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§ 3. Nature of Christ’s Kingdom.
Although the kingdom of God on earth was set up immediately after the fall, yet as the Messiah was to come to make all things new, and to take into his hands as the Theanthropos the administration of this kingdom, the Old Testament predicted, and the New Testament announces, the establishment of a new kingdom as consequent on his advent.
The word βασιλεία is used in Scripture in three senses. (1.) For royal authority or dominion; such dominion as it is the prerogative of a king to exercise. (2.) For those who are subject to that authority. Among men any community, or commonwealth, or territory subject to a king, constitutes his kingdom. And in the New Testament, those who acknowledge Christ as their king constitute his kingdom. (3.) The word is used metonymically for the effects of the exercise of royal authority. It is to be understood in the first of these senses in all those cases in which a kingdom or dominion is said to be given to Christ; or when we pray, Thy kingdom come, or when it is said, Of his kingdom there is no end. It is used in the second sense when men are said to enter into the kingdom of Christ, or to be cast out of it, or when the character of those is described who are to constitute that kingdom. And it is used in the third sense when men are said to inherit, to see (or enjoy), to seek, and to value more than hid treasure, the kingdom of God. Hence also the kingdom of God is said to consist in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such are the effects of the reign of Christ.
This kingdom is called the kingdom of Christ, or of the Son of God, because administered by Him. The royal authority is vested in Him. It is called the kingdom of God, because Christ is God, and because it is the kingdom which God was to establish on earth in distinction from the kingdoms of men. It is called the kingdom of heaven, because its king dwells in heaven, because it is spiritual and heavenly, and because it is to be consummated in heaven, Various as are the applications and uses of these designations in the New Testament, they are included under the general idea of the Messianic kingdom; that kingdom which the Messiah came into the world to establish. That kingdom, however, is presented in different aspects, or, in other words, Christ exercises his royal authority, so to speak, in different spheres.600
Christ’s Dominion over the Universe.
Christ has what theologians are accustomed to call his kingdom of power. As Theanthropos and as Mediator, all power in heaven and upon earth has been committed to his hands. (Matt. xxviii. 18.) In Psalm viii. 6, it is declared to be the purpose of God that all things should be put under the feet of man. This purpose, we are taught by the Apostle, God fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ, “when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” (Eph. i. 20-22.) In 1 Corinthians xv. 27, the argument is pushed to its utmost extreme. When all things are said to be put under the feet of Christ, nothing is to be excepted from this subjection, except Him “which did put all things under him.” And in Hebrews ii. 8, it is said, “In that he put all (τὰ πάντα, the universe) in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him.” The same universality of dominion is implied in Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God. As this session on the throne of God involves equality with God in glory and dominion, it cannot be said of any creature. And as it is said of Christ it proves that Christ is a divine person, and is invested with all the power and authority of God. This is the Apostle’s argument in Hebrews i. 13. “To which of the angels (to what created being) said he at any time, Sit on my right hand?” The Apostle says to the Philippians, that Him, who though equal with God was found in fashion as a man, “God hath highly exalted, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” (Phil. ii. 9, 10.) This is a perfectly exhaustive statement. All in heaven, all in earth, and all under the earth, include all rational creatures. The person to whom they are to bow the knee is Jesus, not the Logos, but the God-man. And the acknowledgment which they are to make is, that He is Lord, i.e., their Lord, their absolute proprietor and Sovereign. It is in this sense also, that the Apostle says (Heb. i. 2), that God hath appointed the Son heir of all things. It is in virtue of this dominion over the universe that Christ is called Lord of lords and King of kings, i.e. the Sovereign over all other sovereigns in heaven and on earth.601
This universal authority is exercised in a providential control, and for the benefit of his Church. He employs the angels as ministering spirits, to minister to the heirs of salvation. He controls and restrains the principalities, powers, world-rulers, and spirits of wickedness. (Eph. vi. 12.) He overrules all the affairs of nations and of individuals to the same end. He directs all events concerning his people severally and his Church collectively. Paul constantly recognized this providential control of Christ as directing all his steps. Under the present dispensation, therefore, Christ is the God of providence. It is in and through and by Him that the universe is governed. This dominion or kingdom is to last until its object is accomplished, i.e., until all his enemies, all forms of evil, and even death itself is subdued. Then this kingdom, this mediatorial government of the universe, is to be given up. (1 Cor. xv. 24.)
Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom.
But besides this kingdom of power, Christ has a kingdom of grace. This also is exhibited under two aspects. It includes the relation in which He stands to his true people individually and collectively (the invisible Church); and the relation He sustains to the visible Church, or the body of his professing people.
He is the king of every believing soul. He translates it from the kingdom of darkness. He brings it into subjection to Himself. He rules in and reigns over it. Every believer recognizes Christ as his absolute Sovereign; Lord of his inward, as well as of his outward, life. He yields to Him the entire subjection of the reason, of the conscience, and of the heart. He makes Him the object of reverence, love, and obedience. In Him he trusts for protection from all enemies, seen and unseen. On Him he relies for help in every emergency, and for final triumph. On Him the loyalty of the believer terminates. To acquit himself as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, to spend and be spent in his service and in the promotion of his kingdom, becomes the governing purpose of his life.
The terms of admission into this spiritual kingdom are faith and repentance (John iii. 3, 5). “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God;” or, conversion (Matt. xviii. 3), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;” purity of life (1 Cor. vi. 9), “The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God, nor “extortioners;” nor such as indulge in “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 602idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which,” the Apostle says, “I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. v. 19-21.)
On the other hand, we are taught that no external profession secures admission into this kingdom. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. vii. 21.) Nor any punctiliousness in the performance of rites and ceremonies, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. v. 20.) “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.” (Rom. ii. 28.) “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision.” (Gal. v. 6.) “Baptism doth also now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” (1 Pet. iii. 21.) Nor membership in any external community, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.” (Matt. iii. 9.) “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Rom. ix. 6.) The kingdom of Christ, in this aspect of it, is a purely spiritual community, consisting of those truly and inwardly his people.
The laws of this kingdom require first and above all, faith in Jesus Christ; the sincere belief that He is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, and cordial submission to Him and trust in Him as our prophet, priest, and king. With this faith is united supreme love. “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, ir not worthy of me. . . . . He that findeth his life, shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. x. 37, 39.) “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke xiv. 26.) “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” (1 Cor. xvi. 22.) With this supreme love are to be connected all the other religious affections. Christians are the worshippers of Christ. (1 Cor. i. 2.) Christ requires his disciples to honour Him as they honour the Father. (John v. 23.) They are to believe in Him (put the same confidence in Him), as they do in God. (John xiv. 1.) It is the same offence under the new dispensation to refuse to worship 603Christ as God manifest in the flesh, that it was under the old economy to refuse to worship Jehovah as the only living and true God. In both cases it was a violation of the fundamental law of the kingdom, and of necessity worked excision from God’s people. But if we are to recognize Christ as Thomas did (John xx. 28), as our Lord and our God, then of course we are bound not only to worship, but to obey Him. We stand to Him in the same relation that a slave does to his master, except that our subjection to Him is voluntary and joyful. We belong to Him, not only as the Creator, being his creatures, but also as the Theanthropos, being purchased by his blood. (1 Cor. vi. 19, 20.) His will, and not our own, must govern our conduct, and determine the use we make of our powers. All we gain, whether of knowledge, wealth, or influence, is his. He, and not we ourselves, is the object or end of our living. It is Christ for believers to live. His glory and the advancement of his kingdom, are the only legitimate objects to which they can devote their powers or resources; the only ends consistent with their relation to Christ, and the full enjoyment of the blessedness which membership in his Kingdom secures.
The laws of the kingdom moreover require not only these duties to Christ, but that his people should be holy in heart and life. They must be poor in spirit; meek; merciful; peace-makers; long-suffering; ready to forgive; disinterested, not seeking their own; bearing all things; believing all things; and hoping all things. They are forbidden to be avaricious, or covetous, or proud, or worldly minded. In one word, they are required to be like Christ, in disposition, character, and conduct.
The special law of Christ’s kingdom is that its members should love one another, not only with the love of complacency and delight, but with brotherly love. A love which leads to the recognition of all Christians as brethren, belonging to the same family, entitled to the same privileges and blessings; and which prompts to and secures ministering to their necessities, so that there be no lack. This law is laid down at length by the Apostle in 2 Corinthians viii. The law of the kingdom is, that every man should labour to the extent of his ability to supply his own wants and the wants of those dependent on him; for “if any would not work neither should he eat” (2 Thess. iii. 10); but all deficiency which labour cannot supply is to be supplied by those having the ability. “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the 604love of God in him?” (1 John iii. 17.) In praying, therefore, that the kingdom of God may come, we pray, among other things, that all men may recognize Christ as their king, invested with divine majesty and authority, and that they should all be like Him in character and conduct.
This kingdom of Christ over all his people is exercised not only by his power in their protection and direction, but especially by his Word and Spirit, through which and by whom He reigns in and rules over them.
This kingdom of Christ is everlasting. That is, the relation which believers sustain to Christ on earth they will sustain to Him forever.
Christ’s Visible Kingdom.
As religion is essentially spiritual, an inward state, the kingdom of Christ as consisting of the truly regenerated, is not a visible body, except so far as goodness renders itself visible by its outward manifestations. Nevertheless as Christ has enjoined upon his people duties which render it necessary that they should organize themselves in an external society, it follows that there is and must be a visible kingdom of Christ in the world. Christians are required to associate for public worship, for the admission and exclusion of members, for the administration of the sacraments, for the maintenance and propagation of the truth. They therefore form themselves into churches, and collectively constitute the visible kingdom of Christ on earth, consisting of all who profess the true religion, together with their children.
Nature of this Kingdom.
First, it is spiritual. That is, it is not of this world. It is not analogous to the other kingdoms which existed, or do still exist among men. It has a different origin and a different end. Human kingdoms are organized among men, under the providential government of God, for the promotion of the temporal well-being of society. The kingdom of Christ was organized immediately by God, for the promotion of religious objects. It is spiritual, or not of this world, moreover, because it has no power over the lives, liberty, or property of its members; and because all secular matters lie beyond its jurisdiction. Its prerogative is simply to declare the truth of God as revealed in his Word and to require that the truth should be professed and obeyed by all under its jurisdiction. It can decide no question of politics or science which is not decided in the Bible. The kingdom of Christ, under the present dispensation, therefore, is not 605worldly even in the sense in which the ancient theocracy was of this world. The latter organized the Hebrews as a nation, and directed all their municipal and national, as well as their social and religious affairs. It, therefore, could not coexist in time and place with any other national organization. The kingdom of Christ being designed to embrace all other kingdoms, can exist under all forms of civil government without interfering with any. It was especially in this view that Christ declared that his kingdom was not of this world. His immediate design was to vindicate his claim to be a king, from the charge that such claim was incompatible with the authority of the civil magistrate or of the Roman emperor. He intended to say that his kingdom was of such a nature that it necessitated no collision with the legitimate authority of any civil government. It belonged to a different sphere. It took cognizance of things which lie beyond the province of secular power; and it left untouched all that belongs peculiarly to civil rulers. Christ, therefore, could be recognized and obeyed as king by those who continued to render unto Cæsar the things which were Cæsar’s. Every form or claim of the Church, therefore, which is incompatible with the legitimate authority of the State, is inconsistent with the nature of Christ’s kingdom as declared by Himself.
Secondly, this kingdom of Christ is catholic or universal. It embraces all who profess the true religion. It is confined to no one organization; but includes them all; because all are under the authority of Christ and subject to the laws which He has laid down in his Word. As all Christians are included in the kingdom of Christ, it is the duty of all to recognize each other as belonging to one great commonwealth, and as subjects of the same sovereign.
Thirdly, this form of Christ’s kingdom is temporary. It is to be merged into a higher form when He shall come the second time without sin unto salvation. As an external organization it is designed to answer certain ends, and will cease when those ends are accomplished.
Fourthly, the kingdom of Christ is not a democracy, nor an aristocracy, but truly a kingdom of which Christ is absolute sovereign. This involves the denial, —
1. That the State has any authority to make laws to determine the faith, to regulate the worship, or to administer the discipline of the Church. It can neither appoint nor depose its officers.
2. It denies that any civil officer as such, or in virtue of his office, has any authority in the kingdom of Christ; much less can any such officer be the head of the Church.606
3. It denies that Church power vests ultimately in the people, or in the clergy. All their power is purely ministerial. It is derived from Christ, and is exercised by others in his name, and according to the rules laid down in his Word. How far the Church has discretionary power in matters of detail is a disputed point. By some all such discretion is denied. They maintain that everything concerning the organization, officers, and modes of action of the Church is as minutely laid down in the New Testament as the curtains, tassels, and implements of the tabernacle are detailed in the Old Testament. Others hold that while certain principles on this subject are laid down in Scripture, considerable latitude is allowed as to the means and manner in which the Church may carry them out in the exercise of her functions. This latter view has always been practically adopted. Even the Apostolical Churches were not all organized precisely in the same way. The presence of an Apostle, or of a man clothed with apostolical authority, as in the case of James in Jerusalem, necessarily gave to a Church a form which other churches where no Apostle permanently resided could not have. Some had deaconesses, others had not. So all churches in every age and wherever they have existed, have felt at liberty to modify their organization and modes of action so as to suit them to their peculiar circumstances. All such modifications are matters of indifference. They cannot be made to bind the conscience, nor can they be rendered conditions of Christian or ecclesiastical fellowship.
As Christ is the only head of the Church it follows that its allegiance is to Him, and that whenever those out of the Church undertake to regulate its affairs or to curtail its liberties, its members are bound to obey Him rather than men. They are bound by all legitimate means to resist such usurpations, and to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. They are under equal obligation to resist all undue assumption of authority by those within the Church, whether it be by the brotherhood or by individual officers, or by Church councils or courts. The allegiance of the people terminates on Christ. They are bound to obey others only so far as obedience to them is obedience to Him. In the early ages some endeavoured to impose on Christians the yoke of the Jewish law. This of course they were bound to resist. In the following centuries, and by degrees, the intolerable rituals, ceremonies, fasts, festivals, and priestly, prelatical, and papal assumptions, which oppress so large a part of the Christian world, have been imposed upon the people in derogation to the authority 607of Christ as the sole head of the Church. Councils, provincial and ecumenical, have not only prescribed creeds contrary to the Scriptures, but also have made laws to bind the conscience, and ordained observances which Christ never enjoined.
As Christ is the head of his earthly kingdom, so is He its only lawgiver. He prescribes, —
1. The terms of admission into his kingdom. These cannot be rightfully altered by any human authority. Men can neither add to them, nor detract from them. The rule which He has laid down on this subject is, that what He requires as a condition for admission into his kingdom in heaven, is to be required as a condition of admission to his kingdom on earth. Nothing more and nothing less is to be demanded. We are to receive all those whom Christ receives. No degree of knowledge, no confession, beyond that which is necessary to salvation, can be demanded as a condition of our recognizing any one as a Christian brother and treating him as such. Philip baptized the Eunuch on the confession “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37.) “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Rom. xiv. 1.) “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.” (Verse 4.) “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” (1 John v. 1.) For men to reject from their fellowship those whom God has received into his, is an intolerable assumption. All those terms of Church communion which have been set up beyond the credible profession of faith in Christ are usurpations of an authority which belongs to Him alone.
2. A second law of this visible kingdom of our Lord is that heretics and those guilty of scandalous offences should be excommunicated. “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition reject.” (Titus iii. 10.) “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” (1 Cor. v. 11.) Our Lord teaches that such an offender when he refuses to hear “the Church” is to be regarded as a “heathen man and a publican.” (Matt. xviii. 17.)
3. Christ has ordained that the power of exercising discipline and the other prerogatives of the Church should be in the hands of officers, having certain gifts and qualifications and duly appointed.
4. That the right to judge of the qualifications of such officers 608is vested in, or rather belongs to those who by the Holy Ghost have themselves been called to be office bearers.
5. That such officers are not lords over God’s heritage, but servants. Their authority is restricted to prescribed limits, and the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the Church through their representatives.
6. Every member of Christ’s kingdom is bound to obey his brethren in the Lord. This obligation does not rest on consent or mutual covenant, but on the fact that they are brethren, the temples and organs of the Holy Spirit. It is, therefore, not limited to those brethren with whom the individual chooses to associate himself. It hence follows that in the normal condition of Christ’s kingdom, each part would be subject to the whole, and the whole would be one body in the Lord.
The development of these several points belongs to the department of Ecclesiology.
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