ON NO subject will Christendom be found to have gone more astray than on the subject of the Kingdom of God--a subject which, without exaggeration, may be said to constitute the very backbone of the divine purpose with the earth and its inhabitants. What is the Kingdom of God? It is one of the most important questions that can be asked, from a Scriptural point of view: for this reason: whatever the Kingdom of God is, IT WAS THE GREAT SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE GOSPEL PREACHED BY JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES. This we prove by the following citation of testimonies:--
"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. iv, 23).The ministers and clergy of the present day believe that they preach the gospel in setting before the people the death of Christ. The death of Christ, in its sacrificial import, doubtless becomes an element in the apostolic testimony of the gospel; but in considering whether this was the whole gospel of first century preaching, we must remember that Christ and his disciples preached the gospel three years before the crucifixion. Not only so, but we have evidence that the apostles, while so engaged--while they "went through the towns, preaching the gospel" (Luke ix, 6)--were not aware that Christ had to suffer. Christ told his disciples that he should "suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" (Luke ix, 22); but it is said, "They understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not" (Luke ix, 45). The fact that, while in this state of ignorance concerning the sufferings of Christ, they "preached the gospel," is proof of the most positive character that the gospel, as preached by them, must have been something very different from the gospel of modern times, which consists exclusively of the death of Christ on the cross. The difference is manifest in the foregoing testimonies, which tell us they preached "THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
"And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. ix, 35).
"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark i, 14).
"He (Jesus) said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent" (Luke iv, 43).
"And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God" (Luke viii, 1).
"Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God" (Luke ix, 1, 2).
"And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed him; and he received them and spake unto them of the kingdom of God" (Luke ix, 10, 11).
The following passages prove that the Kingdom of God was also preached by the apostles after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, and that it, therefore, continues a valid and essential element of the gospel to this day :--
NOW, Paul was exceedingly zealous that the same gospel which he himself preached, should continue to be preached to the end of the world. "If an angel from heaven," said he, "preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. i, 8). Hence the gospel, of which he said it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Rom. i, 16), embraces the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, whatever that may be; for he himself continually preached it to both Jews and Gentiles.
"But when they (the Samaritans) believed Philip PREACHING THE THINGS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women" (Acts viii, 12).
"He went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading THE THINGS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Acts xix, 8).
"He expounded and testified THE KINGDOM OF GOD, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets" (Acts xxviii, 23).
"And received all that came in unto him, preaching THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts xxviii, 30, 31).
"Among whom I (Paul) have gone PREACHING THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Acts xx, 25).
We repeat that, in these circumstances, the question we have propounded is the most important to which attention can be invited.
What, then, is the Kingdom of God? Different answers will be given by different classes of people. Some conceive it to consist of the supremacy of God in the hearts of men--a sort of spiritual dominion existing co-extensively with secular life. Others recognise it in the ecclesiastical organisations of the day, styling them, as a whole, Christendom, or the kingdom of Christ, while a third party behold it in universal nature, continuing from generation to generation.
The holders of the first idea find a sanction for their belief in the words of Christ' "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke xvii, 21). They overlook the fact that these words were addressed to the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, "Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but WITHIN ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. xxiii, 28). This is not the state of mind that exists where the kingdom of God is supposed to dwell; and the fact that the statement in question was addressed to men of this character, shows that it had not the significance generally claimed for it. If the reader will examine any marginal Bible, he will find that "among" is given as the true rendering of the word translated "within "; which alters the significance of the verse. What Christ meant to intimate was his own presence among them as "the Royalty of the heavens," in answer to the mocking enquiry of the Pharisees.
Romans xiv, 17, is also quoted "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost "; but this only affirms one truth, without destroying another. It is true the kingdom of God when established, will be characterised by the qualities enumerated by Paul; but it does not therefore follow that the kingdom of God will not be a real and glorious manifestation of God's power on earth through the personal intervention of His Son from heaven.
The second idea, that the Kingdom of God is to be found in the religious systems of the day, as "the visible church," is without even the semblance of Scriptural foundation. Its existence is traceable to the times succeeding the overthrow of Paganism, in the beginning of the fourth century when Constantine delivered Christianity from its persecutors, and exalted it for the first time to the throne of prosperity and power. In the joy of the great change, the bishops said the Kingdom of God had come in the establishment of the Church. But we must go to the New Testament--not to ecclesiastical historians --for a Scriptural idea of the Church. The Church, we find to be composed of the heirs of the Kingdom, in probation for coming exaltation. They are not the Kingdom itself. We refer, for proof, to the argument to follow in the present and succeeding lectures.
The third view, which regards the universe as "the kingdom of God," has more of truth in it than the first or second, and yet we shall find as much of error. Nature is certainly the dominion of the Deity in a very exalted sense; but it is not that which in the Scriptures is spoken of as "the kingdom of God." We are bold to make the assertion, because of abundant Scriptural testimony forthcoming.
In endeavouring to ascertain the meaning of this phrase, "The Kingdom of God," we cannot do better than look at it in its origin. It is a Bible phrase, and originates there. We find it used in contrast to "the kingdom of men," which occurs three times in Daniel iv,--see verses 17, 25, 32. The "kingdom of men" consists of the aggregate of human governments. It is an appropriate designation for them all. They are all the embodiment of one principle--namely, the rule of man by himself. Whether it be the despot or free Parliament, the same is ex-emplified-self-government. This has been the alpha and omega of all political faith, since man was first sent forth an exile from Eden to take care of himself. Its form has varied in different ages and countries, according to the views and inclinations of men, but men have agreed with marvellous unanimity as to the mainspring of the system. There has been no difference between the bitterest factions as to the source of the power they respectively claimed to exercise, namely, the will of man--whether royalist or republican, despotic or constitutional.
The will of man is the cornerstone of every political edifice that exists--the foundation of the vast system of nations that covers the face of the earth. No one ever questions the legitimacy of human authority as politically embodied. The fact is, the world knows of no other authority. If it believe in God, a false theology has excluded Him from any influence in the minds of men in things practical. They confine His jurisdiction to "spiritual things," to which an artificial significance has come to be attached; and even in these they only yield him a constrained and occasional deference, In .reality, they acknowledged Him not. They own no higher authority than themselves. They assert the right to be their own masters, to dispose of this world's wealth as they think fit, and to make such laws as they please.
This. spirit is embodied in all the kingdoms of the world. It is the germ from which they are developed; so that in a particular and emphatic sense, human government, as multifariously manifested on the face of the globe, is THE KINGDOM OF MEN It is the presumption of man politically incorporated, the organised enforcement of human dictate, irrespective of the authority of God. It is permitted of God as, in the circumstances, a necessary evil; and He overrules it with a view to His future purposes. "The Most High ruleth in: the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Dan. iv, 32).
This conception of the present situation of things prepares us for the apprehension of
Jesus taught his disciples to pray "Thy kingdom come." It is not yet come. If it were, the kingdom of men would not be in existence, for "the kingdoms of this worm "are to cease when the kingdom of God comes. They are to become His; and the prophets show us that when this comes to pass the government of the world will no longer be in the hands of unauthorised, ambitious, erring kings and rulers. When the kingdom of God comes, it will displace and overthrow every power m the world, and visibly establish God's power on the earth, by the hand of Christ and his saints--all of which will be made manifest to the reader in what is to follow.
For a general view of the subject, we cannot do better than turn to the second chapter of .Daniel. To advise the general reader to do this is to provoke a smile, perhaps, as if referring him to Daniel .were like referring him to Jack the Giant Killer. Few people realise as they ought, that Daniel is a prophet whose authority rests on no less a sanction than that of the Lord Jesus himself. Christ said to his disciples, "When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (LET HIM THAT READETH UNDERSTAND)," etc. (Mark xiii, 14). Not only does Christ specifically endorse the divinity of Daniel in this way, but he recognises it in the general appeals to the Scripture as the word of God, which, he said, "cannot be broken" (John x, 35). Daniel was a part of this Scripture, and therefore partakes of every confirmation given to the whole. In view of this, let us address ourselves, without the least reservation, to the reading of the chapter referred to.
It is a revelation of the most important kind. It is, in fact, the history of the world condensed in the form of a prophecy into a single chapter. To understand its bearing, we must transport ourselves into the past by upwards of a score of centuries, and take our stand, in imagination, with Nebuchadnezzar, the representative of the first great Babylonian dynasty. Taking him as he appears in the chapter, we find the monarch in reverie. He is thinking of his past achievements; of his brilliant career, and the fame and the dominion which he has established. While reviewing the past, his mind turns to the future. "Thy thoughts," says Daniel, "came into thy mind, upon thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter."
Should the great empire, which he had founded, be a haven for nations throughout all generations? or should some one rise after his death, and cause disruption and ruin? What would be the fate of the usurper? Should his power continue? or should it share a similar fate to his own? Should the world be a constant battle-field? Should history be an eternal record of strife and bloodshed? Should mankind for ever be cursed with the rivalries of potentates, and the devastations caused by military ambition? In this frame of mind, the monarch falls asleep; and while his slumbers are upon him, a dream is impressed upon the tablets of his brain by the Great Artificer, who hath the hearts of all men in His hands. The dream is for the purpose of answering the' questions which had started in his mind, and of enlightening future generations as to the purpose of the Almighty.
The king awakes; the dream imparted was instantly withdrawn. It is gone. The king only knows that he has had a dream of unusual impressiveness, but cannot recall its faintest outline. He' is distressed. The dream has left behind it the impression that it was no ordinary dream, but by no effort can he bring it back. In his distress he has recourse to the magicians of his court, who, according to the traditions of their order, ought to be able to tell him the dream and the meaning. But the demand is beyond their resources. They confess their inability to supply information which was beyond everyone's reach. The king is irritated: regards their inability as evidence of imposture, and issues a decree for their death.
This decree involved Daniel, who was a royal captive at Nebuchadnezzar's court, and who had been assigned an honorary position among the king's wise men, because of his capacity and culture. Daniel, hearing of it and the cause, asks respite, in the hope of obtaining a knowledge of the king's secret from God. That night, he and certain fellow captives made it the subject of special request and prayer, and that night Daniel was communicated a knowledge of the king's dream and the meaning. Daniel is called in, and the king's difficulty is at an end. Now, let us take notice of Daniel's first statement to the king: "There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in THE LATTER DAYS" (chap. ii, 28). This is to be noted. It shows that the vision goes up to and finds its culmination in the "latter days,"--a phrase employed in Scripture to describe the closing period of human affairs. This gives it a special interest to us, as affecting our own and future times.
Daniel described the dream. The royal dreamer beheld a towering image of great size and imposing appearance. As the beholder looked, a second independent object appeared. A stone hewn by mysterious agency from an adjoining mountain came whizzing through the air; struck the great image on the feet with such violence, that the image was overturned, and fell in fragments. The stone growing larger,. rolled among these fragments, and ground them to powder, which the wind carried away. Then the stone went on enlarging until it became a great mountain, filling the whole earth.
Thus the vision consisted of two objects--separate and in-dependent--and one appearing before the other. It is well to realise this. The image is first seen towering in its metallic splendour, then the stone is revealed, not as a passive co-existent, but as a directly antagonistic body. There is no affinity between the two things; the stone does not move softly up to the image, and gradually incorporate itself with its substance. It dashes at it with violence, and at once brings it to the earth in ruins; and when the wind has cleared away the atomic residuum, the stone grows into a great mountain, to the filling of the whole earth. In doing so, it does not appropriate any of the substance of the demolished image, as that has all been driven away; but grows by its own inherent force.
Now, the things signified are explained by Daniel, and bear the same mutual relations as the symbols :--
"Thou, O King, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory... Thou (or thy dynasty) art this head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom, inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things, and as iron that breaketh all these shall it break in pieces and bruise. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potter's clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; . .. it shall be partly strong and partly broken. . . And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed, and .the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold."--ii, 37-45.
Before considering these statements, it will be of advantage to take into account the 7th chapter of Daniel, where the same things are revealed in another form. If the reader will take the trouble of reading the chapter through, he will be rewarded by a clearer comprehension of the scope of the argument. It narrates a vision seen by Daniel himself, and interpreted to him by the angels. In the vision, beasts are substituted for Nebuchadnezzar's metals, and the stone finds its counterpart in the "judgment that shall sit, and consume and destroy the fourth beast unto the end."
In the two, we have a double representation of the same thing. Their great prophetic teaching is, that there were to arise in the earth four successive phases or forms of universal government, and that the whole should be superseded at last by an everlasting kingdom, to be established by God. The visions are of the broad and comprehensive type. They deal not with local manifestations. They take the civilised world as a whole, and present us with a general view of the great successive political changes of the world's history, without touching upon the. infinitude of detail which constitutes the material of historical writing. They were given to gratify the profitable curiosity that seeks to know the ultimate of history, and the destiny of the human race. The revelation was made in almost the earliest historic age, viz., during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. That is now twenty-five centuries ago; and it is our privilege to be able to trace its verification in the course of history, and thereby be prepared to look with confidence for its glorious consummation.
The empire established by Nebuchadnezzar was in existence at the time of the visions; we recognise it in the golden head of the image, and in the eagle-winged lion of Daniel's dream, both of which are appropriate symbols of the Babylonian power--the one representing the splendour and magnificence of the empire, the other its supremacy among the nations.
"After thee," said Daniel, "shall arise another. kingdom inferior to thee," and, therefore, represented by the inferior metal--silver. This prediction was fulfilled. An insurrection took place under Darius the Mede, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar's grandson, which resulted in the complete overthrow of his dynasty, and in the establishment of the Medo-Persian empire. Darius died in two years, without a lineal successor, and the vacant throng was peacefully filled by Cyrus the Persian, the rightful heir. The Persian phase continued 204 years and nine months, so that the Persian phase of the silver empire was of a very much longer duration that the Median phase of the same empire. This is signified by the bear in the second vision raising itself up on one side; and in Daniel viii, by a ram with two unequal horns, of which it is said (verse 3), "one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last that is, the Persian phase of the second empire, which was the longer, was last in order. The reader is referred to the chapter itself for further detail. The bear, which in Daniel's vision is chosen to represent the Medo-Persian empire, is said to have had "three ribs in the mouth of it, between the teeth of it." The political peculiarity symbolised by these ribs is thus identified, it is--
"It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom, and over these PRESIDENTS, that the princes might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage" (Dan. vi, 1, 2).
Darius Codomanus, the last occupant of the Medo-Persian throne, was defeated by Alexander, the Macedonian, otherwise "the Great," who entirely overthrew the power of the Persian empire. Then came the rule of the brazen-coated Greeks: Alexander became the sole emperor of the world, establishing "the third kingdom of brass." His dominion did not long remain intact. It had been written in explanation of another vision seen by Daniel (chap. viii, 21-22): --
"The rough goat is the king of Grecia, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power."
The same thing had been predicted in the following words (Daniel xi, 3, 4):--
"A mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion... and when he shall stand up his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven, and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled."
The fulfilment of these predictions was very remarkable. On the death of Alexander, his empire was divided among his four generals, and became established in four independent divisions, "not in his power," as the angel had foretold; for his power was not perpetuated by descendants, but shared among strangers.
The fourth kingdom is predicted--"strong as iron, breaking in pieces, and bruising." In one case, it is represented by the iron legs, feet, and toes of the image, and in the other by a fourth beast with ten horns, which Daniel describes "dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly, with great iron teeth, devouring and breaking in pieces, and stamping the residue with its (brazen-clawed) feet." Here again, history supplies an entire verification of the prophecy. The Roman empire rose into powerful existence, and vanquishing the power of Greece became mistress of the world, extending her dominion beyond the limits of any former empire, and establishing one of the strongest despotisms the world has ever seen. Her political qualities corresponded in every respect with the strong figures employed. She was "strong as iron," and "great, and dreadful, and strong exceedingly." The sagacity of her rulers, the rigour of her imperial administration, the military skill of her generals, the discipline of her army, the strength of her laws, and the unlimited extent of her resources, combined to make Rome the strongest piece of political machinery the world has ever seen. Her strength, however, though great and prolonged, was not everlasting. The language of the vision required that days of weakness should come. "Partly strong and partly broken;" this is the prediction, and so the days of universal Roman power passed away.
Then came the "partly broken" state. Strong first, as signified by the iron legs of the image, and the corporate strength of the fourth beast of Daniel's vision, she entered in her later stages the phase represented by the clay-sand-iron mixed ten-toed feet of the image, and the antagonistic horns on the head of the fourth beast. Broken at last by the repeated blows of the barbaric invasions from the north, we behold her now in a state of weakness and division. The European nations as we see them today are the latter-day divided phase of Roman power. The old imperial strength has gone. Rome no longer rules the world. She no longer sways the destinies of mankind with the most formidable of despotisms. She is broken, divided, weakened, a ricketty, disjointed, system of nations, which hardly holds together for very weakness: a mixture of iron and clay of brittle cohesion, destined ere long to be smashed to atoms by the invincible stone from heaven.
Rome has never been superseded. She has been changed by many vicissitudes. She still lingers in weakness. The present political arrangements on the continent of Europe are but a prolongation of her existence in another form, corresponding to the requirements of the vision. They exhibit to us the last stage of the fourth kingdom, and tell us that we approach the time when a change will come over the world--when the fifth kingdom shall be manifested in destructive antagonism to all human power.
This suggests the consummation. The exactness with which this prophetic revelation has been verified in history supplies a clue and inspires entire confidence with respect to the unfulfilled part of the vision. History has brought us to the feet of the image, and the last of the four beasts; that is, to the close of the fourth great dominion, which it was predicted should arise in the earth. But what lies beyond? Let any one sit down and peruse the second and seventh chapters of Daniel attentively, and see if he do not, as a matter of self-evident testimony, come to the conclusion that the next step in the march of events is the visible interposition of divine power in human affairs.
Consider the stone: it is hewn from its bed by miraculous agency; it appears on the scene after the image has attained complete development; it descends upon the feet of the image with violence, and reduces the human-like structure to atoms, which are taken away by the wind; and THEN the stone expands into earth-occupying dimensions. Now, what is the interpretation of all this? We could almost work the problem unaided, so unmistakable is the evident significance of the symbolism. But let the plain language of divine explanation decide (Dan. ii, 44):--
"In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven SET UP A KINGDOM, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever."
Can there be any difference of opinion as to the meaning of this language? It is addressed to us as an interpretation; therefore, it is not enigmatical. It is a plain and literal statement, declaring the purpose of God to set aside the existing arrangement of things on earth, and this not in an unseen, quiet, gradual manner, such as the expected spread of a spiritual millennium; but with the visibility, violent destructiveness, and suddenness of the stone's descent upon the image. The four kingdoms have destroyed each other; but inasmuch as they were of the same (human) stock, they are not represented in the vision of the image as separate conflicting objects, but as part and parcel of the same body politic. Yet they violently and completely superseded each other, though no violence is signified in the symbol.
The only violence represented is in connection with the crisis that has not yet arrived. It is employed by the stone toward the image, as representing the entire system of human government. This would lead us to anticipate violence of an unprecedented kind, when the event signified comes to pass; and the reader will see that the wording of the interpretation is strictly corroborative of this legitimate inference. "The God of heaven shall . . break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms." Herein is predicted the entire disruption of all systems of human government, the complete and violent suppression of "the powers that be." This is not a "notion" or a "crotchet" founded upon an ambiguous symbol, but a simple reiteration of the unmistakable language of inspired interpretation. The same purpose is distinctly intimated in other parts of Scripture. For instance, in Psalm ii, Christ is addressed in the following language (verses 8, 9):--
"Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, and thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
Again, Psalm cx, 5, 6, where it is also the subject of inspired song: --
"The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath... He shall wound the heads over many countries."
Again, Isaiah, portraying this same divine interference, says (chapter xxiv, 21-23) :--
"It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited (marginal reading 'found wanting'). THEN the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously."
Again, Hannah, on the occasion of Samuel's birth, uses the following words in her song (I Sam. ii, 10):--
"The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of Heaven shall He thunder upon them. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, and He shall give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed (or Christ)."
Again (Haggai ii, 21-22):--
"I will shake the heavens and the earth, and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen."
There are many other statements of a similar .import throughout the Scriptures; but these are sufficient to show that the teaching in the book of Daniel is not isolated or exceptional, but coincident with the general tone of prophetic testimony. That testimony destroys the popular idea of a millennium to be brought about by evangelical enterprise. It precludes the theory of gradual enlightenment and amelioration by human agency. It shows that all expectations of a day of perfection, consequent upon the ultimate triumph of Christianity in the world, are visionary as a dream, destined to receive effectual dissipation in the awful judgments by which the powers of the world will be overthrown.
Returning to Daniel, we find that there is not only a work of demolition, but a work of upbuilding and restitution. This is the most glorious feature of the divine purpose; "the God of heaven shall SET UP a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom shall not be left to other people... and it shall stand for ever." Now, let us consider, for a moment, what the setting up of a kingdom means, and we shall understand this statement better. A kingdom is not an abstraction. It is not any single thing; it is an aggregation of certain elements which go to make it up. A 'king in himself is not a kingdom; neither is a country, or people, or laws, separately; it requires them all combined to constitute a kingdom. This must commend itself to every man's judgment. A kingdom consists of, first, a king; second, an aristocracy; third, a people; fourth, a territory; and fifth, laws. Now, to set up a kingdom is obviously to arrange and combine these elements. To appoint a king is not to set up a kingdom: David was anointed years before he ascended the throne: but the kingdom of David was not established until David actually became king over the realm. To portion out a territory is not to set up a kingdom; a land without a king or inhabitants is no kingdom. To set up a kingdom is to put together with various parts that make one. Now, in the testimony before us, we have it declared that it is the purpose of the Almighty to do this very thing--to organise a kingdom of His own in place of those which now occupy the earth, after they shall have been swept out of the' way. Hence, we are led to expect, as the inevitable result of testimony believed, that when the fourth kingdom, now existing, shall have been abolished of God, a new order of things shall visibly arise in the earth, in which there shall be a God-appointed king, a God-constituted aristocracy, a God-selected people, a God-chosen land, and God-given laws--altogether constituting a kingdom of God' on the earth. Accordingly, we find that each of these elements is separately provided for in the course of prophecy. On the subject of the king, we need not go out of Daniel, chapter vii, 13, 14: --
"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like THE SON OF MAN came with the clouds of heaven... and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve HIM. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
Here we have an explanation of chapter ii, 44. But the main point to be noted is that Daniel supplies us with the first element of the kingdom, viz., the king, styled in chapter ix, 25, "Messiah the Prince." This is Jesus Christ, spoken of in Revelation xix, 16, as the "King of kings, and Lord of lords." This is a subject capable of much enlargement; but as a whole lecture will be devoted to it, we at present desist.
Daniel also supplies us "with the aristocracy of the coming kingdom. We find them in the following verse from chapter vii :--
"The kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the SAINTS of the Most High" (verse 27).
These are referred to by Peter (I Peter ii, 9), as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people "; and in Revelation v, 10, they are prospectively represented as singing, "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall REIGN ON THE EARTH." In these, we recognise the brethren of Christ who are faithful to the end, and counted worthy to inherit the kingdom of God. Writing to such, Paul says, "God hath called you unto His kingdom" (I Thess. ii, 12); and, again, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (I Cor. vi, 2). Thus the aristocracy of the future age are neither more nor less than the poor men and women of this and all past ages who do the will of God, and hope for His salvation. They are "taken out from among the Gentiles as a people for His name." They are "called to His kingdom and glory," and "their citizenship is," therefore, "in heaven." They have here "no continuing city: they seek one to come." They are not known or recognised by the world. They walk in obscurity; they are among the humble of the earth; they are without name, standing, or wealth, but they are, nevertheless, the greatest among the sons of men. They are destined to be the rulers in a perfect age that shall be without end, the possessors of all the wealth that great men are now piling up with such diligence. They are monarchs of more illustrious degree than any of "the rulers of the darkness of this aion (age)." The time hastens when the Almighty. will "put down the mighty from their seats, and exalt them of low degree." What a privilege to be among the latter, even if it does involve present obscurity and defame!
Next, the subjects of the kingdom; they also are plainly identified with the Jews to whom Moses said (Deut. vii, 6):--
"The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be A SPECIAL PEOPLE UNTO HIMSELF, above all people that are upon the face of the earth."
The Jews are now in a scattered and afflicted condition; but they are to be gathered from their dispersion, and reinstated in their land as a great nation, there to constitute the subject-people of the Messiah when he returns. This is a subject by itself, and will be treated in a separate lecture. Meanwhile, it is necessary to make this passing mention of the subject, in order to complete the picture of the kingdom of God. It is necessary to add, In order to prevent misconception, that the subject-inhabitants of the earth in the future age are not restricted to the Jews. They also comprise "all people, nations, and languages." Yet there is a distinction to be marked. "The kingdom of God" is distinct from the "all people, nations, and languages," which it rules; just as the kingdom of Great Britain is distinct from Canada, New Zealand, and her other colonies. The Jews will Be to the kingdom of God what Englishmen are to England, and other nations will form so many dependencies subject to, but not constituting, the kingdom of God, so that while all are the subjects of the kingdom, yet the Jews are so in a proper and exclusive sense. Hence we read, Zech. viii, 23 :--
"In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that GOD IS WITH YOU."
And again, Micah iv, 8 :--
"And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the FIRST DOMINION; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem."
But all this will be made more apparent in another lecture. The fourth element of the kingdom--THE LAND--is also frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, and often in such a way as directly to identify it with God's future purpose. It is repeatedly spoken of as "my land." For illustration of this, the reader is referred to Ezekiel xxxviii, 16: xxxvi, 5; Jeremiah xvi, 18: ii, 7; Isaiah xiv, 25, etc. Moses says of it (Deut. xi, 12), "It is a land which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year." This was Palestine, "that lieth between the river of Egypt and the great river Euphrates "--the land promised as a personal everlasting possession to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. xiii, 14: xxvi, 3: xxviii, 13). The Jews occupied it under divine covenant for many centuries, but were ultimately expelled from it in shame, because they defiled it. At present the land is desolate and desecrated by every species of Gentile abomination: but we are told of a time (Deut. xxxii, 43) when God "will be merciful unto His land and to His people." Of that time it is written (Zech. ii, 12) :--
"The Lord shall inherit Judah, His portion in THE HOLY LAND, and shall choose Jerusalem again."
Again (Ezekiel xxxvi, 33, 35) :--
"Thus saith the Lord God; In the day that I should have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will also cause you to dwell in the cities; and the wastes shall be builded, and the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, THIS LAND THAT WAS DESOLATE IS BECOME LIKE THE GARDEN OF EDEN; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited."
As to the laws, it is written in Isaiah ii, 3, 4 :--
"And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for OUT OF ZION SHALL GO FORTH THE LAW, AND THE WORD OF THE LORD FROM JERUSALEM. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Here then is a summary of the Scripture testimony, in which the five constituent elements of the kingdom of God are made clearly manifest. It is needless to say that this kingdom is not yet in existence: such a proposition is self-evident. Its existence does not commence till human government is entirely abolished. Not until the great image--now standing upon its ten-toed feet in Europe--is broken to pieces, and "driven away like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors," shall the stone expand to the filling of the whole earth. That stone has not yet descended; Jesus Christ has not yet returned from the far country whither he has gone, to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke xix, 12-27). He is waiting for the appointed time. When that arrives, he will be made manifest as "the stone which the builders rejected, become the head of the corner; on whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder." He will go forth "to make war against the kings of the earth and their armies" (Rev. xix, 11, 20); having overcome them, "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. xi, 15).
Then will commence a glorious reign, outdistancing, by infinitude, the most perfect government that has ever been conceived by man. One king at the head shall possess wisdom equal to all the exigencies of universal dominion--his mercy untainted by selfishness and unblemished by weakness, and his power omnipotent for the enforcement of his will. AN IMMORTAL KING, no apprehension of death will haunt his court or mar the joyous confidence of the rejoicing peoples who will thank God for his righteous sway. His government will be firm, direct, and absolute--no vacillation--no circumlocution--no doubtfulness and indecision. "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and might; the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord. And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth. And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Isaiah xi, 2-4).
Absolute authority, backed by omnipotence, will rule mankind with simplicity and vigour. Righteous law, emanating from its legitimate Source, will be enforced with resistless authority. Innocence will be protected, poverty banished, rapacity restrained, arrogance brought down, and the rights of all secured in everything. The King's government will be administered by the King's associates, his immortal, incorruptible, perfected brethren, who having undergone previous moral preparation in circumstances of great trial, will have been fashioned like unto the glorious body of their Lord and Master. The power will be permanently in their hands, not by popular suffrage, but by royal commission of the true type. The power of the people will be a myth in those days. All assertion of political birthright will be suppressed. An iron administration, with superhuman powers at their command, will vigorously put down rebellion in every form, and maintain the only government that will have blessed the world with peace and righteousness in the name of divine right. Then shall the glory of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Then shall be fulfilled the words of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."
NOW, we made it evident to start with, that this glorious purpose was announced in the gospel preached by Jesus and his apostles; it was proclaimed for belief. "Go," said Jesus, "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved." Thus belief was made the first condition of salvation, that is, belief in the things set forth in the proclamation to which the commission had reference. These things comprised the doctrine of the kingdom. Hence, no man believes the gospel who is ignorant of the prophetic disclosures concerning the kingdom of God. Be it observed, Paul preached the kingdom of God out of the prophets. PROOF :--
"He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and OUT OF THE PROPHETS" (Acts xxviii, 23).Previous to the death of Christ, the crucifixion formed no part of the Gospel. Subsequently, however, it came to be preached as a supplement to the things concerning the kingdom of God. This appears from the distinction observed in the phrases by which the preaching of the apostles is designated at these two different periods. In the gospel narratives, the proclamation is described as simply relating to "the kingdom of God "; whereas, in the Acts of the Apostles, the phrase runs, "the things concerning the kingdom of God, AND the name of Jesus Christ." Now, the things concerning the name of Christ comprehend the doctrinal teaching as to how the sons of Adam may put on that "one name which is given under heaven, whereby men may be saved." This involved the teaching concerning Christ's sacrifice; for had he not died for our sins, and "risen again for our justification," it would have been impossible for us to have "put on his name," since his name would not otherwise have been provided. This element of "the mystery of godliness," then, was super-added to the things concerning the kingdom of God, in order to make them of practical value. The glad tidings of the kingdom would have been no gospel to us unless a way had been opened up for our personal participation in the glory to be revealed.
"I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which THE PROPHETS AND Moses did say should come" (Acts xxvi, 22).
"So worship I (Paul) the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law AND IN THE PROPHETS" (Acts xxiv, 14).
"Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of THE SCRIPTURES" (Acts xvii, 2). (There were no other Scriptures at the time than the Old Testament.)
This way was opened in the death and resurrection of Christ; and the announcement of this fact, with explanation as to the manner in which we might enter this "way," naturally became a constituent part of the glad tidings. One part was incomplete without the other. The only difference between the gospel preached by Christ before his death, and that proclaimed after his ascension, was that the latter comprehended the teaching concerning the name of Christ, in addition to the subject matter of the other. There was no alteration; there was simply addition. The kingdom was presented for belief and hope; the sacrifice, for faith with a view to the hope. Both went. together. They were never disjointed. United, they constituted the one gospel preached to the world by the apostles of Christ, as the means of human salvation. Disjoined, each is inefficacious to enlighten any man unto salvation.
Now, it is a remarkable fact that, in this century of boasted Christian knowledge, we hear nothing. at all, in pulpit preaching, about the first and main element of the gospel--the kingdom of God. If it is spoken about at all, it is with a significance totally different from that which it possesses in the Scriptures. As used by the commonalty of religious people, it means different things in different mouths, but never refers to that glorious manifestation of divine power on earth, which is destined shortly to upset the whole system of human misgovernment, and establish a glorious kingdom in the earth, in which God will be honoured and man happy. Furthermore, with whatever meaning the phrase may be used, the kingdom of God is never spoken of to the people or preached about as in any way forming a part of the good message from heaven, which men must believe unto salvation.
Thus there has been a great departure from the original example. As the Jews of ancient times would only receive the doctrine of the kingdom, and that in a carnal and corrupted form, so the Gentiles of modern times, full of boast and confidence, will only hear of a suffering Messiah, whom they contemplate with perverted gaze. Thus we have two extremes--equally far from the truth. The Bible lies between them: and before any of them can be in a safe position they must meet in the blending of "the things concerning the kingdom of God, AND the name of Jesus Christ. At present there is a great and vital lack in popular preaching. The people are led to hope for translation to heaven at death as the great object of a religious life, and as the great burden of the promises of God, when, indeed, such a hope is utterly delusive, having no place at all in the Scriptures; while, on the other hand, the glorious gospel of the blessed God is hid from their eyes.
If we look into the practical teaching of the New Testament, we shall find that it is thoroughly interlaced with the doctrine of the kingdom of God. We begin with the exhortation of the great Master himself-- "Seek ye first THE KINGDOM OF GOD and his righteousness" (Matt. vi, 33). Here are plain words. We hear nothing like them in the religious teaching of this age; no such counsel ever falls from the lips of clergy or ministers. With all their zeal for the dissemination of the truth of Christ in the world, they actually neglect the inculcation of its first principle as expressed in the words before us. They never tell men to "seek first the kingdom of God "; they don't even tell them that such a thing is coming. The fact is, they are ignorant on the subject themselves; for surely, otherwise, they would speak of it. They exhort their hearers to seek "mansions in the skies," to "prepare for death," to "fit themselves for heaven," and save their immortal souls from the torments of hell; thus proclaiming fictitious doctrine, while in all their preachings they make no mention of the great central prospective truth relating to the kingdom of God. They thus disprove themselves to be the ministers of truth and light.
Christ not only warned men to "seek first the kingdom of God," but he taught his disciples to pray for its coming, saying, "THY KINGDOM COME; thy will be done in earth as it is done in heaven." No prayer like this ascends from the pulpits of our churches and chapels. It is true that in the churches the "Lord's Prayer" is repeated as a form of devotional exercise; but when the occupants of the pulpit are left to frame their own petitions, they breathe no requests that the kingdom of God may come. True, they pray for "the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom "; but by this they mean "the propagation of the visible church," which is a very different thing from the establishment of the Almighty's (not now existing) divine kingdom on earth, for the glorification of His own great name, and the blessing of humanity. Such a prayer is, in fact, a tacit declaration of unbelief in the coming kingdom of God's revealed purpose, because it assumes that kingdom to be already in existence; and, ignoring His future plans, asserts a system to be the kingdom of God, which is only the ecclesiastical embodiment of error and opposition to His truth.
Christ has said, "Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein." (Luke xviii, 17). This is a solemn statement, deserving, nay, demanding, most attentive consideration. It is a certain decree of exclusion against all who do not humbly and joyfully believe in the glad tidings concerning' the kingdom of God. It is fatal to the sceptic, whatever be his excellence of character. It shuts out the man who is so engrossed in the business and pleasures of this life, as to be indifferent about the future, blindly trusting that all will be right if he pays twenty shillings in the pound. It debars the pseudo-liberal man of the world, who, in the supreme wisdom of a scientific cramming, talks contemptuously about "theology."
But it is equally fatal to another class, who think they have nothing to fear. What do professing orthodox Christians say to it? How does the Churchman, the Independent, the Baptist, the Methodist, stand related to this principle? What say they to the kingdom of God? Do they receive it as a little child? Let them be told about the purpose of God to send Jesus
Christ to earth again. (Acts iii, 20), to raise again the tabernacle of David that is fallen down, and to build it as in the days of old (Amos ix, 11); to pull down the mighty from their seats, and exalt them of low degree (Luke i, 52); to humble all kings of the earth, and compel the homage of their peoples (Isa. xxiv, 21; Psalm lxxii, 8-11; Dan, vii, 14; Psalm ii, 9); to establish Him in the city of Jerusalem, as universal king on earth (Isaiah xxiv, 23; Jeremiah iii, 17; Micah iv, 2-7); to give power to His accepted people, as royal co-rulers with Him of the nations of the earth (Rev. ii, 26, 27; v, 9, 10; Psalm cxlix, 5, 9; Dan. vii, 27).inLet them be told of the mission of Jesus Christ to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel (Isaiah xlix, 6); to gather again the children of Israel from all nations among whom they are scattered, and to bring them to the land of their fathers, now waste and desolate (Ezek. xxxvii, 21, 22); and there to constitute them a glorious nation, served and honoured by all, even as they are now oppressed and despised (Zeph. iii, 19, 20; Isa. lxi, 5, 7; lx, 10, 14).
Let them be told of all these things, which are plainly written in the word of truth, and what will they say? What do they say? Do they receive them as a little child? Do they not rather reject them with scorn, and throw all the ridicule which their mouths can frame upon those who direct their attention to these things? Let them beware lest they come into condemnation, and realise the words addressed by Jesus to the Pharisees: "Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God; and you then yourselves thrust out shall come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God." Wiser far will it be to receive the kingdom of God with the meekness and gratitude of a little child, that at the end of the days, they may hear the words of welcome addressed to them, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
We read in Acts i, 3, that Jesus was seen of his disciples forty days after his passion, speaking unto them THE THINGS PERTAINING TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Here is an example for our religious teachers. The Great Master considered the things of the kingdom of so much importance, that he devoted his last days on earth to their exposition. How much then does it behoove those who profess to be his ministers to instruct the people therein.
In Matthew vii, 21, we find the following words: "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven." (Note--The Kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are the same thing; because God who sets it up is the God of heaven, and the kingdom when established will be a kingdom that will have come from heaven to earth.) Wordy profession will not avail anything in securing an entrance into the kingdom of God. A mere assent to Christian doctrine--an intellectual recognition of gospel truth--will not qualify a man for that high honour. Belief must be accompanied by a hearty performance of the will of God, as made known in the preceptive department of the truth; and this is what few men are equal to. The moral courage that is not frightened at singularity is a scarce thing, especially in matters of principle. Men will rather wink at tricks in trade, and conform to dishonourable practices without end, than boldly avow conscientious conviction, and be considered "soft." Fashion, reputation, and other influences at work in society, briefly summarised by the apostle John, as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," are too powerful with the common run of mortals, to allow of many entering the kingdom of God. "The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. vi, 9). "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it." Again, in Mark x, 24, we read, "How hard. is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God."
James presents the other side of the picture in chapter ii, 5: "Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love him "? Riches come not alone to a man. They surround him with circumstances which are unfavourable to spiritual perception. For this reason, a rich man has very little chance of ever becoming an heir of the kingdom of God; not from the simple circumstance of his happening to have riches, but because he becomes subject through them, to many influences of an unfavourable character. It is different with the poor. They may take comfort. To them pre-eminently the gospel is preached; and to them it cannot fail to present many more attractions than to the rich man, because in this life they have little to comfort them. Their days are spent in labour. They manage with difficulty to "provide things honest in the sight of all men," and are strangers to the elegances and luxuries by which the rich sweeten their lives. They are held in small reputation, have few friends and few pleasures. To them the gospel is glad tidings indeed: it promises them deliverance from all the imperfections and drawbacks of the present life, and possession of riches and honour in the kingdom of God--far greater and more enduring, and certainly not less real than those which are now inherited by the great men of the earth; and in the affectionate belief of this promise, and the moral elevation and spiritual improvement which the contemplation thereof induces, he is blessed with the peace of God that passeth all understanding--a peace that the world knoweth not of--a peace that the world cannot give and cannot take away.
From what has been advanced it will be manifest that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as made known in the New Testament, is not preached in our churches and chapels. To account for such a state of things, it would be necessary to say more than the limits of this lecture will allow; but there is a certain prediction of Paul's which may throw some light on the subject. It will be found in II Tim. iv, 3, 4 :--
"The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, (they) having itching ears; AND THEY SHALL TURN AWAY THEIR EARS FROM THE TRUTH, AND SHALL BE TURNED UNTO FABLES."
This prediction requires no comment. We observe its fulfilment in the present state of Christendom, and the warning voice to every earnest mind is, in the words of Peter, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." Like the Christians of old, "Gladly receive the word and be baptised." Steadfastly continue in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers; and when the time appointed arrives, "an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Peter i, 11).
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