Peace with God - by C.A. Coates
PEACE WITH GOD
Believers on the Lord Jesus Christ may be divided into three classes. An old lady in Yorkshire told me she had had doubts and fears ever since her conversion, which had taken place sixty years before. She was truly converted, and looking only to Jesus and His blood for salvation, but she had no assurance. She represents one class. If some of the plain and blessed statements of Holy Scripture had been brought before her at the time of her conversion, she might have escaped much of the trying experience of those sixty years. Instead of being directed to the Word of God for the ground of assurance, she had been told to examine herself for evidences of grace, and to measure her acceptance with God by her experience and the state of her feelings. This kept her in a sad perplexity of unrest and self-occupation through all those long years.
Then there are thousands who have listened to a clearer gospel than the old lady had been privileged to hear, and they have had many precious and assuring texts of Scripture brought before them, upon which their faith has laid hold. John 3:16; chap. 5 : 24 ; Romans 10 : 9 ; 1 Timothy 1:15, and many other texts, have been used thus to give assurance to souls. Nor will the Word of God fail those who thus rest upon it and make it the stay of their souls. But assurance is not quite the same thing as peace. To be safe in the lifeboat and to know it is one thing, to be landed on the shore is another. Peace is known when one is beyond the reach of the storm. Many have assurance of eternal security who do not know what it is to have " peace with God." These are in class number two.
The third class is the one to which I trust every reader of this book may belong. It is composed of those who, being justified by faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also they have access by faith into the favour of God wherein they stand; Rom. 5 : 1, 2.
There are four things which hinder souls from having Peace :
(2) The judgment of God.
(3) Their own weakness and inconsistency.
(4) The fear of death.
I will use four Old Testament pictures to show how every question in connection with these four things has been met and settled for the believer.
" And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness : and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited [margin, ' a land of separation'] : and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness," Lev. 16 : 20-22. Many believers in Jesus do not know that their sins are put away. I had trusted the Saviour some little time before I knew that my sins were put away. I believed that God had forgiven them, and that He would not charge me with them, and that it was for Christ's sake He had done it. But it was a great joy to me when I saw that they were gone—actually carried out of God's sight, and removed from before Him by being borne by Jesus. The scapegoat carried the iniquities, transgressions, and sins of the children of Israel into " a land of separation." Christ once in the end of the world hath appeared " to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many," Heb. 9 : 26-28. We can never know what it cost that blessed Saviour to " bear our sins in his own body on the tree." No one could explain the meaning of those simple words " the sacrifice of himself." If we think of His Godhead glory, and of all His perfection in manhood, we may learn something of the greatness of redemption when we see that it could only be accomplished by " the sacrifice of himself "—by the absolute surrender of His holy and blessed Person to bear all that was due to us on account of our sins.
" Our sins, our guilt, in love divine,
Confessed and borne by Thee ; The gall, the curse, the wrath were Thine,
To set Thy ransomed free."
In that dark hour of untold sorrow in which He had to cry, " My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ? " He removed our sins into a " land of separation," from which they can never return. Blessed be His name for this stupendous work of divine love.
" This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," Heb. 10 : 12-14. Here the perfection of the Saviour's work shines forth in a glorious way. He has so removed our sins that there is nothing to hinder Him from sitting on the right hand of God. The One who took our sins upon Him is at the right hand of God. Then where are our sins ? GONE. Eternally gone by His one sacrifice.
The throne of God has no charge against the believer in Jesus. When Christ took His seat at the right hand of God, it was as the One who had glorified God completely about our sins. Hence there is not a cloud above. You may say, " But I have many clouds." That is because you are so low down. Get a little higher up. There are no clouds at the right hand of God, and your Saviour is there. In God's account there is not a spot left on one of His children. The nearer the believer comes to God, the more plainly does he see how completely he is cleared by the work of Christ. " By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." We are before God in the uninterrupted and eternal efficacy of that " one offering." Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. It is a perfect offering, and by it we are " perfected for ever." That is, sins can never be put to our account; we are in the efficacy and value of a sacrifice which has removed them all. If we were not " perfected for ever " by the offering of Christ, one of two things must happen. We should either be lost, or Christ would have to suffer again to put away the sins which were not taken into account at Calvary. Thank God ! the two things are equally impossible. The " one offering " has settled the question of our sins, and by it we are " perfected for ever."
This is applied to our consciences by the blessed testimony of the Holy Spirit. " Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us : for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them ; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more," Heb. 10 : 15-17. The efficacy of the sacrifice is made known to us by this divine testimony. The believer needs no priestly absolution; he has greater witness than that of men.
But some anxious soul will say, " Ah ! that is just what I want. If I had the witness of the Spirit I should be happy and at rest; but, alas ! I have not that witness." My friend, you are looking in the wrong place for the Spirit's witness. You must not look within. The witness of the Spirit is not an inward feeling or consciousness of pardon ; it is a witness recorded in the imperishable words of Holy Scripture. The witness of the Spirit is not a vague uncertainty of inward consciousness ; it is a written testimony that lies plain and clear on the pages of Holy Scripture. What is the witness ? It is this : Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Every believer is entitled to know that the question of his sins is divinely and eternally settled. This is one great element of Peace.
(2) THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
The true condition of the world is plainly declared in Romans 3 : 19, when it is said " that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become subject to the judgment of God." There is no exception to this solemn and sweeping statement. " He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him," John 3 : 36. Certainly there can be no peace in such a position as this. The judgment of God must be removed before Peace can be known. While the world was yet in its youth God gave an awful testimony to the fact that it was subject to His judgment, and He also furnished a type of that which alone can give shelter and peace. I refer to the flood.
" And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood . . . and, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die," Gen. 6 :13, 14, 17. It is very evident that when the flood came the whole world was under the judgment of God. All flesh was hidden either beneath the waters or in the ark. Wherever a bit of flesh was visible judgment came upon it. The end of all flesh came before God.
The ark was a figure of the death of Christ, and just as it furnished the only shelter then, so now it is only as under cover of the death of Christ that any can escape the judgment of God. This is a very solemn thing to admit, but every baptised person has professedly recognised it. Baptism is the outward profession of it, though none but converted persons— true believers—are really under the shelter of Christ's death. We have bowed to the solemn truth that we were under the judgment of God, and we have gladly availed ourselves of the death of Christ for shelter from that judgment. Now I want to call your attention to the testimony of Peace, as we get it here in figure.
" And he stayed yet other seven days ; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening ; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth," Gen. 8 : 10,11. Here we have a striking type of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The dove brought a testimony that one bit was clear of the judgment—there was one spot from which the judgment had passed—and this was the message of peace to those in the ark. Today the Holy Spirit brings the testimony that One Person is beyond the judgment. He who was " a green olive tree in the house of God " has emerged from death and judgment in perennial resurrection beauty. He was under it for us, but He has come out of it in resurrection power.
If you want to see the dove with the olive leaf in her mouth, read the Acts of the Apostles. See how the Holy Spirit bears witness to a risen Christ. " Whom God hath raised up " (chap. 2 : 24); " This Jesus hath God raised up " (chap. 2:32); " Whom God hath raised from the dead " (chap. 3:15); " Whom God raised from the dead " (chap. 4 : 10) ; " Him God raised up the third day" (chap. 10 : 40); " But God raised him from the dead " (chap. 13 : 30) ; etc., etc. Over and over again this blessed fact is presented, that Jesus is clear of the judgment He was once under.
Faith is the window of the soul—the only avenue by which divine light can come to us—and it is by the window of faith that the Spirit's testimony to a risen Saviour reaches our souls. And what is the gain of it ? Why, we learn that Jesus, who was " delivered for our offences " has been " raised again for our justification," Rom. 4:25. In God's sight and reckoning we are as clear of all the judgment as He is. He has been under it; the waves and billows have gone over Him; He has passed through death's dark raging flood; but He is beyond it for ever now, and this " for our justification." In God's reckoning we are as clear of it all as He is.
Have you received the blessed testimony of the Holy Spirit to a risen Saviour, and to the precious fact that your standing with God is identical with His? If we believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, we can say, " Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," Rom. 5:1.
Then, further, we read, " And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord ; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake," Gen. 8 : 20, 21. Those who had been in the ark came upon new ground with God, and stood before Him in the savour of the burnt offering. There are many who have the ark without the altar. They know what it is to be under shelter of Christ's death, but they have not by faith taken their place in the sweet savour of that precious death. Christ has gone to God in all the sweet savour of His death, and has entered into God's unclouded favour with a divine title to bring us there. He is entitled to introduce every believer to the favour of God. " By whom also we have access by faith into this grace [favour] wherein we stand," Rom. 5 : 2. Have you stepped into this place of divine favor ? Have you " by faith " appropriated your place in that circle of light ? Every believer is entitled to stand there, as clear of all the judgment as Christ is, and in the favour of God.
There is one thing more in connection with the flood to which I should like to call your attention. " And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations : I do set my bow in the cloud," Gen. 9 : 12, 13. The bow spanning the heavens in prismatic beauty was the divine attestation of God's covenant promise that the flood should never return. It is a figure of Christ in glory. A Glorified Saviour is the ever-blessed declaration that it is a divine impossibility for judgment to reach the believer. The perfection of divine love is known thus. " Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world," 1 John 4:17. When we see that God has set us before Him according to the state and acceptance of Christ risen and glorified, His perfect love casts all fear out of our hearts. We are above the clouds, and beyond the reach of the storm, in divine Peace.
(3) OUR OWN WEAKNESS AND INCONSISTENCY
Many are hindered from having peace by the consciousness of their own weakness and imperfection. They feel they are not what they ought to be. Their efforts to be holy, and to live like Christians, have resulted in so much failure that they are oftentimes sadly perplexed and cast down. Satan does not fail to take advantage of this, and to raise all kinds of questions in the soul, so that the exercise and soul-trouble experienced at this stage are often greater than at the first conviction of sin. We see a type of this in Exodus 14.
Peace was an impossibility for the children of Israel so long as they were within reach of Pharaoh's power. When he appeared in pursuit of them they were " sore afraid." They were utterly unable to face him. Has not my reader felt something of this ? You have struggled against doubts, and done your best to present a bold face to the foe, and yet been inwardly conscious that you were in a helpless and defenceless condition. It is when this point is reached that the soul is prepared to learn the greatness of " the salvation of the Lord." The outstretched rod of Moses divided the sea, and opened a way of escape for the despairing people. This is a figure of the death of Christ as that which has opened up a way for us into a position where it is impossible for the enemy to assail us. Death—which was the greatest terror to us naturally—is now our way of escape. The Lord Jesus has been into it for us, and has thus divested it of all its terrors. There is " dry ground " on which faith can travel through death into the standing of a risen Saviour. To use the figure, we walk through the death of Christ; that is, we apprehend by faith the death of Christ as that which entitles us in heart and conscience to leave behind, as to our place and standing with God, all that we are as children of Adam, and to take a new place with God in the standing of Christ risen. This is the place which divine grace gives to every believer.
If I am viewed as a child of Adam, I am a hopeless and helpless wreck. But Christ has died and been raised again, that by His death I might be cleared before God of all that attached to me as a child of Adam. He has been " raised again for our justification." Have you walked by faith through the death of Christ on to that new ground before God, where you stand in the absolute clearance and divine favor in which your risen Saviour is found—in the presence of God ? Can the enemy find any imperfection there ? Can he find a flaw in our justification ? It is impossible. And thus, as to his power over our consciences, he is completely destroyed. The doubts, the self-inspections, the alternating hopes and fears, the harassing questioning and misgiving then give place to cloudless peace. No hostile power can ever gain a footing on that shore of resurrection ; no accusing voice can ever be heard there; the enemy can never invade that land of peace. " The Egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever"; " Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore " ; " they sank into the bottom as a stone " ; " they sank as lead in the mighty waters." No language could be plainer or more emphatic. I admit it is the language of a type. If you want it in New Testament words it is here : " We believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead ; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," Rom. 4 : 24, 25 ; chap. 5 : 1.
(4) THE FEAR OF DEATH
Death is a terrible thing to a creature who has capacity to estimate its tremendous import and moral significance without any power to meet it. The utter confusion and dismay, which the fear of death produces in a sensitive conscience, is well illustrated by the fear which fell upon the army of Israel when challenged by Goliath ; 1 Sam. 17. I suppose every man in Israel felt that to encounter Goliath must result in certain defeat. We are made to feel that we cannot face death, or meet him who has its power.
But David came upon the scene, and the giant fell. Christ has met all the power of death; He has met all that is so terrible to our impotence, and has triumphed over it all. With holy joy we see Him return victorious from the valley of conflict, and we sing of His triumph. There are no reserves to reckon with. The whole array of death's terrors—the whole mighty force of him who has the power of death—was brought against Christ, and has been annihilated for all who believe. David has slain his ten thousands. The bow of the mighty is broken; the weapons of war have perished; and peace is the happy and eternal portion of the believer.
But one must be in the realm of faith to know the victory of Christ. There is no evidence in the sphere of sight that death is a conquered foe, or that Satan's power is annulled. It is in the region of faith that a risen Saviour is known in the greatness of His victory. May God introduce the reader of this book to that blessed region, that in the peace of Christ's victory he may be able to sing, " He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation," Exod. 15:1,2.
C. A. Coates