The Kingdom of God Not Yet In Existence, But To Be Established Visibly On The Earth At A Future Day
ON NO subject will Christendom be found to have gone more astray than on the subject of the Kingdom of God--a subject which, without exaggeration, may be said to constitute the very backbone of the divine purpose with the earth and its inhabitants. What is the Kingdom of God? It is one of the most important questions that can be asked, from a Scriptural point of view: for this reason: whatever the Kingdom of God is, IT WAS THE GREAT SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE GOSPEL PREACHED BY JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES. This we prove by the following citation of testimonies:--
"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. iv, 23).
"And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. ix, 35).
"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark i, 14).
"He (Jesus) said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent" (Luke iv, 43).
"And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God" (Luke viii, 1).
"Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God" (Luke ix, 1, 2).
"And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed him; and he received them and spake unto them of the kingdom of God" (Luke ix, 10, 11).
The ministers and clergy of the present day believe that they preach the gospel in setting before the people the death of Christ. The death of Christ, in its sacrificial import, doubtless becomes an element in the apostolic testimony of the gospel; but in considering whether this was the whole gospel of first century preaching, we must remember that Christ and his disciples preached the gospel three years before the crucifixion. Not only so, but we have evidence that the apostles, while so engaged--while they "went through the towns, preaching the gospel" (Luke ix, 6)--were not aware that Christ had to suffer. Christ told his disciples that he should "suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" (Luke ix, 22); but it is said, "They understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not" (Luke ix, 45). The fact that, while in this state of ignorance concerning the sufferings of Christ, they "preached the gospel," is proof of the most positive character that the gospel, as preached by them, must have been something very different from the gospel of modern times, which consists exclusively of the death of Christ on the cross. The difference is manifest in the foregoing testimonies, which tell us they preached "THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
The following passages prove that the Kingdom of God was also preached by the apostles after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, and that it, therefore, continues a valid and essential element of the gospel to this day :--
"But when they (the Samaritans) believed Philip PREACHING THE THINGS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women" (Acts viii, 12).
"He went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading THE THINGS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Acts xix, 8).
"He expounded and testified THE KINGDOM OF GOD, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets" (Acts xxviii, 23).
"And received all that came in unto him, preaching THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts xxviii, 30, 31).
"Among whom I (Paul) have gone PREACHING THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Acts xx, 25).
NOW, Paul was exceedingly zealous that the same gospel which he himself preached, should continue to be preached to the end of the world. "If an angel from heaven," said he, "preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. i, 8). Hence the gospel, of which he said it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Rom. i, 16), embraces the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, whatever that may be; for he himself continually preached it to both Jews and Gentiles.
We repeat that, in these circumstances, the question we have propounded is the most important to which attention can be invited.
What, then, is the Kingdom of God? Different answers will be given by different classes of people. Some conceive it to consist of the supremacy of God in the hearts of men--a sort of spiritual dominion existing co-extensively with secular life. Others recognise it in the ecclesiastical organisations of the day, styling them, as a whole, Christendom, or the kingdom of Christ, while a third party behold it in universal nature, continuing from generation to generation.
The holders of the first idea find a sanction for their belief in the words of Christ' "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke xvii, 21). They overlook the fact that these words were addressed to the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, "Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but WITHIN ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. xxiii, 28). This is not the state of mind that exists where the kingdom of God is supposed to dwell; and the fact that the statement in question was addressed to men of this character, shows that it had not the significance generally claimed for it. If the reader will examine any marginal Bible, he will find that "among" is given as the true rendering of the word translated "within "; which alters the significance of the verse. What Christ meant to intimate was his own presence among them as "the Royalty of the heavens," in answer to the mocking enquiry of the Pharisees.
Romans xiv, 17, is also quoted "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost "; but this only affirms one truth, without destroying another. It is true the kingdom of God when established, will be characterised by the qualities enumerated by Paul; but it does not therefore follow that the kingdom of God will not be a real and glorious manifestation of God's power on earth through the personal intervention of His Son from heaven.
The second idea, that the Kingdom of God is to be found in the religious systems of the day, as "the visible church," is without even the semblance of Scriptural foundation. Its existence is traceable to the times succeeding the overthrow of Paganism, in the beginning of the fourth century when Constantine delivered Christianity from its persecutors, and exalted it for the first time to the throne of prosperity and power. In the joy of the great change, the bishops said the Kingdom of God had come in the establishment of the Church. But we must go to the New Testament--not to ecclesiastical historians --for a Scriptural idea of the Church. The Church, we find to be composed of the heirs of the Kingdom, in probation for coming exaltation. They are not the Kingdom itself. We refer, for proof, to the argument to follow in the present and succeeding lectures.
The third view, which regards the universe as "the kingdom of God," has more of truth in it than the first or second, and yet we shall find as much of error. Nature is certainly the dominion of the Deity in a very exalted sense; but it is not that which in the Scriptures is spoken of as "the kingdom of God." We are bold to make the assertion, because of abundant Scriptural testimony forthcoming.
In endeavouring to ascertain the meaning of this phrase, "The Kingdom of God," we cannot do better than look at it in its origin. It is a Bible phrase, and originates there. We find it used in contrast to "the kingdom of men," which occurs three times in Daniel iv,--see verses 17, 25, 32. The "kingdom of men" consists of the aggregate of human governments. It is an appropriate designation for them all. They are all the embodiment of one principle--namely, the rule of man by himself. Whether it be the despot or free Parliament, the same is ex-emplified-self-government. This has been the alpha and omega of all political faith, since man was first sent forth an exile from Eden to take care of himself. Its form has varied in different ages and countries, according to the views and inclinations of men, but men have agreed with marvellous unanimity as to the mainspring of the system. There has been no difference between the bitterest factions as to the source of the power they respectively claimed to exercise, namely, the will of man--whether royalist or republican, despotic or constitutional.
The will of man is the cornerstone of every political edifice that exists--the foundation of the vast system of nations that covers the face of the earth. No one ever questions the legitimacy of human authority as politically embodied. The fact is, the world knows of no other authority. If it believe in God, a false theology has excluded Him from any influence in the minds of men in things practical. They confine His jurisdiction to "spiritual things," to which an artificial significance has come to be attached; and even in these they only yield him a constrained and occasional deference, In .reality, they acknowledged Him not. They own no higher authority than themselves. They assert the right to be their own masters, to dispose of this world's wealth as they think fit, and to make such laws as they please.
This. spirit is embodied in all the kingdoms of the world. It is the germ from which they are developed; so that in a particular and emphatic sense, human government, as multifariously manifested on the face of the globe, is THE KINGDOM OF MEN. It is the presumption of man politically incorporated, the organised enforcement of human dictate, irrespective of the authority of God. It is permitted of God as, in the circumstances, a necessary evil; and He overrules it with a view to His future purposes. "The Most High ruleth in: the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Dan. iv, 32).
This conception of the present situation of things prepares us for the apprehension ofTHE KINGDOM OF GOD