By Harris Franklin Rall
To say that the kingdom of God in Jesus' teaching means the rule of God seems very simple. And yet in this thought of the rule of God Jesus includes all his hopes of the future, all his thought of what God would do, all his ideals of what men should be. Because this idea includes so much, we have had certain large differences of opinion among students as to its meaning, differences which came mainly because men had over-emphasized one side or the other of this rich conception. One of these broad differences appears in this lesson.
The Kingdom As Inward
The Question.—Is the kingdom of God inward or outward? Is it something purely spiritual, or is it also visible? Earlier Protestant thought tended to emphasize the former idea, to think of the Kingdom as simply a spiritual fact in individual experience. Modern thought lays more stress upon that which is social and visible, upon a new social order with a transformation of industry and government and all the life and institutions of men. What is the teaching of Jesus?
An Inner Gift.—Our first impression is that the kingdom of God is inner and individual with Jesus, and this is borne out by various considerations. In the first place, the gifts of the Kingdom as we have studied them are primarily spiritual. There is the forgiveness of sin and the overcoming of evil in men's lives. There is God's gift of himself to men in love and fellowship. And there is the significant fact that Jesus uses the term "eternal life" as meaning the same as "kingdom of God." The kingdom of God, then, is a new and higher life of man.
The Nature of the Kingdom Seen in Its Children.—What Jesus says about those to whom the Kingdom belongs also indicates its character as spiritual. The Beatitudes do not tell how we are to earn the Kingdom; they describe rather the kind of people to whom the Kingdom belongs, the real sons of the Kingdom. But to describe the "sons of the Kingdom" is nothing else than describing the Kingdom itself. This purity of heart, this humility of spirit, this mercy and peace and passion for righteousness, this is what really constitutes the rule of God, his Kingdom. The Kingdom then is something within. The same truth appears in what Jesus says about being like a child in order to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 18. 3, 4). Because the Kingdom is above all an inner, spiritual life given by. God it requires the spirit of a child to receive it, the spirit of humility and openness and trust.
The Kingdom in the Midst.—Especially striking is the passage, Luke 17. 20, 21: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you." It makes little difference if we take here the translation suggested in the margin of the revised version, and read "the kingdom of God is in the midst of you," which is perhaps the more probable meaning. The thought would then be this. The Pharisees had asked him when the Kingdom was to come. You are expecting something striking, answers Jesus, which the eyes of all may see. Let me tell you, the kingdom of God is already in your midst and you do not even know it. They did not know it because they were looking for something external, political, and spectacular. They did not see its beginnings in the Spirit of God working through Jesus in teaching and healing and forgiving, and showing itself in the men who were already turning to the Kingdom.
Jesus Shows the Nature of the Kingdom.—The conclusion that the Kingdom is inward is borne out by the method of Jesus' life and work. In his temptation he sets aside definitely the ideas of rule and power, and chooses the way of a servant. Love and good will are his instruments. Every suggestion of political or other outer power he puts aside; he wants to rule from within. And it is the inner spirit that he emphasizes with men. One passage after another in the Sermon on the Mount points out that the righteousness of God must be inner. Especially significant is the fact that ordinarily Jesus sets forth the relation of God and man not under the figure of king and subjects, but of Father and children. But when you ask what makes God our Father, and what makes us his sons, it is to the inner spirit that Jesus points. God is Father because he is merciful and forgiving and good; we are his children only as we show that same spirit (Matthew 5. 4348; Luke 15. 11-32). The meaning of God's kingship is not different from that of his Fatherhood, and his kingdom among men is nothing else than the life of men as his children. And so we are brought to the conclusion again, that the kingdom of God is an inner and spiritual reality.
The Kingdom As Social And Visible
The Kingdom Is Outward Also.—To stop with the thought of the Kingdom as an inner reality, however, is to miss the full meaning of the message of Jesus. That is what those have too often done who have insisted upon the spiritual character of the Kingdom. They have felt it necessary to deny its social meaning, its bearing upon the institutions of life and the larger relations in which men live. Thus the spiritual has come to mean something partial and narrow and weak, and the kingdom of God has come to mean the rule of God in heaven but not on earth, or at least only in a little fraction of man's life here. Nothing like this is involved in Jesus' teaching. The Kingdom is a rule of the spirit, but this spirit is to rule all the life of the world.
The God of Jesus is God of All.—This follows first from Jesus' thought of God. The Kingdom is the rule of God, and the God of Jesus is the God of all life. It is upon this thought of God that Jesus rests his hope of the Kingdom. He prays to him as "Lord of heaven and earth." He declares that "with God all things are possible." He bids men "fear him," and rebukes their anxiety because it shows a fear of some other power than that of God. His heart is filled with joy because this God is some time to rule all. True, that rule is to be from within, through men's faith and love and free obedience; but it is still to be his rule and it will extend over all. Some time greed and oppression and war shall cease, for his will shall be done in all things. No one can share Jesus' faith in God and think other than this about the coming Kingdom. God is one God and the world will not always be divided as it is to-day between the rule of good and evil.
The Spirit as a Social Spirit.—The same result follows if we begin with man's side of the Kingdom instead of God's. The Kingdom is God's rule in men, the rule of a new spirit. Let us ask now what the nature of this spirit is and what it involves. First of all it is a social spirit, and so it cannot remain within but must show itself in the life of man with his fellow men. There are those who think that a "spiritual" religion is one that takes a man away from his fellows so that he may give himself wholly to God. With Jesus a spiritual religion is essentially a social religion. The men of the Kingdom, in whom is this new spirit, will, of course, pray just as Jesus prayed; but when Jesus comes to lay down the rule of the Kingdom life, he does not refer to prayer and meditation, but speaks of the love and service of men (Mark 9. 35; 10. 42-45). The real way to serve God, he teaches, is to serve men, and the way in which we treat our brothers in need here is to be the final test of our possession of the spirit (Matthew 25. 31-46). In the teaching of Jesus spiritual means social.
The Spirit is Righteousness and Must Rule All Life.—This spirit is also a spirit of righteousness. Its prayer is, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." Its supreme ambition is "his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matthew 6. 10, 33). That spirit must show itself in certain ways. The righteousness will begin within, but it must extend to every part of a man's life (Matthew 7. 15-23). So far from protesting against a religion that meddles in business, this man will make it his first interest to ask what God's rule in his daily business means. It is easier to say "Lord, Lord" on Sunday than to remember the Sermon on the Mount on Monday; but the supreme test still remains, "he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." Not only that, but the man who seeks first his Kingdom and his righteousness cannot rest until that righteousness obtains in all the life of the world, inward and outward, individual and social. The rule of God begins as an inner spirit, but so far as it is a real rule it must show itself in all the life and institutions of men. Some of this life is individual, and each man can determine it for himself. Some of it is social, that is, it can be determined only by men acting together. It is by this common social action that the organization of business and the conduct of the state are determined. But it still remains our task as Christians in these latter matters, however hard it may be to bring about, not to rest content until the will of God is done on earth.
The Kingdom As A Fellowship
The Kingdom a Brotherhood of Those That Bo God's Will.—There is still another way in which the Kingdom transcends the inward and individual and becomes social and outward, so that it may be seen by men. That is through the company of the disciples of the Kingdom. If the Kingdom is present where God's will is being done, then the Kingdom will correspond in a general way with those who do this will. Moreover, these men of the Kingdom will not be so many individuals standing alone. The life of the Kingdom is a life of brotherhood, showing itself in love and service. As such it must draw these men together. Such a Kingdom inevitably means a visible fellowship, though one resting on spiritual grounds.
This Brotherhood Seen in the Gospels.—All this we find reflected in the Gospels. While there is nothing in them about the organization of a church, yet there is a natural coming together of the disciples of Jesus, the smaller company of the twelve who were the permanent companions of Jesus, and the larger group that changed and shifted. For Jesus the disciples form the anticipation of the coming Kingdom, the beginnings of its realization. He speaks of them as the salt of the earth and the light of the world, as the leaven which shall yet permeate the whole lump (Matthew 5. 13-16; 13. 33). He sees in their life a new order in contrast with the selfish kingdoms of the earth; "it is not so among you," he declares (Mark 10. 42-45). The old organizations of human society are to be replaced by a new community, where men shall know themselves as brothers, as children of one Father, where the controlling rule of life shall be unselfish service, and in which all nations shall participate.
The Meaning of the Social Service Movement in the Church.—There are many who look askance at the church's interest in social service and feel that real spiritual religion is being lost, that we are busying ourselves with external things and losing sight of that inner life which counted for everything with Jesus. As a matter of fact, this movement is vitalizing and spiritualizing the work of the church to-day. Note some of the fundamental ideas that underlie this movement, and consider how far they agree with the teachings of Jesus and reflect his influence.
(1) All life is sacred. All a man's life belongs to God. Not all life is equal in importance, there is an inner and an outer; but the rule of God must go to every part.
(2) It is a man's business to Christianize his whole life, and it is the business of society (of men living together in a community, in a nation, in a world life) to Christianize all their relations.
(3) The way to make a better world is to make better men, but the converse is also true: The way to make better men is to get a better world. It will not do to save a few drunkards and let the saloons remain open, to give a little
charity and let men work at starving wages, to try to save children by one hour in the Sunday school while they live in moral and physical filth the rest of the time.
(4) The truest spiritual life is social, first as the life lived with God, then as the life lived with men. When a man shuts himself off by himself he dies; when he gives himself to others he lives. It is in his life with others that he really lives, in worship and prayer, in home, in state, in business, in social fellowship, in personal service.
(5) It is because this social life counts for so much that it is of the greatest importance that we Christianize that social order and those social institutions in which this life is expressed: church, home, state, industry, and recreation.
Some General Conclusions
Some Common Errors.—This consideration of Jesus' teaching shows the error of some rather common opinions.
(1) That idea of the Kingdom is wrong which identifies it with the church. The church with its fellowship, its worship, and its service is an important part of the Kingdom, is its very center indeed; but the Kingdom is larger than the church. Wherever there is righteousness and love and truth, there is the rule of God, and the kingdom of God is simply his rule. That rule may be found in a factory or a legislature as truly as in a prayer meeting. (2) The kingdom of God is not a matter of external rule or of outward organization of any kind. That is the error of Mormonism. That was the mistake of some sects at the time of the Reformation. That was the kind of kingdom to which the Jews looked forward. That is still the idea of some who look for Christ to reestablish the Jewish state, to set up a political organization, and to rule in bodily presence and from an earthly throne at Jerusalem, dominating the world by visible splendor and power. (3) It is a mistake to make the kingdom of God purely inward and individual, setting off a little section of the world and calling it spiritual, while the great activities and interests of business and state are put aside as secular. The rule of God for Jesus was moral and spiritual, but this spirit was to dominate all life.
Directions For Study
Scripture references: Matthew 18. 3, 4; 5. 3-9; Luke 17. 20, 21; Matthew 6. 10, 33; 5. 13-16; Mark 10. 42-45; 2. 19.
Review the lessons that we have had thus far on the Kingdom. Keep in mind the simple thought with which we started of the Kingdom as the rule of God, and note how the various aspects of this great idea spring from this central thought.
Consider the Kingdom first as an inner spirit and life, reading the first passages noted above, including that in Luke 17. Consider the need of emphasizing this and the constant danger of making the Kingdom something external.
Now study the remaining passages, with the discussion given above. Note that if we take this spirit of the Kingdom in the sense in which Jesus meant it, it will at once lead us out into all the life of the world.
What are some parts of our modern life where the rule of God is especially needed? How far are the modern social service movements a fruit of the spirit and the teachings of Jesus?