We come now to offer some remarks on the third and last verse of the text proposed for consideration, viz.:
“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather a division.”
How mysterious and inscrutable are the ways of God! How unlike the ways and thoughts of finite beings! No man by searching can find him out, or trace his footsteps, which are in the mighty deep. The suppositions and conclusions of even his saints are only correct and reliable so far as they are based upon the revelations made to them by the word and Spirit of their God. The very appeal of our Lord to his disciples in this text implies that the disciples were indulging in the belief or supposition that the advent of Christ was designed of God to give peace on the earth, and we are not disposed to doubt that they were greatly amazed when Jesus told them plainly that such was not the design of his coming. Before, however, we impute dullness of perception to them, let us enquire whether the same apparent causes which led them to suppose he had come to give peace on the earth would not have led us to the same supposition. There was to favor their supposition:
1. The very title applied to him in prophecy, The Prince of Peace, and the declaration that of the increase of his government and peace there should be no end; and that he is known in the New Testament as “The very God of Peace,” who shall shortly bruise Satan under the feet of his disciples, we would naturally suppose would have led them to the conclusion that he had now come to give peace on the earth.
2. The song of the heavenly messengers who announced his birth to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men, “ was certainly calculated to strengthen their supposition.
3. His humble birth most clearly indicated a peaceful mission. No demonstrations of terror, no clouds of wrath, no fiery bolts, or startling thunder tones were seen or heard. Beaming mercy smiled, “and wrath stood silent by.” No flaming sword of vengeance flashed in his hand; no terrors darkened on his brow; the holy babe of Bethlehem reposed in a manger without a complaining word. Was ever such condescension witnessed in heaven or on earth before? Who would not have supposed that he had come to give peace on the earth?
4. From the example presented in his holy life, his bitter death, and his triumphant resurrection, might we not infer that the Meek and Lowly Lamb of God had come to hush the clamor of war, to allay the spirit of strife and discord, and to inaugurate a dispensation of the most perfect peace? He went about doing good; when he was reviled, he reviled not again, when the greatest provocations were given - when insulted, reviled, buffeted, spit upon, and persecuted, he made no resistance, showed no resentment, but bore it all patiently. And when led forth to prison and to death, he went like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. And when in the agony of the cross, mocked and derided he cried, Father forgive, for they know not what they do, all seemed to say that he came to give peace on the earth.
5. The laws which he enacted in his kingdom, and the special instructions and commandments which he gave to his people, forbidding them the use of carnal weapons, and forbidding that they should even resent injuries maliciously done to them, but to do good to them who persecuted and evily entreated them, and to forgive from their hearts all who trespassed against them, as they desired that God should forgive them, and positively forbidding them to avenge themselves; all went to show that in the dreadful conflicts which they were to encounter from a wicked world, although their blood should crimson the earth, still in no case should they be the aggressors, nor in any case, or under any circumstance should they retaliate, but submit their cause to him who has said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” It is presumed that from all these considerations, the disciples supposed that their Lord had come to give peace on the earth.
It is true, nor should we so interpret these sayings of our Lord so as to contradict the glorious truth that Christ is himself the peace of his people; that his peace he leaves with them, his peace he has given unto them, and their peace shall flow unto them as a river, and as the waves of the sea; that “Great peace have they who love the law,” and nothing shall offend them. But this is peace which the world knows not of; earth has no participation in it. But the saints, “Being justified by faith, have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Their eyes behold Jerusalem, the church of God, a peaceable habitation, a quiet resting place. By the atonement he has made peace, or reconciliation by the blood of his cross, not for the earth, not for the world in a general application of the term, but it is applicable exclusively to those who are freely justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But our text will not allow us to suppose that the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ was designed to produce harmony between truth and error, or fellowship between Christ and Belial, or communion between the church of God and the temple of idols. His Spiritual kingdom and the world lying in wickedness were to remain as distant from each other as before, and the distance to be more clearly marked. While the divine mission of the Son of God was to redeem his people unto God out of every tribe and kindred of the earth, it was not to arrest or retard the progressive development of the powers of darkness, or make the world more friendly, or less belligerent to the cause of truth and righteousness. The mystery of iniquity was to continue to work, and the cup of anti-christ was to be filled to its brim, and this could only be accomplished by their bitter persecution of Christ and his followers. “Many shall be purified and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand (Daniel 12:10).” The coming of Christ was not what brought sin and depravity into the world, but his advent was designed to bring the depravity of the world into manifestation. “If I had not come, etc., ye would not have had sin, but now ye have no cloak for your sins.” His coming had afforded occasion for the manifestation of their depravity, for “Ye have both seen and hated both me and my Father.”
If then, it may be asked, the meek and lowly Savior’s mission was not to destroy but to save; if in all his life, his doctrine, and his works he was holy, harmless and separate from sinners; if he went about doing good, not only to his friends, but also to his enemies, and if he neither himself assailed the rights of others, nor allowed his disciples to do so, how could his coming have a tendency to make a division, or send fire on the earth? We can only understand the conflict to arise from the opposite principles of holiness and sin, of truth and error, of spirit and flesh, of light and darkness. From the time that sin entered and mankind became depraved, all the fallen family of mankind have stood in hostile array against every sacred principle of truth and holiness, so that every display which God has been pleased to make of himself, and of the purity and perfection of his attributes has been in conflict with the wicked disposition of fallen man. The manifestation of the Spirit of Christ in Abel provoked the opposite spirit of Cain, who was, as far as the spirit which actuated him was concerned, of the wicked one, and under that influence he slew his brother. The peace-loving and harmless spirit of Abel made no assault upon the rights of Cain, but being so opposite to the murderous spirit of Cain, that Cain was angry and slew him. “And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brothers’ righteous.” Here in this first outbreak of malignant cruelty and murder we have an early development of the enmity which God has put between the serpent and the woman, and between her seed and his seed. Cain was an active and working religionist, and had a religion perfectly adapted to his fallen nature, but it was of the devil; for it was a revengeful, blood-thirsty religion, which clearly demonstrated its paternity; for “Satan was a murderer from the beginning.” Therefore, all that kind of religion which delights in shedding blood was pre-figured in the religion of Cain. Jesus charged home upon the murderous and adulterous generation all the righteous blood which had ever been shed upon the earth, from that of Abel unto Zacharias; and Jude brands the same infamy upon the same race of religious fanatics under the present dispensation, which was marked upon their prototype. “Wo unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core (Jude 11).” As the light of truth detects and exposes the hidden things of darkness, so the coming of the Son of God into the world, and light of truth beaming from him through all his faithful witnesses, should reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. To test and expose the murderous spirit of all false or worldly religion, our Redeemer says, “Behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (Matthew 23:34).” This conflict as we have shown had been in the world from the days of Cain; had drenched the earth with blood again and again; this fire was already kindled, but yet more fiercely it should burn. The coming of Christ was not intended to harmonize the conflicting elements, but more clearly to develop them. There was nothing hid that should evade exposure; nothing whispered in the ear that should not be revealed on the house top. Hence his advent and ministry were violently opposed, and he was persecuted, and finally crucified by wicked hands. And the things done in the green tree would assuredly be repeated in the dry. Unto his faithful followers it is given, in his behalf, not only that they should believe on him, but also that they shall suffer for his sake. The ministers of Christ were sent forth as lambs in the midst of wolves, and duly advised that they should encounter the powers of darkness, false teachers, and vile deceivers, who should deceive many, and so turn the popular tide against them, but Jesus said to them, “All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake (Matthew 24:8,9).” So great should be the trial that many even of their professed brethren should “be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another; and many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Matthew 24:10-13).” “And this gospel of the kingdom,” with all these surroundings, attended with the same results, and subjecting its witnesses to the same cruel treatment, “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.” The tribulations attending the promulgation of the gospel should witness in all the world, and down to the end of the world, who are, and who are not, the servants of the Most High God; the followers of the meek and lowly Lamb of God. It should draw the line between the righteous and the wicked, between them that serve God and them that serve him not. In this searching development, “There shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (Luke 12:52,53).”
The division is now very apparent. The conflict is now raging. Blood in torrents is now flowing; the most violent passions of cruel and bloodthirsty men are now unbridled, and all is being pushed forward by raving fanatics who wear the clothing of sheep; who profess to be commissioned from heaven to stir up the deadly strife; and the number of those who breathe the spirit of love, of peace, and who labor to allay the murderous strife are in this day lamentably few and far between.
In conclusion, permit us to say, in all this conflict between truth and error, light and darkness, holiness and iniquity, not one drop of blood has ever been shed with the divine approbation, by any of the saints of the Most High God. Peter once from a reprehensible impulse of the flesh drew a carnal weapon defensively in vainly attempting to defend his Lord, and with it smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But mark! Our Lord reproved his imprudent zeal, and healed the wound. “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be.” The spirit of Christ in his children fulfills the righteousness of the law, causing them to love God supremely, and their neighbor as themselves, for on these two precepts of the divine code hang all the law and the prophets. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Is he thy neighbor, thy friend? Reciprocate his friendship. Is he thine enemy? Love him and pray for him, for so your Savior expressly commands thee. But has thy neighbor trespassed against thee? Forgive him, as thou hopest to be thyself forgiven of God, against whom we have all trespassed. For if ye from your hearts do not forgive, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you. “Wherefore, laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and all evil speakings.” “Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may, by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood; Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be subject to your own masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentile, but also to the froward. For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully; for what glory is it, if, when ye are buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (I Peter 2:11-23).”
Let it be remembered that the friendship of the world is enmity to God. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, that cannot rest, but continually casts up mire and dirt.” And “There is no peace to the wicked, saith your God.” The way of peace they have not known, for misery and destruction are in all their ways, and their feet are swift to shed blood, for there is no fear of God before their eyes. But blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God.
May 15, 1864.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 31 – 37