Peace, Perfect Peace

Perfect Peace

By Edward H. Bickersteth (1875)

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to Heaven’s perfect peace.

Peace, perfect peace, ’mid suffering’s sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.

It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus calls us to Heav’n’s perfect peace.

In life, there comes a time when you feel stressed/overwhelmed/ready to curl up in a ball and whimper. During such times my “go to” scripture is Isaiah 26:3: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

This has been another of those stressful times for our family. Enid has read a number of scriptures for us during these moments and similarly I have led her to some other. Right now we’re trying to do that budget thing where the numbers refuse to match up. Good times. But whatever challenges, we know that God provides our needs. And even more, he will keep us in perfect peace, despite our many imperfections, if we fix our eyes on him.

This is a beautiful hymn based on Isaiah 26, and it has a neat story that goes with it. But first a little look at the quest for peace. The quest for inner calm and peace has been a universal struggle for mankind throughout the ages. From generation to generation there is a cry for peace and lasting peace for that matter. Even for those of us who profess to be followers of Christ, it is difficult to realize with consistency that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts (Isa 55:9). It often becomes normal for us to make our own plans without consulting Him for His perfect peace.

This comforting hymn reminds us that God’s perfect peace is found only in Christ Jesus. It was written by an English Anglican Church Pastor by the name Edward H Bickersteth Jr. He was a Bishop at Exeterr in England and was well known for his many books and sermons, poetry and hymns.

In August of 1875, Bick­er­steth was on vacation in Har­ro­gate, England, where he heard a ser­mon on Isaiah 26:3 by Canon Gibbon.  The passage read “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.”  The preacher expounded how the He­brew text used the word peace twice to in­di­cate ab­so­lute per­fect­ion. He said, “It reads in the original, ‘Thou wilt keep him in peace peace whose mind is stayed on Thee,’” and explained that the repetition in the Hebrew conveys the idea of absolute perfectionThe translators of the King James Version knew of this Hebrew method and instead of repeating the world peace, which would seem awkward, translated it to “perfect, peace.”

The message of that morning’s sermon was still on Bick­er­steth’s mind when he vis­it­ed an elderly and dy­ing rel­a­tive that Sabbath af­ter­noon. As he entered the man’s bedroom he found him in deep depression and troubled about his impending death.  To soothe the man’s emo­tion­al tur­moil, Bick­er­steth opened his Bible to read from Isaiah 26:3, Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.  When his friend dropped off to sleep Bickersteth took a sheet of paper and began to write a poem, posing the most disturbing obstacles to peace in life and then answered with the affirmation of faith that could not be denied.  Right there at the bedside of his relative, he quickly composed the lines of this hymn just as it reads today except for the last stanza which was written later. It was written after one of Bick­er­steth’s sis­ters point­ed out that there is no­thing spe­ci­fic in the hymn about phy­si­cal suf­fer­ing. “That is soon rem­e­died,” he re­plied. He took up an en­ve­lope and wrote the fol­low­ing verse (ap­par­ent­ly ne­ver pub­lished) on the back…

Peace, perfect peace, ’mid suffering’s sharpest throes? The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.

So from the Hebrew expression of “Peace, peace” came the beginning phrase of each stanza of the hymn. “Peace, perfect peace”. The questions were posed and for each of these questions, Edward Bickersteth supplied a positive spiritual answer.

These completed lines were then read to the dying relative when the patient awoke. As Edward read the stanzas to him, they were no doubt a source of great comfort to his troubled mind and heart as they have continued to be for troubled hearts throughout the years.  Per­haps the last thing he heard before Jesus called him “to Hea­ven’s per­fect peace.”

It is said that later his hymn would comfort Edward’s own heart as he stood over the grave of a preacher son. Amen!

Taken from Songs in the Night, by Henry Gariepy. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.

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