The New Testament begins the announcement of the kingdom in terms expressive of its being previously well known.
PROPOSITION 19. The New Testament begins the announcement of the kingdom in terms expressive of its being previously well known.
This is an important feature. Any theory at variance with this fact is, to say the least, open to the suspicion of being defective. The statement in the Proposition is one that has been noticed and duly acknowledged by numerous writers of almost every shade of opinion. The preaching of the kingdom, its simple announcement, without the least attempt to explain its meaning or nature, the very language in which it was conveyed to the Jews—all presupposed that it was a subject familiar to them. John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Seventy, all proclaimed the kingdom in a way, without definition or explanation, that indicated that their hearers were acquainted with its meaning.
Obs. 1. On the face of the opening pages of the New Test. it is taken for granted that the Kingdom was something well known, already the object of faith and hope. Theologians generally, either unable to reconcile this with their church theories, or deeming it unimportant while acknowledging the fact, pass it by in silence, or give us some apologetics to account for it, which are derogatory to the age, to the believers then living, and to the Word. The destructive critics, seeing here a point of leverage, insist upon it that this was evidence of the prevalence of “Jewish forms,” and scoff at it as a decided indication of weakness and failure. By us—for we make no apology, needing none—it is regarded as prerequisite and essential to the truthfulness and unity of our doctrine.
Obs. 2. The feature in the Prop. is an indispensable accessory. Without it, there would be a flaw, a missing link in the chain; with it there is completeness;—for if the Kingdom is to be understood in its literal covenanted aspects as predicted by the prophets, then it is easy to see that the New Test. consistently announces the same. If the Kingdom, however, is what the multitude now believe and teach, then the announcement is singular, strained, and even inconsistent with the circumstances of the age, the true meaning of the Kingdom, the preaching presented, and the alleged substitution. Nothing, if the latter is correct, in the shape of apologetics can save it from the condemnation and jeers of unbelievers, for, at the most, it would be a mere humiliating accommodation to Jewish prejudice and ignorance. There is no escape from this dilemma.[*]
Note. We are willing to accept of the strictures passed on this feature of the New Test. (viz.: its accommodation to the grammatical sense of the Old Test.) by Strauss, Baur, Renan, etc., and instead of seeking out some way of escape which in itself lowers the truth and the character of God in giving such a sense, find in them (avoiding their unjust conclusions) renewed strength and power. As the objections of unbelief will hereafter be met in detail, it is sufficient, for the present, to say that Von Ammon (Bib. Theol.), and after him many others, throw doubt on the credibility of the Scriptures on the ground that the New Test. in the very outset indicates that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples were susceptible to the errors and prejudices of their Jewish forerunners and hearers, and that consequently, instead of there being one great design relating to the future as attributed to them, we have, in view of the subsequent change in the meaning of the Kingdom (i.e. in the discarding of the strictly grammatical sense and the substitution of a spiritual sense), only detached, isolated positions, lacking cohesion and unity. Sherer (Mis. of Relig. Crit.) takes the same view, objecting to the authority of the New Test., because it thus evinces the influence of Jewish traditions, Rabbinical arguments, Messianic hopes and expectations not in accordance with external facts. Numerous testimonies of a similar nature might be adduced from recent writers; these, avoiding their deductions, we will accept, and show, step by step, in a logical, scriptural manner, (1) how they take the unreal nature of the expected and preached Messianic Kingdom for granted, and (2) how every writer unjustly overlooks the expressly predicted postponement of the realization of those Messianic hopes, and from such a deliberate ignoring of a scriptural fact draws inferences to suit his own fancy and theory.
Obs. 3. To impress this point, let us place ourselves in the position occupied by the first hearers of “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” Consider that the Old Test. is alone in our hands, and that the plain grammatical sense is the one in which we receive the predictions of the Kingdom. Suppose, under such circumstances, we would have heard John, Jesus, and the disciples preach the Kingdom of God in the manner indicated, what would have been the impressions made upon our minds? Certainly, among other things, that we already knew what the Kingdom was, viz.: the Theocracy as it existed previously, permanently united with the Davidic throne and kingdom. The preaching, let us not forget, directly appeals to a well-known kingdom, and surely we, too, would have, under its influence, imbibed the very views of the Kingdom, which the mass of the church now regards as a Jewish weakness, a lack of discernment, in the early history of this subject. But the question, which but few ever consider, is, whether, after all, this was an error. The answer will follow, in detail, with proof attached.
Obs. 4. If the Kingdom, as multitudes maintain, was not thus known; if it is correct to assert that the Jews and the disciples at first utterly misapprehended its meaning; if the announcement denoted one thing to the hearers and yet contained in itself a spiritual idea which the future was to develop—how comes it, then, that Christ could send out disciples to preach the Kingdom without previous instruction as to its real meaning; and even invite strangers (Luke 9:56, 57, 60) to “Go and preach the Kingdom of God.” Why does not John and the disciples first receive preliminary counsel, so that, themselves freed from alleged error, they may properly teach others respecting the Kingdom? It can be safely asserted (the proof following, as the argument is continued) that it is a well-grounded belief that the Kingdom was something that they were acquainted with, and concerning which, as to its nature or meaning, they needed not, owing to its plain portrayal in the Old Test., any special instruction. No other explanation will cover the facts in the case, or sustain the character and position of the first preachers of “the Gospel of the Kingdom.”