THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.
Translated into the kingdom of his dear Son. - Colossians 1. 13. .
COL0SSIANS i. 13.
INSIDE those iron gratings that protect the ancient
regalia of our kingdom, vulgar curiosity sees nothing but a display of jewels.
Its stupid eyes are dazzled by the gems that stud the crown, and sword, and
sceptre. The unreflecting multitude fix their thoughts and waste their
admiration on these. They go away to talk of their beauty, perhaps to covet
their possession; nor do they estimate the value of the crown but by the price
which its pearls, and rubies, and diamonds, might fetch in the market.
The eye of a patriot, gazing thoughtfully in on these relics of former days, is all but blind to what attracts the gaping crowd. His admiration is reserved for other and nobler objects. He looks with deep and meditative interest on that rim of gold, not for its intrinsic value, but because it once encircled the brow of Scotlands greatest king, - the hero of her independence, Robert the Bruce. His fancy may for a moment turn to the festive scenes in yonder deserted palace, when that crown flashed amid a gay throng of princes, and nobles, and knights, and statesmen, and lords, and ladies, all now mouldered into dust; but she soon wings her flight to the worthier and more stirring spectacles which history has associated with these symbols of power. She sees a nation up in arms for its independence, and watches with kindling eye the varying fortunes of the fight. It rages around these insignia. Now, she hears the shout of Bannockburn; and now, the long wail of Flodden. The events of centuries, passed in weary war, roll by before her. The red flames burst from lonely fortalice and busy town; the smiling vale, with its happy homesteads, lies desolate; scaffolds reek with the blood of patriots; courage grapples with despair; beaten men on freedoms bloody field renew the fight; and, as the long hard struggle closes, the kingdom stands up like one of its own rugged mountains, - the storms that expended their violence on its head, have left it ravaged, and seamed, and shattered, but not moved from its place. It is the interests that were at stake, the fight for liberty, the good blood shed, the hard struggles endured for its possession ; it is these, not the jewels, which in a patriots eye make that a costly crown - a relic of the olden time, worthy of a nations pride and jealous preservation.
Regarded in some such light, estimated by the sufferings endured for it, how great the value of that crown which Jesus wears! What a kingdom that which cost God his Son, and cost that Son his life! It is to that kingdom that we have now to direct your attention ; and for this purpose, let us consider -
I. The importance which Christ himself attaches to his kingly claims.
There are crowns worn by living monarchs, of which it would be difficult to estimate the value. The price paid for their jewels is the least part of it. They cost thousands of lives, and rivers of human blood; yet in his esteem, and surely in ours also, Christs crown outweighs them all. He gave his life for it; and alone, of all monarchs, he was crowned at his coronation by the hands of Death. Others cease to be kings when they die. By dying he became a king. He laid his head in the dust that he might become head over all ; he entered his kingdom through the gates of the grave, and ascended the throne of the universe by the steps of a cross.
The connection between our Lords sufferings and kingly claims marks some of the most touching scenes of his history. In what character did his people reject him? It was as a king; they cried We will not have this man to reign over us. In what guise did the soldiers ridicule and revile him? It was as a king; they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head. For what crime was he crucified? It was because he claimed to be a king. The noble character of the sufferer shone through the meanest circumstances of his death, and was read in the inscription that stood above his dying head, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. His royal claims have been lightly thought of, and often trampled beneath the heavy foot of power. They have dared to treat them with scorn. Yet he, who is surely the best judge of their importance and value, has himself taught us a very different lesson; and in proof of that, let us now turn to two separate occasions on which our Lord refused to abate one iota of these claims - maintaining them under circumstances of the strongest temptation to do otherwise.
Turn your eye on that desert, where, Heaven and Hell watching the issue at a distance, alone and without attendants, the two mightiest potentates that ever met on earth, meet - not for conference, but for conflict. Knowing that he has another now to deal with than a guileless woman - the beautiful but fragile vessel his cursed hand shattered in Eden - Satan enters the lists, armed with his deepest craft., He knows that Jesus stands before him, a poor man; who, though aspiring to universal empire, has neither friend nor follower, neither fame nor rank. Never was deeper poverty! He presents himself before us in its most touching aspect - he has neither a morsel of bread to eat, nor a bed to lie on. Ever suiting the temptation to the tempted, and, like a skilful general, assaulting the citadel on what he judges to be its weakest side, Satan comes to Jesus with no bribe for passions so low as avarice, or lust, or ease, or self-indulgence. He addresses that love of power, which was his own perdition, and is the infirmity of loftiest minds. Tacitly acknowledging, by the magnificence of the temptation, how great is the virtue of him whom he tempts, be offers him the prize of universal empire. By some phantasm of diabolical power, he presents a panoramic view of all the king doms of the world, and the glory of them ; and when he thinks the spell has wrought, and that he has roused the dormant passion to its highest pitch, he turns round to Jesus, saying, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me, He shall, and shall for ever, be king, if he will for once yield up his claims, and receive the kingdom at Satans hand. No; neither from such hands, nor on such conditions, will our Lord receive the sceptre. He stands firm upon his own right to it; and, rather than yield that up, is ready to endure the cross and despise the shame. He turns with holy scorn from the temptation, and foils the Enemy with the words, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Turn now to another scene. Jesus stands before Pilate. Alone? Not now alone; worse than alone. Deserted by the few humble friends he had, without one to know him, he is confronting malignant and powerful accusers. A savage crowd surrounds him. Blind to his divine excellence, deaf to the calm voice of reason, dead to gentle pity, they glare on him with their eyes; they gnash their teeth at him; nor are restrained but by the steady port and resolute demeanour of these Roman guards from rushing in like a pack of bloodhounds, and tearing him to pieces. Blessed Lord! now, now mayest thou say, My soul is among lions; and I lie even among them that are set on fire - even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. There, in that hour, see how his life hangs on a thread, on a single word. Every charge they have brought against him has broken down - bursting into spray and foam, as I have seen the sea-wave that has launched itself upon a rock. Leaving their witnesses to convict themselves of perjury, he preserves, on his part, unbroken silence. Serene and unmoved he stands the cruel pelting of the storm. Shame to his chosen disciples, shame to his followers, shame even to the thousands he had blessed and cured, not one is there to espouse his cause; and, boldly stepping out, to say, in the face of that infuriate crowd, I know the man; I know him to be the purest, kindest, greatest, best of men. Assembly of murderers! crucify him not; or, If you will perpetrate so foul a crime, crucify me with him.
Such are the circumstances in which Pilate puts his question, Art thou the King of the Jews ? On this question, and our Lords answer, everything is now to turn. The crisis has come. His fate is in the balance. Let him say, No, and resign his claim - he lives-; and, the baffled crowd dividing before him like the sea of old before the host of Israel, he leaves the bar for life and liberty. Let him maintain his silence - continue dumb, he is safe. Unless he compromise himself, this coward judge condemns not innocent blood. Have you ever been present in a court of justice when the bell rang, and the jury retñrñed, and the foreman rose to pronounce a verdict of death or life on the pale, anxious, trembling wretch who stood befere you? Then. you can fancy the deep, hushed, breathless silence, with which judge, and accusers, and the whole multitude, bend forward to catch our Lords reply. If he claims to be a king, he seals his fate. If he renounces and disavows his right, the Roman sets him at liberty. Our Lord foresees this. He has a full foreknowledge of all the consequences of the word he is now to speak. Yet he claims the crown. Refusing to abandon, or even to conceal his kingly character, he returns to Pilate this bold reply, Thou sayest ; in other words, I am a king King of the Jews.
How do these facts illustrate the pre-eminent importance which Jesus attached to his office and character as a king! They do more than illustrate, they demonstrate it. To explain this, let me recall a recent circumstance to your recollection. When our Indian empire was shaken to its foundations, and as many feared, tottering to its fall, the enemy in one instance offered, terms of compromise. They were rejected. Unmoved by the most adverse fortunes, undismayed by the pestilence, starvation, and murder, which stared them in the face, with the hope of relief burning lower and lower as the weary days wore on, our gallant countrymen, in the darkest hour and crisis of their fortunes, would listen to no compromise. They could die, but not yield; and so sent back this stern answer, We refuse to treat with mutineers. And, if we would yield- up no right in the hour of otr greatest weakness and terrible extremity, far less shall we do so with the tide of battle turned in our favour, and that enemy crushed, or crouching in abject terror at our feet. Now our Lord had the strongest temptations to abandon his kingly claims; and if he refused to give them up in the desert, where he had not a morsel to eat, and at the bar, when to have parted with them would have saved his life, he is not likely now certainly to yield one jot or tittle of what belongs to him as a King. He has no inducement to do so. A friendless prisoner no more, he stands at the right hand of God; the bead which was bound round with a thorn wreath, now wears the crown of earth and heaven; and the head they mocked with a reed, sways over angels, men, devils the sceptre of universal empire. Think you that Christ will allow Satan, or the world, or the flesh, to pluck from his power what they could not wring from his weakness? Never. He will never consent to share his throne with rivals from whom he won it. He claims to reign supreme in your hearts, in every heart which his grace has renewed, over all whom he has conquered by love and redeemed with blood.
Would God that we could live up to that truth! How often - and to what a sad extent, is it forgotten! each of is doing what is right in his own eyes, as if therewere no king in Israel. Oh, that we were as anxious to be delivered, from the power, as all of us are to escape the punishment of sin! I do not say that we should look less to Christ as a Saviour, but we should certainly look more to him as a sovereign; nor fix our attention on his cross, so much to the exclusion of his crown. We are not to yield him less - faith, but more obedience. We should not less often kiss his wounds, but more frequently his feet. We can never too highly esteem his love, but we may, and often do, think too lightly of his law. His Spirit helping us, let his claims on our obedience be as cheerfully conceded as his claim to our faith; so that to our love of his glorious person, and his saving work, we may be able to add with David, 0 how love I thy law!
II. - Consider from whom Christ received the kingdom.
1. He did not receive it from the Jews. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Once, indeed - like stony-ground hearers, like some who make a flaming profession of religion to abandon it almost as soon as they embrace it - the Jews seemed eager to receive Jesus. They even attempted to thrust royal honours on him; Jesus perceived that they. would come and take him by force to make him a king. Afterwards, and by one of those popular movements, which, in the form of a panic or an enthusiasm, rises rapidly, like a flooded river, to sweep in its headlong course stones as well as straws - before it, they bore him in royal state on to the capital. Not with sacred oil, or golden crown, or imperial purple, but such royal insignia as the circumstances admitted of, they invested their new-made king. They denuded themselves of their garments to carpet the dusty road. Mothers held up their babes to see him; women and children filled the joyous air with loud hosannas; -grey old men, as the procession swept by, shed tears of joy that the long- looked for hour had come; and, marching with the tramp of freemen - as if every foot beneath its tread crushed a Roman eagle - strong men, with ten thousand stout arms ready to fight for his crown, waved green palms in anticipation of triumph and victory.
Thus the living wave, swelling higher as it advanced, rolled on to Jerusalem, bearing Jesus forward to the throne of David. For his mother, for the Marys, for his disciples, for all ardent patriots, it was a glorious hour. Alas! how, soon it was changed! It passed like a beautiful pageant - passed like the watery gleam of a stormy sky- passed like a brilliant meteor that shoots athwart the dusky sky.
A few days afterwards, and Jerusalem, with a crowd as great presents another spectacle. The stage, the actors, the voices, are the same, but the drama, if mwe may so speak, how different,! This brief act of honour and duty, homage and triumph, is closely followed by an awful tragedy. We have seen tales of horror and shocking butchery shake the heart of a whole nation ; but this event struck the insensate earth with trembling, spread a pall of mourning over the whole- firmament, filling creation with such signs of bereavement as fill a house when its head is smote down by the hand of death. The tide, which bore Jesus to the crown, turns; and when next we see him, be hangs basely murdered upon a cross. An inconstant people. have taken the object of their brief idolatry, and, like an angry child with its toy, dashed it on the ground. The only crown our Lord gets from man is woven of thorns. His Father had said, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high ; and man found no way of fulfilling that old prophecy, but to raise him, amid shouts and laughter, naked and bleeding, on the accursed tree. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
I know that a nation is not always to be held accountable for the acts of its rulers. A righteous public may have the conscience to disapprove what they have not the power to prevent. But our Lords death was no act of the government, or simply the act of Pilate, or of the priests and statesmen of the tIme. It was a great national deed. In that vast assembly which pronounced the verdict, there was certainly not a city, nor village, nor hamlet, nor perhaps even a shepherds solitary hut among the uplands of Judea, but had its representative. So, when Pilate put the question, it was the voice of the entire country that made itself heard in the unanimous and fatal verdict, We will not have this man to reign over us - yesterday we would; to-day we wont; let him die; away with him to the cross". Horrible crime! yet one, alas! in a sense still repeated, often repeated; and for no other reasons than at the first. If Christ would have consented to rule on their terms, the Jews would have made him king. Had he agreed to establish an earthly monarchy, to gratify the nations thirst for vengeance on their Roman masters, to make Jerusalem the proud capital, and the Jews sole sovereign rulers of a conquered world, they would have revolted to a man. Religion lent its intensity to the burning hatred which they bore against the empire of the Csssars; and, on such conditions, those who crucified him would have fought for him with the resolution which held Jerusalem, till delicate women devoured their children, and men, famished into ghastly akeletons, met the Romans in battle under a canopy of flames, and in the throat of the deadly breach.
Now, to this day, how many would accept of Jesus as king, would he but consent to their terms - allow them to indulge their lusts, and retain their sins! If, like some Eastern princes, who leave the reins of goverment in other hands, he would rest contented with the shadow of royalty with the mere name and empty title of a king, many would consent to be his subjects. But be assured that he accepts not the crown, if sin is to retain the sceptre. He requires of all who name his name, that they depart from iniquity ; and, with holy to the Lord written on their foreheads, take up their cross, and deny themselves daily and follow Him. On this account he is still practically rejected by thousands- whose profession of religion is a name and a shadow. How is that old cruel tragedy repeated day by day within the theatre of many a heart. God says "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" the preacher brings Jesus forth for acceptance, clothed in purple and crowned with thorns,and all the tokens of his love upon him, saying, "Behold the man; consciensce is aroused to a sense of his claims; but these all are clamoured down. Stirred up by the devil - the love of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life, and all the corrupt passions of our evil nature, rise like that Jewish mob to cry, We will not have this man to reign over us. Let the fate of these Jews warn you against their sin; for- if God did such things in the green tree, what shall lie do in the dry? Be assured that, unless you are obeying Christ as a sovereign, you have never yet known him as a Saviour. Your faith is vain. His cross and his crown are inseparable. -
2. He does not receive the kingdom from his own people. - Some have fought .their way onward to a palace, leaving the print of a bloody foot on every step that led them to the throne. And what violence or villany, or both, have won, despotism holds. I could point to lands where the ambitious adventurer who has seized the throne is a tyrant, and his subjects are crouching slaves - as, indeed, men ever will be, who want the backbone of religion to keep them erect. It is God-fearing piety which makes a man the best subject of a good government, and the most formidable enemy to a bad one. Animated by its lofty hopes, sustained by its enduring spirit, a true Christian is not the man to sell his liberties for a dishonourable peace, nor his birth right for a mess of pottage.
Our happy - land, in contrast with most other countries, presents an illustrious example of a family crowned, I may say, by the hands of the people called to the throne by the free voice of a nation. The sceptre, which a female hand sways so well and gracefully over the greatest, freest, empire in the world, was, nigh two hundred years ago, wrenched from the grasp of a poor popish bigot; and his successor was borne to the vacant throne on the arms of a people, who, to their everlasting honour, considered crowned heads less sacred than their liberties and teligion.
Is it by any such act of his people that Christ has been crowned? Is he in this sense a popular monarch, or raised to the throne by the suffrages of the people? No. Here the king elects his subjects - not the subjects their king and in that, as in many other senses, he who is both our Saviour and our sovereign says, My kingdom is not of this world. There have been many disputes about the doctrine of election, and these have given birth to many most learned and profound treatises; the combatants on one side maintaining that in election God had respect to the good works which he foresaw men were to do, while their opponents have, as we think more wisely, held, that in all cases his choice is as free and sovereign as when, descending on the plains of Damascas he called, in Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of his church, to be its greatest preacher. It was on this subject that an aged Christian uttered a remarkable saying, which I may apply to the matter in hand. She had listened with patience to a fine-spun and very subtle argument against the doctrine of free election.: She did not attempt to unravel it. She had no skill for that but broke her way out as through the meshes of a cobweb with this brief reply, I believe in the doctrine of a free election; because I know, that if God had not first chosen me, I had never chosen him.
That reply, which was quite satisfactory to her simple piety, and will weigh more with many than a hundred ponderous volumes of theological learning, rests on the depravity of our nature, and applies to our present subject. Aliens by nature to the commonwealth of Israel, and the enemies of God by wicked works, it is absolutely necessary that Christ should first choose you as his subjects, before you can choose him as your king. Hence our catechism says, Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, ruling and defending us, and restraining and conquering all his and our enemies. Thus, Prince of Peace though he be, in the Psalms and elsewhere he is pictured forth as a warrior armed for the battle; a sword girded on his thigh, a bow in his hand, zeal glowing in his eyes, he drives the chariot of the gospel into the thick of his enemies. And as our own nation lately, with prayers for their success, sent off her armies to reduce to obedience a revolted province, God, when sending his Son to our world, addressed him as one about to engage in a similar enterprise; Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, 0 most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty - And in thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the kings enemies whereby the people fall under thee.
Christ does indeed reign by conquest; but his reign is not therefore one of terror. The very opposite. He reigns, as he conquered, by love. For, although in the first Instance his people neither choose him, nor call him to the thone, afterwards, what king is so well beloved? Enthoned in the heart, he rules them through their affections; nor employs any but that which is at once the softest and strongest, the gentlest and mightiest of all forces, the power of love. He subdues, but it is to save you. He wounds, but it is to heal you. He kills but it is to make you alive. It was to crown you with glory that he bowed his head to that crown of thorns. Other sovereigns may have rendered good service to the state, and deserved its gratitude, but Christs is the only throne, filled by a living king who has this at once most singular and sublime claim on the devoted attachment of his subjects that He died to save them. I am he that liveth and was dead"
We are not such subjects as we should be. Yet the world is not to be allowed to forget, that, imperfect as our obediance is, his people are not insensible, nor have they shown themselves insensible, to the paramount claims which Jesus has upon their loyalty. In our eyes, the grace and glory of other sovereigns pales before His, as stars when the sun has risen; nor is there anyone we ever saw or our affections ever clung to, whom we feel we should love as we ought to love Jesus Christ. True piety is not hypocrisy; and it is due alike to Christ and the interests of religion, that the world should know that the love his people bear for him is a deeper affection than what the mother cherishes for the babe that hangs helpless on her bosom; a stronger passion than the miser feels for the yellow gold he clutches. With the hand of the robber compressing his throat, to have his grey hairs spared, he would give it all for dear life; but loving Jesus, whom they never saw, better than father, or mother, or sister, or brother, or lover, or life itself, thousands have given up all for him. Not regretting, but rejoicing in their sacrifices, they have gone bravely for his cause to the scaffold and the stake.
It is easy to die in a battle-field - to confront death there. There, earthly prizes are won - stars, bright honours, are glittering amid that sulphureous smoke; there, earthly passions are to be gratified - my sister was wronged, my mother butchered, my little brothers brains dashed out against the wall. I am a man, and could believe the story told of our countrymen; how each, having got a bloody lock of a murdered womans hair, sat down in awful, ominous silence; and, after counting the number that fell to each mans lot, rose to swear by the great God of heaven, that for every hair they would have a life. Amid such scenes, with passions boiling, vengeance calls for blood, hurling me, like a madman, on the hedge of steel; and, where the shout of charging comrades cheers him on, the soldier is swept forward on blazing guns and bristling bayonets, in a whirlwind of wild excitement. But, to lie pining in a dungeon, and never hear the sweet voice of human sympathy; to groan and shriek upon the rack, where cowled and shaven murderers are as devoid of pity as the cold stone walls around; to suffer as our fathers did, when, calm and intrepid, they marched down that street to be hung up like dogs for Christs crown and kingdom, implies a higher courage, is a far nobler, manlier, holier thing.
Yet thousands have so died for Jesus. Theirs has been the gentle, holy, heroic spirit of that soldier boy, whose story is one of the bright incidents that have relieved the darkness of recent horrors, aud shed a halo of glory around the dreadful front of war Dragged from the jungle, pale with loss of blood, wasted to a shadow with famine and hardship, far away from Father or Mother, or any earthly friend and surrounded by a cloud of black incarnate fiends, he saw a Mahometan convert appalled at the preparations for his torture about to renounce the faith. Fast dying, almost beyond the vengeance of his enemies, this good brave boy had a moment more to live, a breath more to spend. Love to Jesus, the ruling passion, was strong in death; and so, as the gates of heaven were rolling open to receive his ransomed spirit, ho raised himself up, and, casting an imploring look on the wavering convert, cried - "Oh, do not deny your Lord!" A noble death, and a right noble testimony
Would to God, that we always heard that voice and cry, when, in the ordinary circumstances of life, we are tempted to commit sin. I say the ordinary circumstances of life; for it would almost seem as if when we are least tried, we are most in danger. On grand occasions faith rises to the trial; and such is the vitality of Christian love, that, like the influence of the wind on fire, the storm seems rather to blow up than to blow out the flame. How often have Christs people found it easier to withstand on great occasions than on small ones! Those will yield to some soft seduction, and fall into sin, who, put to it, might stand up for the cause of truth and righteousness as bravely as he who, in yonder palace, stands like a rock before the king. Commanded to do what lays Christs crown at Caesars feet, he refuses - It is a thing which, though ready to dare death, he dare not, and he will not do. He offers his neck, but refuses that - addressing himself in some such words as these to the imperious monarch, There are two kingdoms and two kings in Scotland; there is King Jesus and King James; and when thou wast a babe in swaddling clothes, Jesus reigned in this land, and his authority is supreme. (This was Andrew Melville to king James - see here)
Would to God that we had, whenever we are tempted to commit sin, as true a regard for Christs paramount authority! With special reference to our own hearts be the prayer ever offered, thy kingdom come - take to thee thy great power and reign. Ours be thy prayer, 0 David -"Cleanse me from secret faults, and keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Alas, how often do -we unwittingly, thoughtlessly, rashly, under the lingering influence of old bad habits, swept away by some sudden temptation, some outburst of corruption, practically deny the Lord that bought us, and yield our members to be the servants of sin! Let us confess it. Often are we constrained to say, with Ezra, when he rent his mantle, and fell on his knees, and spread out his hands unto the Lord, Oh my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Yet let not the worldling go away to triumph over such confessions, that there is no such thing as genuine true love to Christ. This much I will say for, his people, and for the grace of God, in which their great strength lies - Put us to the test, give us time for prayer and reflection, and there are thousands who, rather than renounce Jesus Christ, would renounce their life, and, with unfaltering footstep, tread the well-beaten path that the martyrs have made to glory. Faith, eyeing the opening heavens, would stand an the scaffold, and say, as she changed a Jewish into a Christian hymn - lf I forget thee, 0 Jesus, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jesus to my chief joy!
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