspired words of Scripture.
Four weeks I spent drifting down the Yukon river in a sixteen-foot rowboat, without benefit of motor, accompanied by a congenial friend and a little stove made out of a gasoline can. I wrote a story about it, in which these words appear:
"I wondered why people cared to travel the Yukon in anything so prosaic and unimaginative as a steamboat. They learned nothing of the ways of a river; they might as well have gone riding through Royal Gorge in a boxcar. To live with it and on it, to drink of the body and spirit of the water, to become part of it, and to cherish the haunting beauty of the bend ahead, is to know a river. And when you do know it, then nothing else matters, for you have stolen a glimpse into the mystery of creation."
In the years since then I have come to know Jesus Christ to be my Savior and Lord, and I have discovered that His life too is like a river. It begins with a miracle, springing out of the watershed of life, coursing like a
laughing brook down the early years. Then comes the sudden widening of the banks as the ministry of John the Baptist flows tributary into His stream, and the strong, impressive movement of the Galilean ministry begins.
Suddenly there is white water, and the first opposition is encountered. More riffles and rapids, and in between a swift, powerful flood bearing purposefully toward its destiny, carrying its appointed burden, spreading healing waters throughout the countryside until a roaring sound is heard in the distance. It is Passion Week. The dull sound now increases in intensity and the sheer cataract of the Cross is approached. Nearer and nearer the brink, and then catastrophe!
But somehow it is not a catastrophe at all, for there below is the river, newly formed, beginning a life of Resurrection that is majestic and serene as it flows to the seas of eternity.
The river is the symbol of God's purpose in your life and mine. It is never an end in itself because it has no real end except in the ocean of infinity. It is an instrument to carry out the balance of nature, as you and I are instruments to fulfill the design of our Lord. It is always in motion, always sweeping onward even when it seems to be quiescent, for its strength lies in its deep currents. Its bounty is in breadth but its resource is in depth.
The river's motion is the secret of its peace, for it portrays not the peace of man but the peace of God. The peace of man is the quiet pool which is dangerous, for such pools become stagnant and breed ill-health. The peace of man
is lifeless; it is the peace of the tomb. The peace of God is gently moving, it is Jesus walking through the grain-fields of Galilee. But the gentleness may depart, and there will be white horses and water wheels, as when the tables were overturned in the temple. This too is the peace of God "not as the world gives, give I unto you."
Once we have learned the river's lesson, we are to leave it; for the river runs its own affairs and follows its vocation, as we are expected to find and follow ours. What is God's purpose for our lives: Is it not to make us fit for His own fellowship, and then to plant us in His vineyard to bear fruit? Is it not to call us to the mount of Transfiguration, and then send us back to look for fishermen who will leave their nets to catch men?
* * * * * * *
One of the most remarkable Christian statements of our generation was made by Professor Edmund Schlink of Heidelberg at the World Council of Churches meeting at Evanston in 1954. Said Dr. Schlink: 1
We do not preach the Gospel in order that the world may be preserved. Rather we accept our responsibility for the preservation of the world in order that many may be saved through the Gospel. We do not preach the Gospel in order to bring about earthly justice. On the contrary we try to establish justice in order that we may preach the Gospel.
In four shocking sentences Dr. Schlink set forth the role of the Christian as a peacemaker in the world. He does not build and extend the Church in order to promote world peace. Instead he seeks a minimum of strife in order that he may build the Church. If not one blessing were to flow into this life from the Gospel, it would still be the Christian's commission to proclaim it, for the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and is therefore an end in itself.
If the Christian is lured into seeking the ideal of harmony and perfection among men, he is being false both to God and man. The Christian is a traveler passing through and seeking a better life. He looks upon this life as an adventure, a testing ground, a battlefield, and a recruiting depot. The adventures are soul-pioneering expeditions with God. The testings are the battles. They are struggles with the Power of Evil that make us more durable steel in the divine warhead.
But beyond all these, the Christian is called to be a vocational selector, searching for men who will receive the peace of the Kingdom of God. The recruiting of men of peace is what brings joy to the Christian, and it is this peace with joy that makes everything a Christian goes through ultimately worthwhile.
G.K. Chesterton once remarked that every real Christian who believes in his faith will do two things: he will dance, and he will fight. His fighting, however, is not against flesh and blood and his joy according to the New Testament is more often linked with his peacemaking. Thus Paul writes to the Romans, "The kingdom of God
is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17). When the apostles went through Judea and Samaria "preaching peace by Jesus Christ" we read that "there was great joy" in those regions. Peace and joy together appear as authentic marks of the Good News.
We have already suggested2 that joy is not to be confused with pleasure or happiness, which are for many but fleeting experiences in life. Goethe at the age of seventy-five admitted that he had known only four weeks of happiness. There are Christians, victims of lifelong suffering, who could say the same thing. But joy! Here we move into the eye of the believer. Joy is not happiness so much as gladness; it is the exultation of God's Spirit in man, "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over." Joy is the ecstasy of eternity in a soul that has made peace with God and is ready to do His will.
Peace does not mean the end of all our striving,
Joy does not mean the drying of our tears;
Peace is the power that comes to souls arriving
Up to the light where God Himself appears.
When the Church of the twentieth century stands at the Great Assize it may not be judged for the shape of its liturgy, the heat of its ardor, or the sums of its stewardship. The Church will probably be judged because
it did not receive or make peace with joy. Visit a modern theological seminary, examine its library, and count the number of Christian volumes in which joy is never mentioned. "Peace on earth" was not a dogma, it was a song sung by angels. As Dorothy Sayers has said, the Church today has succeeded in doing what the apostles and even the enemies of Jesus Christ never did: it has made Him appear dull. What is the Church but the glowing hearth where man can warm his hands at the heart of God? What are its sacraments but a chalice of divine peace and joy?
We have assumed that Christianity is a tiresome and domesticated affair. Who made it so? I would prefer, like Wordsworth, to be a pagan lost forever in the superstitions of mythology than to return to the state of being a bored "Christian." And though I do not care for violence, I would far rather have been at Calvary watching the wet, sticky blood flow down the Cross, hearing the raucous jeers of the crowd, smelling the stinks of Gehenna, and feeling the cool slime of the tomb, than to have to sit through the tedium of a joyless Sunday morning church service.
The resurrected Jesus came through the closed door and said "Peace!" to His disciples, but it was a peace amid clamor and tumult. It was the peace of life and joy, not the peace of tranquilizers and sanitariums. Such was the kind of life Jesus led, and such is the only kind of peace He gives. We can have it anywhere, any time, simply for the asking. God built it into poles and axles of the universe.
1. Quoted in Christian Century, August 24, 1954, page 1010.
2. Page 28.
Chapter 8 || Table of Contents