The True Kingdom
Jesus Christ was now approaching the termination of his earthly ministry. He who came to bear witness of the truth was standing for judgment at a human tribunal: the Judge of universal man stood as a criminal before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate! Society had mistaken its best friend for an impostor—and had thrown out of its breast the Being who alone could ensure its purity and repose. But had he not disciples? Why did not these men take up arms in their Master"s service? Would not steel do much towards a settlement of the controversy? Undoubtedly the peacefulness of Christ and his disciples excited the amazement of contemporaries, forasmuch as the sword has ever been called into requisition by the founders of empires, and yet here is a Being who attempts to establish a kingdom without shedding the blood of a single foe! To the perplexity of Pilate, Christ makes this reply: "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." Words indicative of so much spirituality could hardly be understood and appreciated by a man who knew nothing of any throne, or crown, or sceptre, except that which is "of the earth, earthy." It will be necessary to guard this declaration from two misconstructions.
First: It does not imply indifference to the political government of this world. Society must have government, and government involves governors; but governors exist for the good of society, and not society for the benefit of governors. Christians must not imagine themselves exempt from responsibility in the matter of national condition and progress;—it is true that they may not all be intellectually or constitutionally fitted to take any prominent position in the direction of political affairs, yet such may be intercessors at his throne before whom all kings must bow, and in that capacity may manifest the most vital interest in the temporary affairs of this fast-dissolving scene.
Secondly: It does not imply monastic seclusion from the engagements of the world. In becoming Christians we are not to betake ourselves to "a lodge in some vast wilderness." We become light for the express purpose of shining in a dark place—we are made free, to the end that we may proclaim the opening of prison doors to them that are bound—we are made children of God that we may teach the self-alienated the way of return to filial loyalty and service. Christ"s own example is all-determining on this point: he sat with publicans and sinners that he might call them to repentance, and never sat at the board of hospitality without spreading the festival of sovereign grace and infinite love. I do not object to Christians going into "the world "—technically so called—provided they take their Christianity along with them; but I do, in the Saviour"s name, protest against any disrobing, or any diminution of light—when you go, wear your beautiful garments, and "let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven."
What, then, is the Saviour"s meaning? I answer—Christ"s kingdom is a purely spiritual constitution—he came not to found a physical empire, but to establish the sovereignty of great and holy principles—his mission was not to dispute the title of mere earthly governors to their several thrones, but to lay the foundation of a kingdom whose royalty will survive the splendour of material pomp. He unsheathed no sword but the "sword of the Spirit."—He marshalled no army except the army of divine doctrines and precepts.—He created no treason against political monarchs.—He breathed no inflammatory speeches against governments, as such. When he spoke, as in syllables of lightning, it was against the monarchy of hell—when he sought the overthrow of a sovereign, it was the prince of the power of the air whose throne he shook. When, therefore, Christ declares that his "kingdom is not of this world," we are to infer the pure spirituality of the Christian Church. My special purpose is not so much to follow out this declaration in its special relation to Christ, as in its applicability to man. The first question, therefore, which I propose is—When may it be justly said that a man"s kingdom is of this world? I answer—
(1) When man"s energies are exclusively devoted to the accumulation of earthly treasure.—There are men whose creed may be condensed into one word—Gold! Such men invariably prove their faith by their works—their creed controls and sustains their life. Their motto Isaiah, "With all thy gettings, get gold"—their business is with "getting"—they have a certain goal to attain, and no matter how filthy or dangerous may be the road, they start on their journey, animated with the hope of securing the golden prize. Such men"s kingdom is of this world—these men look at all nature and institutions through this medium—Gold. When they gaze upon the landscape, it is not to admire the undulation of hill and dale, the stately wood or swelling river, but to speculate upon its properties as a farm; when they turn their cold eye to the nocturnal fires kindled by the hand of Deity, it is not to praise the wisdom and power to which they unceasingly testify, but rather to speculate as to the probability of having fine weather on which to prosecute their business-journey. Such men"s kingdom is of this world. When they rise from their bed, they have no time to consult him to whom the silver and gold belong; they are in too eager haste to join the race—when they retire to rest they are too weary to acknowledge the dread Power that has given them "life and breath." Their laugh is merry in proportion as their gains are heavy. Their face is a commercial barometer; by appealing to it you may learn the condition of the business-atmosphere. When they use the words "all right," they mean that their coffers are healthy, and their highest idea of happiness is to receive a smile from the fickle goddess of Fortune! Such men"s kingdom is of this world. We cannot, surely, be told that such men do not exist. When we see men too miserly to give their children a good education—so miserly as to begrudge even medical aid to those whom they profess to love—ever ready to take advantage of the ignorance of the novice—stealing a portion of God"s sacred day on which to examine their accounts, or write their letters of business—when such things confront us, it is too late to deny the truthfulness of the portraitures now delineated. I may not now address such men as are under review, but knowing that prevention is better than cure, I may appeal to the young to beware lest they should become so wedded to the temporal as to forget the eternal. Man! created originally in the image of God, let me reason with thee by the way: Is it right that powers so noble—that faculties so divine, should be exclusively devoted to the piling of dust? Is it even good policy to spend your energies on the accumulation of that which can be of no service in any other world than the present? We know it is quite possible for men who set their hearts on accumulation to amass immense sums, but when their accretive work is accomplished how much that is really noble has been done? Look at the picture until your eye affects your heart: every energy has been consecrated to the service of self—all the pages of time have been stitched into a ledger—all that wit could suggest, or fancy contrive, or muscle perform, has been pressed into the service, and now that the labour is finished, and the labourer dead, what epitaph shall we inscribe on the stone which marks his resting-place? Ask justice to dictate the inscription, and words of the severest condemnation will be furnished; and even if gentle charity herself be consulted, she would say, write—"He had his kingdom of this world."
(2) When man fails to exert any effort for the moral elevation of his race—Some men profess that their benefactions are known to none but God and the recipients. Others determine not to let the left hand know what the right hand doeth; and this is by no means an unwise policy where the right hand is doing nothing, and therefore has no tidings to communicate. What fearful disclosures will that text make in the great audit day! Thousands of do-nothings have hidden themselves behind that divinely-woven veil, and have thus evaded the powerful appeals of religion and general benevolence; but a day is approaching on which the veil will be uplifted, and then the universe will know how far it has been abused by the hypocritical and ungenerous. It is an appalling fact that the vast preponderance of effort made for the moral elevation of the race represents a small section of professing Christians. To some men all appeal for moral labour is entirely in vain. Ask them to contribute to the missionary fund, and they will instantly become so sensitively patriotic as to demand that more should be done for the benefit of our own country. They blunt every appeal—they would fail to shed a tear on the corpse of the Saviour, or to feel a single pang were all moral instrumentality paralysed beyond resuscitation! But such conduct is strictly consistent with their creed—their kingdom is of this world, hence they practically ignore every movement which contemplates the unalterable destiny of the soul. Show me a man destitute of sympathy with moral movements—a man who has consciously done nothing to lessen the sum of human misery, or to swell the currents of human joy—a man whom every supporter of gospel institutions shuns—and you have shown a man whose kingdom is built upon the sand, and which the boisterous storm shall shiver into irreparable ruin!
(3) When man draws his highest joys from the fascinations of this life.—The carnal mind knows nothing of any joy but that which flows through earthly channels. His highest study is the promotion of self-comfort. He has no internal sources of pleasure; while "the good man is satisfied from himself," the wicked is as a fountain dried up. The thorough worldling is ever dependent on excitement. The ball-room, the theatre, the gay saloon, have irresistible charms for him. The word of God or the sober treatise are to him intolerably dull—he is happy only amid the "voluptuous swell" of music and the incessant stream of sensuous amusements. Such a man"s kingdom is emphatically and exclusively of this world. Can you imagine degradation more abject than that of an intellectual being seeking his joys amid the purely material? A being capable of holding fellowship with Godhead, enslaved to the charms of earth! A being to whom the fountains of most exquisite joy are accessible, crawling to the broken cisterns that can hold no water! A being that might eat the richest viands which the universe can supply, directing a hungry look to the table of ragged and shivering beggary! I ask in all solemnity whether you know of any degradation more pitiable and appalling? You mourn the broken fortunes of the aristocrat who has been driven from the ancestral hall into some lowly and obscure home, but that man may be pure and happy in his poverty—his conscience may kindle glory in his humble hut; but what say ye to a man who is self-expelled from the holiest and loftiest society, and who prefers the gross enjoyments of animal existence to the inexhaustible pleasures of spiritual life! Take from such men the toys with which their fancy is dazzled—deprive them of the glittering dust which is the only object of their worship—stand at the threshold of their dwelling and forbid pollution again to enter—and by so doing you visit them with the most afflictive bereavement which can wither the human heart! You have shaken their kingdom to its foundation—you have burnt their monarchy to ashes!
We need not roam far in search of the men now under description. In our midst there are men who are immeasurably more interested in securing for a county an additional member of parliament than in sending forth the messengers of salvation into the midst of domestic or foreign heathenism! There are many more who may possibly be more anxious to promote universal suffrage than universal salvation; and thousands there may be who have been more agitated and sorrowful at having been outvoted at a political meeting than ever they were at the untold and inconceivable sufferings of the Redeemer. Such men"s kingdom is of this world. To them everything is little in comparison with political reform; the greatest of achievements is the passing of their resolutions, and the defeat of an opposing ministry is to them a greater historical fact than that uttered by the Saviour, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." Let me be clearly understood on this point: let no man misquote or distort my language: I confess the great importance of political purity and freedom;—the desirableness of every intelligent man being fully represented;—the necessity of out-rooting parliamentary corruption, and promoting merit to its rightful supremacy: but while attaching due weight to all such reforms, my spirit cannot be content with them as a "kingdom "—my spirit aspires to a loftier and a sublimer royalty! I would remind the enthusiastic politician of the possibility of making a kingdom of politics—of mistaking the triumph of an hour as the source of enduring satisfaction—and of building a mansion which the first moral tempest will utterly destroy.
Having thus endeavoured to answer the inquiry, when may it be justly said that a man"s kingdom is of this world? Let us proceed to the discussion of a question of equal importance, namely, when can it be truly affirmed that a man"s kingdom is not of this world? I answer—
(1) When man regards the world as a means rather than as an end.—The watchword of the Christian Isaiah, "Here we have no continuing city." He uses this world as the builder uses scaffolding, merely for temporary purposes—or as a waiting-room in which he tarries till the chariot of death shall bear him home—or as a school in which he prosecutes his rudimentary studies, with a view to the engagements of a higher academy—he never looks upon this world as a final resting-place. If he has wealth, it is to him a means of usefulness; if he has influence, he employs it in the promotion of the highest good: he is too wise to expect satisfaction in the merely temporal—things are great to him just in proportion as they rightly affect his eternal well-being. Assure me beyond all doubt that there is no world but this; satisfy my judgment and appease my conscience beyond the remotest possibility of reversal; convince me that my duty is to abandon the holy Book; outroot all instincts and longings for immortality; thrust forth your hand and convince me that you touch the very extremity of being; tear asunder the veil beyond which I am imagining there is a glorious heaven or a terrible hell, and prove to me that all beyond is an infinite blank—and then I may be glad to find a kingdom in this world—my affections will entwine around the charms of the present—and though I may bitterly weep over the grave of my hopes, I shall honestly toil in the perishing vineyard of earth! But, while I am persuaded that we are but in the porch of a palace, vast as infinitude—while my spirit is satisfied of being an heir of immortality, it is impossible to engage in the service of the transient hour with all the earnestness that is due to the claims of eternity!
(2) When man regards the evangelisation of the world as of supreme importance.—In proportion as man attains this spirit does he approach the likeness of Christ. Christ came for the express purpose of seeking and saving the lost. He only sought political reform in so far as the greater comprehends the less. His method of cleansing the stream was by purifying the fountain—he healed the leprosy of governments by curing the moral diseases of individuals. This is the philosophy of permanent cure. When men understand and discharge their duty towards God, they will not be slow in adjusting their relationships to each other. The Christian"s highest ambition should be the enlightenment and salvation of souls. In bringing men to the Cross, we are indirectly aiding the true progress of nations; principles are there imbibed which sanctify social bonds and consolidate social interests. While, therefore, the Christian"s kingdom is not of this world, yet this world is unspeakably benefited by the Christian"s kingdom. As the sun is not of this world yet sheds upon it life-giving light and heat, so the Christian"s kingdom is infinitely higher than the monarchies of earth, yet exerts upon them the most inspiring and sublimating influence.
The history of martyrdom is a glorious illustration of the text. The martyrs were men of whom the world was not worthy. Through the force of their loyalty to a spiritual king they forfeited the smile of their earthly sovereign; they endured as seeing the invisible; the sensual and the grovelling failed to understand their spirituality, and laughed to scorn their dreamy visions of a distant but imperishable kingdom. Every man as he was bound to the stake practically exclaimed, "My kingdom is not of this world." Every man as he ascended the scaffold practically averred that the day of his murder was the day of his moral majority, on which he entered into the inheritance of divine sonship. The day of martyrdom was the day of coronation, the day on which the temporary hut was exchanged for the mansion of light.
The history of foreign missions, too, affords a brilliant exemplification of the text. However much some evil-disposed persons may question the motives of the missionary, there is a nobility about his work which distinguishes its celestial nativity. You have seen a young man whose spirit yearns for the salvation of his race: he is educated and mentally strong; his home is a scene of happiness, parents and relatives hold him in highest regard; were he to employ his talents in his fatherland they might ensure him competence, and perhaps renown; but he is determined to realise his convictions of duty; he is ready to sever the strong attachments which bind him to the land of his birth, and brave the innumerable perils which may beset his enterprise—forasmuch as his kingdom is not of this world. You find in such a youth an illustration of a principle already enunciated; he is not destitute of interest in the political progress of his nation, far less is he wanting in affection to those who gave him life—but he cannot make a kingdom of such considerations; he renders to them the attention due to their respective merits, but in his estimation there are claims whose importance is infinitely greater. His life-cry Isaiah, "For me to live is Christ, everything must subordinate itself to Christ. Christ is the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; he redeemed me with his blood, and shall be served with undivided energy, for, in serving him, I am most effectually promoting the well-being of all the objects of my love."
(3) When man can cheerfully relinquish his earthly possessions.—It is hard work for a monarch to abandon his kingdom. Into whatever region he may pass he feels himself an exile; however tar into distant realms he may travel, he can never find a throne; his kingdom is behind him, and must remain there for ever. Not so with the Christian. He has not entered upon his kingdom yet; he is born to it, but at present is journeying towards the land in which he shall reign as king and serve as son. Under these circumstances he cannot feel the strong attachment to the charms of this world which binds the hearts of those who are without hope as to the mysterious future. The man whose kingdom is of this world is sorely tried when death demands a separation. You must observe that such a man is actually leaving his kingdom; and if he is leaving his kingdom, to what is death about to hasten him? Death makes his unwelcome appearance at the worldling"s throne, and asserts his determination to overthrow it, and conduct its occupant into scenes unlighted by a solitary ray. The occupant protests his unwillingness to forego his kingdom, but death is stern and cruel, and interrupts the protestation by thrusting his dart into the heaving breast. There is no appeal—the earthly king dies, and dies without a title to a throne anywhere in the boundless universe. Your imagination may follow the departed spirit—that spirit is now an exile, mark its horrors—its subjects of conversation are gone; once it expatiated with ardour on its possessions, its vast estates, its countless luxuries, its prolific soil, its social influence, but now it gazes on a dreary blank, and a voice, sounding from an inaccessible region, deepens its already insufferable horror by these simple words, " Song of Solomon, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things."
Behold, in glorious contrast, the condition of the Christian. Though surrounded with many comforts, and it may be not a few luxuries, yet he is their master not their serf. He can look upon the splendid mass, and truly aver his independence of its enslaving power! Death sounds his warning, and the good man is ready! He has been awaiting the final message—sometimes, indeed, he has even had a "desire to depart and be with Christ,"—so that when death demands a pause in the throbbings of his heart, he knows that the time of coronation is at hand! As a child rejoices to return to its paternal home after a prolonged absence, so the soul of the Christian rises into rapture as he steps into the valley of the shadow of death! Your imagination may follow this departed spirit, too. He has not gone from a kingdom, but to a kingdom; his subjects of conversation are not exhausted—he spoke of God while on earth, now he gazes on the splendours of Deity; those who remember his conversation know that the name of Jesus was often on his tongue; now he sings, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain"—he was wont to declare that he sought a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God, now he walks its golden streets, and breathes its untainted air!
Distinguish, then, I beseech you, between having your kingdom in this world and having it in that which is to come. Far be it from any minister of the gospel to contend that the very highest state of secular comfort and elegance is incompatible with the spirit of Christianity: were any bold enough to make the assertion, thousands of brilliant instances would rebuke and disprove the allegation. Let it, therefore, be clearly understood that all my argument has been directed against the iniquity of making your kingdom in this world. "Where your treasure Isaiah, there will your heart be also." Amidst all your accumulations, I entreat you to "lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;" amid all your endeavours to prepare for the day of commercial panic or physical decrepitude, I entreat you to anticipate the day of death, and make provision for the well-being of your undying spirits.
Young man! that which engages most of your affections is your kingdom. The question, therefore, must be entirely determined by yourself. You may, to a large extent, discard all gross and debasing pursuits, and yet your kingdom may be of this world; you may take little or no interest in political agitation, and yet your kingdom may be of this world; you may despise the miser who hoards his dust with an energy that never tires, and yet your kingdom may be of this world! I repeat, therefore, that in order to ascertain what your kingdom Isaiah, you must analyse your affections—you must track their course, and mark where they rest. One young man is an eager devotee at the shrine of fashion; another is ambitiously aiming at fame; a third is unceasing in his merely intellectual pursuits; a fourth is totally indifferent to the appeals and claims of religion: yet all agree in having their kingdom of this world! I would to God that all young men could be driven to earnest self-scrutiny, that thus they might determine whether their kingdom be present or to come. The young man described in the gospel had reached a high standard of character by keeping all the commandments from his youth; yet he lacked one thing, and that solitary deficiency was as a gulf separating the dominion of earth from the kingdom of heaven!
I have only a word of pity for you who confess that your kingdom is of this world. Every night that draws its sable curtain silently attests the shortness of your reign; every grey hair and incipient wrinkle or deep furrow indicate that your monarchy is perishing; every storm that rages threatens to destroy some portion of your territory. Time is eating into your crown; the moth is doing its deadly work on your throne, and you who are known as kings on earth will be branded as paupers throughout eternity! You have made a fearful miscalculation—you are involved in a terrible embarrassment, and standing at the mouth of the pit into which you have fallen, I proclaim not your degradation only, but the infallible method of restoration! Blessed be God! you may now become sovereigns of a moral kingdom. Jesus Christ lived a life and died a death, the object of which was that men might be made kings and priests unto God! You, O sinner, are not ignorant of his beneficent life, of his atoning death; nor are you ignorant of the terms on which you may appropriate all the blessings which he purchased by his blood. If you pursue the wrong, it is not because you are ignorant of the right; if you imagine that your possessions are the true gold of heaven, it is in spite of ten thousand demonstrations that they are lies and vanity! We have walked through your kingdom and exposed its corruptions; we have handled your treasures and shown you their rottenness; you yourselves have even confessed their ephemeral nature, so that if you longer attempt to solace yourselves with a known poison, be prepared for a holy universe to shudder as it pronounces you a desperate suicide I
You will never make a proper use of the life that now is until you regard it in connection with that which is to come. Standing at the Saviour"s Cross you will be able to take a right view of both worlds. You will see earth in all its littleness and tumult, and heaven in all its magnitude and peacefulness; and, while rendering to the one the attention which its transient importance demands, you will reserve the fulness of your energy for the momentous claims of the other. I make no apology for asking whether you are making a kingdom of your politics, and whether you have begun at the true source of all genuine and permanent reformation? My firm conviction being that Christianity will adjust the relationships of individuals, and consolidate the liberty of empires, my life is consecrated to its explanation and enforcement. When the heart is right with God there will be little difficulty in arranging political details; but while the heart is swollen with passion—while selfishness holds out her greedy hand, and party spirit rends the air with her clamorous cry—while Pride looks disdainfully on the poor, and Rank draws its invidious boundaries—while Capital is regardless of the true interests of Labour, and Merit must give place to Patronage, there can be no lasting reformation. We must strike the Upas at its roots. If you, as political reformers, can amputate any of the deadly branches, you will indeed earn the gratitude of your race—far be it from me to question the utility of your labour; but, again I tell you we must strike the Upas at its root! Church of the living God, this is your business! It is for you to lift the axe and smite the deadly tree! You have a tremendous power which you can bring to bear, not only on the spiritual, but on the civil interests of man; every prayer you breathe may exert influence on the political destiny of the nation! I call upon you, therefore, to do your utmost in the propagation of the Christian faith; in the name of God I forbid you to relax any spiritual effort. Toil on, and in due time there shall be but one kingdom and one King; he shall come, whose right is to reign—on his head shall the crown flourish. Freedom and Peace shall unfurl their banners; Brotherhood and Charity shall wake their sweetest music: then shall a cry be heard, loud as the roar of the thunder, the rush of the whirlwind, and the anthem of the sea—Alleluia! the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on John 18". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter