In the final chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul prayed that the Hebrew Christians may be made perfect to do God’s will: “20 I pray that the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, 21 may prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action; effecting in us all whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
What can we learn from St. Paul’s parting prayer or wish for the Hebrew Christians? Do our desires for ourselves, and for those whom we would seek to bless, run in the same mould as Paul? Why did the apostle here call God “the God of peace”? How is the God of peace related to our sanctification?
“The God of peace” is a Pauline expression. You find that title only in the writings of Paul. It is a name of Paul’s own coinage by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. There were reasons in Paul’s experience which led him to dwell upon this peculiar trait of the Divine character. Just as in our text he prays, “may prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action,” so in Thessalonians he says, “and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes 5:23). It is evident, not only that the apostle delighted in the expression peculiar to himself, but that he saw a close connection between the peace of God and the sanctifying of believers, and for this reason, both in the Thessalonians and in the Hebrews, his prayer for their sanctification is addressed to the God of peace.
I will call to your notice the fact that the title, “the God of peace,” sheds a light over the whole passage, and is beautifully in harmony with every word of the prayer. Let us read it line by line. “I pray that the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant.” War brings down to death; but the God of peace brings back from the dead. The restoration of the Lord Jesus from the grave was a peaceful act, and was meant to be the guarantee of peace accomplished forever. The very word “covenant” is also full of peace: and especially is it so when we remember that it is a covenant of peace which eternal love has established between God and man. The apostle goes on to pray, “may prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action.” If God’s will is done by us, then there must be peace, for no ground of difference can exist. “Effecting in us all whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ.” When all in us is well pleasing to God, then, indeed, is He the God of peace to us. The final doxology is also very significant, for in effect it proclaims the universal and eternal reign of peace: “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” What can there be to disturb the universe when the Lord God omnipotent shall reign, and all nations shall glorify the Ever Blessed, world without end? Not without reason, therefore, did our apostle select the title, “The God of peace.”
Let us now consider the prayer which the name excites. “May prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action.” Now, I need only observe here, in regard to the language of the petition, that the word translated “may prepare you” is not the ordinary one employed for that idea; but a somewhat remarkable one, with a very rich and pregnant variety of significance. The general idea of the word, is to make sound, or fit, or complete, by restoring, by mending, by filling up what is lacking, and by adapting all together in harmonious co-operation. And so this is what Christians ought to look for, and to desire as being the will of God concerning them. The writer goes on to still further deepen the idea when he says, “prepare you to do his will in every kind of good action”; where the word “action” is a supplement, and unnecessarily limits the idea of the text. For that applies much rather to character than to work, and the “prepare you to do his will” refers rather to an inward process than to any outward manifestation. And this character, thus harmonised, corrected, restored, filled up where it is lacking, and that in regard of all manner of good — “whatsoever things are fair, and lovely, and of good report” — that character is “well-pleasing to God.” So you see the width of the hopes — ay! of the confidence — that you and I ought to cherish. We should expect that all the discord of our nature shall be changed into a harmonious co-operation of all its parts towards one great end. It is possible that our hearts may be united to fear His name; and that one unbroken temper of whole-spirited submission may be ours. Again, we shall expect, and desire, and strive towards the correction of all that is wrong, the mending of the nets, the restoring of the havoc wrought in legitimate occupations and by any other cause. Again, we may strive with hope and confidence towards the supply of all that is lacking. “In every good” — and all-round completeness of excellence ought to be the hope, and the aim, as well as the prayer of every Christian.
Note the divine work which fulfils the prayer. “Effecting in us all whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ.” Creation, Providence, and all God’s works in the world are also through Jesus Christ. But the work which is spoken of here is yet greater and more wonderful than the general operations of the creating and preserving God, which also are produced and ministered through that eternal Word by whom the heavens were of old, and by whom the heavens are still sustained and administered. There is, says the text, an actual Divine operation in the inmost spirit of every believing man. Expect that operation! Christian men and women, do we believe that God will work in our hearts? Some of us do not live as if we did. Do we want Him to come and clear out that stable of filth that we carry about with us? Do we wish Him to come and sift and search, and bring the candle of the Lord into the dusty corners? Do we want to get rid of what is not pleasing in His sight? Expect it! desire it! pray for it! And when we have got it, see that we profit by it! God does not work by magic. The Spirit of God which cleanses men’s hearts cleanses them on condition, first, of their faith; second, of their submission; and third, of their use of His gift.
Notice the visible manifestation of this inward work. Now the writer of our text employs the same word in the two clauses, in order to bring out the idea of a correspondence between the human and the Divine Worker. “To do his will in every kind of good action; effecting in us all whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ.” God works in order that you and I may work. Our action is to follow His. Practical obedience is the issue, and it is the test, of our having the Divine operation in our hearts.
Let us praise God with the song “My Peace”: