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What is the Peace-loving Temper or Attitude?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”—ST MATTHEW 5:9.

Let us pass, to-day, on from the wider considerations which occupied us last Sunday, to consider the peace-making disposition in reference to affairs around us.

I. What is the peace-loving temper or attitude? It is not mere good nature; it is not the disposition that cries ‘anything for a quiet life.’ It is, in fact, the most active of all the virtues that Christ puts before us in these Beatitudes. It begins as an inward state by which a man strives to be at peace with God and others, but its outward manifestation is speedy and imperative. It cannot be shut up within the breast of man: it must find its exercise in the difficulties that arise between others. *The peacemaker passes away from his own concerns and intervenes in the quarrels and misunderstandings of others, and endeavours to set men at one. Therein he undertakes a work which is often thankless and always difficult, but which is, nevertheless, a work so Divine as to produce the very likeness of God among men. For this is the force of the expression, “they shall be called the children of God;” their likeness to God will be so obvious, because of these efforts, that men will own them as true children of the Father.

The excellence of this disposition is in proportion to the difficulty of its acquirement. Certain things, viz., patience, wisdom and love, are antecedent necessities which prepare the way for it. It does not conduce to peace to intervene in every quarrel. It often makes things worse, or results in a temporary truce between the contending parties based only on a combined hostility to their would-be peacemaker. Really to promote peace, to intervene in quarrels and to bring men or bodies of men together, requires great self-control and steady determination to form a just habit of mind and neither self-control nor a just habit of mind, are easy things to acquire. The power of seeing two sides of a question and of being able to be fair to both is as rare as it is powerful. I have somewhere read that a few years ago a new judge was appointed from whom great things were expected because of his legal attainments. After some time had elapsed he confessed to a sense of the exceeding difficulty of his position, owing to the fact that he was always convinced by the speech of the last advocate. The argument on the one side seemed conclusive till he heard that on the other side, which seemed equally conclusive. The first counsel always persuaded him that the merits of the case were on his side, while the opposing one always filled his mind with doubts and perplexities of the most heart-rending description. He came to the conclusion that his position was hopeless, and vowed that nothing should induce him either to pay any heed to evidence or to listen to speeches again as long as he lived. What sort of decisions he came to I do not know, but obviously he lacked the great element of inward power by which a man may hope to justify his decisions and to settle disputes to the satisfaction of others, or by giving them that sense of equal justice which so powerfully makes for peace. In ordinary life it must be confessed that this power is a rare one. How few men can bear to listen to or to read anything with which they disagree; how many protect themselves by resolutely shutting away any possible difference of view, though there is nothing, as many realise and all allow in theory, more necessary to a right judgment than the power of seeing both sides of a question. The power of forcing oneself to see the other side of any question ought really to be one of the necessary elements of all moral training; yet it is a kind of mental discipline which seems grievously neglected and ignored by many around us. They so easily assume that there is only one side—their own side; it is the bad result of party warfare. And this onesidedness which is supposed to protect their convictions, really weakens them; for however strongly we may deny it, there is always an uneasy suspicion within us that there may be something to be said on the subject which we have not faced, and that our attitude might have to be modified, if it were not for our dogged refusal to see any other point of view than our own. In such uneasiness there is always essential weakness. At any rate, no man can ever be a peacemaker who allows himself to lie under it. Of course there is a stage of things, at which the conscientious endeavour to see both sides of questions leaves a man practically paralysed and useless, because he can never make up his mind. Its extreme form is one of the most painful symptoms of nervous disorder. This may serve as a warning, yet it ought not to prevent any one from endeavouring to see both sides of a question or a quarrel. It is quite one thing to do that, and another to fail in mental decision, or in straight speaking when you have decided. It has always seemed to me that one of the most useful functions of a preacher in these days is to set forth quite a different aspect of things from that to which his hearers are accustomed. It may and does sometimes create momentary irritations, but the mental discipline is excellent, and no one is obliged to agree. And in all matters no man need decide less strongly, or take his part more feebly because he has had the courage and the fairness to look at both sides of a question. Even if he thinks one side wholly right, his conviction will be more serious, and carry more weight, if he knows what has to be said on the other side.

II. This, then, is one of the essential elements of the peacemaking temper. *Another is self-control. Unless a man can keep himself, can hold himself, he will never intervene usefully in private or public disputes. For that reason a coward is never a peacemaker. He has no hold over himself. He is really too occupied in considering his own safety to intervene with any effect in other men’s matters. A man must possess himself before he can say a word about the disputes of others.

And self-control is a very wide thing. It spreads over the whole nature; it is not merely concerned with victory over passion or emotion; it means that a man chooses what he will think about as well as what he will do; it means that the mental processes are subject to discipline as well as the physical—all that is involved in self-control. Of course, we are familiar with a good deal of shallow rhetoric which assumes the contrary to this. We are often told as regards mental processes that we must follow truth wherever it leads us. Anyone who believes in truth must say that. *But the following of truth is very liable to be confounded with the yielding to the immediate pressure of an argument—which is a very different matter. There is so much that is accidental mixed up with the force of an argument, e.g., an interesting personality will carry us along with it to conclusions from which an uninteresting one would repel us. Or the weight of an argument depends so much on our own circumstances; in youth it seems different from what it does in age, in the depression of failure it has quite a different aspect from that which it presents during the elation of success. Or one set of ideas obscures another. Sometimes the moral side of things overpowers us, at another the physical asserts its sway, at another the imaginative, at another the historical. We cannot get away from these conditions, perplexing as they often are; we are only bound, in the midst of them, to keep our souls, to possess ourselves.

We must recognize that there are inward temptations to the loss of self-control quite as strong as the spirits which set the drunkard’s blood on fire, or the base places which draw the feet of the profligate. This is not often sufficiently recognized; and hence there arise rash and superficial judgments which weaken the mental power and destroy our chance of ever being peacemakers. The peacemaking making temper must be self-controlled, it must possess its own inward self too firmly to be moved by outward fears or oppressed by outward threats.

These, then, are the two essential elements of the peacemaking disposition—the power to possess oneself and the power to see both sides of a question. They are both things which, by the grace of God, may be built up in any character that sets itself earnestly to work, and they are of the deepest value to the community when they are formed in any man—they earn even now the respect and the gratitude of hundreds wherever they are shown. If ever the great question between labour and capital, which is now tearing asunder the industrial community, is to be solved as we trust it will be, it must be by men possessed with this spirit. Strikes and lock-outs are clumsy, unwieldy weapons, unworthy of civilised men; and the refusal on one side or the other to go to arbitration is the confession of a weak case. And when once these extreme measures are resorted to, outside interference (unless it is invoked by both sides) can do very little. Mere glib assertions about which side is in the right on a complicated question, mere heated taking of sides, does not make for peace, and if it ensures temporary victory it leaves behind it the elements of future discord. More than ever it seems to be right to cultivate that calm and self-restrained attitude of being willing to make peace when peace is possible, of trying to see both sides of the question which is so strikingly manifested in the letter of one of our Bishops which has appeared this week in the papers. It is the non-combatants who often create the real difficulties; those who intervene without knowing the real inwardness of the question. But when one thinks of the misery involved to thousands of women and children, it is something worse than foolish to say one single word of bitterness or prejudgment, that is likely to affect the general atmosphere and retard a settlement. By self-control and by making efforts to see both sides of questions one may here cultivate the peacemaking temper.

III. But, even further, there are certain rocks to be avoided about which it may be well to be explicit. Peace implies the entire absence of ill-will. There is much incipient ill-will that is always on the road to actual ill-feeling, and it is in checking the growth of this incipient ill-will that we shall most advance. Some natures have this as their great temptation to live in a state of incipient irritation with those around them. No doubt they put it down to the gout, or to their nerves, but men and women do conquer these physical drawbacks, and it would be well for many of us if we were to dwell on the example of one with whom at this hour we all sympathise, and of whom we read the other day that, after his illness, he asked if he had said anything impatient to anyone. There are those too, who have neither gout nor shattered nerves, who allow every little defect to prey upon them till incipient ill-will is formed within. They take offence at some accident of dress, or speech, or manner, and they hide from themselves many excellencies. Superficial criticism, that has its basis in externals, is so liable to lead to ill-will. It is not necessary to underrate the difficulties. There are so many veils to hide us from one another that we can never know even the good people around us, unless we start with an earnest intention of assuming the best things. And the great mass of people are not made after the model we like; they do not, perhaps, elicit our sympathies, they either chill us, or disgust us. True and genuine intercourse, if it were possible, would remove these barriers, but it is not possible; and even if it were, there remain differences of tastes, tempers, and gifts. The only practical rule here seems to be to refuse sternly to judge in thought those about whom we know little, to set our faces against those half-incipient enmities that rise up against people whose dress annoys us, or whose voices grate on our ears. The peacemaking temper throws itself back on higher realities, and refuses to let these external excrescences create those half-dislikes which are so narrowing to the heart and stifling to the mind. It is a great thing when we are able to laugh at the absurdity of our temporary irritations. Another devil to be wrestled with is that enjoyment of squabbles as a relief to the dulness of life which is so congenial to some natures. *There are people who live on the pleasure they derive from their small squabbles. A family disturbance produces an excitement, a sort of flutter to them; they go to each other’s houses several times a week to discuss it, or they keep it up by correspondence (which is more deadly still), and between times they regale the domestic circle with an exciting account of the various discords and animosities. Not that they are ill-natured, but they enjoy an atmosphere of contest, it relieves life of its tameness and its tedium, it is more pleasant than the normal routine. They would rather be irritated with some one of their relations-in-law than feel dull, for to be dull is their greatest trial, and to avoid it they prefer a scene. It breaks the level of life and varies its flatness, it is a stimulant, it keeps up the spirits. Not that they are really indignant, but they derive a certain pleasure from the disturbance around them. This is a weakness—a frailty not uncommon among the least employed section of the community who do not work for their living. One must be alive to its danger in order to struggle against it, one must appreciate its consequences to dread it enough. It does starve the moral nature and lower the whole tone; it impoverishes the vital elements of character. A life of enmities is a life in which growth—the steady, unperceived growth of goodness—is impossible. All religious duties, prayer, Holy Communion, Bible-reading, become first monotonous, then formal, then distasteful, while small self-excitements and interests divert the attention from all the graver interests of life.

Let us put away such things, and follow after peace. Peace is our proper relation to all men—peace in ourselves, peace with others, is what enables us to live calmly, wisely, seriously; let us keep our hearts, let us watch for our opportunities to do good to our neighbor; thus we shall not only raise our own souls, but we shall win the gratitude of all who come near us, we shall be owned to be “the children of God.”

* Moberley on “The Beatitudes.”

* “Mozley’s Sermons.”

* Church’s “Sermon on Responsibility for our Belief.”

* Mozley’s “Sermon on the Peaceful Temper.”

Eyton, R. (1896). The Benediction on the Peacemakers (II). In The Beatitudes (Second Edition, pp. 165–175). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. (Public Domain)

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