Life and Health and Peace

In the public domain by age

Charles Wesley

The first to link these precious words together was Charles Wesley, in a classic celebration of the impact of Jesus Christ. This coming Lord’s Day we begin our worship service with his great hymn:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
Jesus — the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears;
‘Tis life and health and peace.

J.I. Packer writes in his book Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life:

These are three of the weightiest and richest words that Scripture uses for the renewed existence of those who know God’s sovereign grace. Each of these words has an everyday meaning — life and health referring to one’s physical condition and peace signifying inner and outer calm — but here what they express is the spiritual well-being of the born again.

Life — eternal life, as the New Testament regularly calls it — is the state in which one recognizes, receives and responsively relates to God in Jesus Christ: in other words, Jesus Christ the Lord in his identity as God the Redeemer, who now calls us into fellowship with himself and with God the Father through God the Holy Spirit.

Health is a concept focused by the New Testament adjective healthy, which has traditionally been translated “sound” (as when we describe horses as sound in wind and limb); it is the state of well-being in which our spiritual system functions steadily and strongly the way it should, in faith, hope and love Godward.

Peace is a word of wide meaning that covers the state of being divinely pardoned and accepted; of knowing that this acceptance, based on Christ’s cross, is solid and lasting fact; of accepting and loving oneself as the person God made in his image and loves and has redeemed and is restoring; of accepting one’s circumstances, whatever they are, as divinely ordered for one’s good; of facing the unknown future in calm reliance on God’s promises; and of refusing to respond in kind to any violence and hostility shown to one by others. Life, health and peace are three words that together sum up the essence of Christian life.

The point becomes more vivid by contrast. The reality of life is opposed to the state of unresponsiveness to God, which is called death in Ephesians 2:1, 5, and Colossians 2:13 on the analogy of a corpse, which is totally unresponsive to any stimulus of any kind.

The reality of health is opposed to the inner sickness of unloving, self-serving, God-defying lifestyles, which exhibit human nature out of sorts and indeed wasting away, for these are the degenerative diseases of the soul.

The reality of peace is opposed to the stress and strain, the anxious, fearful, troubled, resentful, bitter, vengeful, addictive, adversarial way of living that so many moderns and postmoderns are anchored in nowadays. By contrast with these wretched alternatives life, health and peace appear as words of deliverance and delight.

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