“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Over 2,000 years ago the angels sang proclaiming the birth of Jesus the Christ, “Peace on earth, good will to all men.” It has always been my thought that the same way the waves of the sea and the air carry messages, one day some human will be able to invent an electronic instrument that will be able to scan through the billions and billions of spoken and sung words and find the song of the angels. It has not gone anywhere. There is still the divine clarion call to mankind for peace.
Any channel on the television you can turn to bears the news of global unrest and hatred. The world is gripped in hate hysteria – I hate you because you don’t look like me, speak like me, have a different skin color from me, don’t worship the way I do, don’t dress like me, eat like me; don’t support the same political party, don’t live where I live and don’t have the vast amount of wealth I have. You have not done me a single thing, but I still hate you.
Sometime ago, my friend, Kevin Davis, the organist at St. Thomas More Church asked me for the music and words of the hymn “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin”. Hymns are written with emphasis on scriptural texts and are as a result of personal experiences.
“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.”
The author of this hymn is Edward Henry Bickersteth who was born January 26, 1825 in London, England. His father, after whom he was named, was an Anglican priest following his prominent clerical ancestors. Apart from being a priest, Edward Sr., was also a poet and the editor of Christian psalmody, the best evangelical hymnal of its time. Four of his sons also became noted clergymen.
Edward Jr. was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his poetic gifts obtained for him high honors. He was ordained to the ministry of the Anglican Church and rose in positions of leadership all the way to being the Bishop of Exeter from 1885-1900. Throughout his ministry he was always known as a strong and influential evangelical leader, a prolific writer including 12 books of sermons, hymns and poetry. Following in the footsteps of his father, he maintained a vital interest in hymnology and in 1870 was appointed editor of The Companion to the Book of Common Prayer.
One Sunday in August, 1875 while vacationing in the town of Harrogate, England, Bickersteth listened to a sermon delivered by another minister, The Vicar of Harrogate, Canon Gibbon, on the text Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”
The same evening Bishop Bickersteth visited an aged relative who was going through the valley of death in an emotionally disturbed state of mind. Relying on the sermon of the morning he began to read from the Bible and comfort the man from the text, then taking a sheet of paper from a nearby desk he quickly composed the lines of his new poet and read them to the dying man. It is said that these helpful lines have remained exactly as they were originally written. The lines of this poem were no doubt a source of great comfort to the dying as he entered the “pearly gate”.
The tune or music for this hymn was written especially for this text by a young missionary student, George T. Caldbeck, in 1877. The simply written music with its two-note melodic range in the first line and its rising and falling melody in the second line is well-suited for these words. It should be noted that the first line of each verse is in the form of a question while the second line provides the answer, and as such can make for an interesting antiphonal possibility when using the hymn with a congregation. For example, a leader can have one group ask the question while another group responds with the second line’s affirmative.
We have all the potential for The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to become the peace center of the world for peace summits. Warring and feuding nations, who like Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” are losing their heads and blaming it on others, can make their way to these isles of the sea for reformation, restoration and revitalization. Many times it saddens me that the carnal mind cannot comprehend divinity and know that for all the ills that plague our nation God has so blessed a people called Bahamians, that however the complicated national equation of our situations may be the answer is within the equation.
The music of a hymn is called tune, and many tunes have names. The name of the tune for “Peace, perfect peace” is Latin “pax tecum” which means peace be with you. Would not it be just wonderful to greet one another with pax tecum? We would be well on our way to joy and prosperity.