(This story was first published in the September 1939 issue of the Canadian Churchman.)
By Rev. H. R. Hunt, M.A., B.D., a Sermon Preached at St. John’s Church, West Toronto, on September 3rd, 1939
He is our peace: for through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.-Ephesians 2: 18.
When St. Paul wrote these words he was thinking of the deep cleavage in his day between the Jews and the Gentiles. Through the Lord Jesus, he maintained the barrier between the two social and racial groups had been broken down. By the discovery of a common Lord and Saviour they entered upon a deeper understanding and a new unity one with the other. Jesus was their means to peace, for through Him they both had access by one Spirit unto the Father.
If St. Paul were living today, in the face of the hatreds, rivalries and conflicts nation with nation and class with class the world over, he would, without a doubt, change the word “both” to the word “all.” And for the purposes of my sermon tonight this is the way in which I intend to read the text: “Jesus is our peace: for through Him we all have access y one Spirit unto the Father.” This is a tragic day, a day of lamentation and mourning and woe. On this day the words of Job ring insistently in our ears: “The thing which we greatly feared is come upon us, and that of which we have been afraid has come.” A precarious twenty-year peace has been at last abandoned in favour of a deadly and destructive war, the outcome of which God alone knows.
Peace is an ideal, a splendid and glorious ideal, to which the nations of Europe for twenty years have been paying assiduous lip-service. Long years ago Thomas Aquinas said: “All men desire peace, but very few desire those things which make for peace.” And is not that a description of the events of the past generation? Great nations have had a fundamental clash in interests, and although they have desired peace, they have refused to work for those things which make for peace.
And now we are at war, what is the task of the Christian Church? Is it, as in 1914-18, to act in the service of imperial necessity, or must it strive to be true to its own ideals and those of its Found, the Lord Jesus Christ? This is the decision we, as Christians, must make, and it is a decision which will require courage. “All men desire peace, but very few desire the things which make for peace.” Are we, as Christians, at this time and in the days to come, in the midst of a war in which our country is involved, prepared not only to desire peace but also very definitely to desire those things which make for peace? May I, as a man of peace, tell you what I think is the task of the Church in the perilous days before us?
(1) To turn people to repentance. As I showed in this morning’s sermon, it has been the deliberate neglect of God’s Day and God’s sanctuary and God’s Laws (Lev. 26: 2) which has led to the present chaos among the nations and within each nation. For our sins and supremely for this sin of war and all that has led up to it, we must ask the pardon of God. “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” was the clarion cry of Jesus, as of John the Baptist, at the beginning of their ministries. “Repent ye, for the judgment of God has fallen upon an apostate world” must be the message of the Church in the days of war. Only as nations repent and seek the forgiveness of God, will they learn to have peace one with another.
(2) To maintain sanity, or some degree of it, in our thoughts and emotions. War lives on hate, and from scores and hundreds of sources in the months before us we shall be stimulated with stories of the enemy and his actions which will stir in us feelings of hate and vengeance. We shall be in danger of losing all historical and spiritual perspective. Amid all this, I believe it is the Church’s task to help people to be sane in their thinking, not to surrender their judgment entirely to the propaganda of war.
(3) To maintain its teaching of international goodwill and love for all men. Love is the chief force in this world which makes for peace. If this has been the message of the Church during the days of peace, should it not continue to be its message in the time of war? It is very easy for us at this time to close our New Testaments and concentrate upon the Old. In the heat of the war-fever we all shall be prone to say, identifying God with our cause: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered: destroy them with double destruction!” It will be extraordinarily hard to us to think and act in the spirit of our Lord’s words: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you that you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven.” But if the Church would be true to Jesus Christ, it must, by the grace of God, strive to preserve His teaching amid all the horrors of war. If they Church forgets Him, and follows the war-lords whithersoever they lead, I predict that Christ will turn from the Church, and in the days when the war is over people also will turn from it. Christ came to preach peace upon earth, goodwill towards men, and it is for the Church in times of peace and in those of war to proclaim His gospel.
(4) To call for unceasing prayer, prayer not so much for victory for our side, as that would be presumptuous, but that justice may prevail, and that God’s will may be done. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint,” said Jesus, and in His own prayer-life learned to say: “Thy Will, not Mine, be done.” It is as the nations of the earth strive through prayer to learn the Will of God that peace may come. This, again, is one of the greatest things which make for peace. And in this connection we may recall the words of Prime Minister Chamberlain spoken this year to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland: “I cannot say with how much satisfaction and complete agreement I read the word of that Call to Prayer to which the Moderator of this Assembly affixed his name, together with that of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other divines. – The troubles of today cannot be cured by arms or armaments. We have to go further and deeper than that, and I have no doubt that there will be a wide response to your Call to Prayer.”
What, then, is the price of peace? The answer is found in the story of the Cross: “Jesus is our peace, because He reconciled all unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Peace comes through suffering. That is the meaning of Calvary. Jesus died, not merely to bring the sinner back to God, but to bring sinners into a new fellowship with other sinners, out of sinners to make saints, and from world-chaos to create world-brotherhood.” He is our peace, for through Him we all have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
In the days and weeks to come, many millions of men will march forth, going to war to fight for an ultimate peace. They will give their lives in millions for the cause of peace. There will be some, no doubt, from this church and congregation. By their suffering they will hope to bring a better order of society, just as the men who suffered and died for the cause of peace twenty-five years ago in the “war to end war” hoped for this. All honour to these men. By obeying the call of duty, sounded by their country, they will act according to the dictates of conscience and will serve faithfully and courageously. God grant that their sufferings will not be in vain, but that through their noble action some contribution to the cause of an ultimate peace may be made.
War demands great sacrifices from all, civilians as well as soldiers, and we must all be prepared to make sacrifices. But the peace created by the suffering of war is always a precarious peace, because, as history teaches us, wars have always a tendency of leading on to other wars. And so there is another way of working for peace that also involves suffering, pain and sacrifice. It is by living and working for the things which make for peace, the things of which I have been talking tonight, and for which the Christian Church stands. Those Christians who, in the days of war, hold to their convictions of international peace, brotherhood and goodwill, must expect to suffer, suffer not so much from the enemy as from their own countrymen. But they, too, may make some contribution towards a lasting peace, a peace built upon the will of God and the methods of God. And if there are, as we know, Christians in all countries who live and work in this way, surely they will help in some measure towards the creation of a better society, one in which the way of war will be replaced by the way of Christ.
Come what may, the Church must point to Christ and to Him alone. He is our peace, and through Him we all, British, Germans, Canadians, French, Italians, Russians, Americans, Poles, Japanese, Chinese, have access by one Spirit unto the Father.