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GOD’S KINGDOM INVISIBLE.
“And when He was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
THE state of the Jews at that time affords to the Church of Christ an awful example of inward blindness in the full light of God’s revelation. They were looking out for the coming of Christ’s kingdom; but they knew not for what they were watching. God had told them that Messiah should come; but they had formed for themselves a low and earthly idea of His character and His kingdom. They verily thought that He would make His entry among them with the sound of the trumpet and the banners of the tribe of Judah; with the pomp of kingly splendour, and a royal train of chariots and horses, as their kings of old came “riding through the gates of Jerusalem.” Doubtless they thought that all men would know by the tokens and the heralds, and by the very majesty of its coming, when the kingdom of God should appear. So they dreamed and wandered in the blindness of their hearts. An obstinate prepossession had filled them with the thoughts and images of earth, and all the prophets of God could not purge this film from their inward sight. They looked out every way for the signs of His coming; but the signs they looked for came not; or came and spake other things, and mocked their expectation, and darkened their foolish hearts the more, and lulled them into security, at the time when of a truth the kingdom of God was come upon them. Before so much as a stray thought of foreboding arose in their hearts, whilst their eyes were all turned another way, it came upon them like a thief; suddenly and in silence it came, no man seeing it; without visible token; without the warning of a prophet; without the sound of a footfall: it was among them, and they knew it not; it was within them, and they knew not that it was of God. The kingdom came in the coming of the King Himself, as the day comes in the sun’s rising. While men slept, Christ was born: a poor child and unheeded of men, none knew of His coming but His lowly mother and Joseph, and a few shepherds: to the rest He was as any other child; as one of the many who are born in sorrow, and die in silence. The ten thousands of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees, the elders and the chief priests, even the very courses that ministered day and night in God’s temple, were taken in the snare. God’s kingdom was above, and around, and within them; it embraced, and pervaded, and searched them through and through; and they knew it not.
And as was its coming, so was its course. He grew up at Nazareth, a child among children, obedient to His parents: though His mother pondered many things of Him in her heart, other men saw in Him no more than the aspect and the actings of a child. Many an eye beheld Him then which shall behold Him no more. Many gazed on Him, as we gaze on a thoughtful child, and saw no gleaming rays of the mystery which lay hid within. So, too, He began His Father’s work, going about on foot, unknown and outcast, with a few who followed Him. He wrought miracles; but the prophets had wrought them too, and yet the kingdom of God came not with them. So He died; not as a king, but as a malefactor, and as a common malefactor—one of the many who, from time to time, were seen hanging on the cross. So He rose again at daybreak, when few were by. By their own falsehood they broke, so far as they were concerned, the force of this mighty sign, saying, “His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept.” He passed, for forty days, to and fro in Jerusalem and in Galilee, on the mountain and by the sea; seen of His own, but not of all the people. And at the last, when He had led them out unto Bethany, away from the haunts of men, “He was taken up from them into heaven, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Such was the coming of that kingdom, for which not Israel alone was waiting, but the whole creation travailed together with tumultuous groaning; and by this manner of its coming God put them on their trial, whether they had eyes to see the shadow of His hand, and ears to hear His voice.
So, in like manner, the kingdom of God came upon the world at large. While all mankind was full of its own gross imaginations, bowing down to the power of evil, and shaping from the creatures of God’s hand blind mockeries of Himself; while men sealed their own moral debasement, by making the natures they adored a transcript of their own; there was a preparation going on, there was that unheeded fellowship, in an upper chamber, brooding over great and unimaginable things. They were men of whom the world knew nothing, but they had seen mysteries; they were not read in learned schools, but they had mused on the sea of Galilee; they had seen the feet of God upon its heaving flood, and heard His word rebuke the rudeness of the storm. To them the unseen world stood out in visible reality; heaven had revealed its wisdom; hell had given up its secret; death had betrayed his own overthrow; and the grave spread open as a homeward path, kindling in the light of life. All this they knew; for they had seen God, and He had shewed them these things. He had filled them with the might of heaven, against which no power of earth could strive. They had in them the omnipotence of truth—of God made flesh, crucified for the life of the world.
And thus they went forth, twelve unnoticeable men; but they had in them a secret which was mighty to move the world. They went, scattered abroad into all lands, two by two, speaking grave words, of things past and things to come, pouring a little water on willing listeners, and giving to them bread and wine, with prayer and benediction. Such was God’s kingdom. Wheresoever they went, it went likewise—strange and silent. Every where they had the mastery; and yet there was no “cry, as of them that strive.” Every where they were more than conquerors; yet the kings and kingdoms of the earth did not fall before them. All these stood visibly as before, but the unclean spirit was cast out of them. They were clothed with a mightier dignity, quickened with new life from an unseen spring, and governed by an energy which is of God. While kings warred, and sophists wrangled, and the goings-on of life tided onward as before, the kingdom of God came and stood in the midst, even as He came that night, when the doors were shut, silent and sudden, breathing peace. Its coming was not noised in the market-place; it was not announced in the palace of the Caesars. As at the first, so always, it came without observation; a kingdom invisible, internal, dwelling in men’s hearts, knitting them in holy brotherhood, blending them in one with the power and stillness of light. Even so hath been, and still is, the kingdom of God among us—from that day, and in all the world—in this land, and at this hour. There are about us the visible structures which enshrine its presence, the outward tokens of God’s service, and the loud schemings of men who, under the name of the Church, would serve themselves of the Church as a contrivance for civilising mankind; but they are not God’s kingdom. There is, under the badge of religion, a strife and struggle for mastery among men that bear the sacred name which the saints first bore at Antioch; but God’s kingdom is not in their heady tumult: there are the visible hurryings to and fro of a worldly Jehu-like zeal for the Lord; and there are the plottings of earthly Christians—for men may plot for Christ’s Church, as well as against it. The same earthly and faithless temper of mind which sometimes resists God’s will may also insinuate itself into His service. Men may think, and do think, to spread His kingdom by the stir and noise of popular excitement; but God’s kingdom, like God Himself, when He communed with His prophet on the mountain-height, is not in the boisterous and fleeting forms of earthly power. As its coming and its course, so is its character. It is not in any of these: but verily it is in the midst of us; in the still small voice of the holy Catholic faith; in the voiceless teaching of Christ’s holy sacraments, through which mysteries of the world unseen look in upon us; in the faithful witness of the Apostles of Christ, who, through their ghostly lineage, live among us still. The same men, who from the upper-chamber went forth to win the world, are here: their gaze is upon us, and their voices speak to us. Prophets, Apostles, martyrs, and the King of martyrs, are with us to this day. Since the veil of the temple was rent in twain, heaven and earth are laid in one: all that heaven holds in glory is with us; all that earth ever held of God is on our side; all saints perfected, all holy teachers, all servants of our God; all the spirit and the sympathy of the whole mystical body of our Lord; all the Church invisible, the unseen presence of the Word made flesh, the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, the power of the ever-blessed Trinity,—all are in the midst of us, and about us, and all these are God’s kingdom, of which we are heirs and servants.
Such is its true character, ghostly and inward. It has its seat in the hearts of men, in their moral habits, in their thoughts, actings, and affections, in the form and the bias of their moral being; the visible forms we see are but the shadow of the reality; God’s kingdom is the obedience of the unseen spirit of man to the unseen Lord of all. We see, then, what it is, and we see how we may fall into a fault like that of the Jews, by transmuting the true idea of its spiritual character into the base alloy of earthly notions.
If, therefore, we look for Christ’s kingdom among the popular theories of political and religious speculators, we shall look for the living among the dead. We have great need to guard against this danger; for the popular opinion of this day, whether in politics or religion, leads to an earthly conception of the Church, as of a thing subject to the senses and understanding of man. There is a sort of under-current perpetually drawing men away towards these errors. They either think that God’s kingdom is, if not in itself secular, yet to be promoted chiefly by secular measures. This is a common form of religious Erastianism, of which we see many examples. Even good people have it: and worse people use it as a bait to draw better men into ensnaring toils, promising political advantage, increased efficiency, immediate results, apparent popularity, general co-operation—silver sounds, the bartering price, to bribe them from their stedfast hold of the broad rule of God’s mysterious kingdom.
A second danger to which men are now tending is, to think that God’s kingdom is to be spread by visible excitement of people’s minds. The whole scheme of modern religion is visible motion; all its machinery is on the surface, all its momentum is from without. The springs of all power, if secret, are mistrusted; they must be laid bare for the childish curiosity of minds that cannot believe any thing to be going on unless they see its working, and understand how its results are brought about. This runs through almost all the movements by which men fancy the Gospel is to be propagated at home or abroad, and through all the means taken to impress it on individual minds. We are fallen upon a mechanical age, and men are blindly putting mechanical and material inventions in the place of moral power. This runs through both our popular religion and our popular education; e.g. the attempt to do by stimulating books what can only be done by the moral action of the Church of Christ, and the endeavour to effect upon masses of moral beings by outward systems the work which can alone be done by the inward power of regeneration and the presence of the Holy Ghost. Much that is called efficient management of schools, and the like, may be little better than this. There has been, from the beginning of the Gospel, an inwardness, and an invisibleness, about all great movements of Christ’s Church, which ought to abash the hasty, talkative zeal of men into a reverent silence.
Knowing, then, the character of God’s kingdom, we shall know both how to keep ourselves from these delusive schemes, and how to spread it on the earth.
We shall know, first, that the way to spread it is, to have it ruling in ourselves, to have our own spirits brought into harmony with its secret workings. It is by the still strength of a holy character that we must leave the stamp of God upon the world. As they in the beginning went out from Judea into all the earth, trusting in God, counting themselves nothing, and their mission every thing; measuring themselves, and all the actions and energies of body and mind, by the faith which Christ had charged them to deliver, and counting only those labours to be God’s service which fell within the limits of the truth, and all toil but unprofitable waste of life—nay, even as a very scattering of the Lord’s harvest—which swerved from this rule of His ordaining; so we, believing and living in the faith of our baptism, and bending all our thoughts to be what He would have us, shall best spread His kingdom in an evil and revolting world, when we carry most of its heavenly character impressed upon ourselves.
And by knowing the character of His kingdom, we shall know, too, how to make that character our own; that is, chiefly, by a life of inward holiness. We know that it is an unseen kingdom; that, although Christ’s Church is visible, as God was visible in Christ, yet it is also an unseen, because an inward, power, even as life is unseen which is in man. The visible Church is the symbol of Christ’s presence, as the water of baptism is the symbol of a new birth, and the holy bread and wine the symbol of Christ’s body and blood. We partake of baptism, that we may partake of the Church; our new birth is an engrafting into salvation, through the blood-shedding of Christ. As we may partake of the water of baptism, or the bread and wine of the holy eucharist, and yet have no part in the saving grace they bear to man, so may we partake of the holy Catholic Church, which to the eyes of faith is visible in all lands under heaven, and yet have no fellowship with the saints of Christ, seen or unseen—with that mystical body of Christ, which is the company of all faithful people-with the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. We must seek to have the inward life of the Church in ourselves: it is not by loud profession of the faith, nor by headlong zeal for truth, nor by eager controversies against error, nor by excited devotions; but by a silent and even life of faith and purity, by a patient following of Christ’s holy footsteps, by a mastery of temper, by mortifying self, by a steady gaze on His mysterious passion, by being, and praying Him to make us, like Himself, that we shall bear within us the kingdom and the presence of God.
And to sustain this character within us at all times, we must remember that God’s kingdom is at all times present with us.
It is upon us, and we cannot flee from it: whether we will or no, it encompasses us about; whether we remember it or no, it is ever proving us. We may be forgetful of its nearness, but it will not depart from us. We may fall into a like fault with the Jews of old, and look out for Christ’s coming when He is already with us;—even as some look about for their regeneration, being regenerate already, because they have not faith enough to believe the mystery of holy baptism. So, again, men are ever beguiling themselves with the dream that they shall one day be what they are not now: they balance their present consciousness of a low worldly life, and of a mind heavy and dull to spiritual things, with the lazy thought that some day God will bring home to them in power the realities of faith in Christ. So men dream away their lives in pleasures, sloth, trade, or study. Who is there that has not at some time secretly indulged this soothing flattery, that the staid gravity of age, when youth is quelled, or the leisure of retirement, when the fret of busy life is over, or, it may be, the in evitable pains and griefs which are man’s inheritance, shall one day break up in his heart the now-sealed fountains of repentance, and make, at last, his religion a reality? Who has not allayed the uneasy consciousness of a meagre religion with the hope of a future change? Who has not thus been mocked by the enemy of man? Who has not listened, all too readily, to him who would cheat us of the hour that is, and of all the spiritual earnings which faith makes day by day in God’s service, stealing from us the present hour, and leaving us a lie in exchange? And yet, this present hour is all we have. To-morrow must be to-day before we can use it: and day after day we squander in the hope of a to-morrow; but to-morrow shall be stolen away too, as to-day and yesterday. It is now we must be penitent, now we must be holy; this hour has its duty, which cannot be done the next. There is no new coming of God with observation, to make the Gospel mightier over our stubborn hearts, or to bid His sacraments renew the unwilling and indolent soul. The grace of the holy eucharist that was given this morning, if lost, is lost for ever. To-morrow may bring its own opportunities, but will not restore to-day’s. The convictions of this hour, if unheeded, will never come back. God may send others, but these will be gone for ever. Even now, while I am speaking, the kingdom of God is within your inmost being: it is in every righteous man that serves God in purity of heart; in every penitent man who sorrows for the wreck to which by sin he has brought himself; in every repenting man who, though still wavering in the poise, yet inclines towards God; in every worldly man who feels within the visitings and promptings of a will and a power above his daily life; in every man who still trembles in himself at the thought of God: so nigh. God’s kingdom was very nigh to him who trembled at the judgment to come. Felix trembled once; we nowhere read that he trembled again. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me.”
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