And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said…
These words of our Lord open to us an abiding law of His kingdom; an enduring rule of that dispensation under which we are.
1. It is "a kingdom"; most truly and really a kingdom. Nay, even in some sort a visible kingdom; and yet at the very same time it is —
2. A kingdom "which cometh not by observation"; unseen in its progress, seen in its conclusion; unheard in its onward march, felt in its results. Let us, then, follow out a little more into detail this strange combination of what might almost seem at first sight direct contradictions.
I. And first see HOW REMARKABLY THIS WAS THE CHARACTER OF ITS OPENING ON THIS EARTH. It was then manifestly a "kingdom." The angels bore witness of it. Their bright squadrons were visible upon this earth hanging on the outskirts of Messiah's dominion. They proclaimed its coming: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." "Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, good-will towards men." Nay, the world felt it: "Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." The instincts of the unbelieving monarch made him tremble before the King of Saints. It was "a kingdom" which was coming. Yet it "came not with observation." The King of Israel was born obscurely. Angels appeared to herald Him; yet none save shepherds saw them. There was veil enough over each circumstance of His life to make the dull eye of the world miss the true meaning of characters it could not help seeing. And afterwards, in the life of Christ, it was the same. The world was stirred, troubled, uneasy, perplexed. It felt that it was in the presence of a strange power. An undefined, unknown, yet real presence was with it. But it knew Him not. It was as if some cloud was shed round Him through which the world could not pierce. "The kingdom" was even now amongst men, and yet its coming was unseen.
II. And so, AFTER THE DEATH AND ASCENSION OF CHRIST, "THE KINGDOM" WENT ON. Still it came, reaching to every part of the earth, but never "with observation."
III. Once more; SEE HOW THIS IS STILL IN EACH HEART THE LAW OF ITS ESTABLISHMENT. There also none can ever trace its beginnings. Some, indeed, may remember when first they felt its life within them, when first they were duly conscious of its power — though this is far from universally the case where it is most truly planted — but even in these cases, this consciousness was not its true beginning; any more than the first faint upgrowth of the tender blade is the beginning of its life; any more than the first curling of the water is the breath of heaven which it shows: no; life must be, before it is able to look back into itself and perceive that it does live. Being must precede consciousness. And as it is at first given, so does it grow. It is the receiving a life, a being, a breath. It is the passing over us of God's hand, the in-breathing of His Spirit. This is its secret history; and this men cannot reach. And yet it is "a kingdom" which is thus set up. Wheresoever it has its way, there it will be supreme. It makes the will a captive, and the affections its ministers, and the man its glad vassal. Though it "cometh not with observation," yet it is indeed "a kingdom." Now, from this it behoves us to gather two or three strictly practical conclusions —
1. This is a thought full of fear to all ungodly men. Depend upon it this kingdom is set up. It is in vain for you to say that you do not perceive it, that you see it not, nor feel it; this does not affect the truth. It is its law that "it cometh not with observation"; that from some it always is hidden. Your soul had — if you be not altogether reprobate, it still has, however faintly exercised — the organs and capacities for seeing it. But you are deadening them within yourself.
2. This is a quickening thought to all who, in spite of all the weakness of their faith, would yet fain be with our Lord. Is this kingdom round about us? Have we places in it? How like, then, are we to His disciples of old; trembling and crying out for fear as lie draws ninth to us! How like are we to those whose eyes were holden, who deemed Him "a stranger in Jerusalem"! How do we need His words of love; His breaking bread and blessing it; His making known Himself unto us; His opening our eyes! How should we pray as we have never prayed before, "Thy kingdom come!"
3. Here is a thought of comfort. How apt are we to be east down; to doubt our own sincerity, to doubt His working in us, to doubt the end of all these tears, and prayers, and watchings! Here, then, is comfort for our feeble hearts. Small as the work seems, unobserved as is its growth, it is a kingdom. It is His kingdom. It is His kingdom in us. Only believe in Him, and wait upon Him; only endure His time, and follow after Him, and to you too it shall be manifested.
(Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: