The Mysteries of
the Kingdom of Heaven
4. THE BREADTH OF THE KINGDOM.
There is no need to produce further proof that the kingdom
covers the whole profession of Christianity. A glance at the parables should
settle this. But we have to see yet that it goes beyond even what we can
properly call profession; that discipleship goes beyond this; the kingdom being
indeed exactly commensurate with this last,- ideally, with the whole of the
And here I am reminded that in what I shall have to say I must speak contrary to the convictions of many beloved brethren, and seem, perhaps, even in speaking, to make light of these. I do not in the least, but sympathize fully with the strength of their feelings regarding the dishonour done to Christ, and the injury done to men's souls by views widely current as to baptism. Babylon the great has been built up by the use of bricks for stones, and slime for mortar, - the substitution of human manufacture for divine creation, - of a "sacramental host of God's elect" for those "baptized by one Spirit into one body." And in the hands of these builders baptism has been made to build up a "great house" with vessels to dishonour, from which we are called to purge ourselves if we would be "vessels unto honour" (2 Tim. 2:20, 21). Protest against this false ritualistic system can hardly go too far or be too strongly maintained.
Water Baptism is Not Baptism of the Holy Spirit
The baptism of water has been confounded with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and infants have been supposed to be regenerated by it, and made partakers of a life that gave no sign, and bore no fruit for God, and but deluded those who trusted in it. Then, as they could not say that every one so baptized was fit for heaven, they had to send a large part of these man-made children of God to hell, and most of the rest to purgatory to be purified by fire there. While yet, without this baptismal regeneration, not even a little babe could go to heaven.
The fundamental error here is twofold: first, in confounding, as already said, the natural and the spiritual spheres. Water cannot cleanse a soul, nor impart spiritual life. It may be "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace," but not "a means whereby we receive the same." Secondly, in confounding heaven and the kingdom of heaven, or again, the kingdom of heaven and the Church. And from these last two, Protestantism has not in general, any more than Rome, escaped. The distinction between the two leaves a place of privilege and conditional blessing, which is not the Church, and yet which is not the world either, save as it is untrue to its character, and the principles of the world may leaven it. And this is what Scripture attests would happen, and history shows has happened. But man's unbelief cannot make the faithfulness of God without effect. The kingdom of heaven, with its message of peace and reconciliation, remains the testimony of a love which goes out to all, and would gather in to God wherever the will of man is not hardening itself in opposition. We do not, in fact, in Scripture meet with that long delay of baptism, and that preparation of catechumens, which came in as baptism itself came to be looked upon as reception into the Church, and the symbol of the full Christian state. In the New Testament the catechumens were inside, not outside, the sphere of discipleship. Instead of being kept waiting at the threshhold, the applicants were met with a generous and unsuspecting welcome. Three thousand were baptized on the day of Pentecost: how much preliminary instruction had they? And if, as at Samaria, a Simon Magus were received, with his heart not right in the sight of God, his reception had not defiled those tender arms of mercy which had been flung around him, and from which he had, as it were, to burst, to pursue the headlong path to everlasting ruin. I say, it is evident upon the face of Scripture, that baptism was not then fenced round, as many now would fence it round. It was a door, not carelessly, but readily and with a full heart, opened to the applicant for it. No question of Christ's heart, no "if thou wilt" was to be permitted.
But notice also, no hint of the Church of God is connected with this, its occurrence even in Acts 2:47 in the common version being a copyist's error. The doctrine of the Church was revealed to Paul much later, and he who "received of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:23), as to the institution of the Supper, had no commission to baptize (chap. 1:17) In the first is involved the question of communion; in the second, the responsibility is only individual.
Baptism of Children
This wider character of the kingdom we see further in our Lord's words as to the little children brought to Him. "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," are words which become very plain when we have seen what the kingdom is. In these little ones is no resisting will, and divine love would lay hold upon them for its own. Once see that the kingdom is not heaven, but a SPIRIT of discipleship on earth, you can no more stumble at the thought of baptizing them than of taking them into your Sunday Schools. They belong, the Lord says, to His school at all times, and here He would meet them, put His hands on them, and bless them, as when on earth He did. The great arms of the Redeemer will not wait even for their final choice of Him to he made manifest, but would win them, prevail upon them by their tender clasp, mark them as His in His will, whatever even in the end may he their own. How precious is this thought of His, which then He turns to us to help carry out: "Bring them up," He says. "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).
They are His disciples, taken into His school, and to be brought up for Him. And who would, as such, reject them? Is it not because of the superstition which has been connected with the thought, and the confusion between the kingdom and the Church, that so many now reject the baptism of infants as a popish figment, while they would do for them gladly the very thing which baptism implies, and rightly think it any thing but popish?
Let its remember that baptism is not to take them to heaven as a charm, but to mark them as belonging to Christ's school on earth; that, as far as it goes, it is "baptism unto death," not life; burial, the putting the dead in death, where they belong; but in that touching confession of their need, baptizing them "unto Christ," "to His death," looking for all to come to them, not from the water, hut from Christ, through His work for them, which we thus own. Find me in this one shred of popery or superstition, any one that will. It is only the sweet and suited, open and apparent action of One who says in it what He says of old: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven": words that charm our hearts, beloved brethren, and command our allegiance. This character of the kingdom, then, is a beautiful one, that it represents to us the very character of Him who is on the throne of it,- the grace that casts out none that come, that would fain receive all, even those who break away at last from its shelter. Yes, such is the love of Jesus; and to me, while I own the difference of the dispensation, and do not want to press uncertain analogies, yet it seems only the more suited that He, who in the days of law recognized the children of His people in the mark of circumcision, should now, in the grace that is come in with Christianity, not leave them without some corresponding mark. I am assured He has not done so; and the confusion and evil in His kingdom cannot affect the grace of it, or make it less certain that His kingdom it is. And when the limit of His patience has been reached, love it will he still that will act, the rod of iron will be the Shepherd's rod.
But we must now consider more attentively the distinction between the kingdom and the Church.
5. THE KINGDOM AND THE CHURCH.
To most Christians perhaps, even at the present day, the kingdom and the Church are one. The Church practically is the whole body of professors: what else is the kingdom? They would not deny that these are different aspects,- that the thought connected with each is different, but they are aspects only of the same thing. We have now, then, to consider how far this difference extends - whether it be only of thought, or of the things themselves.
The kingdom we have seen to be the sphere of discipleship; the Church is, in its fundamental idea, the body of Christ,- it is the unity of His members. Notice that that action of the Spirit by which we are brought into this body is called "baptism:" "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Scripture, by adopting this word in this connection. institutes a comparison, thus, between the kingdom and the Church. But the one baptism is an external rite; the other, inward and spiritual. The error of identifying the two spheres has led to that of identifying the two baptisms; but the one is in the hand of man, the other in the power of God alone.
The Church is not only the body of Christ; it is also the house of God: and under this figure of a house the Lord first speaks of it in the gospels,-"Upon this rock I will build My Church." Peter, taking up and extending the Lord's words, shows us this building and its foundation clearly: "To whom coming. as unto a Living Stone, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:4, 5). But Paul it is, to whom the doctrine of the body of Christ was committed, who first explicitly calls the Church, as indwelt by the Holy Ghost, the house and the temple of God (Heb. 3:6; 1 Cor. 3:19). As the Church, then, is in the kingdom, which is yet wider and external to it, it stands with respect to the kingdom as the temple to its outer court. In the former, the priestly family drew near and worshipped; in the other alone, the Israelite of the common people. Peter identifies, as it were, the house and the priesthood: "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood."
The house and body were, in God's design, and for a short time at the beginning, exactly commensurate. The one was composed of living stones, the other of living members. But men with their bad building have done as was foretold: they have unduly enlarged the house. They have built in "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12-17). Thus the house is become "as a great house," in which there are vessels of gold and silver, of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour." And it will be purged from its disorder only when the Master comes.
But we have not here to think of the disorder, but to look back to the beginning to get the true design of the divine Architect. The more simply we can do so the better.
In the kingdom, then, we have individual responsibility, conditional blessing, a place of privilege to which man has authority to introduce his fellow; in the Church, a place of absolute grace, relationship to one another, communion: and here belongs another institution which expresses this. Paul, the special apostle of the Church, to whom it was given to complete the doctrine of it, was not sent to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17). But he has, by distinct revelation from the Lord, the institution of the memorial feast, in which not only do we symbolically "eat the Lord's flesh and drink His blood," but in which also it is expressed that "we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread" (chap. 11:24; 10:17).
Baptism and the kingdom speak of conditional blessing and individual responsibility; the Church, and the breaking of bread, of already-enjoyed (therefore absolute) grace, and fellowship in it, relationship to one another and the Lord. The kingdom is the outer court of the sanctuary; the Church, the house of God, the sanctuary itself. The first affirms God's desire toward all; the last is the espoused object of Christ's unchanging love. It may thus be seen why Paul, the "minister of the Church" as we have seen in a special sense, claims to he also specially the "minister of the gospel" (Col. 1:23), and to have as his peculiar mission "to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17), the last in some sort of opposition even to a commission to baptize. So he speaks of "my gospel" (Rom. 16:25), associating with it the "mystery" of the Church. And,, as has been fully shown by others, in fact it is Paul who alone speaks plainly of justification and of our place in Christ. With the other inspired writers it is rather forgiveness, although I do not say that there are not passages which look beyond this.
In the kingdom, the twelve are to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). Here we cannot imagine a thirteenth throne for Paul. The commission to baptise, we have seen, was given to them also, although Paul takes it up and acts upon it, as we all do since. Paul thus completes - as the sense is in Col. 1:25 - the Word of God. The complete truth is given through him, and hence he preaches also the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25). All lines of truth we shall find in his epistles who in his own person is the expression of the perfect grace of God. Nay, in a sense, he can bring out the very truth of the kingdom itself with more distinctness, because he is able to give along with it the full position and standing of the true believer.
Accordingly, nowhere so fully as in Paul's epistles do we find the warnings as to a fruitless profession with which we are so familiar. He who can say, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law, but under grace," can on that very account the more insist that "to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness" (Rom. 6:14, 16). The freedom to which God has called us, the power with which He endues us, - make the service of sin now so unutterably solemn; because it is manifestly on man's part the choice of evil: it is man's will in rejection of the grace of God.
On the other hand, even he in the experience of the seventh of Romans can still say, "The good that I would," "the evil that I would not," while of Christians characteristically it is said, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (chap. 8:14). The true Christian, conscious of the grace of which he is. the subject, and established in a place which is unchangeably his, is just the one who submits himself joyfully to all the conditions of discipleship; and this is what Paul does in those words of his so often misinterpreted, (9:26, 27)
"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others I myself should be a castaway."
He is here speaking as a disciple under the rules of the kingdom - as a disciple to disciples; but he knows not only how to tread the courts of the Lord, but how, as a priest, enter the sanctuary also, and to say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us: who can separate us from the love of Christ?"
Here again, to keep the kingdom and Church distinct, throws light upon the Word. Never will you find these conditions insisted on where it is a question of the child of God as such, or of justification and the place in Christ, membership in the body of Christ, or any thing which implies that divine grace has indeed wrought in the soul. All such conditions apply to the disciple - to all disciples surely, but as such - to the kingdom, the court of the temple. The Church is the temple of God itself, the place of enjoyed nearness and settled relationship.
Three Spheres in Ephesian.Ch. 4
Before we close this, it will be well to notice how the apostle separates these different spheres in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. His seven unities there comprise and are divided into three concentric circles of blessing, of which he begins with the innermost and proceeds outward. The innermost circle is that of the Church: "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." Next, we have that of the kingdom: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Outside, again, is the world; not, of course, in the evil sense, but as the creation of God: "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." This is the Scripture classification, which it has been our object to establish here.
6. Seed-Sowing And Its Results
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