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THE IDEA OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
In the original plan of these Lectures it was my intention to include a Lecture on “The Incarnation and the New Life of Humanity; the Kingdom of God,” which would have found its fitting place between the eighth and what is now the ninth. Such a Lecture is obviously needed to complete the course. After resurrection came exaltation. After Calvary came Pentecost. After the ministry of the Son came the dispensation of the Spirit. The new life proceeding from Christ, entering first as a regenerating principle into the individual soul, was gradually to permeate and transform society. The doctrine of Redemption passes over into that of the kingdom of God. This design has reluctantly had to he abandoned, and all I can here attempt, in addition to the brief allusions in Lecture Ninth, is to give a few notes on the general idea of the kingdom of God.
I. I shall refer first to the place of this idea in recent theology.
This idea has had a prominence accorded to it in recent theology it never possessed before, and the most thoroughgoing attempts are made to give it application in both dogmatics and ethics. By making it the head-notion in theology, and endeavouring to deduce all particular conceptions from it, it is thought that we place ourselves most in Christ’s own point of view, and keep most nearly to His own lines of teaching. Kant here, as in so many other departments, may be named as the forerunner; and fruitful suggestions may be gleaned from writers like Schleiermacher, Schmid, and Beck. It is the school of Ritschl, however, which has done most to carry out consistently this all-ruling 352notion of the kingdom of God, making it the determinative conception even in our ideas of sin, of the Person of Christ, etc. Through their influence it has penetrated widely and deeply into current theological thought, and is creating for itself quite an extensive literature.834834Recent works in our own country are Professor Candlish’s The Kingdom of God (Cunningham Lectures, 1884), and Professor A. B. Bruce’s The Kingdom of God (1889). A good discussion of the subject is contained in an article by D. J. Kostlin, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1892 (3rd part). I may mention also Schmoller’s recent work, Die Lehre vom Reiche Gottes in den Schriften des Neuen Testaments (1891); another by E. Issel on the same subject (1891); and a revolutionary essay by J. Weiss, entitled Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes (1892).
This being the prevailing tendency, I may not unnaturally be blamed for not making more use of this idea than I have done in these Lectures. If this is the chief and all-embracing, the all-comprehensive and all-inclusive notion of the pure Christian view, it may be felt that the attempt to develop the Christian “Weltanschauung,” without explicit reference to it, is bound to be a failure. I may reply that I have not altogether left it out; it is, indeed, the conception I should have wished to develop further, as best fitted to convey my idea of the goal of the Christian Redemption, and of the great purpose of God of which that is the expression. But I have another reason. It is, that I gravely doubt the possibility or desirability of making this the all-embracing, all-dominating conception of Christian theology, except, of course, as the conception of an end affects and determines all that leads up to it. And even here the idea of the kingdom of God is not the only or perfectly exhaustive conception. The following reasons may be given for this opinion:—
1. The kingdom of God is not so presented in the New Testament. In the preaching of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, this idea has indeed a large place. Christ attaches Himself in this way to the hopes of His nation, and to the doctrine of the prophets. Yet the very variety of the aspects of His doctrine of the kingdom shows how difficult it must be to sum them all up permanently under this single formula. In the Gospel of John, the idea is not so prominent, but recedes behind that of “life.” In the Epistles, it goes still more decidedly into the background. Instead of the kingdom, it is Christ Himself who is new made prominent, and becomes 353the centre of interest. Harnack notices this in his Dogmengeschichte. “It is not wonderful,” he says, “that in the oldest Christian preaching ‘Jesus Christ’ meets us as frequently as in the preaching of Jesus the kingdom of God itself.”835835Vol. i. p. 79. Kaftan similarly remarks: “In Paul also the doctrine of the highest good is determined through faith in the risen and exalted Christ who had appeared to him before the gates of Damascus. It can indeed be said that the glorified Christ here fills the place taken in the preaching of Jesus by the super-terrestrial kingdom of God, which has appeared in His Person, and through Him is made accessible as a possession to His disciples.”—Das Wesen, p. 229. In 1 Peter the expression is not found; in James only once. The Pauline theology is developed from its own basis, without any attempt to make it fit into this conception. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is other ideas that rule. Where this idea is used in the Epistles, it is generally with an eschatological reference.836836 Not always, however; e.g. Rom. xiv. 17. Besides, what Christ meant by the present being of His kingdom is always recognised by these writers. The Apocalypse is the book of the New Testament which gives it most prominence.
2. The kingdom of God is not a notion which can be treated as a fixed quantity. The greatest possible diversity prevails among the interpreters as to what ideas are to be attached to this expression. Whether the kingdom of God is something set up in this life (Ritschl, Wendt, etc.), or is something which has reference only to the future (Kaftan, Schmoller, J. Weiss, etc.); whether it is to be taken in a purely ethical and religious sense (Ritschl, etc.), or is to he extended to embrace all the relations of existence—the family, state, art, culture, etc. (Schleiermacher, Beck, etc.); what is the nature of the good which it promises—these and numberless other points are still keenly under discussion. This is not a reason for saying that on Christ’s lips the term has no definite signification, but it shows that the time is not yet ripe for making it the one and all-inclusive notion in theology.
3. Even when we have reached what seems a satisfactory conception of the kingdom, it will be found difficult in practice to bring all the parts and subjects of theology under it. In proof of this, appeal might be made to the work of those who have adopted this as their principle of treatment.837837Cf. article by Kostlin above referred to. The older Nitzsch, in his System of Doctrine, says of a writer (Theremin) who maintained the possibility of such a deduction, that if he 354had really applied his general notion of the kingdom of God to a partition and articulation of the Christian doctrinal system, it would have become manifest of itself that this was not the right middle notion to bind the parts together. Schleiermacher, and Beck, and Lipsius, alike fail to carry through this idea in their systems. Either the doctrines are viewed only in this relation, in which case many aspects are overlooked which belong to a full system of theology; or a mass of material is taken in which is only connected with this idea in the loosest way. The idea of the kingdom of God becomes in this way little more than a formal scheme or groundwork into which the ordinary material of theology is fitted. Ritschl, indeed, renounces the idea of a perfect unity, when he says that Christianity is an ellipse with two foci —one the idea of the kingdom of God, the other the idea of Redemption.838838Recht. und Ver. iii. p. 11.
4. The true place of the idea of the kingdom of God in theology is as a teleological conception. It defines the aim and purpose of God in creation and Redemption. It is the highest aim, but everything else in the plan and purpose of God cannot be deduced from it. Even as end, we must distinguish between the aim of God to establish a kingdom of God on earth and the ultimate end—the unity of all things natural and spiritual in Christ. The fulness of this last conception is not exhausted in the one idea of “kingdom,” though this certainly touches the central and essential fact, that God is “all in all.”8398391 Cor. xv. 28.
II. Let us next consider the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God. Here,
1. I cannot but agree with those who think that the
kingdom of God, in Christ’s view, is a present, developing reality.840840E.g. Wendt. This is implied in the parables of growth (mustard seed, leaven, seed growing
secretly); in the representations of it, in its earthly form, as a mixture of
good and bad (wheat and tares, the net of fishes); in the description of the
righteousness of the kingdom (Sermon on the Mount), which is to be realised
in the ordinary human relations; as well as in many special sayings. I do not
see how anyone can read these passages and doubt that in Christ’s view the kingdom
was a presently-existing, slowly
355developing reality,841841Cf. as in earlier note
(p. 334), Reuss, Hist. of Christ. Theol. i. pp. 217, 218 (Eng. trans.);
Bruce, Kingdom of God, chap. xii. originating in His word, containing mixed elements, and bound in its development
to a definite law of rhythm (“first the blade, then the ear,”
etc.).842842 The kingdom of God, in its simplest definition, is the reign of God in human hearts
and in society; and as such it may be viewed under two aspects: (1) the reign
or dominion of God Himself; (2) the sphere of this dominion. This sphere, again,
may be (1) the individual soul; (2) the totality of such souls (the Church invisible);
(3) the visible society of believers (the Church); (4) humanity in the whole
complex of its relations, so far as this is brought under the influence of God’s
Spirit and of the principles of His religion.
It is obvious—and this is one source of the difficulty in coming to a common understanding—that Christ does not always use this expression in the same sense, or with the same breadth of signification. Sometimes one aspect, sometimes another, of His rich complex idea is intended by this term. Sometimes the kingdom of God is a power within the soul of the individual; sometimes it is a leaven in the world, working for its spiritual transformation; sometimes it is the mixed visible society; sometimes it is that society under its ideal aspect; sometimes it is the totality of its blessings and powers (the chief good); sometimes it is the future kingdom of God in its heavenly glory and perfection.
The view that Christ looked for a long and slow process of development and ripening in His kingdom may seem to be opposed by the eschatological predictions in Matt. xxiv. Even here, however, it is possible to distinguish a nearer and a remoter horizon—the one, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dissolution of the Jewish state, and demoted by the expression, “these things” (“this generation shall not pass away, till all these things he accomplished,” ver. 34); and the other, denoted by the words, “that day and hour” (ver. 36), regarding which Christ says, “Of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.” On the other hand, the idea has an eschatological reference. The kingdom is not something which humanity produces by its own efforts, but something which comes to it from above. It is the entrance into humanity of a new life from heaven. In its origin, its power; its blessings, its aims, its end, it is supernatural and heavenly. Hence it is the kingdom of heaven, and two stadia are distinguished in its existence—an earthly and an eternal; the latter being the aspect that chiefly prevails in the Epistles.843843The eschatological view alone is that taken by Kaftan, Schmoller, J. Weiss, etc.
2. What is the nature of this kingdom of God on earth? In the Lecture, I have spoken of it as a new principle introduced into society which is fitted and destined to transform it in all its relations. This is the view of Schleiermacher, Neander,844844See History of the Church, opening paragraphs. Beck, of Dorner, Martensen, Harless, in their works on “Christian Ethics,” and of most Protestant writers. This view, however, is contested, and has to be considered.
(1) Now, first, it is to be acknowledged that in Christ’s 356teaching it is the spiritual, or directly religious and ethical, side of the kingdom which alone is made prominent. Those who would identify the kingdom off-hand with social aims and endeavours, such as we know them in the nineteenth century, look in vain in Christ’s teaching for their warrant. There the whole weight is rested on the inward disposition, on the new relation to God, on the new life of the Spirit, on the new righteousness proceeding from that life, on the new hopes and privileges of the sons of God. Everything is looked at in the light of the spiritual, the eternal. We read nothing in Christ of the effects of His religion on art, on culture, on philosophy, on politics, on commerce, on education, on science, on literature, on economical or social reform. It is the same with the apostles. Absorbed in the immediate work of men’s salvation, they do not look at, or speak of, its remoter social effects. How far this is due in their case to the absence of apprehension of a long period of development of Christ’s religion, and to a belief on the impending dissolution of the world, I need not here discuss.845845Paul’s large view of the philosophy of history in Rom. xi., of a future “fulness of the Gentiles,” etc., is against this supposition. It is too hastily assumed that the Apostle looked for the Lord’s return in his own lifetime.—See note by Professor Marcus feds on 1 Thess. iv. 15 in Schaff’s Popular Commentary on the New Testament. The fact remains that, as already stated, while regarding the believer as already in God’s kingdom and partaker of its blessings, their conceptions of the kingdom, in its actual manifestation, are mainly eschatological.
(2) But, second, as it is certain that a principle of this kind could not enter into society without profoundly affecting it in all its relations, so we may be sure that Christ did not leave this aspect of it out of account. And when we look a little deeper, we see that Christ, though He does not lay stress on this side, yet by no means excludes it, but, on the contrary, presupposes and assumes it in His teaching. It is to be observed:
(a) Christ, in His teaching, presupposes the truth of the Old Testament, and moves in the circle of its conceptions. The Old Testament moves predominatingly in the religious and ethical sphere too, but there is a large material background or framework. We have accounts of the creation, of the early history of man, of his vocation to replenish the earth and subdue it, of 357the first institutions of society, of the beginnings of civilisation, of the divisions of nations, etc. Christ never leaves this Old Testament ground. The world to Him is God’s world, and not the devil’s. He has the deepest feeling for its beauty, its sacredness, the interest of God in the humblest of His creatures; His parables are drawn from its laws; He recognises that its institutions are the expression of a Divine order. The worlds of nature and society, therefore, in all the wealth and fulness of their relations, are always the background of His picture. We see this in His parables, which have nothing narrow and ascetic about them, hut mirror the life of humanity in it amplest breadth—the sower, shepherd, merchant, handicraftsman, the servants with their talents (and proving faithful and unfaithful in the use of them), the builder, the vineyard-keeper, weddings, royal feasts, etc.
(b) The world, indeed, in its existing form, Christ cannot recognise as belonging to His kingdom. Rather, it is a hostile power—“the world,” in the bad sense. His disciples are to expect hatred and persecution in it. It is under the dominion of Satan, “the prince of this world.”846846John xii. 31, xv. 11, etc. His kingdom will only come through a long succession of wars, crises, sorrows, and terrible tribulations. Yet there is nothing Manichaean, or dualistic, in Christ’s way of conceiving of this presence of evil in the world. If man is evil, he is still capable of Redemption; and what is true of the individual is true of society. His kingdom is a new power entering into it for the purpose of its transformation, and is regarded as a growing power in it.
(c) Christ, accordingly, gives us many indications of His true view of the relation of His kingdom to society. The world is His Father’s, and human paternity is but a lower reflection of the Divine Fatherhood. Marriage is a Divine institution, to be jealously guarded, and Christ consecrated it by His special presence and blessing. The State also is a Divine ordinance, and tribute is due to its authority.847847On above see Matt. vii. 11, xix. 8-10; John ii. 1-11 (cf. Matt. ix. 15); Matt. xxii. 21, etc. The principles He lays down in regard to the use and perils of wealth; love to our neighbour in his helplessness and misery; the care of the poor; the infinite value of the soul, etc., 358introduce new ideals, and involve principles fitted to transform the whole social system. His miracles of healing show His care for the body. With this correspond His injunctions to His disciples. He does not pray that they may be taken out of the world, but only that they may be kept from its evil.848848John xvii. 15. They are rather to live in the world, showing by their good works that they are the sons of their Father in heaven; are to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth.849849Matt. v. 13-16. Out of this life in the world will spring a new type of marriage relation, of family life, of relation between masters and servants, of social existence generally. It cannot be otherwise, if Christ’s kingdom is to be the leaven He says it shall be. The apostles, in their views on all these subjects, are in entire accord with Christ.850850e.g. Rom. xiii.; 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2; Heb. xiii. 4; 1 Pet. ii. 13-15.
(3) We may glance at a remaining point, the relation of the idea of the kingdom of God to that of the Church. If our previous exposition is correct, these ideas are not quite identical, as they have frequently been taken to be. The kingdom of God is a wider conception than that of the Church. On the other hand, these ideas do not stand so far apart as they are sometimes represented. In some cases, as, e.g., in Matt. xviii. 18, 19, the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is practically synonymous with the Church. The Church is, as a society, the visible expression of this kingdom in the world; is, indeed, the only society which does formally profess (very imperfectly often) to represent it. Yet the Church is not the outward embodiment of this kingdom in all its aspects, but only in its directly religious and ethical, i.e. in its purely spiritual aspect. It is not the direct business of the Church, e.g., to take to do with art, science, politics, general literature, etc., but to bear witness for God and His truth to men, to preach and spread the gospel of the kingdom, to maintain God’s worship, to administer the sacraments, to provide for the self-edification and religious fellowship of believers. Yet the Church has a side turned towards all these other matters, especially to all efforts for the social good and bettering of mankind, and cannot but interest herself in these efforts, and lend what aid to them she can. She has her protest to utter against social injustice and immorality; her witness to bear to the principles of conduct 359which ought to guide individuals and nations in the various departments of their existence; her help to bring to the solution of the questions which spring up in connection with capital and labour, rich and poor, rulers and subjects; her influence to throw into the scale on behalf of “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil. iv. 8). A wholesome tone in literature, a Christian spirit in art and science, a healthy temper in amusements, wise and beneficent legislation on Christian principles in the councils of the nation, the spirit of long-suffering, peace, forbearance, and generosity, brought into the relations of men with one another in society, Christian ideals in the relations of nations to one another, self-sacrificing labours for the amelioration and elevation of the condition of the masses of the people,—these are matters in which the Church can never but be interested. Else she foregoes her calling, and may speedily expect to be removed out of her place.
III. Historically, we might have looked, had space permitted, at this kingdom of God as the principle of a new life to humanity. I do not enter into this extensive field, but only remark:
1. The principle of this new life is Christ risen and exalted. It was not by His preaching merely that Christ came to set up the kingdom of God. The foundation of it was laid, not only in His Word, but in His redeeming acts—in His death, His resurrection, His exaltation to heaven, His sending of the Spirit. The new kingdom may be said to have begun its formal existence on the day of Pentecost. This is the mistake of those who would have us confine our ideas of the kingdom solely to what is given in the records of Christ’s earthly life—they would have us go behind Pentecost, and remain there. But Christ’s teaching on earth could not anticipate, much less realise, what His death, and the gift of His Spirit, have given us. It is not Christ’s earthly life, but His risen life, which is the principle of quickening to His Church.851851“In truth the life of the soul hidden with Christ in God is the kernel of the Christian religion.”—Kaftan, Das Wesen, p. 76. Kaftan has here the advantage over Ritschl, Schleiermacher, etc. He himself bade 360His disciples wait for the coming of the Spirit; and told them that it was through His being “lifted up” that the world would be brought to Him. The Spirit would complete His mission; supply what was lacking in His teaching; bring to remembrance what He had said to them; and would work as a power convincing of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment in the world.852852John xii. 32, xiv. 26, xv. 7-15.
2. This new life in humanity is (1) a new life in the individual, a regeneration of the individual soul, a power of sanctification and transformation in the nature. But (2) it is further, as we have seen, a principle of new life in society, exercising there a transforming influence. What society owes to the religion of Christ, even in a temporal and social respect, it is beyond the power of man to tell. It is this that enables us, from the Christian standpoint, to take an interest in all labours for the social good of men, whether they directly bear the Christian name or not. The influence of Christ and His ideals is more apparent in them than their promoters sometimes think. They are not without relation to the progress of the kingdom.
3. The kingdom of God, being the end, is also the centre, i.e. it is with ultimate reference to it that we are to read, and are best able to appreciate, the great movements of Providence. We can already see how the progress of invention and discovery, of learning and science, of facilities of communication and interconnection of nations, has aided in manifold ways the advance of the kingdom of God. It has often been remarked how the early spread of Christianity was facilitated by the political unity of the Roman Empire, and the prevalence of the Greek tongue; and how much the revival of learning, the invention of printing, and the enlargement of men’s ideas by discovery, did to prepare the way for the sixteenth century Reformation. In our own century the world is opened up as never before, and the means of a rapid spread of the gospel are put within our power, if the Church has only faithfulness to use them. It is difficult to avoid the belief that the singular development of conditions in this century, its unexampled progress in discovery and in the practical mastery of nature, the marvellous opening up of the world which has been the result, and the extraordinary multiplication of the means and 361agencies of rapid communication, together portend some striking development of the kingdom of God which shall cast all others into the shade,—a crisis, perhaps, which shall have the most profound effect upon the future of humanity.853853It is curious how this feeling of an impending crisis sometimes finds expression in minds not given to apocalyptic reveries. Lord Beaconsfield said in 1874: “The great crisis of the world is nearer than some suppose.” In a recent number of the Forum, Professor Goldwin Smith remarks: “There is a general feeling abroad that the stream of history is drawing near a climax now; and there are apparent grounds for the surmise. There is everywhere in the social frame an untoward unrest, which is usually a sign of fundamental change within.” The call is going forth again, “Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”854854Isa. xl. 3, 4 (R.V.)
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