Posted by: rcottrill | July 29, 2013

Peace, Perfect Peace

Words: Edward Henry Bickersteth, Jr. (b. Jan. 25, 1825; d. May 16, 1906)
Music: Pax Tecum, by George Thomas Caldbeck (b. _____, 1852; d. Jan. 29, 1918), and Charles John Vincent (b. Sept. 19, 1852; d. Feb. 28, 1934)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: In the biographical note in Wordwise Hymns, you will see that Bickersteth was not only a pastor, but a writer and editor of hymns. He was, in fact, a great lover of the hymnody of the church–a love which I share. His son reports that on Sundays at tea (a light meal the English eat in mid-afternoon), it was his father’s invariable custom to ask each family member to quote a hymn. He did this himself too, unless he’s just written a new one he could share.

As to Pax Tecum, Charles John Vincent (1852-1934) revised and arranged Caldbeck’s tune to the point that some have argued it became his, and ceased to be by Calbeck.

This simple hymn has a greatness that belies its simplicity. It’s one of those hymns that should be memorized and used often by the people of God. The words are based on a promise in the book of Isaiah, and the writing came about as follows. Dr. Bickersteth spent his vacation in 1875 in the north of England. There he heard Canon Gibbon, vicar of Harrowgate, preach a sermon on:

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3).

The bishop pointed out that Hebrew does not have modifying adjectives as we do in English. So to make this an especially powerful “peace” the word was simply repeated in Hebrew. “You will keep him in peace peace [shalom shalom, a peaceful peace].” The Amplified Bible has, “You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace.”

That afternoon, Edward Bickersteth visited a relative who was on his deathbed, and the thought of God’s “perfect peace” came to him with new force. As he sat by the bed, the ideas for this new hymn came to him. He jotted them down, and shared them with the dying man, to his great comfort.

All but the final stanza of the hymn are in a question-and-answer format. As noted in the Wordwise Hymns link, they can be sung antiphonally, with different parts of the congregation singing one line, and the other, of each stanza.

Several different kinds or spheres of peace are spoken of in Scripture. There is “the peace with God” that is ours through the work of Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:1). We are reconciled to God by faith in what the Lord Jesus did for us there. There is also “the peace of God” that the believe can have within as he or she commits those things that bring worry and anxiety to the Lord in prayer (Phil. 4:6-7).

Both of these come into play in this beautiful hymn. It’s on the basis of our peace with God through Christ, that we can seek the peace of God day by day.

“The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace” (Ps. 29:11). “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

I encourage you to meditate on each of the needs or problems described in the first line of the first six stanzas, and the all-sufficient provisions of God for our needs.

CH-1) Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

CH-2) Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

CH-3) Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

CH-4) Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

CH-5) Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.

CH-6) Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

CH-7) It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.

The stanzas of this hymn could provide a wonderful personal Bible study, as we look up relevant Bible passages. In turn, this meditation could also be shared with a group, as they are encouraged (and helped) to commit the words of the hymn to memory.

1) Can you think of instances and examples (in your own life, or the lives of others you know) of each problem spoken of in the first six stanzas?

2) Can you find Scripture verses that teach the encouraging truths in each of the second lines of the six stanzas, and that of the whole final stanza?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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