James Smith, 1856
Peace is a great blessing; even a soldier must love peace; but then it must be peace upon right principles. Nations when at war often sigh for peace; the loss of life, treasure, and trade, make them do so. And there is a good time coming, when the Prince of Peace will reign from the river to the ends of the earth, and men will learn war no more, "They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore!" Isaiah 2:4. Then the war trumpet shall be hung up in the hall, to rest forever! Then the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. May the Lord hasten that glorious period, if it be his blessed will.
But there may be peace, even in the midst of war, and there often is. Let me tell you of a case:
Joseph West, was a wild, reckless, thoughtless young man, who loved his sin. The pipe, the tavern, and the merry song, were his delight; he would drink, sing, and, as he called it, "drive away dull care," until his money was spent, and his clothes were at the pawn shop.
At length he enlisted into the army. His wages were soon squandered, and the restraints put upon him were painful; but there was no remedy, he had enlisted — and he must serve. He now gave way to all kinds of vice — drunkenness, immorality, and profane swearing, became habitual; so far as he had the means to indulge in them. In this course, he persevered for a very considerable time. His conscience often accused him at first, and he felt at times ashamed of the course he was pursuing; but sin is of a hardening nature, and it hardened him. At length, he could indulge his carnal lusts, give way to intoxication, and swear most fearfully, without the least remorse. He was hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Thus year after year passed away, and if at any time he attempted to reform, he soon returned to his old practices, like a dog to his vomit, and the sow that is washed, to her wallowing in the mire.
One day, while he was in the midst of his course of sin, a comrade said to him, "Joe, do you never think of death and the judgment? Don't you know the Bible says, 'It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after this, the judgment!'" He made light of this at the time, and put away all serious thoughts from him; but somehow or other, a part of the verse seemed to stick in his memory, and when indulging in sin, the words would seem to sound in his ears, as if spoken by some solemn voice, "After this, the judgment!" This often spoiled all his pleasure, but he desperately resisted its influence. He hated religion, and he was not going to be religious; and to use his own words, he "wondered what was come to him." Often, very often, he wished he had never heard the words, for they would haunt him, "After this, the judgment!"
One morning, after a night spent in drunkenness and lewdness, coming out of his quarters, his head aching, and his nerves trembling, his thoughts reverted to the scenes of the past night, and as if a musket had been discharged close to his ear, he was startled with the words, "After this, the judgment!" His conscience so long asleep, began to arouse, and terrible thoughts harassed his mind. A dreadful gloom seemed to settle down upon his spirits, and he felt as if he could enjoy nothing. He tried to shake it off, but no, he could not divest himself of it. He tried to drown it in drink, as he had often done before, but he could not master it. He went into the company of those who had formerly rallied him, and pampered his lusts, but the awful words followed him even there, "After this, the judgment!" He took to walking out alone, but he could not bear reflection, and his thoughts troubled him.
What could he do? Where could he go? To whom could he apply? He knew not. His heart felt at times as if it would break; he tried to pray, when alone in the fields or lanes — but he could not; he felt as if his tongue was tied. If he looked up to heaven — he imagined that he saw God looking down upon him with an awful frown on his countenance! If he looked back — there was a life spent in sin and opposition to God. If he looked within — there was nothing but gloom and cutting convictions. If he looked forward — there was death, and "After this, the judgment!"
Where could he flee? How could he escape from himself, an angry God, and a dreadful Hell? He was tempted to commit suicide — but the consequences appeared too dreadful to be braved, and the words, "After this, the judgment!" came to mind whenever he felt inclined to give way. His soul was struggling in deep waters. His heart meditated terror; he was tired of life — and yet trembled to think of death; guilt completely unmanned him. In this state, he spent some miserable days and weeks.
His comrades could see the visible change in him, and some of them taunted him, some swore at him, some persuaded him to run with them to the old scenes of riot, and others looked upon him with contempt, as if he was a cowardly, despicably person. But one man carefully watched him, and silently prayed for him. This was Timothy Yates, a man whom West had sneered at, persecuted, and ridiculed as a Christian.
Timothy had been brought up in a Sunday school — but had often stifled convictions, given way to temptation, and one day on a whim, enlisted into the army. Here he was struck with the difference between what he had been accustomed to in the home of his godly parents; and the Lord mercifully blessed his early instruction, when he was reaping the fruits of his folly; and he was savingly converted to God.
After he had kept his eye on West for a considerable time — he felt persuaded, that he was under conviction of sin, and was burdened with a load of guilt. He therefore took the opportunity one day, as he was passing him, to say to him, "You O Lord are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all those who call upon You." The words sank into the soul of West, especially those three, "ready to forgive."
So West he went away talking to himself, "The Lord is good, ready to forgive, plenteous in mercy unto all those who call upon Him. Then I will call upon Him." And seeing a hay-rick in the field, he got over the gate, and behind that rick he fell upon his knees, and cried out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" He now felt a strange sensation within, his heart seemed to give way, the tears came into his eyes, and he was astonished at himself. He confessed his sins, especially his immorality, drunkenness, and profane swearing; and his heart felt as if it would burst with sorrow! He was strangely assisted in pleading with God as "good," as "plenteous in mercy," but especially as "ready to forgive." Oh, those three words, they seemed to comprise all that he needed; he felt sure they were the very words of God, by the power he felt attending them, and the sweetness he found in them.
How long he continued on his knees he could never say — but he arose "a new creature," his burden of guilt was gone, the gloom was dispersed that hung over his mind, and "Peace, Peace!" filled his soul. It was peace "that passes all understanding."
He returned from his walk a new man. Seldom has any one been more miserable than he was, when Timothy uttered those words in his hearing, and few have been happier than he felt now. His eyes sparkled with joy, a holy calm seemed to sit enthroned on his brow, and he longed to tell every soldier in the regiment how happy he was. Never will he forget the deep distress he experienced, the sweet portion of God's Word that set him free, or the "Peace, Peace," which he enjoyed as the result.
Since then, he has passed through many changes, and has experienced many trials — but he has found the grace of Jesus to be sufficient for him. When tempted to sin — the old text is often a preservative, "After this, the judgment!" And when tempted to doubt — fear, or despond, the other text is a cordial to him, and he rejoices that his God is "ready to forgive."
Friend, how is it with you? Are you living in sin — or, are you walking in the fear of God? Tempted to sin you will be, led away into sin you may be; let me exhort you to remember whenever you feel inclined to give way to any sin, secret or open sin — that, after this comes the judgment! You must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. You must give account of yourself to God. God will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil.
If you are sensible of your lost state as a sinner, if you are afraid of the just judgment of God, if you are dreading the torments of an eternal Hell — remember, God is "ready to forgive!" If you seek pardon in the name of Jesus, resting for acceptance on the atonement of the Lamb of God — God will listen to you, sympathize with you, and "abundantly pardon you." Nothing can harm you — but sin; no one can save you — but Jesus; and nothing will bring a sense of pardon into your conscience — but faith. Believe in the Lord Jesus; repent of your sins before God; seek instantly and heartily for pardon; and you will obtain mercy, find grace to help you, have Christ formed in your heart as the hope of glory, and understand experimentally what we mean by "Peace, Peace." Jesus made peace for sinners by the blood of his Cross; the gospel proclaims peace to all who believe in the Son of God; and the Holy Spirit applying the atonement to the conscience, produces in the heart, "Peace, Peace."