“PEACE, PERFECT PEACE”
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isa. 26:3)
INTRO.: A hymn which discusses the perfect peace of those whose minds are stayed on God is “Peace, Perfect Peace” (#223 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #239 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Edward Henry Bickersteth (Jr.), who was born on Jan. 25, 1825, at Islington in London, England. His father, also named Edward, was a minister in the Anglican Church who had been at one time a missionary to West Africa, and in 1833 the father was the editor of Christian Psalmody, considered to be the best hymnbook of its day. The younger Bickersteth was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with a Doctor of Divinity, and in 1848 became a minister in the Anglican Church like his father. In 1855 he began work with Christ Church in Hempstead. Known for his voluminous writings, which include twelve books of sermons, hymns, and poems, he was appointed editor of The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer in 1870, again following in his father’s footsteps.
One Sunday in August of 1875, while vacationing in the town of Harrogate, England, Bickersteth listed to sermon on the subject of peace, delivered by the local minister named Gibbon, who pointed out that in the Hebrew the repetitive phrase “peace, peace” means “perfect peace.” That afternoon, he paid a visit to an aged, dying relative, Archdeacon Hill of Liverpool. The ill man was in a deeply depressed and disturbed state of mind. Eager to be of spiritual help and comfort, Bickersteth picked up his Bible and read the portion of scripture used in the morning’s lesson. Then, while his relative slept, he took a sheet of paper from a nearby desk, quickly jotted the lines of this poem, and read them to the sick man after his awakening. Originally released that year in Bickersteth’s Songs in the House of Pilgrimage, the hymn was later printed on cards and given by the hundreds to people. It is said to have been a favorite of Queen Victoria.
The tune (Pax Tecum) was composed around 1876 for this text by a young student, George Thomas Caldbeck (1852-1918). The following year, it was harmonized to be published in the second edition (1878) of The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer by Charles John Vincent (1852-1934). Bickersteth was later appointed Bishop of Exeter and Dean of Gloucester Cathedral in 1885, where he served until 1900, and died in London, England, on May 16, 1906, having edited three hymnbooks and produced at least thirty hymns of his own. His most famous hymn is in the unusual form of a question and answer. The first line of each stanza is a question, while the second line provides the answer. The questions are a series of challenges to our faith, and in each case Jesus is the key that resolves the dilemma, reminding us that only in Jesus Christ can mankind truly know genuine peace.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Peace, Perfect Peace,” has appeared in the 1922 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song is designed to give us comfort and encouragement in the various problems and trials of life.
I. In stanza 1, it is sin that wrecks our peace.
“Peace, perfect peace, in This dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus Whispers peace within.”
A. This world is a dark world of sin because all of us have sinned: Rom. 3:23
B. However, Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins: Matt. 26:28
C. Thus, the blood of Jesus is the answer to the problem of sin: Eph. 2:14-17
II. In stanza 2, thronging duties press us and keep us from peace.
“Peace, perfect peace, by Thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.”
A. All of us have thronging duties and cares which press us daily: Lk. 21:34
B. However, Jesus wants us to do the will of the Father in heaven: Matt. 7:21
C. Hence, doing the will of the Lord is the means by which we can have peace and rest: 2 Thess. 1:7
III. In stanza 3, sorrows surge around us to take peace from our hearts.
“Peace, perfect peace, with Sorrows surging ‘round?
On Jesus’ bosom Naught but calm is found.”
A. Life is filled with its sorrows which surge around us from time to time: Ps. 90:10
B. We cannot literally rest on Jesus’ bosom, but we can still abide in Him: Jn. 15:7
C. Therefore, just as He stilled the storm on Galilee, so Jesus offers us peace and calm: Matt. 8:26
IV. In stanza 4, the unknown future brings fear and removes our peace.
“Peace, perfect peace, our Future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.”
A. Certainly, we realize that the future is unknown to us: Jas. 4:14
B. However, while we do not know the future, we know Jesus who holds the future: Jn. 17:3
C. Thus, we can trust Jesus, who is the ruler of the universe, to bring us peace so that we need not worry about tomorrow: Matt. 6:34
V. In stanza 5, the thought of coming death often hinders our peace
“Peace, perfect peace, death Shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished Death and all its powers.”
A. We realize that death is shadowing us and ours because it is appointed for men to die once: Heb. 9:27
B. Yet Jesus has vanquished death and even destroyed him who had the power of death: Heb. 2:14-15
C. Hence, we are no longer under death’s powers and can be at peace because we have nothing to fear from this last enemy: 1 Cor. 15:25-26
VI. In stanza 5, these specific answers should bring us peace.
“It is enough: earth’s Struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to Heaven’s perfect peace.”
A. Earth’s struggles soon shall cease for Christians because when they die they are at rest from their labors: Rev. 14:13
B. At that time Jesus shall call us when He comes again to take them home: Jn. 14:1-3 (it sounds as if it should be “And Jesus calls us,” but this is in the future and the “shall” of the phrase “Earth’s struggles soon shall cease” is understood here as well)
C. Then we shall experience Heaven’s perfect peace: 1 Pet. 1:3-5
CONCL.: There is another stanza, which fits between #s 3 and 4 above:
“Peace, perfect peace, with Loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping We are safe, and they.”
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 stanza, apparently never published, on the back:
“Peace, perfect peace, ’mid Suffering’s sharpest throes?
The sympathy of Jesus breathes repose.”
Another of Bickersteth’s famous hymns, written in 1861 for the communion service, is “Till He Come, O Let the Words.” However, his hymn about peace emphasizes the fact that Jesus is our peace and that we can obtain perfect peace only through the presence of Christ in our lives. As we journey on this earth, we need encouragement, and God makes it possible for us to have “Peace, Perfect Peace.”