Great Texts of the Bible
The Coming of the Kingdom
And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.—Luke 17:20-21.
1. There are few sayings of our Lord whose meaning has been more disputed. What did our Lord mean? Did He mean, as we at first are sure to understand Him to mean, that the Kingdom of God is to be looked for, not in the outward scene of man’s life but in the heart of man himself? That is no doubt, in one sense, most true. The Kingdom of God, as St. Paul says, is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and it is within ourselves, though not only within ourselves, that these things are found. Or, secondly, did the Lord here speak of His own presence in the world? Did He mean that the Kingdom, or reign, of God was already realized in His own Person, and in the little band which was living under His direction? That also is, no doubt, most true. In Jesus and His little company the Pharisees had already “in the midst of them” those in whom God was indeed ruling. Or, thirdly, was our Lord’s meaning, as we should now say, eschatological? Did He mean that it was idle to watch for the dawn of the Kingdom of God, since that Kingdom would come suddenly, and in its noontide glory, without any gradual dawn to herald its coming? A moment before its arrival we shall detect no sign of it. And then, as the hour strikes, “Lo! the kingdom of God is in the midst” of us! Each of these meanings is possible, and each is attractive; how shall we decide between them?
The context provides us with an answer. We read the next verses and this is what we find: “And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say to you, Lo, there! Lo, here! go not away, nor follow after them; for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day.” Now, surely, these later verses explain the earlier. The disciples themselves, the Lord seems to say, will in the days to come raise the same question as the Pharisees have raised, and raise it with a longing desire which even the Pharisees do not know. By the disciples, indeed, the coming of the Kingdom will be bound up with the coming of the Son of Man; the fulfilment of all their loftiest hopes will rest with Him. But they, too, in their longing desire, will be tempted to “follow wandering fires,” and the Lord bids them resist that temptation. When the Son of Man does come to bring the Kingdom, the lightning itself will not be plainer, or more sudden in its coming, than He. Can we doubt, then, that our Lord’s words to the Pharisees had a similar meaning? They, too, are eschatological, as the words to the disciples are. They, too, warn us that the Kingdom of God will come very suddenly, and that we must ever be ready for it.
2. Let us first try to understand what the Kingdom is, and then let us interpret its coming as both present and future, that is to say, as already in a certain sense among us, and yet in another sense only to come at the end of all things. The idea of the Kingdom as “within,” or its inward and spiritual nature will be reserved for another sermon.
The translation of the last clause is most uncertain. In the Authorized Version it is “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you”; or, as the margin reads, “among you.” The Revised Version has it: “The kingdom of God is within you,” with “in the midst of you” in the margin. Dr. Muirhead, in his Eschatology of Jesus, thinks that our Lord expressly chose an ambiguous expression, not committing Himself to the statement that the Kingdom of God was within the Pharisees, and yet not missing the opportunity of suggesting its essential inwardness.
The true conception of the Kingdom of God will not necessarily be the conception which is most easy to grasp, or the conception which the earliest Gospel might most easily suggest to us; it will be the conception which can take its place in actual history. We know from the Old Testament what the Kingdom of God meant, and was found to be, before the Lord came. We know from the New Testament, and from our own experience, what it meant and has been found to be in the life of the Church. Our Lord’s conception of it must surely have been the conception which can link the one with the other without breach of continuity. That conception may have been complex, like His own wonderful personality. Because it is complex, we may wish to simplify it by sacrificing to one element in it all the rest. But that is a temptation which we shall be bound to resist, and to resist precisely because we desire to be true to history. Neither thought nor life is simple, and we must accept them as they are.
1. What, then, did the Kingdom of God mean to Israel before our Lord came?
(1) In the Bible the Kingdom of God is in no way concerned with physical boundaries. The Kingdom of God means the rule of God, and that not just as an abstract idea, but in a concrete form, the rule of God as it takes shape in the sphere where it is actually exercised. To be ruled by God is the greatest blessing which men can enjoy; it brings with it every possible blessing. The misery of the world to-day, and every single unhappiness of our own, result simply from this, that neither we nor our circumstances are ruled by our Heavenly Father as they ought to be. Far too much they are either the sport of our own wilful impulses, or under the foolish rule of people as foolish and wilful as ourselves. And always where there has been true spiritual insight, men have known where the source of the evil lay, and longed for its removal. What was needed, they knew, was not a different kind of human rule, but the rule of God.
(2) But the best minds in Israel went further than that. They were certain that God’s purpose did exactly correspond to man’s need. Israel itself was in God’s intention the sphere of God’s rule. As Samuel expressed it, the Lord their God was their King. Just in so far as Israel frankly accepted the Divine rule and obeyed the Divine commands it found in its own experience the unspeakable blessing which they brought.
(3) Was, then, this all that was necessary? Not so, and for two reasons. In the first place, the sin of Israel was continually defeating the Divine purpose for it, and Israel itself, in consequence, continually falling under the cruel despotism of its heathen neighbours. And in the second place, Israel was not the world, while the rule of God was needed everywhere. And so we find that, while prophet and psalmist do the fullest justice to the Divine rule that already exists, while they love to dwell upon it and long for themselves and for their country to appropriate it more and more, they nevertheless look beyond the present to a far fuller establishment of the rule of God. Israel itself must be purged of its sin; it must be brought to a new and willing submission to its true King; the laws of God must be put into its mind and written upon its heart; then the oppressor will be cast down, and all be well with Israel under its Divine Judge and Law-giver and King. And, to pass to the wider hope, the Kingdom of God must come to the other nations also, and come, just as it had come to Israel, by God’s personal action, by His own free and loving gift.
(4) Moreover, to those who thus hoped and believed, every manifestation of Divine judgment or mercy was a real coming in power of the Kingdom of God. This manifestation might not accomplish all that was needed; that might be man’s fault, and not God’s. But it was a real manifestation, so far as it went, and it pointed to a further and fuller manifestation in the time to come. If God smote Egypt or Babylon, if He brought back His people from captivity and established them in their own land, God’s servants rejoiced in the present, and looked forward with the greater confidence to the future. That was the mind of the Israel to whom the Lord came. It believed in a present kingdom, and it believed in a future kingdom, and in both as in the closest connexion the one with the other.
2. Now, what is the conception of the Kingdom in the New Testament and the history of the Church of Christ? Has the thought of the Kingdom of God been there substantially different from the thought of Israel? On the contrary, it has been substantially the same. Since the coming of the Spirit, the Church has felt itself to be far more truly the Kingdom of God than ever Israel was of old.
(1) Before our Lord’s attack the powers of evil have already fallen. He “has made us a kingdom,” as St. John says. God has “delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.” In our personal lives, if we will but respond to the grace of God, the Kingdom of God is already “within us.” “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death.” We are led by the Spirit of God—God’s sons because we are so led. If that is not to enjoy the Kingdom of God here and now, what is? Yes, and not only in our individual lives do we enjoy it, but in our corporate life as well. In the Catholic Church, into which the little company of our Lord has grown, the world has already the Kingdom of God “in the midst of” it. Imperfect as the Church may be, it is in God’s intention the sphere of the Divine rule, as the world outside is not. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Ghost, in God’s intention a true theocracy like Israel of old.
(2) But of course we can no more rest in such thoughts as these than the best minds of Israel did. We, too, feel how, within ourselves and within the Church, human sin mars the Divine purpose, and we long for that sin to be purged away “by the Spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.” We, too, feel ourselves only too often under the dominion of alien powers, and long for their dominion to be broken. Yet again, we, too, chafe at the present limitations of the Divine rule. We desire it for the whole world of men and for the whole world of nature. And so we too, like Israel of old, cannot rest in the Kingdom as we at present experience it. We look forward, as Israel did, to the day of the Lord, or rather to that which is our Christian translation of it, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He, our Lord, must come—again and again it may be—to judge all that need His judgment, and to be gracious to all that need His grace. So, remembering how He said that “henceforth” we should “see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven,” we recognize His coming just as Israel recognized the coming of God, in every overthrow of the powers of the world, in every signal mercy vouchsafed to the Church, while we look forward, beyond all present judgments and present grace, to a final judgment, and a perfected “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
(3) How the final judgment and perfected salvation will come we know not at all; that the figures in which we speak of them are figures only, we know full well. But that they will come in God’s good time we know full well also. So far from the belief in the present Divine Kingdom excluding the belief in the eschatological kingdom, the one belief leads on to and implies the other. It is our experience of the present kingdom, which we know, that gives all its best content to the hope of the eschatological kingdom, which we do not know, while it is the very imperfection of the present kingdom that leads us to look beyond it. Of a contrast, an opposition, between the two, the Church knows nothing, nor has ever known anything. Like Israel of old, she believes in them both, and maintains them both.1 [Note: H. L. Goudge.]
Jesus’ Kingdom commends itself to the imagination because it is to come when God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven—it is the Kingdom of the Beatitudes. It commends itself to the reason because it has come wherever any one is attempting God’s will—it is the Kingdom of the Parables. An ideal state, it ever allures and inspires its subjects; a real state, it sustains, commands them. Had Jesus conceived His Kingdom as in the future only, He had made His disciples dreamers; had He centred it in the present only, He had made them theorists. As it is, one labours on its building with a splendid model before his eyes; one possesses it in his heart, and yet is ever entering into its fulness.2 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master.]
The City paved with gold,
Bright with each dazzling gem!
When shall our eyes behold
The new Jerusalem?
Yet lo! e’en now in viewless might
Uprise the walls of living light!
The kingdom of the Lord!
It cometh not with show:
Nor throne, nor crown, nor sword,
Proclaim its might below.
Though dimly scanned through mists of sin,
The Lord’s true kingdom is within!
The gates of pearl are there
In penitential tears:
Bright as a jewel rare
Each saintly grace appears:
We track the path saints trod of old,
And lo! the pavement is of gold!
The living waters flow
That fainting souls may drink;
The mystic fruit-trees grow
Along the river’s brink:
We taste e’en now the water sweet,
And of the Tree of Life we eat.
Not homeless wanderers here
Our exile songs we sing;
Thou art our home most dear,
Thou city of our King!
Thy future bliss we cannot tell,
Content in Thee on earth we dwell.
Build, Lord, the mystic walls!
Throw wide the unseen gates!
Fill all the golden halls,
While yet Thy triumph waits!
Make glad Thy Church with light and love,
Till glorified it shines above!1 [Note: W. Walsham How.]
The Coming of the Kingdom
We have seen that the coming of the Kingdom of God is both present and future; it is come, and it is coming. Before touching each manifestation separately, let us consider the attitude of our Lord. It is a most important matter for us to understand our Lord’s position. The eschatological question, as it is called, is the burning question of our day, and much depends upon its proper solution.
With the mind of Israel what it was, and the mind of the Church what it has ever been, is it in the least probable that the mind of our Lord was out of harmony both with the one and with the other, and exhibited a narrowness and one-sidedness from which both the one and the other have been free? Is it in the least probable that, while Israel and the Church have believed in a present Kingdom of God as well as in a future one, our Lord believed only in the latter and ignored the former? Why should we think so? Is it because of the witness of the Synoptic Gospels?
If we take them as they stand, they witness to no such narrowness. They represent our Lord, no doubt, as an enthusiastic believer in the grand hope of the coming reign of God. So were the best minds of Israel, and so are the best minds of the Church to-day. They represent Him as thinking far more of the future kingdom than He thought of the present one. So did the best minds of Israel, and so do the best minds of the Church to-day. But they do not represent Him as confining to the future the thought of the Kingdom of God. Israel was to Him all, and more than all, that it had been to prophet and psalmist before Him. Jerusalem was “the city of the great King.” His own followers, the foundation on which His Church was to be built, were to Him even more. The keys of their society were “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” He taught that the rule of God was already being realized in His own activity; if He “by the finger of God cast out devils, then is the Kingdom of God come upon us”; and He provided for the extension of that activity in the work of the Church. He spoke of the Kingdom of God as growing like the mustard-plant, and working like leaven; and whether we explain His words as applying to the Church or to the individual or to both, it is manifestly of a present kingdom that He spoke.
Of course, it is possible, in the interests of a theory, to excise such passages from the Gospels, or to explain them away, but why should we wish to do so? Why should we insist upon interpreting our Lord’s words by Jewish apocalypses, which we have no evidence that He ever read, instead of interpreting them by that Old Testament with which we know His mind was saturated? Why do we forget the destruction of Jerusalem, and the place which we know it to have occupied in His thoughts? Why, when He tells us that we shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, do we insist that He can have but one day? Why, when He says that “wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” do we insist that not till His final coming can there be a lifeless corpse to consume, and that the eagles of judgment must go hungry till then? Why, above all, when in His great eschatological discourse He distinguishes in successive verses between the judgment that will fall before His own generation passes away and that final judgment whose day and hour not even the Son can know, do we insist upon confusing the one with the other, and declaring our Lord to have claimed the very knowledge which He denies Himself to possess?
Take that text which seems to be regarded as the stronghold of the purely eschatological view. “Ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” What difficulty will that verse present to one who is familiar with the Old Testament language? None whatever. At what exact moment our Lord spoke these words we do not know. Here, as elsewhere, the first Evangelist groups together teachings given at various times. But the First Gospel, as we know, is especially the Gospel of the Jewish Christians, and it is surely with the Apostolic mission to the Jews that our Lord is here dealing. The coming of which He here speaks is His coming for judgment to Israel. What He provides for is that, before the Roman eagles swoop down upon the guilty land, Israel shall hear the message of the Gospel, and be called to repentance and salvation. And so, surely, His Apostles understood Him. The forty years’ respite was apparently used by them to go through the cities of Israel, and proclaim the gospel; and only when the gospel had been proclaimed did the flood come.
Certainly it is true that the Apostles, whom our Lord had trained, expected the final consummation in their own day. So have the most earnest Christians in every age of the Church’s history. But do they base that expectation of theirs upon any clear word of our Lord? Not once. On the contrary, they base it, as the Christians of other ages have done, upon their own reading of the “signs of the times.” If, then, it be said that our Lord taught the near approach of His final coming, we can only reply that He did not so teach. In the foreground He saw the destruction of the Jewish theocracy; behind it, in the mists of the future, He saw the final establishment of the Kingdom of God. He told His Apostles the date of the one, and He denied that He knew the date of the other.
If the Jesus of Harnack was not the Jesus of the Church, nor, we think, the Jesus of history either, He was at any rate a noble figure, and a most helpful one. But the Jesus of Schweitzer has no message for us; he seems to us a self-deluded fanatic, and nothing more.1 [Note: H. L. Goudge.]
It is really well to consider how entirely our religious teaching and preaching, and our creeds, and what passes with us for “the gospel,” turn on quite other matters from the fundamental matter of the primitive gospel, or good news, of our Saviour Himself. This gospel was the ideal of popular hope and longing, an immense renovation and transformation of things: the Kingdom of God. “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news.” Jesus went about the cities and villages “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” The multitudes followed Him, and He “took them and talked to them about the kingdom of God.” He told His disciples to preach this. “Go thou, and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” “Into whatever city ye enter, say to them: The kingdom of God has come nigh unto you.” He told His disciples to pray for it. “Thy kingdom come!” He told them to seek and study it before all things. “Seek first God’s righteousness and kingdom.”
It is a contracted and insufficient conception of the gospel which takes into view only the establishment of righteousness, and does not also take into view the establishment of the Kingdom. And the establishment of the Kingdom does imply an immense renovation and transformation of our actual state of things; that is certain. This then, which is the ideal of the popular classes, of the multitude everywhere, is a legitimate ideal. And a Church of England devoted to the service and ideals of any class or classes—however distinguished, wealthy, or powerful—which are perfectly satisfied with things as they are, is not only out of sympathy with the ideal of the popular classes; it is also out of sympathy with the gospel, of which the ideal does, in the main, coincide with theirs.2 [Note: Matthew Arnold, Last Essays.]
i. The Kingdom is come
1. The Kingdom of God was among them. Yes, it was in Bethany yonder. It was to be found in quiet homes, scattered among Judæan hills, among peasants and fisherfolk, who broke their daily bread as the bread of sacrament. Christ could leave the world in the sure confidence that the light which He had kindled in so many hearts would burn on in the darkness, and that from these other hearts would catch the flame, and so the night would wear away till the great day dawned.
There is no day of eternity auguster than that which now is. There is nothing in the way of consequence to be awaited that is not now enacting, no sweetness that may not now be tasted, no bitterness, that is not now felt. What comes after will be but the increment of what now is, for even now we are in the eternal world.1 [Note: Theodore T. Munger.]
The hours bring nothing in their hands;
A silent suppliant at thy gate,
Each one for its brief lifetime stands—
Thou art its master and its fate.
One looketh on the evening skies
And saith, “To-morrow will be fair”;
Another’s westering gaze descries
God’s angels on the golden stair.
The only heaven thou shalt behold
Is builded of thy thoughts and deeds;
Hopes are its pearls and faith its gold,
And love is all the light it needs.
That Voice that broke the world’s blind dream
Of gain the stronger hand may win,
For things that are ’gainst things that seem,
Pleaded, The Kingdom is within.
There is no depth, there is no height,
But dwells within thy soul, He saith;
And there dwell time and day and night,
And life is there, and there is death.2 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 58.]
2. Why do we not see it? True, it does not come with observation, but when it is come it must make itself known. Why do we not realize its presence? Turn to the second half of His answer—viz., that to the disciples. “The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.” Value what you have already. It is an answer which touches our own hearts very nearly. How often we overlook some present blessedness in gazing far away towards some beatitude which comes not, or is delayed! So we passed through the heaven which lay about our early years, dreaming of some coming good, conjectured to be fair because it was far off! With such earnest pains did we
The years to bring the inevitable yoke.
The young idealize the future, the old idealize the past; and life is nearly gone before some of us learn to live in the present, and to bow in reverence at the spot whereon we stand because it, too, is holy ground. The days may come in which we may desire to see one of those heavenly days which now come and go almost unrecognized—days of worship and days of service, both in the home and in the Church.
Can we doubt that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us when we think of those noble souls still present with us, and those departed, who have interpreted to us the very charity of God? Can we doubt it when we read those touching biographies of sainted men and women which have appeared in recent years? When we read the story of the almost perfect married life of George and Josephine Butler; when we turn the pages of the inner life of that artist-saint James Smetham; when we read how the Light dawned upon George Romanes, dawned, and grew to perfect day; or when we turn to Dean Church’s life, that “consummate flower of Christian culture”?
Can we question that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us when we read of that group of friends gathered in a village chapel, a mile or so from Oxford, to hear Newman’s farewell sermon, not knowing that it was to be such? When Newman mounted the pulpit there was a kind of awestruck silence. Everybody knew that something would be said which nobody would forget. And the “Parting of Friends” is perhaps the most pathetic of all the sermons of this great master of religious pathos. It is the last and most heart-broken expression of the intense distress which could not but be felt by a man of extraordinary sensitiveness when placed between what he believed to be a new call of duty on one side, and the affection of high-minded and devoted friends on the other. We turn over the printed pages of that sermon, and feel the passion of it throbbing still, as the preacher ends his lyrical cry: “And, O, my brethren! O kind and affectionate hearts! O loving friends! Should you know any one whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth, in some degree to help you thus to act; if he has ever told you what you know, has read to you your wants and feelings, and comforted you by the very reading, has made you feel that there is a higher life than this daily one, and a brighter world than that you see; or encouraged you, or sobered you, or opened a way to the inquiring, or soothed the perplexed; if what he has done has ever made you take an interest in him, and feel well inclined towards him, remember such an one in time to come, though you hear him not, and pray for him, that in all things he may know God’s will, and at all times he may be ready to fulfil it.” Few who were present could restrain their tears. Pusey, who was the celebrant, was quite unable to control himself. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”1 [Note: G. Littlemore.]
If we turn to a little-known fact in the life of Michael Faraday, the vision of the ideal Church—the true Kingdom of God—meets us once more. Faraday was an elder in an obscure sect. He was one of a little religious band which met for worship in a London alley. “In the year 1856,” says one, who was once of that company, “Faraday on his own confession was put away from us. His scientific researches had, he confessed, unsettled his simple faith as a Sandemanian. The gas-fitter, the linen-draper, the butcher—fellow-members in the little company—were shocked, but stern. We prayed for Faraday every Sunday; we asked that God would send light to his dark brain, and—I am giving you the facts—the prayers of the gas-fitter, the linen-draper, and the butcher were answered in a very marvellous way. After a separation of some months Michael Faraday, the man whom all the world delighted to honour, came back one day to the little meeting-house in Paul’s-alley, and standing up before the little congregation made full confession of his error, and, with tears in his eyes, vowed that never again would he allow any conflict in his mind between science and the simple childlike faith of the Sandemanian brotherhood. Everybody wept, and a blessed peace fell upon the little meeting-house in Paul’s-alley.” “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”2 [Note: Ibid.]
3. And yet it may be said that a man must be a sturdy optimist who, knowing what the actual condition of Christendom is, can still find it quite to his mind and entirely satisfactory. Satisfactory! Actual realizations of a great ideal can never satisfy an idealist. They are satisfactory only in so far as they are signs of something better yet to be. A child’s drawing may be grotesquely wrong and yet show signs of coming power—signs sufficient to awaken hope in the hearts of those who watch his progress. We must learn rightly to estimate men’s “half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies—all with a touch of nobleness despite their error.” We must learn to acquiesce in the slow evolution of the new moral order—to understand that there are evenings and mornings in the days of the new creation, and that it takes an evening and a morning to make one of God’s days.
There are only two ways of escape from the bitterness to which we are prone in view of these facts. One is to endeavour to “do good for its own sake”; to find our satisfaction in the simple sense of having done our duty. So far as it goes, this is a true refuge from the misrepresentation and ingratitude of the world, and there are men of such lofty ethical temper that it seems to suffice to keep them diligent, humble, and tireless in the way of service. Nevertheless, there is a better way, to those, at least, who superadd genuine religious faith to real ethical passion. It is to bear in mind the absolute justice and the unfailing benevolence of their heavenly Master and Lord. Nothing short of this can keep all but a select few superlatively endowed ethical souls faithful and unspoiled to the end.
After so many graces, may I not sing with the Psalmist that “the Lord is good, that his mercy endureth for ever”? It seems to me that if every one were to receive such favours God would be feared by none, but loved to excess; that no one would ever commit the least wilful fault—and this through love, not fear. Yet all souls cannot be alike. It is necessary that they should differ from one another in order that each Divine Perfection may receive its special honour. To me, He has given His Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate His other attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love. What joy to think that our Lord is just, that is to say, that He takes our weakness into account, that He knows perfectly the frailty of our nature! Of what, then, need I be afraid? Will not the God of Infinite Justice, who deigns so lovingly to pardon the sins of the Prodigal Son, be also just to me “who am always with him”?1 [Note: Sæur Thérèse of Lisieux, 132.]
ii. The Kingdom is Coming
Though it may be without observation now, it will in the end be the observed of all observers, the admired of all admirers, the cynosure of every eye, the one glory when every other glory shall have paled; the one name and fame which shall survive when every other shall have passed away as a noise; the one kingdom which, itself immovable, shall behold the wreck and the ruin of every kingdom besides; and then, in that kingdom of the Spirit, that kingdom of the truth, wherein goodness shall be the only measure of greatness, and each and all shall wear an outward beauty exactly corresponding to the inward beauty of the Christ in them or, alas! shall put on an outward deformity corresponding to the inner unloveliness of their hearts and lives; then, in that kingdom of the truth, all that are of the truth shall shine out as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father, for Christ, who is their life, shall have appeared, and they shall appear with Him in glory.
When the Kingdom comes in its greatness, it will fulfil every religion and destroy none, clearing away the imperfect and opening up reaches of goodness not yet imagined, till it has gathered into its bosom whatsoever things are true and honest and just and pure and lovely. It standeth on the earth as the city of God with its gates open by night and by day, into which entereth nothing that defileth, but into which is brought the glory and power of the nations. It is the natural home of the good; as Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, said in his dying confession, “Not one good man, one holy spirit, one faithful soul, whom you will not then behold with God.”2 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master.]
1. There were two influential tendencies in the time of Christ—the same two that one finds everywhere. There was one class of people who believed the Kingdom of God would come only by fighting for it. They wanted a revolution. They had in them the fire of the old Maccabean days. The Zealots were of this way of thinking. Barabbas and the two men who were crucified with Christ were very likely men of this insurrectionist type. Judas Iscariot had the revolutionary spirit, and he was bitterly disappointed that Jesus did not turn out to be a revolutionary leader, organizing the discontent and unrest of the people into a formidable force of opposition. Jesus doubtless had the revolutionists in mind when He said: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”
There was another circle of men, who looked for the Kingdom of God to come, not by revolution, but by revelation. They expected some sign from heaven. They looked for a miracle. There would be some catastrophe in the natural world, and God would come in and take possession of things, and His reign would actually begin. Therefore Jesus doubtless had in mind the men who looked for a miracle, as well as the men who wanted a revolution, when He said: The kingdom of God does not come by observation, by watching for it, by identifying it with this or that strange occurrence. It is hidden in the course of things. It grows up in its own silent and unobtrusive way, because it is a part of life, it is the order of the world. It is amongst you, and within you.
In a word, Jesus did not look for the Kingdom of God to come through militant revolution, with Judas and the Zealots; nor by miraculous revelation, with the scribes and the Rabbis; but by quiet, steady, invisible evolution. The Kingdom of God was the unfolding order of the world. It was the unfolding growth of the human spirit. It was the response of the one to the other. It was seeing light in the light—seeing more light as the eyes grew stronger and the light grew clearer.
2. What is the relation of the Kingdom of God to the actual world in which we live? Is it one (1) of independence and detachment, or (2) of antagonism and contradiction, or (3) of interpenetration? This is no abstract question, but one that vitally affects our attitude towards life’s practical duties and problems.
(1) It may be held that the “natural” and “spiritual” orders of existence occupy different planes of activity, between which there is no possible point of contact. There is much in the exposition of the principles of the Kingdom as given in the Gospels that would suggest this view. Jesus Himself took no part in the political life of His day; He made no attempt to introduce social or economic reforms into the industrial world; He resolutely declined to interfere in personal disputes; and He resisted every effort made by His followers to make Him a Ruler or King. The Apostles followed Him in accepting the political and social life of the Roman Empire as it was; they counselled obedience and submission for conscience’ sake to the powers that were; and while they would occasionally demand a recognition of their legal and civil status, they did so only when their opportunity of following out their chosen task of preaching the Gospel was being unlawfully interfered with by hostile authorities bent on a tyrannical suppression of the new faith.
(2) Or it may be affirmed that the “kingdom of this world” and the heavenly order revealed by Jesus Christ are in hopeless antagonism, and that the latter can come to its own only by the total suppression or conquest of the former. In favour of this hypothesis, it may be pointed out that many sayings of our Lord seem consistent with it. The antithesis which is drawn by Him between the “world” and His “kingdom” is sharp and impressive, especially in the Johannine discourses, and there again He is followed with no faltering tongue by the first Apostles, and especially by St. Paul.
(3) A deeper consideration, however, will show that both these theories must be set aside in favour of the third. Our Lord preached the gospel of the Kingdom in the world that the world might thereby be “saved”; i.e., that it might be permeated and leavened, and transformed by the spiritual forces let loose into it. His purpose in coming was not revolutionary, but evolutionary; in other words, He came not to cast down, but to build up, not to destroy, but to fulfil. The theory that the Christian life is one that is to be lived apart from the secular life has always proved the parent of serious and painful abuses, leading either, on the one hand, to a separation of the Christian community from the rest of mankind, so making it impotent for good, or, on the other, to a schism in the individual life itself, which is the root of all hypocrisies. The only valid and practical theory of spiritual progress is based on the assumption that, while the actual secular course of the world follows ideals and obeys forces that are inconsistent with the principles of the Kingdom, yet the only hope of the world is that it may be slowly but surely permeated with the ideals of the Kingdom of God, and become finally obedient to its spiritual laws.
3. When the great Lord Shaftesbury grew old, he said that he could not bear to die while there was so much misery in the world still unrelieved; and that is the spirit of the true servant. What are we doing while the chance is ours? Doubtless the insensible advance of righteousness should remind us how large are the spaces in which the Divine purpose is realized. The plan of God’s Kingdom is immense. It may embrace countless worlds besides this little earth; it may include in its wonderful drama unsuspected spirits and intelligences both higher and lower than ourselves. If it takes a myriad years to rise from protoplasm to man, how many will be needed for the coronation of this King! Make your contribution, then, and pass on; add your own mite, whatever it may be, to the treasury of human good; and see that no ironical epitaph of a wasted life is written on your grave. If God’s Kingdom is slow, at least it is already here; it is always coming; now you are in the midst of it, now God is at His work before you, now you are surrounded by the Divine silences and the Divine voices. The goal is far off, but one day it will be attained. The great Sower may seem to sleep, and rise, and go His way, unconscious or indifferent, while we look impatiently or in despair for the ripening corn on the wide fields of human life; but the seed has been sown; He can afford to wait; and the hour will not fail to come when at last the cry goes forth to the listening ear, “Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
One day my tired eyes lit upon that wondrous phrase, “The Lord of the harvest.” It caught fire in my heart at once. “Oh! there is a Lord of the harvest,” I said to myself. I had been forgetting that. He is a Lord, a masterful one. He has the whole campaign mapped out, and each one’s part in helping mapped out too. And I let the responsibility of the campaign lie over where it belonged. When night time came I went to bed to sleep. My pillow was this, “There is a Lord of the harvest.” My key-note came to be obedience to Him. That meant keen ears to hear, keen judgment to understand, keeping quiet so that the sound of His voice would always be distinctly heard. It meant trusting Him when things did not seem to go with a swing. It meant sweet sleep at night, and new strength at the day’s beginning. It did not mean any less work. It did seem to mean less friction, less dust. Aye, it meant better work, for there was a swing to it, and a joyous abandon in it, and a rhythm of music with it. And the under-current of thought came to be like this: There is a Lord to the harvest. He is taking care of things. My part is full, faithful, intelligent obedience to Him. He is a Master, a masterful One. He is organizing a victory. And the fine tingle of victory was ever in the air.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 198.]
Gather the Harvest in:
The fields are white, and long ago ye heard
Ringing across the world the Master’s word—
Leave not such fruitage to the lord of Sin,
Gather the Harvest in.
Gather the Harvest in:
Souls dying and yet deathless, o’er the lands,
East, West, North, South, lie ready to your hands;
Long since that other did his work begin;
Gather the Harvest in.
Gather the Harvest in:
Rise early and reap late. Is this a time
For ease? Shall he, by every curse and crime,
Out of your grasp the golden treasure win?
Gather the Harvest in.
Gather the Harvest in:
Ye know ye live not to yourselves, nor die,
Then let not this bright hour of work go by:
To all who know, and do not, there is sin:
Gather the Harvest in.
Gather the Harvest in:
Soon shall the mighty Master summon home
For feast His reapers. Think ye they shall come
Whose sickles gleam not, and whose sheaves are thin?
Gather the Harvest in.2 [Note: S. J. Stone, Poems and Hymns, 126.]
The Coming of the Kingdom
Ainsworth (P. C.), The Silence of Jesus, 75, 85.
Assheton (R. O.), The Kingdom and the Empire, 107.
Balmforth (R.), The New Testament in the Light of the Higher Criticism, 89.
Brooke (S. A.), The Gospel of Joy, 357.
Davies (J.), The Kingdom Without Observation, 1.
Dawson (G.), Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, 120.
Goulburn (E. M.), Sermons on Different Occasions, 98.
Griffith-Jones (E.), The Economics of Jesus, 111.
Inge (W. R.), Faith and Knowledge, 187.
Jeffrey (G.), The Believer’s Privilege, 144.
Kingsley (C.), Sermons on National Subjects, 373.
Lee (R.), Sermons, 103.
Liddon (H. P.), Present Church Troubles, 1.
Macleod (D.), Christ and Society, 67.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, i. 172.
Murray (A.), Within, 13.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, ii. 107.
Newman (J. H.), Sermons on Various Occasions, 47.
Rashdall (H.), Christus in Ecclesia, 3.
Tomory (A.), in Alexander Tomory, Indian Missionary, 43.
Trench (R. C.), Sermons Preached for the Most Part in Ireland, 299.
Watson (A.), Christ’s Authority, 158.
Whitehead (H.), Sermons, 269.
Whyte (A.), The Walk, Conversation, and Character of Jesus Christ our Lord, 258.
Wilberforce (S.), Sermons, 61.
Williams (T. M.), Sermons of the Age, 1.
Cambridge Review, xv. (1893) Supplement No. 363 (E. Bickersteth).
Christian World Pulpit, xlix. 42 (G. Littlemore); lxxiii. 43 (P. McPhail).
Church Family Newspaper, Nov. 25, 1910 (S. A. Alexander); Dec. 2, 1910 (H. L. Goudge).
Church of England Pulpit, li. 133 (R. E. Bartlett).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Mission Work, xvii. 212 (J. L. Latham).
Good Words, 1894, p. 354 (W. T. Gairdner).
The Kingdom that is Within
The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.—Luke 17:20-21.
1. “The kingdom of God is within you.” That would indeed be a most pregnant and decisive utterance, if we could be sure that our Lord meant it so. Unfortunately we cannot take it with the unhesitating simplicity of the author of the Imitation of Christ, because as the words stand in the Greek they are susceptible of another rendering. The Revised Version has in the margin, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” As far as the grammar is concerned, either translation is equally tenable, and the choice between them turns upon considerations which are fairly well balanced. The immediate context favours “in the midst of you,” for our Lord was speaking to the Pharisees who expected the Kingdom to be ushered in with signs and portents, with pomp and circumstance. That, He said, was a fundamental error. It was the very nature of the Kingdom to come in quietness and without attracting observation. Men would not be able to point the finger at it and say “Here it comes”; “for, behold, the kingdom of God is [already] amongst you.” If we take it so, we recall at once the words of John the Baptist (John 1:26), “in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not.” It is true that the two words are not identical: but they seem to be indistinguishable in meaning. In both cases the Jews overlooked the really important and crucial fact because they were looking at or looking for something more conspicuous. By the singularity of his life and preaching John the Baptist had forced himself upon the attention of all the people, and even of the rulers. They discussed the question whether he could be the Expected, wholly oblivious of the fact that the Expected had been for thirty years domiciled among them. So again they discussed the signs of the promised Kingdom, and asked our Lord’s opinion about them, in total ignorance of the fact that the Kingdom was already set up in their midst. It was undoubtedly all part of the same fundamental and persistent error, and it was rebuked in almost identical words. “He is here”; “it is here; here—in the very midst of you—if you only knew it.” There is no doubt that such is the common-sense interpretation of those memorable words, and as such it must always command our respectful acquiescence, if nothing more.
But there is much to be said on the other side. “The kingdom of God is within you” goes further than the other, further than the immediate occasion required; moreover it is addressed, not to the rulers, but to mankind at large. But all that is quite in keeping with our Lord’s manner. When, e.g., our Lord exclaimed (John 4:48) “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe,” He was assuredly not speaking to that simple-minded nobleman from Capernaum. Only a hopeless stupidity will go on maintaining that. He had in His mind’s eye the general mass of the Galileans, who received Him because they had seen or heard of His miracles, but had no mind to accept His claims or His teachings; He saw behind them an innumerable multitude of all nations whose attitude towards the Kingdom would be equally unspiritual and unsatisfactory; and in the sorrow of His heart He spoke to them, as represented (for the moment) by the supplicant before Him. It is impossible to doubt that His words over and over again surpassed the scope and range of what was immediately present. We are justified therefore in thinking it possible, and even probable, that, in answering the question of the Pharisees, He gave utterance to a saying of the widest and most lasting significance. “The kingdom of God is within you”; i.e., its most characteristic development, its most proper and necessary manifestation, is an inward one—inward to the souls of men. In other words the Kingdom of God is a state of mind and soul which is reproduced in a multitude of individuals—a state which is characterized by the action of certain spiritual powers, by the dominance of certain moral and religious principles.
If you want to find the Kingdom of God, our Lord would say, you need not expect to read of its advent in the daily papers, or to hear the news in the gossip of the market-place; its progress will not be reported in Reuter’s telegrams, nor will its shares be quoted on the Stock Exchange: it will not fall under the cognizance of parliaments, or convocations, or councils: whatever outward connections and developments it may have, these will not be of its essence, because that is and must be inward to the souls of men.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, 221.]
Let every man retire into himself, and see if he can find this Kingdom in his heart; for if he find it not there, in vain will he find it in all the world besides.2 [Note: J. Hales, Golden Remains.]
What are the signs by which our loyalty as citizens of the Kingdom of God will be proved? Not any uniform which can be laid aside when we enter our secret chamber; not any watchword which we can learn by an easy tradition, but a character which clothes itself in deeds, a creed which is translated into a life. The citizen must, according to the measure of his powers, embody the notes of the Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. In “righteousness, peace, joy,” we can recognize “equality, liberty, fraternity,” interpreted, purified, and extended. They tell us that the community and not the individual is the central thought in the life of men. They tell us that the fulfilment of duties and not the assertion of rights, is the foundation of the social structure. They tell us that the end of labour is not material well-being, but that larger, deeper, more abiding delight which comes from successfully ministering to the good of others. They tell us that over all that is transitory in the form of the Kingdom, over all the conditions which determine its growth, there rests the light, the power of an eternal presence.3 [Note: Bishop B. F. Westcott.]
2. If then we take it that our Lord’s meaning is best expressed by “the kingdom of God is within you,” there are two things to be said about it.
(1) In the first place, it requires balancing, like everything else which concerns the Kingdom. For, however much the Kingdom of God is within us, its manifestation will and must pass out into life and action. We cannot help that. We cannot really cry “hands off” to Christ in the name of politics, for example. We cannot seriously maintain that the citizen or the official or the statesman should restrict his Christianity entirely to his private life because the Kingdom of God is within us. It is indeed notorious that well-meaning people allow themselves to do a thousand things in a public capacity which they would never do as private Christians; but it is certain that in this matter they are self-deceived, and will suffer a rude awakening some day. As Christians we are bound to give the most careful and scrupulous heed to a multitude of outward questions and considerations.
(2) But in the second place, we must never quit our grasp upon the fundamental principle of the inwardness of the Kingdom. We are driven to deal with the outsides of things, with tests, observances, statistics, organizations, and so on. As far as other people are concerned, we can get at the Kingdom only from outside. And so it comes to pass that for an innumerable number the outside becomes almost everything. They never get beyond it; it absorbs all their interest. What a fearful lot of arithmetic has got into the Kingdom of Heaven in our days! What counting of heads, what touting for mere numbers, what adding up of figures, of attendances, of statistics of all kinds! “Religious statistics,” they are called, by a curious euphemism, since no art of human nomenclature can make statistics religious.
We cannot too highly value the services which the shell renders to the nut that grows and ripens within its shelter. But if one should spend his time in gathering nut-shells, quite indifferent as to whether there was any nut inside or not, he would be exactly like some very active “religious” workers of to-day. One is indeed sometimes disposed to think that the enormous growth of religious agencies and organizations in the present age must be a bitter disappointment to the Lord of the Harvest; for there is no corresponding increase of inward religion. Increase there may be; but nothing commensurate with the immense expansion of machinery. There are indeed no outward and visible criteria of the true welfare of the Kingdom. There is a vast amount of action and reaction between the outward and visible, and the inward and invisible, but the one gives no direct clue to the other: and it is within, and out of sight, that the essential truth of the Kingdom is to be found.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, 223.]
The first thing Christ says here about the Kingdom is that it comes without observation. Its advance is not obvious to the senses and curiosity of men; it moves onwards and diffuses itself without being perceived and commented on. And the reason for this is, that the Kingdom is in its essence not a purely political fabric, such as the materialized and unspiritual fancy of the later Jews, misled by a false patriotism, had conceived it to be, but a spiritual realm, touching this earth indeed by its contact with, and empire over, human souls, but reaching far, far away from the sphere of sense, even to the utmost confines of the world invisible. Men are not to say, “Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within” them. Its seat of power lies wholly beyond the province and capacity of eye and ear; it is set up in the hearts and consciences and wills of men; and until the most secret processes of the human soul can be displayed in sensuous forms beneath the light of day, the coming of such a Kingdom must needs be “not with observation.”
The word “observation” is used not in the modern active sense of observing, watching closely, but in the old sense of being observed, having attention paid to it. This is the sense in which Walton in his Compleat Angler uses the word: “I told you Angling is an art, either by practice or a long observation or both.”1 [Note: J. Hastings, in Dictionary of the Bible, iii. 582.]
1. This is true of Nature. The mightiest agencies ever produce effects which are silently accomplished. There is no noise in the morning of spring when the grass of the field and the trees of the forest clothe themselves with beauty in their robes of green. There is no noise on earth when the snow falls or when the seed fructifies that is yet to grow into all the richness of harvest, and become food for the millions that inhabit the surface of our globe. There is no noise when the sun rises in the east and wakes the world from slumber. Gently and noiselessly is the dew distilled beneath the stars, and as gently and noiselessly does it depart before the breath of the morning. The mighty power that bears along the worlds above us in their orbits through the immensity of space makes no noise as it speeds them in their rapidity of flight.
There are many who might be apt to think light of a very tame and feeble agency, because it is noiseless. An earthquake seems to be charged with mightier power. It thunders through the solid foundations of nature, and rocks a whole continent. In a moment the works of man are shattered and cities levelled with the ground. And yet, let the light of day cease, and there would be the reign of universal death. The vegetable world would be destroyed, the vital power of the whole animal world would be extinguished. The earth would be frozen in its centre, and the earthquake itself would cease. Such is light, that comes to us so noiselessly and gently that it would not wake an infant from its sleep, and yet every morning rescues a world from death.
“Thy kingdom come,” we are bid to ask then! But how shall it come? With power and great glory, it is written; and yet not with observation, it is also written. Strange kingdom! Yet its strangeness is renewed to us with every dawn.
When the time comes for us to wake out of the world’s sleep, why should it be otherwise than out of the dreams of the night? Singing of birds, first, broken and low, as, not to dying eyes, but eyes that wake to life, “the casement slowly grows a glimmering square”; and then the gray, and then the rose of dawn; and last the light, whose going forth is to the ends of heaven.
This kingdom it is not in our power to bring; but it is, to receive. Nay, it is come already, in part; but not received, because men love chaos best; and the Night, with her daughters. That is still the only question for us, as in the old Elias days, “If ye will receive it.”1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, v. (Works, vii. 459).]
2. This holds good also in every region of human activity, with but few exceptions. Every great movement, great event, great institution, all in short, or well-nigh all, that has exercised a deep and lasting influence on the after-history of the world, has had small and unobserved beginnings, has grown up like the mustard seed, without observation; while loud and grand commencements, summoning as with the sound of a trumpet the whole world to behold what a mighty birth is at hand, or what a glorious thing has just been born—these are almost sure to come to nothing, to end in shameful discomfiture and defeat.
Who has ever traced the obscure rudiments, the first foundations of that wondrous city on the banks of the Tiber, which was for so many centuries queen and mistress of the world; and which, when the sceptre of temporal sovereignty dropped from her aged hand, presently grew young again, and wielded, as with a new lease of life and of power, a spiritual dominion more wide and wonderful than ever her temporal had been? Who knows the secrets of the birth of Rome? But who does not know with how loud a promise, with how vainglorious an announcement, an older city was proposed to be built, the city and the tower whose top should reach unto heaven; what a name and a fame its builders designed beforehand for themselves, organizing, as they purposed to do, into one grand society all the tribes and families of the earth; and how, in a little while, nothing but a deformed and shapeless mass of bricks remained to tell of the city which should have been at once the symbol and the centre of their world-wide sovereignty and dominion?1 [Note: R. C. Trench, Sermons, 300.]
3. This silent coming of whatever shall prove great indeed, true in many regions of human activity, is truest of all in that highest region of all, where human and Divine must work together. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” If other momentous births “come not with observation,” with pomp and circumstance and pride, challenging notice, noised abroad by the thousand tongues of rumour and report, least of all does the Kingdom of God come with these.
I see how you are and what you feel: you want to have room to develop in, and quietness for the purpose. In this you are quite right. But you think that the requisite room has a local habitation if it could only be discovered; and that quietness also is to be found somewhere or other. Let me use the language of Jesus: “If any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there, go not after him. The kingdom of God is within you.” It is most profoundly true: all development is from within, and for the most part is independent of outward circumstances.2 [Note: Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, i. 326.]
(1) Never did the Kingdom of God come among men in a manner so direct, so blessed, and yet so awful, as when He, the King of kings, the Infinite and Everlasting Being, deigned, in His unutterable love and condescension, to robe Himself with a human body and a human soul in the womb of a Virgin mother, and thus in human form to hold high court among the sons of men. Never did the King of heaven so come among us men as when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa. Compared with this stupendous event, the greatest catastrophes, the sublimest triumphs, the most critical epochs in the world’s history, dwindle into insignificance; “God manifest in the flesh” was a phenomenon the like of which had never yet been seen, and it must throw into the shade every other event in the annals of mankind. And what amount of public notice did it attract? What were the thoughts and interests of the mass of men in Palestine on the day of the Nativity? The last news from Rome, the seat of empire; the sayings and doings of the able but capricious statesman who for a few years held in his hands the fate of the civilized world; the last reports from the frontier, from the Rhine, from the Danube, from the Euphrates; the state and prospects of trade in the Eastern Mediterranean; the yield of the taxes in this province or that; the misconduct of one provincial governor or of another: or matters more local than these—some phase of a long controversy between the soldiers and the civilians, between Roman officials and Jewish mobs, between this and that class of a subject population; the rivalries, the efforts, the failures, the successes, the follies, the crimes, the misfortunes of a hundred contemporaries;—of these things men were thinking when our Lord was born. The common staple of human thought and human talk, sometimes embracing the wider interests of the race, more often concentrating itself upon the pettiest details of daily, private, and domestic life, was in those days what it is in these. On that wonderful night it was so even with the villagers of Bethlehem; they could find no room for the Heavenly Visitor in the village hostelry; they little heeded the manger grotto outside, where He, the Infinite in human Form, was laid along with the ox and the ass. Truly, then the Kingdom of God came “not with observation.”
(2) It was so with the early establishment of the Kingdom, its first announcement and propagation. Twelve uneducated men possessed of little property, having few friends, obscure in social position, utterly destitute of all the usual means of extending their authority, or propagating their opinions—these twelve men, fishermen, peasants, poor and powerless, commenced a controversy against the government, the power, the wealth, the learning, the philosophy of their own and every other country. What a conflict was this! How unequally matched the combatants! How unequal in their numbers, how unequal in their circumstances, how unequal in their weapons! But these weak, defenceless, and personally insignificant men had in them a secret which was mighty to move the world. Wheresoever they went it went likewise, strange and silent. Everywhere they had the mastery, and yet there was no cry as of them that strive. Everywhere they had the mastery, yet the kings and kingdoms of the earth did not fall before them. All these stood visibly as before, but the unclean spirit was cast out of them.
Contrast this characteristic of Christ’s Kingdom with what we find elsewhere. No one would say that the religion of Muhammad made its way in the world without observation. It burst upon civilization as the war-cry of an invading host: it was dictated at the point of the scimitar to conquered populations, as the alternative to ruin or death. The history of its propagation throughout the eastern world was written in characters of blood and fire; the frontier of its triumphs was precisely determined by the successes of its warriors; and in these last centuries it has receded in a degree exactly corresponding to the progressive collapse of the barbarous forces to which it was indebted for its earlier expansion.
(3) So has been, and still is, the Kingdom of God among us—from that day, and in all the world—in this land, and at this hour. There are about us the visible structures which enshrine its presence, the outward tokens of God’s service, and the loud schemings of men who, under the name of the Church, would serve themselves of the Church as a contrivance for civilizing mankind; but they are not God’s Kingdom. There is, under the badge of religion, a strife and struggle for mastery among men that bear the sacred name which the saints first bore at Antioch; but God’s Kingdom is not in their heady tumult: there are the visible hurryings to and fro of a worldly Jehu-like zeal for the Lord; and there are the plottings of earthly Christians—for men may plot for Christ’s Church as well as against it. The same earthly and faithless temper of mind which resists God’s will may also insinuate itself into His service. Men may think, and do think, to spread His Kingdom by the stir and noise of popular excitement; but God’s Kingdom, like God Himself when He communed with His prophet on the mountain-height, is not in the boisterous and fleeting forms of earthly power. As its coming and its course, so is its character. It is not in any of these; but verily it is in the midst of us; in the still small voice of the holy Catholic faith; in the voiceless teaching of Christ’s holy sacraments, through which mysteries of the world unseen look out upon us; in the faithful witness of the Apostles of Christ, who, through their ghostly lineage, live among us still.
(4) Now, in what has been said surely there is a great lesson for our guidance whenever we attempt to spread Christianity either at home or abroad. We cannot hope to extend it successfully unless we proceed on the same method as was observed in planting it. It began by seizing strongly upon the soul of man, and passed on, after it had done its work there, by a natural expansion, not by a forcible imposition, into his outward life. But how many are there who are for inverting this order of things, who begin by assaulting the outward in order that they may carry the inward! How many, for example, there are who enter upon a crusade against certain worldly amusements, the sinfulness of which in themselves is at least questionable, or who advocate severe restriction upon ordinary pursuits on the Christian Sabbath, as if such outward restraints could in themselves make men spiritually-minded, or secure the hallowing of the sacred day of rest. Let such persons alter their course of proceeding. Let them begin by attacking the sentiments and convictions of the human soul. A man in whose soul the earnestness created by the thought of death and judgment has found place can never be frivolous in his recreations; questionable amusements, if they once had a hold upon him, will drop off when that new life circulates and stirs within him, as the snake casts its old slough in the spring. And a man who has really tasted the peace and pleasantness of communion with God would sooner deprive himself of natural repose than desecrate holy seasons. Plant, by God’s grace, the faith and love of Christ in any man’s soul, and you have then a perfect security for the innocence of his recreations and for the devout consecration of a just proportion of his time to God.
Our life can have no other meaning than the fulfilment, at any moment, of what is wanted from us by the power that sent us into life and gave us in this life one sure guide—our rational consciousness. And so this power cannot want from us what is irrational and impossible—the establishment of our temporal, carnal life, the life of society or of the state. This power demands of us what alone is certain and rational and possible—our serving the Kingdom of God, that is, our co-operation in the establishment of the greatest union of everything living, which is possible only in the truth, and, therefore, the recognition of the truth revealed to us, and the profession of it, precisely what alone is always in our power. “Seek ye the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The only meaning of man’s life consists in serving the world by co-operating in the establishment of the Kingdom of God; but this service can be rendered only through the recognition of the truth, and the profession of it, by every separate individual. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”1 [Note: Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (Works, xx. 379).]
Islam is growing to-day even faster in some lands than it did in the days of Lull. And yet in other lands, such as European Turkey, Caucasia, Syria, Palestine, and Turkestan, the number of Moslems is decreasing. In Lull’s day the empire of Moslem faith and Moslem politics nearly coincided. Nowhere was there real liberty, and all the doors of access seemed barred. Now five-sixths of the Moslem world are accessible to foreigners and missionaries; but not one sixtieth has ever been occupied by missions. More than 125,000,000 Moslems are now under Christian rulers. The keys to every gateway in the Moslem world are to-day in the political grasp of Christian Powers, with the exception of Mecca and Constantinople. Think only, for example, of Gibraltar, Algiers, Cairo, Tunis, Khartum, Batoum, Aden, and Muskat, not to speak of India and the farther East. It is impossible to enforce the laws relating to renegades from Islam under the flag of the “infidel.” How much more promising too is the condition of Islam to-day! The philosophical disintegration of the system began very early, but has grown more rapidly in the past century than in all the twelve that preceded. The strength of Islam is to sit still, to forbid thought, to gag reformers, to abominate progress. But the Wahabis “drew a bow at a venture” and smote their king “between the joints of the harness.” Their exposure of the unorthodoxy of Turkish Mohammedanism set all the world thinking. Abd-ul-Wahâb meant to reform Islam by digging for the original foundations. The result was that they now must prop up the house! In India they are apologizing for Mohammed’s morals and subjecting the Koran to higher criticism. In Egypt prominent Moslems advocate abolishing the veil. In Persia the Babi movement has undermined Islam everywhere. In Constantinople they are trying to put new wine into the old skins by carefully diluting the wine; the New Turkish party is making the rent of the old garment worse by its patchwork politics. In addition to all this, the Bible now speaks the languages of Islam, and is everywhere preparing the way for the conquest of the Cross. Even in the Moslem world, and in spite of all hindrances, “It is daybreak everywhere.”1 [Note: S. M. Zwemer, Raymund Lull, 151.]
In the Heart
1. The Kingdom of God comes “without observation” because it is not outward or material but spiritual and of the heart. The heart of man is God’s domain; not the only place where He would rule, but the first and essential. Here is the seat of His empire—in the heart. God’s throne must be set up and His authority recognized.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is the place where the King is, where He reigns—whether in heaven or in our hearts. Wherever anyone does a kind deed, or speaks a kind word—there is the Kingdom of God. Wherever anyone gives up his own way to please another, for Jesus’ sake, there is the Kingdom of God. Wherever anyone lets Jesus have His holy will, wherever anyone tries to think what Jesus would do, there is the Kingdom of God. To come into the Kingdom is just to take Jesus for our Master, to let Jesus take us and make us what He wants us to be.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 87.]
The heaven is here for which we wait,
The life eternal now!—
Who is this lord of time and fate?
Thou, brother, sister, thou.
The power, the kingdom, is thine own:
Arise, O royal heart!
Press onward past the doubting-zone
And prove the God thou art!
2. Hence at the outset certain fundamental truths about this Kingdom are brought home to us which it is all-important for us not to lose sight of.
(1) If the Kingdom of God begins within the man, then this Kingdom is not merely a visible organization. It is that; it must be, if it is to fulfil the end for which God has founded it; but it is more than that. For if it were all organization, and yet had no organic life, a body made in perfect proportion, but no vitality, it would be only a beautiful piece of machinery but without any inherent force.
(2) The Kingdom of God does not consist merely in numbers, nor is it measured only by size. In our day, especially, there is a tendency among men, like David numbering the people, to place reliance on statistics and to find in figures arguments for or against the progress of the Kingdom of God among men. And even earnest Christians are apt to forget, as they speak of or pray for the growth of this Kingdom, that there can be true growth only where there is inner life and vitality.
(3) The evidence of the Kingdom of God is not merely outward profession. True, the form of godliness is all-important. Yet, if there be no living spirit within, the form is dead and useless. No, the first requirement of the Kingdom is that it must be a personal thing. God begins His reign by claiming sovereignty over the inner being of each. He must reign within the man. We can understand why this must be so when we call to mind what the heart of the man is. It is the citadel of the man’s being; it is the centre of existence in spiritual as in physical life. “Keep thy heart above all that thou guardest; for out of it are the issues of life.”
If you do not wish for His kingdom, don’t pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it. And, to work for it, you must know what it is; we have all prayed for it many a day without thinking. Observe, it is a kingdom that is to come to us; we are not to go to it. Also, it is not to be a kingdom of the dead, but of the living. Also, it is not to come all at once, but quietly; nobody knows how. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” Also, it is not to come outside of us, but in our heart: “the kingdom of God is within us.” And, being within us, it is not a thing to be seen, but to be felt; and though it brings all substance of good with it, it does not consist in that: “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”—joy, that is to say, in the holy, healthful, and helpful Spirit. Now, if we want to work for this kingdom, and to bring it, and enter into it, there’s one curious condition to be first accepted. You must enter it as children, or not at all: “Whosoever will not receive it as a little child shall not enter therein.” And again, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”1 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, § 46. (Works, xviii. 427).]
O Thou, that in our bosom’s shrine
Dost dwell, unknown because divine!
I thought to speak, I thought to say,
“The light is here,” “behold the way,”
“The voice was thus” and “thus the word,”
And “thus I saw,” and “that I heard,”—
But from the lips that half essayed
The imperfect utterance fell unmade.
Unseen, secure in that high shrine
Acknowledged present and divine,
I will not ask some upper air,
Some future day, to place Thee there;
Nor say, nor yet deny, such men
And women saw Thee thus and then:
Thy name was such, and there or here
To him or her Thou didst appear.
Do only Thou in that dim shrine,
Unknown or known, remain, divine;
There, or if not, at least in eyes
That scan the fact that round them lies,
The hand to sway, the judgment guide,
In sight and sense Thyself divide:
Be Thou but there,—in soul and heart,
I will not ask to feel Thou art.2 [Note: A. H. Clongh, Poems, 69.]
3. How reasonable, then, is the claim that God makes when He appeals to a man to give Him his heart.
(1) It is reasonable because this King is the God of Love, who is not satisfied without love on the part of those over whom He reigns. He is a King who loves and would be loved. “Son,” He says, “give me thy heart.”
(2) It is reasonable because the gospel of His Kingdom is a gospel of love, “God so loved the world.” This is the starting point of the Royal proclamation. Its subjects are drawn not by fear but by love;” The love of Christ constraineth us.”
(3) It is reasonable because service in this Kingdom is a service of love. It not only has its source in a sense of duty or obedience; it is a willing, grateful service. There are no slaves in this Kingdom, only freed men. Love is the starting point of all Christian devotion and worship; “We love him because he first loved us,” and the cry of each emancipated subject must always be, “Forgiven greatly, how I greatly love.” Love is the measure of every act, prayer, worship, work; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
(4) It is reasonable because it recognizes a correspondence between God’s rule and the constitution of man as he has been made by God. The heart of man is always seeking an object worthy of its love; always hungry, it craves for this food; always thirsty, this is the only water which will quench its thirst. And God alone can satisfy the desire He Himself has implanted in man.
(5) Once more, it is reasonable because the heart holds the supremacy within the man. All else follows the lead of the human heart—conscience, will, reason, character—and if the heart goes wrong, all go astray. He who gives his heart gives his best, and grudges nothing, as surely as the stream takes its rise in and depends upon its source. When the heart is given to God, all is given. Other loves take their rightful place within the man. Lawful loves are raised, hallowed, lit up, regulated, and adjusted. Unlawful loves depart, cast out of the Kingdom by the allegiance of the heart to the rightful King.
Beware of the damnable doctrine that it is easy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is to be obtained only by the sacrifice of all that stands in the way, and it is to be observed that in this, as in other things, men will take the first, the second, the third—nay, even the ninety-ninth step, but the hundreth and last they will not take.1 [Note: Mark Rutherford.]
Oh, glorious truth and holy,
Of Christ enthroned within;
A kingdom for Him solely,
That once was dark with sin.
My heart in full surrender,
With every pulse and thought
I’ve opened to the Monarch
Whose love the right has bought.
My Saviour reigning in me
My will no longer mine:
A sanctuary kingdom—
Amazing grace Divine!
The will of my Redeemer
Controlling every power,
His purpose working in me
And through me hour by hour.
The glory of Thy presence
For evermore I crave,
From ever looking backward
My pardoned soul to save;
A kingdom and a temple—
Let every idol fall!—
My life Thy full possession,
And Christ my All in all!1 [Note: Alfred S. Dyer.]
4. Last of all, if the Kingdom of God is within, it is not constrained by anything outward or material, however close that thing may come or however hard it may press its claim. Take two such urgent things.
(1) Inheritance.—Our essential self sympathizes with the right and pure, but our inherited nature is infected and treacherous. With the dawning of consciousness we discover in ourselves the impulses of evil derived from our ancestry. We are vain and ambitious, the victims of ungovernable temper; we are selfish and self-willed, tormented by fleshly appetites and passions. The physical and mental bias to lawlessness painfully asserts itself. The entail of evil is often simply awful, and in all of us it is deeply disquieting and humiliating. What view ought we, then, to take of these constitutional defects? Ought we tamely to permit our abnormal weaknesses and predispositions to rule and destroy us?
Let us realize distinctly and vividly what our true nature is. Our deepest nature is not animal or fiendish, but Divine; it therefore brings with it the obligation to high conduct, and competence for such conduct. “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not.…” What negatives arise out of that relationship! The offspring of God ought not to change the glory of the incorruptible One into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of beasts and creeping things. Blind passion, wilfulness, inordinate desire, dishonouring of the body, and degradation of the mind, utterly misbecome creatures made in the image of the Divine spirituality, infinity, and immortality. “Being then the offspring of God, we ought.…” What positives are implied in that relationship! The offspring of the wise, righteous, loving God, of Him who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all, ought only to be great and pure. Instead of levelling down to the beasts which perish, we ought diligently and joyously to level ourselves up to the Holiest in the height. “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” “To the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory.” “Children of God without blemish.” “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God: and such we are.” “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.” These are the royal thoughts we ought to ponder, such the pride of long descent which ought to ennoble us and to constrain to the Christ-like life. It may be true that we were preceded by men and women of infirmity; that, however, need not dishearten us. Some in the line of Joseph were far from being perfect; but the righteous God is at one end of the pedigree, and a just man at the other; because the first link is gold, the last link may be gold also, however equivocal some of the intermediate links may be.
Heredity, in the deeper meaning, is not destructive but constructive. It works for the conservation and transmission of what is favourable to an organism. It makes for health, life, perpetuation; not for disease, disorder and destruction. It tends to neutralize and eliminate the unhealthy elements which have invaded the system. But, without being in the least instructed or definite in his thinking, the average man reckons the law of inheritance as being entirely against him, and he freely imputes his faults to its working. This popular conception of heredity is practically most mischievous, and wholly false. The degrading notion has taken possession of us that we are dominated by the “dead hand,” and by it coerced to dark ways and deeds, with which we have no sympathy. Let us utterly renounce this superstition.
I believe more deeply to-day than ever that the man endowed with grace can triumph over every infirmity, and bias, and lust of our animal self. There is not a bitter man who can not go out sweet. There is not a mean man but may become magnanimous. There is not a man who has yielded to passion who may not become sober and rational. There is not a man, however subject to the flesh and the world, who may not go out and walk with raiment whiter than any bleaching on earth can make it; and I assure you that in those very moments when you have not been master of yourself, if when you have ever fallen a victim to your impulses and passions and temptations, you seek but the hand of Christ, you shall go forth in this great city and “the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.”1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
With all our belief in Heredity, the transmission from generation to generation of characteristic traits, virtues, vices, habits, tendencies, etc., we must not ignore the factor of freewill, which cannot but modify and restrict the fact and limitations of Heredity. I am always reminded, when I hear the remark alluded to made, of quaint Fuller, in his Good Thoughts for Bad Times. “Lord! I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely chequered. Roboam begat Abia—i.e., a bad father begat a bad son. Abia begat Asa, a good father and a good son. Asa begat Jehoshaphat, a good father and a bad son. Jehoshaphat begat Josiah, a good father and a good son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed: that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary: that is good news for my son.”2 [Note: Dean Pigou, Odds and Ends, 67.]
(2) Environment.—When some of us were young the “environment” was not discovered. We used to call it circumstance, but enough years of progress are registered in the change of the name. And every schoolboy to-day loves to talk about the environment, and for some of us the environment proves most useful. What splendid people we should be if it were not for that unfriendly environment! It is fine, is it not, to think about it? How reasonable, how noble, how pure we should be if we had only been lucky enough to drop upon a nice sphere; but it is the environment that plays us false. What does it mean? Would it mean that if there were no drink we would all be sober? and if there were no money there would be no speculation? and if people did not provoke us we should be all sweet-tempered? It is the environment, and we have been unhappy enough to drop upon a miserable surrounding; and some of our writers teach us that when we get a better surrounding in another world we shall all be right.
Do not we grant too much in this perpetual talk of environment? There is a great deal about us that sets environment at a defiance. To look at it physically one would think that we have no option but to succumb to an ugly environment. Is it so, physically? I noticed the other day that in London seven tons of poisonous elements are discharged into the atmosphere every week. Seven tons of poisonous material distributed over the metropolis every week! Why, when you come to think about it, if we had any sense of scientific propriety we ought all to expire, but we do not. Oh, no! the air is there. The environment no one will deny. But we have some of the finest birds in the world in London, and some one has made a collection of butterflies, every one of them a magnificent creature, caught in the metropolis. In our parks are charming blooms, and something like six or seven millions of people manage to live, some of them to the delicate age of seventy years.
How men resist the environment intellectually! Look to the masters and you will see how little they care about the environment; how little they are in need of it. Look at a man like Shakespeare, with little or no education; what did that matter? There was something within him that dispensed with circumstance. He swept into the front rank and remained there, when the marching days were done. Look at a man like Handel, with no general education, scarcely any musical education, stepping out and blowing his golden trumpet, and the world is charmed and will be until the years are ended. Look at a man like Turner, his father a poor barber; the fellow was born in a London slum, never had a day’s education in his life; what about that? He walked up between all his canvases covered with prismatic splendour, and if you were in London you would see a crowd about his pictures. They have been there all the time ever since I have known of the place, and if you were to come back in five hundred years you would find a crowd still there.
If a man can triumph over circumstances, physically and intellectually, I rejoice to think he can triumph over them gloriously in morals and in things of character and of conduct. Your scientists say that the conditions of things must be right or the thing can not survive; if you have a rose it must have the sun; if you have a willow it must have the water-course; if you have a fern it must have a damp place. You can not change anything unless in a corresponding change of conditions. Now, I dare say that is perfectly right, but I can show you some wonderful variations from that in another sphere. I can show you lovely flowers in cellars, I can show you honeysuckle climbing icicles, I can show you roses in December snows, I can find you a lily in a cesspool; or, if you like to drop the imagery, I can find you the noblest men and the purest women in conditions that seem utterly to defy the presence of nobleness and purity; you find the most spiritual of men in Babylon; you find men with white souls in Sodom. The grace of my Master can make us to triumph over any environment and to walk in blamelessness and honour. I tell you I have seen with my own eyes a snowdrop thrust itself through three inches of macadam. The delicate stem, frail beyond language, thrust itself through three inches of macadam. It did not believe in environment. The power of God was in its root, and it thrust itself through until it saw the blue of the sky and received the kiss of the sun; and I tell you it can be with us in the same fashion. If the power of God in a root can lift a delicate flower into the sun, the power of Christ in a human heart can make us triumph over the most uncongenial surroundings.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]
The paradox, “Verum est quia impossible,” which Tertullian uttered concerning doctrine, it is time for us boldly to apply to action, saying, “It is practicable because it is impossible”; for, under the dispensation of the Spirit, our ability is no longer the measure of our responsibility. “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God,” and therefore possible for us who have been united to God through faith. Since the Holy Ghost has been given, it is not sufficient for the servant to say to his Master, “I am doing as well as I can,” for now he is bound to do better than he can. Should a New York merchant summon his commercial agent in Boston to come to him as quickly as possible, would he be satisfied if that agent were to arrive at the end of a week, footsore and weary from walking the entire distance, with the excuse, “I came as quickly as I could”? With swift steamer or lightning express at his disposal would he not be bound to come more quickly than he could? And so, with the power of Christ as our resource, and His riches in glory as our endowment, we are called upon to undertake what of ourselves we have neither the strength nor the funds to accomplish.1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 252.]
The Kingdom that is Within
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Byles (J.), The Boy and the Angel, 113.
Charles (R. H.), Forgiveness and Other Sermons, 76, 87.
Dewhurst (F. E.), The Investment of Truth, 89.
Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 153.
Jeffrey (G.), The Believer’s Privilege, 144.
Johnston (J. B.), The Ministry of Reconciliation, 126.
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Leathes (A. S.), The Kingdom Within, 39.
Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 61.
Liddon (H. P.), Present Church Troubles, 1.
McConnell (S. D.), Sons of God, 135.
Macleod (D.), Christ and Society, 87.
Murray (A.), Within, 13.
Murray (W. H.), The Fruits of the Spirit, 334.
Newman (J. H.), Sermons on Various Occasions, 47.
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Watkinson (W. L.), The Supreme Conquest, 189.
Whiton (J. M.), Summer Sermons, 35.
Williams (J. P.), The Duty of Exercise, 111.
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Cambridge Review, xiv. (1893) Supplement No. 353 (G. W. Kitchin).
Christian World Pulpit, xlv. 409 (D. M. Ross); xlviii. 148 (C. S. Horne); lii. 156 (R. Thomas); lxxiii. 43 (P. McPhail).
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Preacher’s Magazine, ix. 276 (G. B. F. Hallock).
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Sermons to Britons Abroad, 256.