On Earth Peace—Goodwill Toward Men
The Practical Application
The ministry of affliction plays a very important part in the development of Christ. In 1 Peter 2:23, we read "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." It is sometimes said that this was because Jesus had a special work to do, whereas we are called upon to fight evil. The Apostle Paul writes, however, that "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day" (1 Cor.4: 12-13), and this reminds us that the servant is not above his Lord. This is a line of conduct to be followed in the church and also in the world. It is no sign of weakness; it savours not of compromise; its practical outworking demonstrates both strength and beauty of character.
Conditions in Old Testament days were, of course, entirely different, and their wars when "iniquity had come to the full" were illustrations of God's righteous indignation to be manifest against all who, after full light and knowledge, choose evil rather than good. Nevertheless, here and there we see glimpses of the same Spirit which we are impelled to follow in this day when it is not "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." We recall the case of David's victory over Goliath: "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied" (1 Sam.17: 45). The three Hebrews resisted the king's decree to worship the image in the strength of God alone, but with a definiteness worthy of imitation "Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Dan.3: 18). In the fuller light of the Gospel Age (Christian era), of course, we see the Spirit of Christ manifest in the sufferings of the Body-members from our Lord's day, throughout the Dark Ages of the Inquisition and other forms of torture, down to our own day when, so far, the main suffering is in the mind. But the same Spirit of Christ must be manifest.
Severe tests have come amongst us—mental tests—and they demonstrate to what extent we have cultivated the Spirit of Christ. We must be definite in our views and give an uncompromising witness, but we must refrain from judging others in the sense of condemning them. "If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Gal.5: 15). The Apostle tells us that if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, then he is none of his, and the very essence of this Spirit is boldness combined with non-violent resistance, interpreted according to the high standard of Matthew 5. There is no limitation placed upon our Lord's teaching; it applies as between individuals and in the wider sense among communities, as already suggested.
Peace on Earth
When the last member of this Christ class has passed beyond the vail of the flesh, men will have the scales removed from their eyes; they will turn their instruments of destruction into utensils of husbandry, and a new Spirit within them, according to the law of the New Covenant, will cause them to love their neighbours as brethren. They will then be well pleasing to the Heavenly Father through the Mediator, and bring to pass the words of our text (Luke 2.14) which, according to Weymouth, reads "Glory be to God in the highest heavens, and on earth peace among men in who please Him!" That will be the time when in the words of Pastor Charles Russell "love welling up from every heart meets a kindred response in every other heart, and benevolence marks every act… The inward purity and mental and moral perfection will stamp and glorify every radiant countenance."
Meanwhile, it is for us to continue along the narrow pathway, faithful to the increasing light of truth as we endeavour to make our calling and election sure for the Kingdom promised, on Christ's terms, in Christ's way, and at Christ's cost, come what may. Let us always remember that "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor.10: 13).
Reprint BSM 1945