The Kingdom of Heaven; What is it?
by Edward Burbidge
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse








There is nothing new in the following pages; except it be that they call popular attention to facts which have been commonly recognised only by scholars.

But I am aware that their contents will appear novel to many; and to remove this idea some extracts are here given from the Commentaries in general use.

1. Bishop Wordsworth on S. Matt. xiii. 3; "This chapter may be described as containing a Divine Treatise on the Church Militant here on earth."

2. Dean Alford on S. Matt. xiii. 52; "The seven Parables compose in their inner depth of connexion, a great united whole, beginning with the first sowing of the Church, and ending with the consummation."

3. The Speaker's Commentary on S. Matt. iii. 2; "It—the Kingdom of Heaven—signifies the promised Kingdom of the Messiah. Hence the expectation of the Messiah is spoken of as a waiting for the Kingdom of God. Our Lord, adopts the expression and frequently employs it to denote His Spiritual Kingdom the Church."

4. Bishop Walsham How (S. P. C. K. Commentary) on S. Matt. iii. 2; "It—the Kingdom of Heaven—is generally used to signify the Kingdom of Christ on earth, the Kingdom of the Gospel, the Church of Christ."

I desire also to remove by anticipation a fear that some may feel, lest, in regarding the Gospel as being the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, the great doctrine of the Atonement should be forgotten. Such an idea is refuted by the words of Holy Scripture. For not only is the Preaching of our Blessed Lord, before He suffered, thus described—see S. Mark i. 14—but also the teaching of S. Paul, in later years, who gloried in knowing only "Jesus Christ and Him crucified"—see Acts xx. 25.

My object has been to provide an answer to two questions.

1. What did our Blessed Lord teach about His Church in His discourses?

2. What is meant by the words of the Creed, "The Holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints?"

May these pages help men to gain an intelligent knowledge of that Kingdom, into which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has called us. May they lead many to desire the fulfilment of His last prayer for us before His Passion, "That they all may be one." And may every word in this little book, which is not in accordance with God's will, be pardoned, and overruled to His Glory.

BACKWELL, August 1879.














"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on ME through their word; that they all may be one; as THOU FATHER art in ME, and I in THEE, that they also may be one in US; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent ME."—S. John xvii. 20, 21.

"When THOU hadst overcome the sharpness of death: THOU didst open the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN to all believers."—Te Deum.

"THY KINGDOM come."—S. Matt. vi. 10.



"On Jordan's banks the Baptist's cry Announces that the Lord is nigh; Awake and hearken, for he brings Glad tidings of the King...."

When the Saviour of the world was about to enter upon His public ministry, the Jewish nation was startled with the cry, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (S. Matt. iii. 2).

Such was God's call to His people of old time, to prepare themselves to take part in the fulfilment of the promises, on which their faith and hopes were founded. The fulness of the times had come; and Christ, the long-promised and long-expected Saviour and King, was nigh at hand.

And ever since that day, as the good news of the Kingdom has spread from land to land, it has been the portion of the Lord's people to endeavour to realise their high position in that Kingdom, and to discharge their duties loyally to their Heavenly King.

But the words—"The Kingdom of Heaven"—are apt to lead away the thoughts from the present to the future, from this world to a better one. And since men are not in Heaven now, but are surrounded with earthly cares and troubles, there is danger lest they should forget or be ignorant of the intimate connection which these words have with their daily life as Christians, and with its duties, privileges, and blessings.

And yet the practical importance of this subject to Christian men and women will be seen clearly after a moment's consideration. For any one, who is at all acquainted with the words of Holy Scripture, will recall to mind at once the frequent reference to "The Kingdom of Heaven" in the Gospels. And though it will probably seem a somewhat startling assertion to most persons, yet it is nevertheless a true one, that from the day when our Lord began His public ministry, until He ascended into Heaven, His teaching was almost wholly occupied with this one subject—"The Kingdom of Heaven." And it is the purpose of the following pages to bring together the various statements about it, in such a way as to lead to a clear understanding of "The Kingdom of Heaven"—what it is—and of our position in this Kingdom, with its present blessings, privileges and duties, and its future glories.

"The Kingdom of Heaven"—What is it?

There are three things which are necessarily included in the idea of a Kingdom—a King to rule over it; subjects to be ruled; and a place where they dwell. And since it is necessary, if we would enquire into the nature of "The Kingdom of Heaven," first of all to understand clearly who is the King, and who and where are His subjects, let us begin with taking a general view of these chief points; and then afterwards enter more fully into the consideration of the various passages of Holy Scripture which describe the details of the Kingdom.

The Jews expected the Messiah as their King. And when the Wise Men came from the East, and asked "Where is He that is born King of the Jews" (S. Matt. ii. 2), we read that King Herod referred their enquiry to those who were learned in the Scriptures, in this form, "He demanded of them where Christ"—i.e. Messiah, The Anointed One[1]—"should be born" (S. Matt. ii. 4). And that there should be no doubt at all about the person of the King, so long expected, God in His providence had arranged that one should go before Him to announce His coming. For John the Baptist acted as a herald going before a king, proclaiming his approach. And this was the proclamation, "Repent ye; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (S. Matt. iii. 2). And then the Herald declared that he was come as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and that the people must prepare at once to receive their King, saying, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias" (S. John i. 23; Isaiah xl. 3).

The proclamation of "The Kingdom of Heaven" by John the Baptist defined the exact time in the world's history when this Kingdom took its rise. And our Lord afterwards called express attention to this, saying, "The Law and the Prophets were until John: since that time the Kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it[2]" (S. Luke xvi. 16). And because John was only the Herald going before, and was not himself enrolled as a subject of the Kingdom, He added, (after referring to the greatness of John the Baptist), "Notwithstanding, he that is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he" (S. Matt. xi. 11).

Thus we are assured that "The Kingdom of Heaven" began from the proclamation of John the Baptist; and, therefore, we know for certain that the Lord Jesus Christ, whose coming he proclaimed, is the King of this Kingdom.

This is the great truth which forms the foundation of all the teaching of the New Testament; and it is of the utmost importance to have a clear idea of it. The Lord Jesus Christ came to be the Saviour of the world by becoming King of a spiritual Kingdom of grace and blessing, whose subjects were to be purchased and redeemed by His own Blood shed upon the Cross. He was not merely the greatest of God-inspired teachers: but He came to found God's Kingdom upon earth, and to rule in love over the hearts of men of all nations and ages, and thus prepare them for life everlasting. And when Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the Jews, thus addressed Him, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God," He at once endeavoured to lead him to grasp this truth, by the abrupt reply, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God;" and again, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (S. John iii. 2-5). In other words, men must not merely listen to His teaching; but they must have their eyes opened to see Him as the promised King, and receive the principle of a new Life as His subjects; or, else, His coming would be in vain.

Taking now as our starting-point the great truth that the Lord Jesus Christ came to found a Kingdom, our next enquiry must be respecting the subjects or citizens of this Kingdom.

Who are the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven?"

One of the woes pronounced by our Lord against the Scribes and Pharisees was for this, "Ye shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (S. Matt. xxiii. 13). They would not themselves enter this Kingdom by accepting Him as Christ the King; and they hindered others from doing so. The Jews had thought themselves to be the subjects of God, whilst all the rest of the world were castaways. But from these words, as well as from those referred to above, which were spoken to Nicodemus, we conclude that the subjects of Messiah's Kingdom are they, and only they, who "believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (1 S. John iv. 15, v. 1), and, having thus accepted Him as their King, have been admitted by a formal act into His Kingdom.

When the Herald proclaimed "The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand" (S. Matt. iii. 2), he was calling upon the whole Jewish people to enter into it. But the call to enter Messiah's Kingdom was not to be confined to the Jews. It was to be published far and wide throughout the world.

The Prophets had foretold a day when "The Gentiles shall come to Thy light, and kings to the brightness of Thy rising" (Isaiah lx. 3), and that "in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God" (Hosea i. 10). And this was now about to be fulfilled. And in the homage which the Wise Men from the East paid to the infant Saviour, "born King of the Jews," we see the first sign that free and full salvation was henceforth placed within the reach of all the nations of the world without distinction. And thus it came to pass that, in after years, the Apostles addressed their converts, taken equally from amongst Jews and Gentiles, in such words as these, "God hath called you unto His Kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. ii. 12); God "hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. i. 13).

In other words, "The Kingdom of Heaven" is a real Kingdom, though a spiritual and heavenly one. The Lord Jesus Christ is King, and all the nations of the world are called to be His subjects.

And where is "The Kingdom of Heaven"?

The answer is clear. Wherever they are who have accepted the King and been admitted as His subjects.

"The Kingdom of Heaven" is not as yet in Heaven, so far as its subjects are concerned. It is true that the King Himself has ascended His throne in Heaven. And as members of Christ we share in some degree in the exaltation of our Head, so that S. Paul does not hesitate to say of the Lord's people here on earth, God "hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephes. ii. 6). But such words seem to apply to that part of our nature to which our hopes and affections belong. So far as our duties and difficulties are concerned, we are still surrounded with earthly temptations. We are still in a state of trial here, however much we may be looking for and longing after our home. And Heaven will not be opened to receive the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven" until the Great Day, when they will be welcomed with the words, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you" (S. Matt. xxv. 34).

Christ's Kingdom "is not of this world" (S. John xviii. 36), as He declared plainly to Pilate when he questioned Him about Himself. But for the present we may consider that, practically speaking, it is in the world though not of it. For its subjects are not yet in Heaven: but are partly at rest in Paradise; partly here on earth still warring against evil.

We can now express in few words the chief points respecting the nature of that "Kingdom of Heaven" which John the Baptist, in his office as Herald, proclaimed to be "at hand."

The Lord Jesus Christ came to found a Kingdom. He is the King of "The Kingdom of Heaven."

All who will accept Him as their King—all the men and women and little children in the world, of every land and of every age—may be admitted as the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven." For "He died for all" (2 Cor. v. 15).

And "The Kingdom of Heaven," though it is a spiritual and heavenly Kingdom, is as yet here on earth, and will not be in Heaven, until the subjects of the King have been tried and found faithful, and the number of the elect shall be accomplished.

It follows that the statements of Holy Scripture respecting "The Kingdom of Heaven," which are to be considered in the following pages, refer not merely to the world to come—to that which we commonly understand by the word Heaven—but to that Kingdom which has been founded here on earth; and into which, as Christians, we have been already called. And the subject becomes of infinite importance to us all, when it is understood that "The Kingdom of Heaven" is, at this present time, that Kingdom of grace in which we may obtain salvation through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He has called us all to be subjects of this Kingdom now, that, by obtaining a share in His precious merits, we may be brought into a state of present salvation; and that, by continuing in this state through His grace, we may be recognised as His subjects in that great day, when the Kingdom of Grace will have become the Kingdom of Glory Everlasting.


[1] Christ is the Greek word which corresponds with the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning "The Anointed One." Amongst the Jews three classes of men were anointed to their official duties—Prophets, Priests, and Kings. And the name "Messiah" implied that they expected the Deliverer to bear office in these ways; and especially as King, the highest of these offices.

[2] In a similar passage of S. Matthew the difficult expression occurs, "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (S. Matt. xi. 12); but the meaning seems to be the same. Our Lord was calling attention to the fact that the expected King had come and His Kingdom was open to the eager zeal of such as would seize upon it and press into it.



"This is He whom Seers in old time Chanted of with one accord; Whom the voices of the Prophets Promised in their faithful word."

We have seen that, in the providence of God, John the Baptist was sent to proclaim to the world that "The Kingdom of Heaven" was at hand, and to point out the King. And as soon as the Herald had raised the expectation of men by the proclamation of the coming Kingdom, our Lord began His public ministry, the great object of which was the founding of His Kingdom for the salvation of the world. And, as S. Matthew tells us, He "went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom" (S. Matt. iv. 23); or, as S. Mark relates, "After that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the Gospel" (S. Mark i. 14, 15).

Thus the King took up and continued the message of His Herald, only adding to John the Baptist's preaching of repentance the call to believe the Gospel—to have faith in the good tidings which He came to tell of the Kingdom of Heaven and of God. And from this time to the end of His ministry we find that the Gospel of the Kingdom was the continual subject of His teaching. Thus S. Luke records that He declared once to a multitude which would detain Him, "I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore am I sent" (S. Luke iv. 43). And, a few chapters after, we read, "It came to pass afterward that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God" (S. Luke viii. 1). And then, after a while, "He called His twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And He sent them to preach the Kingdom of God" (S. Luke ix. 1, 2). And having thus spent the years of His public ministry in publishing the good news of the Kingdom, He declared towards the end of it, as He was foretelling to His disciples the signs of His future coming to judgment, "And this Gospel[3] of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (S. Matt. xxiv. 14).

And what is the Gospel of the Kingdom?

To form the answer we must look to the general teaching which runs through the Bible. As soon as Adam fell from his high estate as God's child, the Deliverer was promised, "who should bruise the serpent's head" (Gen. iii. 15). Ages passed with only a dim hope of a coming Saviour; until at length God gave to Abraham the distinct promise that the Deliverer should arise from his posterity; saying, "In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. xxii. 18). Again ages passed; and David was raised up from amongst the descendants of Abraham, and of the predicted tribe of Judah, and to him the promise was made, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sam. vii. 16). We know that princes of the family of David succeeded one another on the throne for 450 years, until the Jews were carried into captivity; but we learn from the Psalms that it had been revealed to David himself that this promise was not to be fulfilled in any such earthly and temporal manner. And his faith and hopes are expressed continually in glowing words, describing a Kingdom of Messiah, which should be universal and without end, a Kingdom of righteousness and peace.

Thus in Psalm ii. the nations of the world are represented in rebellion against God and the Messiah. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed" (Ps. ii. 1, 2), i.e. Messiah—Christ. And then the decree of the universal sovereignty of Messiah is proclaimed: "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. ii. 7, 8). Then in Psalm xxii, after the mysterious sufferings of Messiah have been set forth, His Kingdom is again proclaimed as universal: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee" (Ps. xxii. 27). And, to pass over other passages, in Psalm lxxii. Messiah's everlasting reign of righteousness and peace is described in glowing words: "They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. All kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him. His Name shall endure for ever; and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed[4]" (Ps. lxxii. 5, 7, 11, 17).

Many years passed; and then Isaiah proclaimed in prophecy, "Behold a King shall reign in righteousness" (Isai. xxxii. 1); and in many a glowing passage described the peace and glory of His Kingdom. And Jeremiah yet more clearly announced, "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness" (Jer. xxiii. 5, 6). And Daniel was directed to explain the king's dream, as a vision of earthly empires, which should be overpowered "by the Stone cut out without hands;" for "the God of Heaven shall set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. ii. 44, 45). And Zechariah sang, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee" (Zech. ix. 9).

Many years were yet to pass before the fulfilment of these promises should be commenced, through the setting up of the everlasting sovereignty of Messiah. But at last the fulness of time was come; and the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, and after addressing her as the favoured mother of Messiah, declared of her Son, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end" (S. Luke i. 32, 33).

This then was the Gospel—the Gospel of the Kingdom—the Gospel of God. The good news was published abroad that the long-promised King of the seed of David was come. Messiah's Kingdom was to be set up; and all men were invited to enter in and be saved.

The King Himself went forth to preach the good news, and to describe His Kingdom and the character of His subjects. But by what means could He persuade the people that He was their King? We often wonder that the Jews were so slow to believe in Him; but perhaps we do not realise their difficulties. There was one great obstacle which stopped all but a very few from accepting Him. And it was this. "The Kingdom of Heaven" which He preached as the Kingdom of Messiah was altogether different from anything which they had expected, because it was a spiritual Kingdom. No doubt the words of the Psalmist and of the Prophets ought to have led them to expect the Son of God as King. And, if they had nurtured any real love of God in their hearts, they would have been ready to become His subjects. But it was not so. They expected a conqueror to free them from the yoke of their enemies. And the enemies which He came to conquer were spiritual—the great enemy of the whole human race—not the earthly foes of the one race of Israel. They expected the glory and pomp which are the outward signs of the authority to rule; and they could not understand the position which He claimed to hold who had come in such humility that He said, "The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (S. Matt. viii. 20). "Tell us," they said, "by what authority doest thou these things?" (S. Luke xx. 2). And, therefore, we need not seek far to find the reason of the small success which followed the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Only a spiritual power can move men in spiritual things, and a man must first give himself up to the guidance of the Holy Spirit before He can take in spiritual truths. If men resist the teaching of God, no evidence will move them. "If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (S. Luke xvi. 31). "The Kingdom of Heaven" could not be set up until the Holy Ghost was given[5], because the Jews were not prepared to accept Messiah as the King of a spiritual Kingdom; and only the Holy Ghost could move the hearts of men to desire spiritual blessings, and to hope for spiritual rewards.

So our Blessed Lord preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to unwilling hearts; and was compelled to "upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not" (S. Matt. xi. 20). Only the few received Him—the few who were "babes" in spirit—whilst "the wise and prudent" (S. Matt. xi. 25) rejected Him.

There were two kinds of evidence to which He continually appealed in His arguments with the Jewish rulers in proof of His claims upon their hearts. The first was the direct testimony of John the Baptist: "Ye sent unto John and he bare witness unto the truth" (S. John v. 33). For "when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? he confessed, I am not the Christ" (S. John i. 19, 20). "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God" (S. John i. 29). And he declared that he knew Him in consequence of the visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon Him at His baptism; and (said he), "I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God" (S. John i. 34). The other evidence was "greater witness than that of John," namely, the miracles which He wrought, for (said He) "the works which the Father hath given Me to finish bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me" (S. John v. 36); and "though ye believe not Me, believe the works" (S. John x. 38). Other kinds of evidence were also employed; such as the direct testimony of the Father in the voice from Heaven, and in the immediate answers to prayer in the working of His miracles—"The Father Himself which hath sent Me, hath borne witness of Me" (S. John v. 37)—and also, the statements of Holy Scripture, describing His person and His work so clearly that He could say to the Jews, "Search the Scriptures; for they are they which testify of Me" (S. John v. 39). But we know the result. All the evidences were in vain. The Jews in general refused to believe in Him as their King. The ruling classes not only rejected Him, but they also hindered others from acknowledging Him. So that He cried out against them, "Ye shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (S. Matt. xxiii. 13).

And there were but very few exceptions. The Apostles and the small band of disciples professed their faith in Him. "Whom do men say that I am?" He asked them once; "and they said, Some say John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the Prophets." None accepted Him as Messiah, their King. "But whom say ye that I am?" He went on to ask; "and Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (S. Matt. xvi. 13-16). So also Nathanael, the "Israelite indeed," boldly proclaimed his belief: "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel" (S. John i. 49). And there was one bright flash of enthusiasm which carried all along exultingly to welcome Him on His last visit to the Holy City; when the crowds spread branches of the palm-trees, and cried, "Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" (S. Matt. xxi. 9). "Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest" (S. Luke xix. 38).

But it was within a few days after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem that the rulers of the Jews took the Lord Jesus, and having condemned Him in their own council for blasphemy, for professing Himself to be Messiah—"the Christ"—"the Son of God" (S. Luke xxii. 67-71), they charged Him before the Roman governor with treason, for saying "that He Himself is Christ a King" (S. Luke xxiii. 2). And this accusation, it may well be noticed, was not a different charge from the former. All that they did was to put cleverly before the earthly governor the earthly side of the spiritual crime, for which they had themselves condemned Him. If He was Messiah, He was their King. They condemned Him for professing to be Messiah; a charge on which no civil tribunal could give judgment. But professing to be Messiah, He professed to be King; and this they represented as an offence against the state, and to be punished accordingly. And the result was, that by the Providence of God He was not stoned to death, as was His first martyr Stephen, on the charge of blasphemy; but He was handed over to the civil power to be crucified for treason, as claiming to be King. And it came to pass, that after their persistent rejection of Him, the Jewish rulers were compelled to see Him acknowledged upon the cross as their King, in the words of the superscription containing the charge on which He was condemned. His cross became His throne, with His title above it, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" (S. John xix. 19). Fit throne for Him who was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil. ii. 6-10). And all the efforts of the Jews to alter it were in vain. Pilate at length was firm: "What I have written, I have written" (S. John xix. 22).

Thus seemed to end the Kingdom which our Lord and His disciples had been inviting men to join. They could preach no more the Gospel of the Kingdom, for the King was put to a shameful death. "The chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and have crucified Him. But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel" (S. Luke xxiv. 20, 21). So spake even the disciples in their despair. They had "trusted," as they supposed, in vain.

Verily God's ways are not as man's ways.


[3] It may be noticed here, that the expression "preaching the Gospel" is used in these passages of Holy Scripture in a very wide sense. It is not limited to the preaching of the great doctrine of the Atonement, but it refers to the general purpose for which Christ came; which was, to gather all the world into His Kingdom of grace and salvation. See Bishop How's Commentary on the Gospels, under S. Luke viii. 1. (Publ. by S. P. C. K.)

[4] See this very skilfully drawn out in a little devotional Commentary on "Five Psalms of the Kingdom," by Rev. G. F. Saxby. Published by J. T. Hayes, London.

[5] See below, notes on pp. 50 and 83.



"What is earth but God's own field, Fruit unto His praise to yield? Wheat and tares therein are sown, Unto joy or sorrow grown; * * * * * Grant, O Lord of Life, that we Holy grain and pure may be."

What appeared to be the death-blow of "The Kingdom of Heaven" was but a necessary step in its formation. The King was crucified in weakness, only to be "declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. i. 4). And the reason for His humiliation has become clear to us, as expressed in the familiar proverb, "No cross, no crown." The way to His exaltation upon the throne of His Kingdom led by the cross. His Kingdom must be "purchased with His own Blood" (Acts xx. 28). He must "suffer for sins, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. iii. 18).

But the question now arises, What sort of Kingdom was it that He offered unto men when He preached to them the Gospel of the Kingdom? Has He enabled us to form, from His own recorded words, a definite idea of the nature and character of "The Kingdom of Heaven"?

For the answer we turn naturally to His Parables; because the form of teaching which He most commonly employed was that which is known by the name of Parable. And we find that fully half of them were Parables of the Kingdom; that is to say, they either begin with the words "The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto" such and such things; or they contain some distinct reference to it. And as the first two of these Parables were interpreted to the disciples, we are left in no doubt as to the general meaning of them all.

The Parables of "The Kingdom of Heaven"[6] may be divided into two divisions. Those of the first division relate in a general manner to "The Kingdom of Heaven" or "The Kingdom of God," under its various aspects, which will be set forth more fully in subsequent chapters; some parables describing the Kingdom as it may be seen on earth; some expressing the inward spiritual reign of the King over the hearts of men; and others teaching that those who fail to use their opportunities as subjects of it here, will lose the glory of sharing in its perfect state hereafter. And the Parables of the second division relate to certain special circumstances which affect the position of its subjects.

The first division consists of the seven Parables collected together in S. Matt. xiii; and begins with the Parable of "The Sower," which was one of those which our Lord Himself explained. "Hear ye the Parable of the Sower. When any one heareth the Word of the Kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart" (S. Matt. xiii. 18, 19). The good news about "The Kingdom of Heaven" falls like seed. They who hear about it are like the different kinds of soil on which seed is sown. One pays no heed to what he hears, and the birds of folly and thoughtlessness carry off, at once, "that which was sown in his heart." Others desire to live as subjects of the Kingdom here, and be prepared for its perfect state hereafter, only they are like stony ground, or as soil which is foul with weeds and thorns; they cannot stand against the scorching heat of temptations or petty persecutions, or else the cares and riches of this world choke the word and make them unfruitful. Whilst other men accept the good news of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and bear fruit, by living as useful subjects of their King (S. Matt. xiii. 18-23).

The next Parable—"The Tares"—is a very striking one, because it describes the state of "The Kingdom of Heaven" as being completely different from what men would have expected. It was the Lord's own account beforehand of the sad outward appearance of His Kingdom. It described the work of God as being maliciously injured and marred by Satan, so that good and bad would be found together side by side, so closely intermingled that it would be impossible to separate them, or to distinguish between them. And the separation would not be made until the end of the world, however much men might wish to make it at once (S. Matt. xiii. 24-30, 36-43).

We may well pause here for a moment to think about the meaning of these words. Our Blessed Lord was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. And when He began to describe the Kingdom which He came to found, He told His disciples at once that it would be very far from being a perfect state, such as some might dream of. They must expect to see evil growing wild in it, like weeds in a field of corn. There would be bad subjects as well as good; and there would be no means of separating them. And as long as this world should last, the outward appearance of "The Kingdom of Heaven" would be like a field of wheat and tares growing together.

At the same time He encouraged His disciples with the prospect of boundless success. In the next Parable—"The Grain of Mustard Seed"—He described, prophetically, the outward spread of His Kingdom from very small beginnings, until the nations of the world should find shelter within it. For though nothing could be less promising of success than the first beginnings of "The Kingdom of Heaven," yet, as a spreading tree may rise from the smallest seed, even so should His Kingdom extend its branches through the world (S. Matt. xiii. 31, 32).

And this was not their only ground for encouragement and hope. For this description of the outward extension of the Kingdom, taken by itself, gives a very imperfect idea of its character. He taught them that "The Kingdom of Heaven" would exert a spiritual power over the hearts of men. It would be like leaven working in the meal. It would change the hearts of its subjects. The effect would be such as was afterwards described by the Apostle S. Paul, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. v. 17). And as leaven goes on working until the whole mass of the meal in which it is hid is leavened, even so He would lead us to understand that one heart truly leavened with the Gospel of the Kingdom will affect others; and that, silently and unnoticed, it will extend until it works a moral change in the state of the whole world (S. Matt. xiii. 33)[7].

He then went on to describe that as the Kingdom extended, men would begin to find out its value; and for the saving of their souls would gladly give up their worldly prospects. "The Hidden Treasure" and "The Pearl of Great Price" set forth the priceless value of "The Kingdom of Heaven." The rights and privileges of citizenship are worth more than all the world besides. These two Parables are alike in that both express the great worth of that of which the Gospel tells, viz. the salvation won by our King and Saviour Jesus Christ, and given to the subjects of His Kingdom; but they differ in describing different ways in which men may find it out. One man will find it like a hidden treasure, as we should say by chance (S. Matt. xiii. 44). So the woman of Samaria found the long-expected Saviour, when she had only gone to fill her pitcher at the well (S. John iv. 28, 29). Others will have to search diligently with the earnest desire to find out "what is truth," and the truth will be brought home to their souls only after long and patient seeking. Like as it happened to S. Paul, who had long been seeking for "The Pearl," in being more excessively zealous toward God, but who found it not, until the Voice "Why persecutest thou Me" (Acts ix. 4) brought him to Jesus Christ. Furthermore, these two Parables both set forth this truth: that, if men wish to gain the priceless blessings of "The Kingdom of Heaven," they must be ready, as S. Paul was, to give up all that they have, and "count all things but loss, that they may win Christ" (Phil. iii. 8).

The character of "The Kingdom of Heaven" having been thus expressed, we are carried on in the last Parable of the series—"The Draw-net"—to the end of this present world. "The Kingdom of Heaven" is described as catching in its net all, both good and bad, who come within its reach. But, at the end, the net will be drawn to shore, and the judgment and separation will be made. The evil will be cast away. The good will be preserved, and admitted to their reward of joy and glory everlasting (S. Matt. xiii. 47-49). And "The Kingdom of Heaven" being perfected at length, and "not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Ephes. v. 27), will be seen as the glorious Kingdom of righteousness and peace described in the glowing words of prophecy.

Such is the account given by our Blessed Lord of "The Kingdom of Heaven." In the above Parables we see its nature and character described, from its foundation to the end of this present world. From His own words we learn its history. There is, first, the sowing of the seed; then the apparent spoiling of the design by the intermixture of evil with the good; then the Kingdom is seen to have a power of rapid growth and extension, and a leavening influence over the hearts of men; then its value is declared to be so priceless, that men will give up all things for its sake; and lastly, we are told of a day when all evil will be purged out, and it will become a glorious and perfect Kingdom. But with the exception of this one faint glimpse of eternity, there is not a word in all these Parables respecting what we commonly understand by the term "Heaven." "The Kingdom of Heaven" is here on earth, and belongs to this present time. It was the will of our Lord to describe His Kingdom as we know it, in its present imperfect state here on earth, in which men have temptations and duties, as well as great privileges and blessings. Whilst of the future condition of His Kingdom in glory, very little has been revealed.

But besides this general description of "The Kingdom of Heaven," we find other Parables which describe various circumstances relating to the rejection of the Kingdom by the unbelieving, or affecting the position of those who have become its subjects.

For instance, the Apostle Peter was doubtful how often a brother should be forgiven, and our Lord spoke the Parable of "The Unmerciful Servant," teaching that the subjects of His Kingdom, being themselves in a state of forgiveness, would forfeit all their blessings if they did not unreservedly forgive their brethren. The debt of sin which the King has already forgiven His subjects, in admitting them into a state of salvation, is as it were "ten thousand talents." The debt incurred by any offending brother is but as "an hundred pence" in comparison (S. Matt. xviii. 21-35).

Again, in the Parable of "The Labourers in the Vineyard" He taught that the subjects of His Kingdom must not grudge one against another, if a rebel or one who has been neglecting his duty all his life turns and is accepted at the last. The King cannot do otherwise than what is right. "At the eleventh hour" a labourer may be taken on, and receive his reward. And, on the other hand, one who might have been first in the Kingdom of glory and reward may fall away through an evil spirit of self-glorification, and become last of all (S. Matt. xx. 1-16).

Three Parables follow which were spoken with special reference to the Jewish rulers, the Priests, and Scribes, and Pharisees. The first of these—the Parable of "The Two Sons"—seems to have been spoken to win them over to a knowledge of their sin and danger, and, if it might be possible, to induce them to accept the Gospel of God, and to enter the Kingdom. The Son in the Parable who at first said, "I will not," "afterward repented and went." Even so, the bold and open transgressors of the law were being won over to repentance, and were entering in. But the second son who said, "I go Sir, and went not," professed a ready obedience and then did not carry it into practice, but held back and refused to enter in. Even so the Pharisees and others who made good profession of zeal for God's service "trusted in themselves that they were righteous" (S. Luke xviii. 9), and being satisfied with the mere profession, "rejected the counsel of God against themselves" (S. Luke vii. 30). And He thus sorrowfully yet firmly applied it to their own case, saying, "Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you" (S. Matt. xxi. 28-31).

They would not be won over; but, on the contrary, their hostility was increased. The consequence was, that the next Parable of "The Wicked Husbandmen" declared the miserable end which would certainly come upon them in judgment. The Kingdom of God was set forth under the figure of a vineyard—a figure which must have been familiar to them from its frequent use in the Old Testament (Psalm lxxx. 8-16; Isaiah v. 1-8)—and the husbandmen, instead of protecting their master's interests, were represented as beating his servants and slaying his son. What, asked the Lord Jesus, will he do with them? And they answered, to their own condemnation, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen." And He then added these plain words of warning, "Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you[8], and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (S. Matt. xxi. 33-43).

The enmity of the rulers now reached its highest pitch. "They sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the multitude, because they took Him for a prophet" (S. Matt. xxi. 46). And as they had now clearly determined to reject the idea of the Kingdom, which He had come to found, the Parable of "The Marriage of the King's Son" was spoken, describing the call of others into the privileged position which they despised. "Jesus answered and spake unto them again by Parables, and said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son." And when the invited guests refused to come, "The king was wroth, and sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers. Then said he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy." Who then should be admitted to the feast? Those from the highways. The Gentiles from far and wide should be called to take the place which the Lord's own people refused to enjoy (S. Matt. xxii. 1-10).

Two other Parables of "The Kingdom of Heaven" remain to be considered—"The Wise and Foolish Virgins" and "The Talents"—both of which describe the judgment which the subjects of the Kingdom must be prepared to meet at the last day. The lessons to be learned from them are plain. The foolish virgins, who were shut out at the last because their lamps had gone out, are a warning to all who profess the faith of Christ and have once been earnest in the spiritual service of God. They are represented as being shut out, not for profanity and wickedness; but for spiritual negligence—for not seeking to keep up the supply of grace through prayer and holy ordinances rightly used. Empty lamps were useless. So our Lord warned His future subjects that mere profession of faith and mere outward ordinances, without the Spirit, would be equally useless in preparing them to meet His coming at the Great Day (S. Matt. xxv. 1-13).

As the Parable of "The Ten Virgins" is a warning against spiritual negligence, so the Parable of "The Talents" teaches the danger of neglecting the outward service of the King. The powers and opportunities of usefulness which He has given to His subjects, He will expect them to use. All must work according to their talents, or be condemned as "unprofitable servants and cast into outer darkness" (S. Matt. xxv. 14-30).

This lesson of warning brings to an end the Parables which describe the nature and conditions of "The Kingdom of Heaven" in its present imperfect state. But to these is added a description, in words of striking clearness, of the day when this present Kingdom of grace and trial will be transformed into, and replaced by, the Kingdom of glory and reward; "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him; and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats; and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left." Then will He appear as King indeed, seated on His throne of glory; and consequently He now uses that title plainly of Himself. "Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (S. Matt. xxv. 31-34).

Thus the full meaning of the words "The Kingdom of Heaven" is unfolded in the Gospels. It is a Kingdom upon earth, springing from small beginnings, but intended to include the whole human race within its influence. It is the Kingdom of God, and yet imperfect, through the malice of the Evil One, who is ever striving to spoil God's work. And whilst in the world it is not of the world, but wholly spiritual and divine in its origin. For God is ruling over the hearts of its subjects. And His rule working and spreading secretly, like leaven changing the meal, is intended in His loving purpose to convert the whole world unto obedience to Himself.

Thus we see that "The Kingdom of Heaven" is described as being that state of grace and probation into which Christ's people are called at the time of their baptism, and in which they are blessed, and tried, and made fit for His nearer Presence. But, at the same time, we are led to think that a day will come when this present imperfect condition of His Kingdom will be brought to an end; when those who have been tried and found worthless will be cast out; and "The Kingdom of Heaven" as we know it, having been purged of all evil, will become the Kingdom of His glory and joy.

And when this shall come to pass, all the predictions respecting Messiah's Kingdom will at length be realised. "The everlasting Kingdom" (2 Peter i. 11) ordained "before the foundation of the world" (Ephes. i. 4), will then have embraced all nations, so that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah xi. 9). Then will the reign of righteousness and peace of Him, who is "the Lord our Righteousness" (Jer. xxiii. 6), appear in all its perfect beauty. God's "people will be all righteous;" and "inherit the land for ever" (Isaiah lx. 21), even "the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. i. 12). And Christ, being at length in every sense "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah ix. 6), when no foe will be left to be subdued, and "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain" (Isaiah xi. 9), will then be proclaimed "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Rev. xix. 16).

And then also our daily prayer "Thy Kingdom come" (S. Matt. vi. 10) will have received its perfect fulfilment. For all that is now imperfect in His rule will have been set right; through the conversion of the heathen, the repentance of the ungodly, and the sanctification of all who "neglect" not "so great salvation" (Heb. ii. 3).

The number of the elect will be accomplished. The Son will "have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father;" God will be "all in all" (1 Cor. xv. 24, 28).


[6] To prevent any doubt arising in the mind of the reader, it may be well to state that the expressions "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Kingdom of God" are used indiscriminately and with the same meaning in these Parables. By comparing S. Matt. xiii. 31 with S. Mark iv. 30 and S. Luke xiii. 18 it will be seen that "The Kingdom of Heaven" is "The Kingdom of God," and "The Kingdom of God" is "The Kingdom of Heaven." S. Matthew nearly always uses the expression "Kingdom of Heaven," whilst S. Mark and S. Luke use the expression "Kingdom of God."

[7] Because leaven is commonly referred to in Holy Scripture as a symbol of evil, some have interpreted this Parable in a very different manner. But the meaning assigned to it above is in accordance with ancient interpretation; and the other explanation is involved in difficulties. For, if the leaven represents a corrupting influence, the Parable would describe the Kingdom of Heaven either as having an evil effect upon the world, or else as progressing itself towards corruption till the whole is corrupted.

[8] The Jewish people and their rulers had formed God's Kingdom upon earth in ancient times; and they were still His chosen people, who would naturally continue to form a part of His Kingdom, now that it was to be extended so as to embrace the world. But the privileges which they despised they would lose; and others who valued them would gain them.



"Blest are the pure in heart, For they shall see their God, The secret of the Lord is theirs, Their soul is Christ's abode."

The Subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven"—who are they?

The subjects of a kingdom are, in a general way, those who have been born within its limits, and who submit to its laws and accept its king. But when we enquire into the teaching of our Lord about the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven," we are met at once with the difficulty that, in the days of His earthly ministry, the Kingdom was not yet founded[9]. The King was only preparing the way for His Kingdom to be set up. And there is necessarily a great difference between joining a Kingdom in the act of being founded, and being born under its laws and within its limits.

Consequently with respect to His teaching about the Subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven," two things have to be considered. First, the conditions under which men are permitted to join His Kingdom; and, secondly, the life which His subjects are required to lead.

At the very commencement of His ministry a divine picture was drawn of the character and life of the true subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven." For as He "went about all Galilee preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, there followed Him great multitudes of people. And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (S. Matt. iv. 23-v. 3). Thus He began the Sermon on the Mount by declaring the blessedness of His subjects, though they would be very different from those whom the world commonly counts blessed. And the last Beatitude ended, as the first began, with distinct reference to the Kingdom, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (S. Matt. v. 10); as though to make it clear to His hearers that the blessedness spoken of throughout all the verses was connected with His Kingdom.

He then addressed those who, in their hearts, accepted Him, as "the salt of the earth;" and as "the light of the world" (S. Matt. v. 13, 14). They would not only be blessed in themselves, as His subjects, but they would also be a blessing to others. They were to be the salt which should preserve the world from corruption; and the light which should lead men to "glorify their Father which is in Heaven" (S. Matt. v. 16).

Having thus described, at the beginning of His Sermon, the general character and office of the subjects of His Kingdom, our Blessed Lord went on to answer a question, which would doubtless arise in the minds of His hearers. Would the Kingdom of which He spoke destroy, or be opposed to the Law, under which God's People had lived from ancient times? The answer was most distinct: "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (S. Matt. v. 17-20). So far from coming to destroy the Law, He had come that it might be fulfilled by His subjects, as it had never been fulfilled before. For they would be required to surpass even the Scribes and Pharisees in their observance of it, by keeping it in the spirit, as well as in the letter; otherwise they would prove themselves unfit for His Kingdom. And then followed examples of the observance of some of the laws of old—such as the law of purity, and the law against murder—in this enlarged spiritual sense; ending with the exhortation, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (S. Matt. v. 21-48).

One of the chief ways in which God's People had failed in their service towards Him, was in the spirit in which they had discharged their religious duties. Righteousness had become but another name for formality. Prayers and alms and fasts had been turned into opportunities for showing off before men, and for gaining the reputation of sanctity. Consequently it was necessary that He should lead back His hearers to the real meaning of these duties; and set forth the principle which must guide His subjects in all their religious acts—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—namely, this; the desire to please their "Father which is in Heaven" (S. Matt. vi. 1-18). And that there might be no mistake about the kind of rewards which they might look for, He declared that they must "lay up for themselves treasures in Heaven" (S. Matt. vi. 19-21); that is to say, they must love and long for spiritual rewards, setting their hearts upon higher things than this world can give. And the only way in which they could do this, was by devoting themselves with their whole strength to the service of God. For no half-service of God was possible: "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon" (S. Matt. vi. 24). Then if they lived for God, they might lay aside all over-anxious thoughts about this present life. If they really gave themselves up to be His subjects, they would certainly have all things ordered for them for the best. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (S. Matt. vi. 33).

The Sermon ended with mentioning some of the difficulties which the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven" would have to meet in the practice of godliness. In the first place, in order to become His subjects they would have to enter through a narrow gate, upon a path which few would find. For whilst, on the one hand, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat," on the other hand, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (S. Matt. vii. 13, 14). And when they had entered upon this narrow way, He warned them that they must be on their guard against being misled by foolish professors, because mere profession of obedience would neither prove them to be subjects of His Kingdom, nor win for them admission "in that day" into His glory and joy, "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven" (S. Matt. vii. 21-23). Therefore they must set to work to do the will of God, and so be true subjects of Messiah's Kingdom. And then, as doers of His words, and not hearers only, they would be building like wise men "upon a rock" (S. Matt. vii. 24).

The description thus given by the King Himself of the character and life of His subjects sets vividly before us the difficulties which a Christian must overcome. It may not be always easy to decide whether the expression "Kingdom of Heaven" refers to the Kingdom as it is now on earth, or as it will be hereafter in Heaven; but it is clear that our Blessed Lord would teach in this Sermon both the difficulty of becoming a professing Christian at all, and also the need of earnest strivings after holiness in order that a subject of His Kingdom of Grace should find a welcome when that Kingdom shall have become the Kingdom of Glory. And when we think of the very different standards hitherto aimed at either by Jews or Gentiles, we see at once the reason which prevented so many of His hearers from accepting "The Kingdom of Heaven." For it is clear that a man who had been brought up either as a Jew or as a Gentile would have to lay aside almost all his previous habits and modes of thought—he must become a new man altogether—to enter in.

Who then would enter in? Who would become subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven?

The Lord Jesus declared at once, what modern missionary experience still finds to be the case, that little children were the most likely to become His subjects, and the fittest to enter into "The Kingdom of Heaven." Some mothers once brought their little ones for His blessing; and when the disciples were hindering their coming, "He was much displeased and said unto them, Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of God" (S. Mark x. 14). And not only did He declare that little children were the most suitable to become His subjects; but He said also, that those who were grown up and wished to enter His Kingdom must become like children to do so. For He added, "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (S. Mark x. 15). And on another occasion He expressed His thankfulness that only child-like hearts could take in the mysteries of the Kingdom, saying, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes" (S. Luke x. 21).

When we read in such passages as these of the difficulty of entering into "The Kingdom of Heaven," it becomes very important to remember that the Kingdom was not then set up; and that the words were spoken with respect to men who had grown up under other conditions and modes of thought. For whilst the words still apply literally and exactly to the case of converts from amongst the Heathen, they are not applicable at all, in the same sense, to persons who have long ago entered "The Kingdom of Heaven" as children, and have lived under its influence. Thus, for instance, when we read that "a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (S. Matt. xix. 23), there is no need to suppose that the rich, who have grown up as His subjects, have less hope of Heaven than others. The temptations which come with riches are great, but the grace of God will enable His subjects, whether rich or poor, to serve Him faithfully, if they seek for it. The words clearly referred to the difficulty which the rich Jew or the rich heathen would find in declaring himself a subject of Jesus Christ. It is easier for the poor and the unlearned to become a Christian, than for the rich and the learned. In after years S. Paul found this to be the case at Corinth. "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called" (1 Cor. i. 26). And the same thing is still happening in heathen lands. The chief successes in India have been amongst the low castes of Tinnevelly, the hard-working Kols of Chota Nagpur, the simple Karens of the hills of Burma; and amongst the wealthy merchants and the learned Brahmins converts have been few. Experience confirms the truth of our Lord's teaching. He declared beforehand, that the rich, and the learned, and those who had enjoyed the greatest privileges, would be the most unwilling to be won over to His Kingdom. And the prediction has been fulfilled.

It might have been supposed that, when at last Messiah's Kingdom was set up, all who had enjoyed the privilege of knowing the true God, and had been taught to expect a Deliverer, as their King, would have eagerly sought admission into His Kingdom. But to one who made the remark, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God," He spoke the Parable of "The Great Supper," teaching that many, who have the opportunity and the invitation will refuse to enter in, and make all kinds of excuses; and that others will have their places (S. Luke xiv. 15-24). And on another occasion He warned the Jews, that many would come from all quarters of the world, "and sit down in the Kingdom of God" (S. Luke xiii. 28, 29), whilst they themselves were thrust out. And we know how literally the warning has come true. And lest any one should be deceived into thinking that it was an easy thing to become His subject, He referred again and again to the difficulties which men must be prepared to meet and overcome in entering "The Kingdom of Heaven." To those who said that they would follow Him, He explained that entire devotion of self to God would be required of His subjects. A man must count the cost beforehand. "The dead" must be left to "bury their dead," whilst the man fulfils the commission which God entrusts to him, to "preach the Kingdom of God;" and "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God" (S. Luke ix. 57-62). But, on the other hand, for those who gave up freely all that they loved, "for the Kingdom of God's sake," the reward should be "manifold more" even "in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." (S. Luke xviii. 29, 30). And He encouraged the few, who in their hearts accepted Him as their King, in such words as these, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out" (S. John vi. 37); "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (S. Luke xii. 32).

The thought that the difficulties thus described referred in the first instance to those who were outside of "The Kingdom of Heaven," may well fill us with thankfulness that we have been brought into the Kingdom through the piety of our parents, without even an effort on our parts. We have been so far helped already, that we have been placed upon the narrow way that leadeth unto life; and though temptations of many kinds assail to entice us from the road, and though the difficulties of the way are great, we have the hope to encourage us, that, if we are in earnest, the grace of God the Holy Ghost will preserve us, that we may be welcomed at last as faithful subjects, and admitted into the Kingdom of Glory.

But at the same time we must remember that, in another sense, the words about the difficulty of entering "The Kingdom of Heaven" still apply to ourselves. For we have been admitted as subjects of the Kingdom, only that we may loyally serve our King; and we have been placed upon the narrow way, only that we may struggle up the steep ascent to Heaven. "The Kingdom of Heaven" is as yet in an imperfect condition here on earth. Here we are in a state of trial and probation, as well as of grace and blessing. And a day will come when the Kingdom of Grace will become the Kingdom of Glory. Then, they who have served their King, and proved themselves in the time of their trial to be His faithful soldiers and servants, will be welcomed into the joy of their Lord. But they who have professed to be His subjects, and have been satisfied with a mere profession, will cry, "Lord, Lord" (S. Matt. vii. 22-23), in vain.

Therefore, our King still cries to us, as to His hearers before the Kingdom was set up, "Strive to enter in" (S. Luke xiii. 24). He still bids us build "upon the Rock," by being "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (S. James i. 22). And He still warns us of the dangers of riches; "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim. vi. 10). For we have still to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (S. Matt. v. 13, 14). And the standard which He has set us is still, and ever will be, far above us; "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (S. Matt. v. 48).

The teaching of our Lord about His subjects is thus seen to correspond with what His Apostles, in time to come, taught their converts when they addressed them, as "called to be saints" (Rom. i. 7, Ephes. i. 1, etc.). We know that the world would like to find some easier course than this. But it is impossible; because the subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven" are called that they may be ready for the life in Heaven. And "without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. xii. 14).

In subsequent chapters we shall consider the means provided by the King to enable His subjects to become such as He described them. For the present, let the thought of our holy calling increase our sense of the infinite love and mercy of our King.

Let us think of His own description of His work. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (S. Luke xix. 10). When we were wandering in the ways of sin, ignorant of God our Father, and unfit to be admitted into our home or to enjoy it if admission were possible, He came to seek us out and bring us into His Kingdom. And now that He has "overcome the sharpness of death and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers," our efforts after holiness are so imperfect, and our weakness and love of wandering are so great, that we should be in despair, if our King had not taught us His unceasing care. But this He has set forth in a well-known series of Parables; first, under the figure of a shepherd finding a stray sheep and calling friends and neighbours to rejoice over its recovery; then under the figure of a woman finding the lost coin; and, lastly, under the figure of a father welcoming home his prodigal son (S. Luke xv).

Therefore, our position is this. As subjects of "The Kingdom of Heaven," we are called, according to our Lord's own teaching, to a high and holy life; and the more we realise this truth the greater do our imperfections appear, and the clearer becomes our sense of the need of mercy, as well as help. But the King, who thus described His subjects, has also described His enduring love; and His invitation, still and for ever, applies to all who feel their unworthiness: "Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (S. Matt. xi. 28).


[9] See S. Matt. xvi. 18. Pearson on the Creed, p. 336.



"Now is there solemn pause in earth and heaven; The Conqueror now His bonds hath riven, And Angels wonder why He stays below; Yet hath not man his lesson learned, How endless love should be returned."

Hitherto our thoughts about "The Kingdom of Heaven" have been founded on the teaching of the King respecting His Kingdom recorded in the Gospels. But we must not forget to give attention to the very important time in the life of our Lord extending between His Resurrection and Ascension, during which He appeared to His Apostles upon terms very different from those on which He had previously associated with them[10]. And though few records have been preserved of His instructions to them during this period, we find this general description, which very clearly shows the nature of those instructions. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, S. Luke records that the time was spent in "speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Acts i. 3). Consequently, though we have not His discourses in full, we know that the subject of them was still the same as in the time past—the good news of "The Kingdom of Heaven."

During the years of His public ministry the Apostles frequently asked their Lord to explain what they did not understand in His teaching. And we may feel sure that, at this time, many things must have appeared to them in a new light, and many sayings must have gained a force and meaning which they had failed to perceive before. And if "The Kingdom of Heaven," about which He had said so much, was to be a real Kingdom, it is clear that there must have been many things on which they would require instruction, about the order and government of it, and about the practical carrying out of His loving designs for the salvation of the world. And inasmuch as we find that, almost immediately after their Lord's Ascension, the Apostles were fully prepared not merely to preach, as He had done, the good news of the Kingdom, but to call men into it as a Kingdom already established upon earth, we conclude that all these matters must have been fully explained to them during these days, and that these were "the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" of which He spake.

Passing by, for the present, other questions of difficulty which would very probably arise in their minds, there are two passages in our Lord's discourses recorded in the Gospels which we can hardly doubt were discussed at this time; because some of His words have been preserved to us which connect those passages with what afterwards became the practice of the Church.

The first question of difficulty which would naturally arise out of one of His former sayings, and to which He provided the answer, was this—What was to be the form of admission into "The Kingdom of Heaven"? He had said to Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God" (S. John iii. 5). But what did the words mean? What steps were to be taken by one who wished to enter the Kingdom? With what use of water would the Holy Spirit's power be connected? Here was a practical question requiring a decided answer. And we conclude that this was one of "the things pertaining to the Kingdom" which were spoken of during this time, because we find a brief record of distinct instructions given by our Lord to His Apostles how they were to admit men as His disciples or subjects. No discourse is recorded, but this clear commission is handed down by S. Matthew—evidently given in such a way that the Apostles could not fail to understand its meaning—"Go ye and make disciples[11] of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (S. Matt. xxviii. 19). And consequently Holy Baptism became at once, and has been ever since, the form of admission into "The Kingdom of Heaven" (Acts ii. 38-41). And being an outward form, and yet a spiritual act, we have herein both "the water and the Spirit." It is an outward form in which there is a ceremonial use of water; and yet it is a spiritual act, because united with the most solemn naming of the Name of God, as He has in these last days revealed Himself to man; "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" and S. Paul does not hesitate to say, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body" (1 Cor. xii. 13).

The other question arising out of some words of our Lord, which we conclude was discussed and answered by Him during this time, was the difficult one about the meaning of "the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." He had once said, after S. Peter had confessed Him as the Christ, "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven[12]" (S. Matt. xvi. 19). And the same words about binding and loosing were repeated shortly afterwards to all the Apostles (S. Matt. xviii. 18). We can hardly doubt but that the question must have arisen in their minds what the keys of the Kingdom could be whereby the power of binding and loosing was given them. And although no discourse is recorded, it seems that this was another of "the things pertaining to the Kingdom" of which He spoke. For S. John, in the brief record which he has given of His first appearance to the Apostles after His Resurrection, has thus described what occurred:—Suddenly the Lord was in their midst, and said, "Peace be unto you. And He showed unto them His Hands and His Side" in proof that it was He Himself. And He said again "Peace be unto you. As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." And "He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (S. John xx. 19-23). And ever since there has been this practical interpretation of the meaning of "the keys." Christ's ministers have confidently acted, as having been entrusted by their Lord with His authority to admit men into "The Kingdom of Heaven" by Holy Baptism, or to defer the act of admission until after longer probation; to exercise the judicial power of excommunication, or expulsion from the Kingdom, for notorious sin and unbelief, as in the case of the incestuous Corinthian (1 Cor. v. 3-7), or to re-admit after repentance, as S. Paul decided to do in the same case (2 Cor. ii. 6-10); and to assure all men that in the holy Ordinances of the Church of Christ free and full remission of sins may be certainly gained.

We can readily imagine that many other matters were discussed amongst "the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

If disciples were to be made in all parts of the world, and were then to be taught "to observe all things commanded" (S. Matt. xxviii. 20) by the King, the question must have arisen, Who were to be appointed to teach them? And thus the whole subject of the government of "The Kingdom of Heaven," and the Orders and duties of the King's Ministers, would be opened.

Again, the words of institution of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, "This is My Blood of the new testament[13], which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (S. Matt. xxvi. 28), pointed both to the ending of the old covenant, or testament, which was sealed in the blood of beasts (Exod. xxiv. 5-8), and to the passing away of the Jewish ritual and modes of worship. And the question would arise, What forms of worship were to be observed by His subjects in place of those ordained by the Law of Moses? Sacrifices could no longer have their former meaning, when the Lamb of God, to which they pointed the worshipper, had been offered upon the Cross. Was "the breaking of bread" to take the place of all the old sacrificial services?

And with the subject of worship, the observance of the Sabbath would need to be considered. Was the Jewish Sabbath still binding on men's consciences? Was the Seventh Day to be observed in accordance with the Law of Moses, or was the First Day of the week to take its place, now sacred to the subjects of the Lord Jesus as that on which He rose, and to the keeping of which He had seemed to give His sanction, by appearing once and again on that day to the disciples as they were assembled together? (S. John xx. 19, 26.)

On all these points[14] we find, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, that the Apostles took at once a definite line of action. They knew what to do, and how to direct their converts. And though we have no record of the words of our Lord, we are confident that the Apostles were thus carrying out His own teaching[15], under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, on all such matters "pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

Amongst the few words recorded as having been spoken at this time to the Apostles, is this clear promise, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts i. 8). And in the power of the Holy Ghost we find that they went forth to publish the glad tidings of "The Kingdom of Heaven." And, beginning from Jerusalem, they extended their work gradually to Samaria, and Syria, and to all countries, carrying out their Lord's commission, and preaching the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, as freely offered to all who would accept Him as their King, and enter through the strait gate of the New Birth into His Kingdom.


[10] For fuller information about this period, see Bishop Moberly's "Discourses on the Great Forty Days."

[11] See the note in the margin of a Reference Bible.

[12] It is well known that the Romanists have sometimes founded their argument, in support of the claims of the Papacy, very mainly upon this verse; starting with the assumption, of which there is no proof, that the Pope is the successor of S. Peter, and asserting that a power was hereby given to S. Peter which the other Apostles did not possess. The weakness of the argument becomes clear when it is known that the same words were repeated again to all the Apostles; and that the above explanation, and practical enforcement of them, were equally spoken to them all.

[13] Testament and Covenant are translations of one and the same word. The Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments, because the Old Testament contains the record of God's dealings with men under the Old Covenant; and the New Testament declares the New Covenant made with all the world through Jesus Christ.

[14] A question may arise in the minds of some, whether it is a historical fact that the early Christians were in no doubt about the substitution of the First for the Seventh day? The answer is that, from the first, there was no doubt about the observance of the First Day; but that amongst the Jewish converts the observance of the Sabbath was permitted for some time, in addition to the Christian festival, and was only gradually discontinued. See Rom. xiv. 5; Gal. iv. 10; Col. ii. 16; and compare Acts xx. 7; 1 Cor. xvi. 2; Rev. i. 10.

[15] This view is strengthened by the account given by S. Paul of the direct revelation granted to him respecting the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Not having been amongst the number of His Apostles in the days when He was on earth, S. Paul had received no instructions from His own mouth. But the defect was supplied by direct revelation. He says, "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread," &c. (1 Cor. xi. 23).



"Crown Him with many crowns, The King upon His Throne."

When the time came for our Blessed Lord to return into Heaven again, He ascended in the presence of His Apostles, whilst in the act of blessing them; "and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts i. 9). And, we are told, they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (S. Luke xxiv. 52), not sorrowing as before at His being taken from them. And when we consider what His Ascension implied, we can see that they had good reason for their joy. For the Ascension was the sign of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus to His Mediatorial[16] Throne at God's right hand.

When He was before the Jewish Council He had declared to them, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." And the High Priest, hearing these words, cried out, "He hath spoken blasphemy" (S. Matt. xxvi. 64, 65); because he understood that He was thus openly claiming to be Messiah—the King—of whom David had said, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" (Ps. cx. 1). And inasmuch as He had previously silenced the Pharisees with these same words, asking them to explain how David could speak of Messiah as "my Lord" (S. Matt. xxii. 44; S. Mark xii. 36; S. Luke xx. 42), when He was to be the Son of David, we can see that the importance of this passage is very great. And that for two reasons. First, as testifying that Christ should be no mere human descendant of David, because David calls Him Lord; and, secondly, as foretelling the Ascension of Christ to the Throne at God's right hand. And not only do all the three first Gospels record the use which He made of this verse to silence the Jews; but we find also that S. Peter on the day of Pentecost, and also S. Paul in his Epistles to the Corinthians and to the Hebrews (Acts ii. 34; 1 Cor. xv. 25; Heb. i. 13, x. 13), quoted it in support of their arguments that our Lord was exalted to His Throne. The Apostles argued in this way; David had thus clearly foretold the Ascension of Christ, and that His Ascension would be to the Throne of power, at the right hand of God. Therefore, inasmuch as He had ascended into Heaven, His Ascension was clearly the fulfilment of the prophecy, in order that He might make His solemn entry upon His kingly office, and be seated on His Throne. The Ascension was the last crowning proof that Jesus was Messiah—the King of the house of David—the "Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek" (Ps. cx. 4), that is, "King of Righteousness" and "King of Peace" (Heb. vii. 2).

In other words, the Apostles maintained that the Ascension of our Lord was the act whereby He ascended the Throne of "The Kingdom of Heaven," the Mediatorial Kingdom of Messiah. And this is the testimony which they have given under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. God "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" (Ephes. i. 20-22). And we are assured that the Ascension of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, implied that He has won the right of sovereignty over all the world; and that all mankind are summoned to bow before Him, and accept Him as their King. For, because "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross," therefore "God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. ii. 8-11).

But for the successful setting up of "The Kingdom of Heaven" two things were still needed. First, the overthrow of the enemies of Messiah's Kingdom; and secondly, the gift of the Holy Ghost, to induce men to be willing to submit themselves to the spiritual rule of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently when the King had ascended the Throne, and all mankind had been given Him as His subjects, He was "from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool" (Ps. cx. 1; Heb. x. 13). All who are set against "The Kingdom of Heaven" must in the end be subdued before Him. And no doubt the wicked amongst men who oppose His rule will, if they turn not, be included amongst these enemies. And yet we must never forget that these belong really to the number of those who were given to Him as His subjects. This is one of the mysteries of the Gospel, that "whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. v. 8), and "when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Rom. v. 10); so that we are assured that the King in His loving mercy would have the wicked not "under His footstool," but amongst the sharers of His glory. But there are other enemies which will certainly be subdued in God's own time; and they are the spiritual powers of evil which are hindering men from being His subjects. He will "put down all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor. xv. 24) arrayed against Him; even "the principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this world" (Ephes. vi. 12), by which His subjects are assailed. "For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor. xv. 25).

But the destruction of His foes is not the only, nor the chief result of His Ascension. When the King ascended the Throne of "The Kingdom of Heaven," "He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. iv. 8), even the gifts by which men might be brought to submit themselves to His spiritual rule, and be saved by Him. And inasmuch as only the Holy Ghost can change the heart, and make men such as He had described His subjects to be, He had previously explained to His Apostles that there was one gift on which all future success depended, the gift of "the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost" (S. John xiv. 26). And He had assured them, "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you" (S. John xvi. 7).

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse