By Harris Franklin Rall
The conception of the Kingdom with which we have started seems at first sight very simple. It is the rule of God, and it is to come upon the earth as a gift of God. If this be true, then there would seem to be nothing for us except quietly to wait for the time of its appearing. But as we study the words of Jesus, there are other and larger meanings that appear.
Gifts And Tasks
Two Kinds of Gifts.—We have studied the kingdom as God's gift; man's work is not to make the Kingdom, man's desert is not to bring it. But there are two kinds of gifts and two ways of giving. There are outward gifts which depend simply upon the will of the giver. A wealthy father can give his boy money and all that money will command. He can buy him books, or send him to college, or let him travel. In all this the boy need have no part; it is simply a matter of the father. There are other gifts which cannot be made in that way, and the highest gifts depend quite as much upon him who receives as upon him who gives. No one can give that boy the seeing eye when he journeys, by which alone he will profit. The father can pay his expenses, but whether he gives the boy an education or not depends upon the boy. When it comes to the highest gifts the principle is even more clear. The father's highest gift to his boy is a right spirit and character, but only the boy himself can make such a gift possible.
Inner Gifts.—The question, then, is this: Is the Kingdom in Jesus' mind an outer gift or an inner one? There is no doubt that the Kingdom was primarily external in the minds of the Jews. They thought of the triumph of Israel over her foes, of a day of power and rule and glory. It was not so with Jesus. We have seen what were the gifts of the Kingdom with him. He thought of sins forgiven, of men living in fellowship with God, of the overcoming of evil, of a new and glorious life which he called the life eternal. It was the life of God in the world and in men that he saw. Such gifts depend not merely upon the giver, but upon him that receives. Every such gift is at the same time a demand and a task. The good news of God's gift is at every step a summons to men, a call to give, to do, to strive, to live.
The Cost of Forgiveness.—We may see this principle quite clearly by considering forgiveness as the first gift of the Kingdom. That would seem to be the freest gift that could be bestowed. Does it not depend absolutely and solely upon the giver? Not so with Jesus. Forgiveness is a matter of the mutual relation between God and man. It is a uniting of that which has been broken by sin. It is not canceling a punishment, but forming a fellowship. And that costs. It means repentance; not a momentary remorse, but a hating of sin and a turning to righteousness, the about-face of a man's heart (Matthew 18. 3, 4). God can give himself only as man gives himself. To call men to such repentance, therefore, Jesus conceived to be a chief task (Luke 11. 29-32), and the demand for repentance he held up constantly as the condition of forgiveness and life (Matthew 11. 20-24; Luke 15. 1, 10, 21).
God's Rule As Our Task
The Outward and the Inner Rule.—That the Kingdom is a task we shall see most clearly when we go back to our definition of the Kingdom as the rule of God. There are two ways in which God rules in his world. In one case the rule is external and absolute; the obedience is equally absolute. That is in the world of things; the stars that move unerring in their courses can never go astray. The other realm is that of persons; here God's rule must be within. In this world of persons God rules only as men know his will, and love his will, and freely carry it out in their life. The Jews laid stress upon righteousness as the condition of the coming of the Kingdom, but the Kingdom itself lay elsewhere. With Jesus the doing of the will of God is the very essence of the Kingdom. When he says, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done," he means the same thing; and so also when he bids men seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness. The whole Sermon on the Mount is a witness to this; it is Jesus' call to a higher righteousness of life, and that righteousness is simply the rule of the Spirit of God. Without such righteousness men cannot even see the kingdom of God (Matthew 5. 20). The simple test is whether a man is actually doing the will of God, whether his life is actually showing the fruits of righteousness (Matthew 7. 15-23).
Who Are My Brothers?—Most effectively and simply is the truth brought out in Matthew 12. 46-50. Here Jesus leaves the word "kingdom" and goes back to that picture of the family which most truly represents his thought of God and man and their relation to each other. Some one had reported that his mother and brothers were without and were asking for him. "And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother." Being in the Kingdom means doing the will of God; that is the final test.
Eternal Life As A Task
What Is Eternal Life?—We have seen that Jesus used still another figure to set forth the Kingdom as a gift; he speaks of it as eternal life. Now, eternal life, it is needless to say, does not mean simply unending life. It is quality, not duration, that counts here. Sometimes, indeed, Jesus simply says life. This life, of which men have the beginnings here, is nothing other than fellowship with God, the life in which God gives himself to men. What is the life of God in us? Something given to us? Yes, but always something lived by us at the same time. No man really has God's love who is not loving his neighbor. No man has God's forgiving grace who is not himself gracious and forgiving. God's great gift of holiness is not a "thing" that is given to us, or something that is done to us, it is something that we have only as we live it. From the very first step this kingship of God is something to be lived out.
The Cost of Friendship.—We see that plainly again, when we think of this Kingdom, or life, as a fellowship, or friendship. A friend means much more than a patron. A patron makes gifts, a friend bestows himself. It may not cost anything to take gifts from a patron; to enter into a friendship always costs something, and may demand everything. Friendship is always mutual; the best and strongest and richest friend always asks something in return even of the man who seems to have little to give. Friendship means fellowship, communion, having something in common. No friendship is so gracious or gives so much as the friendship of God; but it asks also. Every friend must have a place in our life, and this Friend must have the supreme place. He must come in where we keep our ideals, our deepest hopes, our strongest passions, our final purposes. His friendship will shape and form all these. We see at once that the friendship, so gracious a gift, becomes a great task. Nothing so demands a man's whole thought and will and strength as this free gift of the friendship of God.
The Summons Of Jesus
What He Asks of Men.—All these considerations make clear to us the ethical note in the teaching of Jesus, and how it differed from the teaching of the Jews. Like them, he believed that the coming Kingdom was to be the gift of God; unlike them, he saw that it was also a task for men. He applies this to the individual. Men are not to sit with folded hands, waiting for the Kingdom. It demands eager desire, the hunger and thirst for righteousness, a determination like that of men who take a city by storm (Matthew 5. 6; 11. 12). Men must strive to enter in, must enter in by a narrow gate (Luke 13. 24; Matthew 7. 13, 14). The Kingdom must stand first in men's desires, it must be the only master of our life, and not the most precious of our possessions may stand in the way, not the right hand or the right eye (Matthew 6. 33, 34; 5. 29, 30). Clear and strong he makes the final test. The men of the Kingdom whom the king shall own are those who do the deeds of the Kingdom: thorns cannot bring forth grapes, good trees must show good fruits, the men of the Kingdom will not be those who said, "Lord, Lord," but those who did the will of the Father (Matthew 7. 15-23).
The Responsibility of the Nation.—The parable of the vineyard and the wicked husbandmen enforces the same truth, but applies it to the Jewish nation as a whole. In some ways this parable does not seem to fit in with the rest of the teaching about the Kingdom. Instead of being a gift such as we have considered the Kingdom is rather a rule or authority that has been handed over to Israel. But the contradiction disappears as we look more closely. It is not an outward rule of which Jesus is thinking, but rather that gift of God's truth, that revelation of his will and purpose, with which God had intrusted Israel. He had given it for the good of others, and the gift was to be a task. They had taken it as a private possession and privilege. And so the Kingdom of God was to be taken from them and given to others.
The Kingdom and the Nation.—That same question and that same task face us as a nation. There is a sense, with us as with the Jews, in which we have already been given the kingdom of God. God has given us his truth, has revealed his will. His rule is present where there is true democracy in government, where there is righteousness in business, where there is good will among men. But the task looms big before us of letting his rule come into all our life and affairs as a people. If we fail here, if his will is not done in our life, if his Kingdom is not furthered among the other nations by our devotion and service, then "the kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."
Directions For Study
Read the Scripture references: Matthew 6. 10, 33; 7. 15 23; 21. 33-43.
Review the last lesson, calling to mind Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom as a gracious gift of God to men, and noting the different forms in which this gift appears.
Run through the lesson discussion, and bring together all the Bible references that you find in which Jesus emphasizes the side of duty and demand and responsibility. Note that in some of these he speaks definitely of the Kingdom; there are others in which the reference to the Kingdom is implied. Recall other passages and parables in which this part of the message of Jesus appears.
Now consider how these two sides belong together. Some gifts do not cost us anything. How is it with the highest gifts? with the gifts of the Kingdom?
In what part of our personal life is it hardest to live out the kingdom of God? In our home, in our business, in our friendships, in our inner thoughts?
With what special gifts and privileges has our land been endowed? What are some of its special responsibilities in relation to the coming of the Kingdom?