The Agora
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New Year's exhortation

Years pass and men die, but the purpose of God goes on. We look back on the year that has passed. Most of those who began the year with us are with us still, but some have fallen asleep. More and more as the troubles of the world thicken, times grow more difficult, and the clouds of coming danger become more threatening, do we realize the truth of the saying that "the righteous are taken away from the evil to come."

Yet there is a thrill in the thought that we are living in the last days, and that the salvation of the world is nearer than when we first believed. We have been warned against these days, and against being overmuch cast down, and told rather to lift up our heads before the prospect of coming troubles, because they are heralds of better things. Perils have been passed in the year that is gone, and others are rising in the distance now, yet though the mountains be removed and cast into the depths of the sea, we need not be hopelessly afraid. "Well roar the storm to those who hear a deeper voice across the storm."

Storms are occasional and passing things; calm is the normal condition of creation. To God, who has contemplated the world of men since the beginning, this reign of sin is but an episode. It will pass like a watch in the night.

We pass our years as a tale that is told, and are actors in but a short chapter of the long story. But it has its happy conclusion. The order of the history of mankind, and God's dealing with them from the beginning to the establishment of His purpose in the Kingdom of His Son, is Peace -- War -- Peace. There was peace in the Garden of Eden; there will be peace when the earth is again "the Garden of the Lord", but between these Gardens of Peace stretches the Wilderness of Sin, with its wanderings and its wickedness, its serpents, its idolatry, its murmurings and its thirst, its fighting and its fears; a wilderness march of thousands of years.

Yet there are other things in the desert: springs and palm trees, and quails and manna, healing and providential care, love and companionship; and for those who will take it, the ever-refreshing service of God -- a service the rewards of which are not all future. There is even now the peace of God passing merely human understanding that compasses the hearts of men in the midst of battle.

The peace of Eden was broken by the intrusion of human willfulness and sin. It was the snake in the green pastures whose evil counsel ruffled the still waters and turned them to a bitterness that nothing but the healing Branch can ever sweeten. The Lord was their Shepherd in the Garden of Eden, but the sheep went astray and ever since have wandered on the dark mountains.

Light and peace have not left the earth, and will not be lacking while the true Israel have light in their dwellings, and keep in their hearts the peace that Christ left behind him. The light must be tended and the peace must be sought. The children of Israel had this lesson taught them in the lighting of the Holy Place; and the Feast of Tabernacles was instituted for the cultivation of this inward peace that comes to those who keep God's law, and who are beyond the reach of petty offence; nothing shall them offend.

In quiet communion with God and His Word there is fulfillment of the Psalmist's saying, "Great peace have they that love thy law." But in the world outside there is no peace. The broken peace of Eden remains broken, and the sound of war grows more and more insistent as the years pass. The sound of drums and trumpets of war is never wholly absent. The prophetic word is being fulfilled and intensified. "Wake up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near. Let the weak say, I am strong. Beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears."

We are witnesses of, and unwilling actors in, these days of the breaking of God's peace, but let it not break our peace. We have the assurance that at last the earth shall be delivered from "unreasonable and wicked men". Unreason and wickedness are in power in the politics of the world, ever counteracting and defeating the efforts of those who are working for peace. There are those in power who will have their own willful way, or they will have war. In war they boast and delight, but the fate of those who delight in war has long been written. "Scatter thou the people who delight in war" (Psa 68:30).

If we grow sick at heart in the contemplation of these things and weary of the defeat that so often waits upon our best effort, there is the quiet voice that says, "Be not weary in well doing." If there are those who weary not in ill doing, shall we be the less strong and enduring in the cause of righteousness?

Paul invoked the blessing of inward peace upon the brethren: "Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace, always and by all means. The Lord be with you all." And Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Each one must have his own peace center; just as in a storm a barrel of oil dribbled into the water over the bows of the boat makes a tiny calm in which the waves do not break, so should be the peace of the followers of Christ -- however fierce the outward storm may be.

The peace in the heart of the believer should spring from the same source that supplied the peace that filled Christ's life, and gave him peace in the tempest: the peace of knowledge and perfect trust. We must not have peace because our ears are deaf and our eyes blind, but rather because we hear and see the purpose of God being worked out in storm and tempest. These have their temporary place, and help forward God's purpose.

There may be a stagnant peace and unwholesome peace. There is peace in the standing pool, and also weeds, corruption, and slimy life. God's peace flows like a river, never ceasing, always flowing away in blessing, but always fed from the fountain as the river is fed again by the clouds that dissolve upon the mountains where it has its source.

We ourselves may be disturbers of our inward peace by looking too much on the warring elements around us, and forgetting the springs of inward strength. "Let not your heart be troubled," says Jesus. When the heart is filled with peace, the outward storm adds to the sense of security.

A realization of strength of our position is a great element of peace. If we fear to examine the foundations of our faith, there can never be perfect peace. It is a constant misery to mark how much peace is broken and lost in the disputing for truth; and so much of it brought about by a mistaken sense of what is basic and what is not; and more still because of misunderstanding of terms, and personal temperamental lack of sympathy.

The New Year has begun. It will end whether we are here in life or not. But that thought need have no disturbing effect upon the peace of those to whom the this body of mortality is but a tabernacle, which, as Paul says, may be destroyed, but also may be made an abiding place of God, indestructible for ever, a house from heaven.

The old year has passed. The new has begun. It holds prospects of trouble, but that need not daunt the believer who does not go forth in his own strength. "The joy of the Lord is thy strength," and our joy is in the strength of the Lord. Before such an association, what can the future hold to daunt those who are endeavoring to work with God?

We are told to seek peace, and pursue it, but we may also find it and possess it, and hold and guard it proof against all that would ruffle it. We must maintain this inward peace. One who is not at peace with God, cannot be at peace with himself in any but a false and delusive peace. Let us keep the peace unbroken, helped by that example that is before us in our remembrance of Christ whose blood was poured out and his body broken, but not his trust in God that gave him peace in the storm of suffering that swept over him. Let us know now, and cleave to the things that belong unto our peace.


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