The Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God

 

H.P. Liddon

 


 

"Whence hath this Man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's Son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this Man all these things?" (Matt. 13.54-56).

WE have now seen how the appearance of a Divine Person, as the Saviour of men, was anticipated by the Old Testament; let us inquire how far Christ's Divinity is attested by the phenomenon which we encounter in the formation and continuity of the Christian Church.

 

The Character of Our Lord's Plan

When modern writers examine and discuss the proportions and character of our Lord's "plan," a Christian believer may rightly feel that such a term can only be used in such a connection with some mental caution. He may urge that in forming an estimate of strictly human action we can distinguish between a plan and its realization; but that this distinction is obviously inapplicable to Him with whom resolve means achievement, and who completes His action, really if not visibly, when He simply wills to act. If it is true that success can never be really doubtful to Omnipotence, and that no period of suspense can be presumed to intervene between a resolve and its accomplishment in the Eternal Mind; yet, on the other hand, it is a part of our Lord's gracious condescension that He has, if we may so speak, entered into the lists of history. He has come among us as one of ourselves; He has made Himself of no reputation, and has been found in fashion as a man. He has despoiled Himself of His advantages; He has actually stated what He proposed to do in the world, and has thus submitted Himself to the verdict of man's experience. His own words are our warrant for comparing them with His work, and He has interposed the struggles of centuries between His words and their fulfillment. Let us inquire what it was that He purposed to effect within the province of human action and history.

 

The Founder of the Kingdom of Heaven

Now the answer to this question is simply that He proclaimed Himself the Founder of a world-wide and imperishable society. He did not propose to act powerfully upon the convictions and the characters of individual men, and then to leave to them when they believed and felt alike the liberty of voluntarily forming themselves into an association with a view to reciprocal sympathy and united action. From the first the formation of a society was not less an essential feature of Christ's plan than was His redemptive action upon single souls. This society was not to be a school of thinkers, nor a self-associated company of enterprising fellow-workers; it was to be a kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, as it is also called, the Kingdom of God. For ages indeed the Jewish theocracy had been a kingdom of God upon earth. God was the one true King of ancient Israel. He was felt to be present in Israel as a Monarch living among His subjects. The temple was His palace; its sacrifices and ritual were the public acknowledgment of His present but invisible Majesty. But the Jewish polity, considered as a system, was an external rather than an internal kingdom of God. Jesus Christ our Lord announced a new Kingdom of God, and by terming it the Kingdom of God He implied that it would first fully deserve that sacred name as corresponding with Daniel's prophecy of a fifth empire. Let us, moreover, note in passing that when using the word "kingdom" our Lord did not announce a republic. He willed to be King, absolutely and without a rival, in the new society, and the nature and extent of His legislation plainly shows us in what sense He meant to reign.

 

The Laws of the Kingdom

The original laws of the new Kingdom are for the most part set forth by its Founder in His Sermon on the Mount. After a preliminary statement of the distinctive character which was to mark the life and bearing of those who would fully correspond to His mind and will, and a further sketch of the nature and depth of the influence which His subjects were to exert upon other men, He proceeds to define the general relation of the new law which He is promulgating to the law that had preceded it. The vital principle of His legislation, namely, that moral obedience shall be enforced, not merely in the performance of or in the abstinence from outward acts, but in the deepest and most secret springs of thought and motive is traced in its application to certain specific prescriptions of the older law (Matt. 5); while other ancient enactments are modified or set aside by the stricter purity, the genuine. simplicity of motive and character, the entire unselfishness and the superiority to personal prejudices and exclusiveness which the new Lawgiver insisted on.

 

The Life of the Kingdom

Notice also, the required life of the new Kingdom is then exhibited in detail; the duties of almsgiving, of prayer, and of fasting are successively enforced; but the rectification of the ruling motive is chiefly insisted on as essential. In performing religious duties God's will and not any conventional standard of human opinion is to be kept steadily before the eye of the soul. The Legislator insists upon the need of a single, supreme, unrivaled motive in thought and action unless all is to be lost. The uncorruptible treasure must be in Heaven; the body of the moral life will only be full of light if "the eye is single;" no man can serve two masters. The birds and the flowers suggest the lesson of trust in and devotion to the one source and end of life; all will really be well with those who in very deed seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. Charity in judgment of other men, circumspection in communicating sacred truth, confidence and constancy in prayer, perfect consideration for the wishes of others, yet also a determination to seek the paths of difficulty and sacrifice rather than the broad easy ways trodden by the mass of mankind-these features will mark the conduct of loyal subjects of the Kingdom.

 

The Features that Mark Loyal Subjects

They will beware, too, of false prophets, that is, of the movers of spiritual sedition, of teachers who are false to the truths upon which the Kingdom is based and to the temper which is required of its real children. The false prophets will be known by their moral unfruitfulness rather than by any lack of popularity or success. Finally, obedience to the law of the Kingdom is insisted on as the one condition of safety; obedience-as distinct from professions of loyalty-obedience which will be found to have really based a man's life upon the immovable rock at that solemn moment when all that stands upon the sand must utterly perish.

 

The Real Strength of the Kingdom

Such a proclamation of the law of the Kingdom as was the Sermon on the Mount already implied that the Kingdom would be at once visible and invisible. But undoubtedly the real strength of the Kingdom, its deepest life, its truest action, are veiled from sight. At bottom it is to be a moral not a material empire; it is to be a realm not merely of bodies but of souls, of souls instinct with intelligence and love. Its seat of power will be the conscience of mankind. Not "here" or "there" in outward signs of establishment and supremacy, but in the free conformity of the thought and heart of its members to the will of their unseen Sovereign shall its power be most clearly recognized. Not as an oppressive outward code, but as an inward buoyant, exhilarating motive will the King's law mould the life of His subjects. Thus the Kingdom of God will be found to be "within" men (Luke 17. 21); it will be set up, not like an earthly empire by military conquest or by violent revolution, but noiselessly and "not with observation." It will be maintained by weapons more spiritual than the sword. "If" said the Monarch, "My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight; but now is My Kingdom not from hence." (John 18.36).

The "plan" of its Founder with reference to its establishment in the world is fully developed in that series of parables which, from their common object and from their juxtaposition in Matthew's Gospel, are commonly termed parables of the Kingdom (Matt. 13).

 

The Parables of the Kingdom

How various would be the attitudes of the human heart towards the "word of the Kingdom," that is, towards the authoritative announcement of its establishment upon the earth, is pointed out in the parable of the sower. The seed of truth would fall from His hand throughout all time by the wayside, upon stony places, and among thorns, as well as upon the good ground. It might be antecedently supposed that within the limits of the new Kingdom none were to be looked for save the holy and the faithful. But the parable of the tares corrects this too idealistic anticipation; the Kingdom is to be a field in which until the final harvest the tares must grow side by side with the wheat. The astonishing expansion of the Kingdom throughout the world is illustrated by "the grain of mustard seed," which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs. The principle and method of that expansion are to be observed in the action of the "leaven hid in the three measures of meal." The Kingdom is a treasure hid in a field, that is, in a line of thought and inquiry, or in a particular discipline and mode of life, and the wise man will gladly part with all that he has to buy that field. Or the Kingdom is like a merchantman seeking "goodly pearls;" he sells all his possessions that he may buy the "one pearl of great price." But a last parable is added in which the Kingdom is pictured, not as a prize which can be seized by separate souls, but as a vast imperial system, as a worldwide home of all the races of mankind. Like a net thrown into the Galilean lake, so would the Kingdom extend its toils around entire tribes and nations of men; the vast struggling multitude would be drawn nearer and nearer to the eternal shore, until at last the awful and final separation would take place beneath the eye of absolute Justice; the good would be gathered into vessels, but the bad would be cast away.

 


"The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". H.P. Liddon. Pickering & Inglis LTD. London, no date (Eight Lectures Preached Before The University Of Oxford In 1866); pages 51-55.