The kingdom of God is a subject of vital importance.
PROPOSITION 1. The kingdom of God is a subject of vital importance.
The Scriptures cannot be rightly comprehended without a due knowledge of this kingdom. It is a fact, attested by a multitude of works, and constantly presented in all phases of Biblical literature, that the doctrine respecting the kingdom has materially affected the judgments of men concerning the canonical authority, the credibility, inspiration, and the meaning of the writings contained in the Bible. If in error here, it will inevitably manifest itself, e.g., in exegesis and criticism. This feature has been noticed by various writers, and, however explained, the views entertained on this subject are admitted to greatly modify the reception, the interpretation, and the doctrinal teaching of the Word.(1)
Note. To illustrate: Olshausen, Pref. to Com., attributes Luther’s remarks and hesitancy concerning the Apocalypse to a preconceived opinion of the kingdom, and to his not “thoroughly apprehending the doctrine of God’s kingdom upon earth.” Numerous examples will be given as we proceed. It is gratifying that recent writers begin to appreciate the leading doctrine of the kingdom. While some are wrong in not more accurately distinguishing between the Divine Sovereignty (Props. 80 and 81) and the covenanted kingdom (Prop. 49, etc.), yet, as the Bible, they correctly make the kingdom of God the central topic around which all other doctrines logically arrange themselves. Correctly apprehending the kingdom of God as the guiding idea, Oosterzee (Ch. Dog., vol. i. p. 65) justly observes: “The dogmatic theology which understands its vocation will be neither more nor less than a theology of the kingdom in all the force of the word.” He aptly remarks (p. 168): “The idea of the kingdom of God is the golden thread which runs through all; and of this kingdom the Bible is the document;” and quotes Nitzsch: “The Word of God is the testimony of His kingdom, in the form of a history and doctrine explained and continued by personal organs.” Many others, however they may treat it, designate it as Augustine (The City of God), a fundamental thought or idea.
Obs. 1. Its importance may be estimated by considering the following particulars: 1. The kingdom is the object designed by the oath-bound covenant (Prop. 49). 2. It is the great theme, the burden of prophecy (Props. 33–35, etc). 3. It is a subject which embraces a larger proportion of Revelation than all other subjects combined; thus indicating the estimation in which it is held by God. Dr. Pye Smith, Bickersteth, and others have well observed and commented on this peculiarity—viz., that inspired writers say more respecting the kingdom of Christ than they do concerning all other things treated or discussed in the Word. 4. It was the leading subject of the preaching of John the Baptist, Christ, the disciples and apostles (Props. 38–74). 5. It was a cherished subject of preaching in the primitive Church (Props. 75–77). 6. It is the foundation of a correctscriptural preaching, for the Gospel itself is “the gospel of the kingdom.” 7. To promote its establishment Jesus appears, suffers, and dies (Props. 50, 181), and to manifest it He will come again (Props. 66, 68, 130, etc.). 8. Jesus Christ Himself, must be deeply interested in it, since it is a distinguishing blessing and honor given to Him by the Father (Prop. 84), and belongs to Him as His inheritance (Props. 82, 116, etc.). 9. We are invited, as the most precious of privileges, to inherit this kingdom (Prop. 96). 10. It is the constantly presented object of faith and hope, which should influence us to prayer, duty, and watchfulness. 11. It is the result of the preparatory dispensations, enabling us to appreciate the means employed to attain this end. 12. It embraces within itself perfect completed redemption; for in it all the promises of God will be verified and realized. 13. It exhibits in an outward form the pleasure of the Divine will in the salvation of the race and the deliverance of creation (Props. 149, 145, etc.). 14. It brings the Divine utterances into unity of design (Props. 174, 175), exhibits manifested unity (Prop. 173), and vindicates the inspiration of Holy Writ (Prop. 182), including the Apocalypse (Prop. 176). 15. It enforces not only the humanity (Props. 82, 89) of Christ, but also His Divinity (Props. 85 and 183), with the strongest reasoning. 16. It exhibits to us the majesty and glory of Jesus, “The Christ,” as Theocratic King (Props. 88, 89, 132, 184, etc.), and the preeminent position of “the first-born” who are co-heirs with Him (Props. 118, 119, 127, etc.). All these, as well as other related points, will be fully discussed in the following pages. A sufficiency is briefly stated, that the reader may not fail to see how significant must be a proper comprehension of this subject.
We are prepared, from such considerations, to appreciate the remark attributed by Lange (Com., vol. 1, p. 254) to Starke: “The kingdom of heaven must form the central point of all theological learning.” Van Oosterzee (Theol. of the N. T., p. 69) calls it the foundation thought, and, after giving the doctrine of the kingdom its proper position in the teaching of Jesus (saying, “that the idea of the kingdom of God is fundamental in the theology of Christ,”) remarks: “Already Hess has furnished a treatise on the doctrine of the kingdom of God, in which he shows how prominent a place this idea occupies in Holy Scripture, especially in the teaching of the Lord. It is surprising therefore that Schmid, in the work cited, assigns to it the third place in his treatment of the doctrine of Jesus. Much better Neander, who, in his life of Jesus, derives a ‘whole system of truths’ from the parables of the kingdom of God.” Let us add, however, that even Schmid does ample justice in acknowledging its importance, when (e.g., Bib. Theol. N. T., p. 243) he calls it, the groundwork of His (Christ’s) teaching.”(1)
Note. Such testimony could be multiplied. It is gratifying to find numerous recent writers of eminence (as e.g. Delitzsch, Auberlen, Kurtz, Bonar, etc.) who emphatically declare that the most important subject for careful consideration, and the one, too, that will most serve to explain the plan of salvation, is that contained so prominently in the preaching of Christ, viz., that of the kingdom. We conclude in the words of one of the most recent, Thompson (Theol. of Christ, p. 19): “The whole circle of doctrines taught by Christ revolves about this central point, that he represented to men the kingdom of God;” or to recall Oosterzee (Ch. Dog., vol. 1, p. 169): “The central thought is contained in the idea of the kingdom of God.” Dr. Kling (Herzog’s Ency., Art. “Kingdom of God”) pertinently says: “The idea of the kingdom of God is the central idea of the entire economy of revelation; the kingdom of God is the purpose of all heavenly revelation and preparations, and therefore the moving principle of Divine works, guidance, and institutions of the Old and New Testament, the law and the gospel, and even of creation and promise from the beginning on.”
Obs. 2. It is significant to the thoughtful student—a fulfilment of prophecy—that the idea of a distinctive Divine kingdom related to Christ and this earth, a kingdom which decidedly holds the foremost place in the teaching of Jesus, should be made, both (with few exceptions) in theology and the confessions of the Church, to come down from its first position in the Bible and occupy, when alluded to, a very subordinate one. In hundreds of books, where it reasonably ought to be conspicuous, a few references of a somewhat mystical and unsatisfactory nature, or a brief endorsement of the old monkish view that it applies to the Church, dismisses the entire subject; while inferior subjects have long chapters and even volumes in their interest. There is, to the reflecting mind, something radically wrong in such a change of position, and the wider the departure from the scriptural basis the more defective does it become. Any effort, as here made, to restore the doctrine of the kingdom to its true and paramount Biblical station should at least solicit attention.
Obs. 3. The kingdom deserves the first place in Biblical and the first rank in Systematic theology. The reasons for this, as already intimated, are abundant. This has been too much overlooked, and the kingdom has been placed in a subordinate position, until for some years past a reaction—induced by unbelieving attacks—has taken place, and the kingdom (however explained) is brought out again most prominently, especially by Lange (see Pref. to Com.), Van Oosterzee (Ch. Dogmatics), Thompson (Theol. of Christ), Auberlen (Div. Rev.), and others. While thus advocating its claims to doctrinal position, we do not, as sometimes unjustly charged, depreciate the importance, the value, and the exceeding preciousness of the person and death of Jesus. The latter is doctrinally the outgrowth from the former, and as provisionary (for without the latter the kingdom, as covenanted and promised, could not possibly be obtained), for the kingdom, is of incalculable consequence.(1)
Note. If it be said that “the Christ” is of greater importance than the kingdom, this is fully admitted, inasmuch as the theocratic king who establishes the kingdom is greater than the kingdom itself. Indeed, as the student will observe, our line of reasoning proceeds to exalt the kingdom because of the vital union existing between the king and kingdom—the latter being the inheritance of the former. On the other hand, we glorify “the Christ” by showing the result and grandeur of His work as exhibited in this theocratic ordering. In the kingdom, Jesus Himself is evermore the central figure, and He can never be regarded in a higher, holier, clearer light than that reflected upon Him by His theocratic relationship. This will hereafter be brought forth in detail.
Obs. 4. In proportion as investigation advances in this direction may we expect valuable acquisitions. Reuss (Hist. of Ch. Theol. of Ap. Age, p. 137), although mistaken in his interpretation of the kingdom, truthfully says: “There can be no doubt, then, that this full and suggestive idea of the kingdom of God must be in some way the mine to be explored by us, in order to bring to light the treasures which Christian science have to mould and fashion, to meet the necessities of every successive sphere, and the measure and capacities of every mind.”
Obs. 5. That the subject of the kingdom is one widely acknowledged as leading can even be seen in the most extreme views, as e.g. Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, Shakerism, etc. We need only refer to the simple fact that writers of pantheistic and mystical tendencies have taken the phrase “kingdom of heaven” to be the real starting-point of Christianity, which they designate “The New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven;” and from which they argue that all men should morally labor for the infinite, making every effort, whether in religion, science, poetry, art, etc., to be hailed as a subjective submission to, or acknowledgment of, this kingdom. Taking the spiritualized notion entertained by many in the Church, they enlarge it by giving to it a pantheistical dress or mystical adornment, to suit their ideas of evolution, law, unity, philosophy, human nature, spiritualism, etc. Attention now is only called to the circumstance, that in systems and theories of religion the most unscriptural, still a great degree of prominency is given to the idea of the kingdom.(1)
Note. Even Bauer says: “The essence of Christianity is the doctrine of the kingdom of God, and the conditions requisite for a participation in this, so as to place man in a genuine moral relation to God.” Christlieb (Modern Doubt, p. 38) approvingly quotes Bauer, but is inclined to make the essence to be Christ, bringing men back in and through Christ. Both are correct: viewing Christ as the means of salvation, etc., He is the foundation of the Christian system; but regarding the Bible in its doctrinal aspect or even the end designed by Christianity and its relationship to the past and the future, then the kingdom of God forms the fundamental idea, and “the Christ” is the chosen instrumentality by which it is to be realized. As our work is devoted to the doctrinal aspect, we would say that the essence of Christianity, linked with the past dispensations and the future one, is the kingdom of God, more specifically shown to be obtained through Jesus Christ—now the heirship by repentance and faith in Him, then by actual inheriting at His coming.
Obs. 6. This subject is attractive to the reverent believer not merely because of its being the absorbing theme of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prediction, but owing to the personal relationship that he sustains, as an heir, to it. It is fitting to recognize, comprehend, and appreciate our inheritance. But even the literary aspect, the intellectual excellence of it, invites earnest investigation. Aside from its being a predominating idea of a book, which has had such a moulding influence in all the departments of life, it is the topic which, above all others, calls forth the most eloquent and sublime of all the descriptions and promises of the Bible, culminating in the last heart-stirring words of Jesus intrusted to John.(1)
Note. This excellence is illustrated, e.g., by the last chapter of Habakkuk, which Dr. Franklin admired as exceeding all human descriptions, and which, it is said, he caused a number of infidels at Paris, reading it to them without informing them that it was in the Bible, to eulogize as something descriptively grand. The reader, too, may recall the poet Burns, so sensitive to beauty, that it is said of him that he could not read Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4, and kindred passages without being affected to tears. Who can estimate the emotions, the delight excited by this subject, as presented by inspired men, in the hearts of believers in the past and present.
Obs. 7. When surveying the vast array of facts and events, some the greatest that the world has ever witnessed, all pointing to this kingdom as a contemplated end; when looking at the same as they occur and exist to-day, preparatory to the kingdom; and when contemplating the host of remarkable, astounding events predicted to come to pass in connection with the kingdom still future, surely this forms a subject worthy, beyond all others, of the earnest, devout and patient study of every student of the world’s eventful and, without this key, perplexing history. The kingdom embraces so much, both in preparation and in actual realization, that, in view of its extent, the doctrine exceeds all others in magnitude, enfolding in itself nearly all doctrine.(1)
Note. To this we may add the pregnant idea (Lange’s Com. Luke, p. 326, Doc. 1): “It lies in the nature of the case that Christian eschatology, the more the course of time advances, must become less and less an unimportant appendix, and more and more a locus primarius of Christian doctrine.”
Obs. 8. A deeper investigation of this doctrine and a correspondent return to the old faith, held by men who, by position and association (as e.g. Apostolical Church), were pre-eminently qualified to comprehend it, will remove those painful concessions now made to unbelief, which stigmatizes the apostles and early Church as still under the influence of “erroneous Jewish forms.” Such a study and return, will relieve theologians from being driven to the humiliating expedient of virtually acknowledging that the apostles were mistaken in their notions respecting the kingdom; that they embraced “the Jewish husk,” which, however, contained the germ of truth (which they, situated as they were, could not properly appreciate) that “the conciousness of the Church” in its development (so Neander, etc.) was to strip of its surroundings and fructify into full grown truth. It is alone in the direction indicated by us, that we can hope—defending as it does every utterance and doctrinal position of the first preachers of the kingdom—for a consistent pleading, justification, and protection against the Strauss and Bauer school (and others), which has driven noted theologians—led by a preconceived doctrine of the kingdom—to place “the consciousness of the Church” (that finally obtained the truth which had escaped the grasp of the apostles), as exhibited in Church authority or theology, or the productions of fallible men, above that of the Scriptures containing “the Jewish husk.” The importance of our doctrine is evinced, in that it reverses all this, exalting and vindicating both the Scriptures and the correct knowledge of its inspired writers.(1)
Note. This doctrine, rightly apprehended, is not only important to elevate apologetics, to meet the objections of unbelief, to honor the authoritative doctrinal utterances of the Scriptures, but is admirably adapted to refute numerous errors, out of which religious systems are originated, and through which they are maintained. The following propositions will introduce many of these, and practically show how they are met and defeated by this doctrine alone.