by A. A. Hodge
WE are to examine this afternoon what is revealed in Scripture as to the nature and destiny of the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The mediatorial King must of necessity have a kingdom, and the discussion of the kingdom appropriately succeeds the discussion of the royal office of the King.
There is but one kingdom or spiritual realm in which Christ reigns for ever, and which in the end shall be eternally glorious in the perfect glory of her King; yet in Scripture there are three distinct names used to set forth the excellences and the blessedness of that realm in various aspects. Let it be remembered that while these different names are never to be confounded, since they differ from one another in flexibility and range of usage and in the aspect in which they severally set forth the one subject, yet they are related to one and the selfsame subject. Therefore, the variety of the names and their usage should never lead to any confusion as to the identity and singleness of the object to which they relate. They should, on the contrary, by their variety illustrate the many-sided perfections and relations of the one kingdom, growing more glorious and powerful through all the successions of time.
These several names used in Scripture to designate this one transcendent object on its different sides and relations are the Kingdom, the Church and the City of God.
I. The word "kingdom" is the first in the order of its use. It is the characteristic word used for this purpose almost exclusively in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the word "kingdom" appears to pass out of frequent and prominent use precisely in proportion as the word Church is advanced in these respects. "Kingdom" is used fifty times in Matthew, and one hundred and seventeen times in the four Gospels, only eight times in the Acts of the Apostles, and only twenty-four times in all the Epistles and Revelation; while, on the other hand, the word "Church" occurs only three times in all the Gospels and one hundred and five times in the Acts, Epistles and Revelation. The word "kingdom" primarily signifies dominion, control and obedience to law. The Greek word "Church" primarily signifies election, redemption out of the mass of sinful and lost men. The words "city of God" primarily emphasize the kingdom as central, as an absolute unit, as having reached the consummate light of civilization, wealth and power.
Of all these terms, the word "kingdom" is the most flexible and has the widest range in its New Testament usage. It is naturally and properly used in three special senses: (1) In the sense of "realm" or sphere of dominion. Thus we habitually use the phrase "the kingdom of England" when we intend to signify the geographical division with its known political boundaries and its inhabitants. In this way the New Testament habitually uses the phrase "the kingdom of God" or "of Christ" or "of heaven" to signify the realm over which the government of Christ extends, the subjects of his kingdom in their relation to his government. In this sense men are said to enter the kingdom—that is, to become subjects of it and participants of the benefits which belong to all its loyal subjects. In this sense of "realm" or subjects of Christ's dominion the word kingdom is coincident in its meaning with the word Church in its strictest sense and widest comprehension. (2) The word kingdom is habitually used alike in the language of Scripture and of secular life in the sense of "reign" or of the exercise of royal authority. Thus when Charles I. was deposed in England and the office of king abolished, and the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell set up in its place, historians say that "the kingdom" was abolished and the Commonwealth set up. Again, when Oliver died and his son and successor was forced to abdicate, and Charles II. was brought back and set upon his inherited throne, historians say the Commonwealth was abolished and "the kingdom" was restored. Thus, in this sense of "reign," the Scriptures use the word "kingdom" when they say "the kingdom of heaven is at hand," or when we are taught to pray "thy kingdom come." And (3) alike in the usage of Scripture and of that of daily life we use the word "kingdom" to signify the benefits or blessings which result from the beneficent exercise of royal authority. Thus, while preparing for the coup d'état, Napoleon III. said in a public address at Lyons, "The empire is peace"—i. e. universal peace will be the policy and effect of the imperial régime which I propose to introduce. In like manner, Paul uses the word when he says (Rom. 14:17), "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink"—i. e. the reign of Christ does not express itself in that kind of activity—"but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost:" these are the characters of his realm because the results of his reign.
II. The first question here is concerning the nature and extent of this "kingdom" and the method of its "coming." After that we will consider the biblical doctrine of the Church, and lastly that of the "city of God."
If Adam had not apostatized the entire course of human history would have been a normal development in fellowship with God. The central principle of loyalty to God having been preserved intact, the whole moral nature of man would have grown healthily, and all his faculties in all their exercises, and all his relations with his fellows, would have been correspondingly normal. But since sin introduced rebellion against the supreme authority of God the human character has been radically corrupted and human society disorganized. This has subjected the entire race in all spheres of its activity to the dominion of a malign spiritual empire comprehending the whole world, over which presides "the prince of the power of the air," the "prince or god of this world." And, being thus alienated from the centre of all life, the entire subsequent course of the development of man's moral character and social condition has been, in the absence of a supernatural intervention, continuously in the direction of greater and greater corruption and disorder.
In consequence of this state of facts the God of heaven has set up a kingdom in antagonism to the kingdom of Satan and to all temporal kingdoms organized in Satan's interest, which kingdom shall never be destroyed, but, breaking in pieces all its antagonists, shall stand for ever. This kingdom of the God of heaven was introduced immediately after the Fall, and is to be consummated in the eternal city of God which shall descend out of heaven at the last day. It has been mediatorial from the beginning, administered at first in the hand of the unincarnate eternal Word of God, and afterward in the hands of the incarnate Word. It was symbolized in the throne of David in Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy, and it was visibly set up in its higher spiritual form when the long-promised Son of David, having redeemed his people on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the heavens and sat down at the right hand of God. This kingdom is not one among the many competing kingdoms of the earth. It is antagonistic to the kingdom of Satan only: all the natural kingdoms of men, except in so far as they are compromised with the kingdom of Satan, are penetrated and assimilated and rendered subservient to its own ends by the kingdom of God. All other kingdoms have their rise, progress, maturity and decadence, while this kingdom alone is eternal, growing broader and waxing stronger through all ages until its consummation in the city of God.
It is essentially distinguished from all the kingdoms of the world whatsoever by its origin, its nature, its end, its method of development, its eternal continuance. (1) It necessarily rests upon a basis of redemption by blood. The atonement on Calvary is its essential prerequisite, for in its highest development "a Lamb as it had been slain" stood in the midst of the throne. (2) It is built up and constituted not by natural forces, but by the supernatural power of the Holy Ghost, directing, using and overruling all natural forces to the accomplishment of his own ends. (3) The sphere of this divine reign is not in the first instance external relations and conduct, but primarily the essential character, the permanent state of the heart in its ultimate springs of action as discerned by the all-seeing eye of God. And it extends to all external relations and actions whatsoever, as these are the streams which proceed from and reveal the essential state of the heart. (4) The central principle of this kingdom, which determines all its other conditions and requirements, is the absolute loyalty of the hearts of all its subjects to the person of the King. Any service rendered from any inferior motive than this is essential rebellion. But this supreme motive is to take possession of the entire person and to absorb all his life. If any man would be a subject of this kingdom, "and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also," he cannot be accepted as such. And this all-absorbing principle of absolute loyalty is to dominate all other springs of action and mould the entire life and all the relations which the individual sustains to the whole body. (5) It is essentially a kingdom of righteousness. On the foundation of supreme loyalty to God its reign effects the establishment of all righteousness in all the relations the individual sustains to God and to his fellows. Rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope, love, it enforces all the moral virtues known among heathen or Christian men—true manhood in all its elements of truth, bravery, purity, generosity, magnanimity. It embraces the man and woman as individuals, and the perfectly ordered family and community, and all ecclesiastical and political societies. It comprehends all the virtue and sets its seal of reprobation upon all moral evil; its demands in all the departments of moral character or action never fall short of absolute perfection. (6) Its condition of citizenship is the new birth or spiritual regeneration of each subject by the recreative power of the Holy Ghost. The King himself has said, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." This supernatural change of nature is in each case the origin of a supernatural life, both internal of faith and love, and external of holy obedience. (7) This kingdom is neither a republic nor a democracy, but an absolute monarchy and an ordered aristocracy. The King possesses all perfections, human and divine, in absolute fullness. All authority and dominion, alike legislative and executive, descend upon the subject from above. The Sovereign selects his subjects, and not the subjects the Sovereign. Each subject in the economy of the kingdom will have his own peculiar grade, status and function. As in the heavens one star differeth from another star in glory, so will it be in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:41). The members of the one body include the hands and the feet and the head. Some shall sit with their Lord on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (8) But the conditions of reward in this kingdom and of promotion to influence and power will be the opposite of all those which have prevailed in the kingdoms of this world. It is "not by blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The King has said, "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:25–28). The baleful doctrine of human rights which is now turning all political societies into pandemoniums is never admitted in the kingdom of God. But the sublime doctrine of human duties in its stead binds all hearts and lives in beautiful harmony to the throne of the Prince and to the happiness of all his subjects. (9) This kingdom is to endure for ever, gradually to embrace all the inhabitants of the earth, and finally the entire moral government of God in heaven and on earth. The little stone which breaks the image will become a great mountain and fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35). This gospel of the kingdom is to be preached to all nations. Then all the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. And in the dispensation of the fullness of times all things, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, are to be gathered together in one in Christ; who is set at the right hand of God in heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and all things are put under his feet, He only being excepted that did put all things under him (Eph. 1:10, 20, 21; 1 Cor. 15:27).
III. The process by which this kingdom grows through its successive stages toward its ultimate completion can of course be very inadequately understood by us. It implies the ceaseless operation of the mighty power of God working through all the forces and laws of nature and culminating in the supernatural manifestations of grace and of miracle. The Holy Ghost is everywhere present, and he works directly alike in the ways we distinguish as natural and as supernatural—alike through appointed instruments and agencies, and immediately by his direct personal power. The special agency for the building up of this kingdom is the organized Christian Church with its regular ministry, providing for the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. The special work of the Holy Ghost in building up this kingdom is performed in the regeneration and sanctification of individuals through the ministry of the Church. But beyond this the omnipresent Holy Ghost works to the same end, directly and indirectly, in every sphere of nature and of human life, causing all the historic movements of peoples and nations, of civilization and of science, of political and ecclesiastical societies, to broaden and deepen the foundations and to advance the growth and perfection of his kingdom. Thus this kingdom from the beginning and in the whole circle of human history has been always coming. Its coming has been marked by great epochs, when new revelations and new communications of divine power have been imported from without into the current of human history. The chiefest of these have been the giving of the law, the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and session of the King on the right hand of the Father, and the mission of the Holy Ghost. Yet the kingdom has been always coming every moment of all the years that have passed. In all the growing of the seeds and all the blowing of the winds; in every event, even the least significant, which has advanced the interests of the human family either in respect to their bodies or their souls, and thus made their lives better or worthier; in all the breaking of fetters; in all the bringing in of light; in the noiseless triumphs of peace; in the dying out of barbarisms; and in the colonization of great continents with new populations and free states,—the kingdom is coming. Above all, in the multiplication of the myriad centres of Christian missions and of the myriad hosts of Christian workers, each in the spirit of the King seeking the very lowest and most degraded, everywhere lifting upward what Satan's kingdom has borne down,—the kingdom is coming. Its process is like that of the constructive power of the kingdom of nature, silent and invisible, yet omnipresent and omnipotent, like the rain and the dew and the zephyr and the sunlight. The kingdom comes intensively in each heart like the leaven, which penetrates the whole mass silently yet irresistibly until all is leavened. It comes extensively like the growth of the mustard-seed, which from the least beginnings unfolds itself until it shoots out great branches and shelters the fowls of heaven. In this World the wheat and the tares, the good and the evil, grow together to the end. The net gathers in fish good and bad. One field brings forth thirty, another forty, and another an hundred-fold. In the end the tares shall be gathered and burned, and the pure wheat gathered without mixture in the eternal garner of the Lord. In the whole history of its coming 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." But its consummation shall be ushered in suddenly and with overwhelming demonstrations of glory: "For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day." For the present the King is absent, gathering together in his grasp the reins of his empire: we are left to be diligently employed with the doing the utmost for his cause possible within our respective spheres against his coming. When he comes he will be revealed as a King of kings, followed by great retinues of royal princes sitting on thrones and reigning over cities in his name and through his grace.
IV. We now come to the word for this subject characteristic of the New Testament—THE CHURCH. It must be remembered that this does not present a different subject, but a different phase of the same subject. The word "kingdom" expresses chiefly the ideas of dominion and of loyal obedience. The word for "Church" expresses chiefly the ideas of sovereign election and of free and efficacious salvation. The New Testament word represented by the word "Church" is ἐκκλησία (ecclesia), which precisely means the body of the elect—the elect, the effectually called by the power of the Holy Ghost. And phenomenally the elect are believers. Their specific mark is faith. When the Lamb shall gain his victories over his enemies and be manifested Lord of lords and King of kings, those who accompany him will be the "called," the "elect," "believers" (Rev. 17:14). This is the sense of the word ecclesia—the body of "the elect," "the effectually called" by the Holy Ghost, "the body, the fullness of Christ," "the bride, the Lamb's wife." All its real members are saved. None are saved who are not really its members. It is absolutely one, no matter how its members may appear to be separated by differences of time, place, creed or outward form, for "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free." The unity of the Church is the one absolutely essential element of its existence which is never absent, and which can never be lost. And, however much this essential unity may be disguised by the varying fortunes or by the passions of human life, it will be conspicuously exhibited in its glorified form at the last day.
But the laws of human thought and language have made it inevitable that the transient forms in which parts of this great body are temporarily organized should be confounded with the essential being of that body which transcends and survives them all, and that the name which designates the whole should be applied to all its constituent parts. Accordingly, in the New Testament and in our current language the word "church" is applied to the local congregation, to the collected congregations of a city or a province, or to some special denomination distinguished by a particular creed or form of organization or ceremonial of worship. Thus we read constantly of the church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, "the church in Corinth," "the churches of Asia," and of the Reformed, of the Presbyterian and of the Episcopal churches.
Here two points are to be distinctly borne in mind: 1st. The whole Church in its totality, the holy catholic Church in which we all profess to believe, is not made up as a general sum by adding all the particular Christian denominations together, as adding the Presbyterians to the Baptists, and these to the Methodists, and these to the Anglicans and Romanists, etc. This is self-evident, because all of these outward organizations contain many members which have no part nor lot in the essential Church of which Christ is the Head; and also because the whole body of those dying in infancy outside of the visible Church, which constitute the vast majority of the essential Church, never formed any part of these particular denominations. You might as well attempt to reach an adequate survey of the whole surface of the round earth, with its oceans and mountains, by adding together the surveyed farms of Europe and America, as to present an adequate survey of the Church which is the body of Christ and the heir of the promises by summing up in one table the statistics of our several organized denominations. The essential Church is like the all-investing atmosphere. The several phenomenal organizations which we call churches are like the visible clouds which float in various forms and variable proportions in its bosom.
2d. There are not two churches, the one visible and the other invisible. There is, and can be ever, but one single, indivisible Church of Jesus Christ. This is always visible in its exact definition and in its widest comprehension to the omniscient eye of God. It is always visible, although imperfectly, even to the eye of the human observer. It consists in its essential nature of men and women living in the flesh, and as far as they are distinguished as the possessors of a peculiar spiritual nature: by the very force of their saintship they are set apart in contrast to the mass of mankind as "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world." Moreover, it belongs to the essential nature of this spiritual Church, as composed of intrinsically social beings who by reason of their saintship are loyal servants of their Master in a hostile world, that it always and everywhere tends to express itself in some external organized form, and so render itself the more definitely visible. When it is finally consummated, this Church will be the most conspicuously visible of all created objects, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners."
On the other hand, in contrast with external ecclesiastical societies called churches by us, the one holy catholic Church is relatively invisible to the eyes of men. This relative invisibility is due to two facts: First, that, because the true members of the Church in this world are inextricably mixed with false professors and unbelievers, it is impossible for human observers in this life accurately to discriminate the members of this body from its environment. And secondly, since this one Church comprehends all the centuries and members in all the communities embraced in the whole course of human history, a part being glorified in heaven, while a part is struggling with the conditions of this life, it follows that this Church is too vast to be comprehended in its unity in one human vision. As a whole, it is invisible because its proportions transcend vision. It is seen in its parts successively and imperfectly, but it will be seen completely only when the city of God descends from heaven "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
V. There are possible only two generically distinct theories as to the nature of the Church. The first maintains that it is essentially an outwardly organized society, like the Church of Rome or of England; its outward form as well as its informing spirit being determined by the constitution originally imposed upon it by Christ, through a succession of offices, in unbroken organic continuity from the days of the apostles until now.
The second doctrine maintains that the Church is a general term for the whole body of regenerated men, whether of past, present or future generations. These are constituted one spiritual body by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which unites them to Christ their Head, as all the various elements and members of our natural bodies are constituted one by the indwelling of a common soul. The many members of this body, being many, are one body; and it is all the more one because of the infinitely various relations which the several members sustain to our Lord and to each other, determined by their various natural faculties, historical conditions and gracious endowments.
A very slight knowledge either of the Bible or of ecclesiastical history proves that the doctrine of the Church first stated is impossible. The claim is that such organizations as the Greek, Roman and Anglican churches are identical, as external corporations, with the Church of the original apostles. This is simply absurd on the face of it. It is admitted by the first scholars of the Church of England* that "nothing like modern episcopacy existed before the close of the first century." The office of the twelve apostles was in its essence incapable of transmission, and as a matter of fact has not been transmitted. No living man can follow Paul's example in presenting the "signs of an apostle." It has been proved hundreds of times, and never with clearer demonstration than by Bishop Lightfoot in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, that the idea of a clerical priesthood was unknown in the early Church. Nothing like the Roman or Anglican hierarchy can be read between the lines of New Testament history without the most grotesque incongruity. Nothing like their vestments or elaborate liturgies can be conceived of as belonging to the Church of that period. Most of these are demonstrably comparatively modern, and bear marks of Jewish, of heathen and of secular origin.
Besides, the claim that the original external corporations have remained intact through all intervening generations without break in the absolutely continuous transmission of authority can in no case be proved, and in most cases is conspicuously false. The Church of Rome ridicules the claims of the Greeks and Anglicans alike. The contestant apostles of Romanism and Anglicanism excommunicate each other, and claim exclusive authority in dioceses embracing the same territory over half the world, and utterly irrespective of any claims to priority of occupation on either side—e. g. the claims of the Romanists in New York and Virginia, and of the Anglicans in Canada, Louisiana and California. The more thoroughly, therefore, the first theory of the Church, or that which regards it as a visible corporation, is put to the test, the more inconsistent it is shown to be with all the providential facts of the case.
On the other hand, it is evident that the second doctrine of the Church, or that which regards it as a collective name for the whole body of the saved in all ages, is the one which alone justifies the application to it of the common predicates of "unity," "apostolicity," "catholicity," "infallibility," "perpetuity" and "sanctity." The spiritual body is always faithful to its genuine apostolic doctrine in all its essentials; is infallibly preserved from all fatal errors of faith and practice; is set apart from the world as consecrated and morally pure; and endures through all conflicts and changes as indestructible and unchangeably one and catholic, embracing in one spiritual union all saints in all parts of the world, in all successive generations.
Nevertheless, this spiritual body, always consisting of men and women whose natures are essentially social, must ever spontaneously and universally tend to organize itself under all historical conditions. All the various forms which thence result have been comprehended in God's design, and are necessary for the spiritual development of the Church and for the accomplishment of the great tasks it has been commissioned to perform. Yet the permanent results of biblical interpretation unite with the history of Christ's providential and gracious guidance of the churches in proving that he never intended to impose upon the Church as a whole any particular form of organization. Neither he nor his apostles ever went beyond the suggestion of general principles and actual inauguration of a few rudimentary forms. The history of the churches during all subsequent ages shows that these rudimentary forms have been ever changing in correspondence with the changes in their historical conditions. And in exact proportion to the freedom and fruitfulness of the Church's activity in the service of its Master are these organic forms rapidly and flexibly adapted to the conditions of the sphere in which their especial work is appointed. These various denominational forms of the living Church are all one in their essentials, and differ only in their accidents. These accidents have been determined in each case by conditions peculiar to itself, especially by those resulting from national character and from political, social, educational and geographical circumstances. Some have sprung from transient conditions, some from the idiosyncrasies of their founders, and some even from the follies and sins of selfish partisans. Other differences are rooted in far more permanent distinctions of nations and classes, and represent persistent rival tendencies in the thoughts and tastes and habits of men. All of these, since they exist and are used as instruments of the Holy Ghost, have in that fact a providential justification. And each one, even the least significant, emphasizes some otherwise too much neglected side of the truth, and is therefore, in its day, necessary to the completeness of the whole.
It is evident, therefore, that while the Church of Christ necessarily tends to self-organization under ordinary conditions, and to different forms of organization under different conditions, nevertheless organization itself is not of its essence. The Church exists antecedently to and independently of any organization, and its far larger part, embracing all mankind of all centuries dying in infancy, extends indefinitely beyond all organizations. All the more it is certain that no special form can be essential to the existence, or even to the integrity, of the Church.
As the outward form should express the true character of the informing spirit, of course in an ideally perfect state the essential unity of the Church, as well as all other permanent characteristics, must find expression. All radical diversities, all irreconcilable oppositions, all bigotry, jealousy, alienation and strife, must be eliminated. But all unity implies relation and all relations imply differences, and the sublime unity of the catholic Church of all peoples and of all generations implies the harmony of incalculable varieties. The principle of the union is spiritual and vital, and hence must be the result of an internal growth. The more perfect the inward life, the more perfect will be its outward expression in form. The final external form of the holy catholic Church will never be reached by adding denomination to denomination. It will come as all growth into organized form, alike in the physiological and in the social world, comes by the spontaneous action of central vital forces from within.
All living unity implies diversity, and just in proportion to the elevated type and significance of the unity will be the variety of the elements it comprehends. In the barren desert each grain of sand is of precisely the same form with every other grain, and therefore there is no organic whole. The life of the world results from the correlation of earth and sky, of land and sea, of mountains and plains. All social unity springs out of the differences between man and woman, parent and child, men of thought and men of action, the men who possess and the men who need. No number of similar stones would constitute a great cathedral. No number of repetitions of the same musical sound would generate music. Always where the most profound and perfect unity is effected it is the result of the greatest variety and complexity of parts. This law holds true through all varieties of vegetable, animal and social organisms, and is revealed equally through all the pages of the geologic records.
Certainly, God appears to be preparing to make the ultimate unity of the Church the richest and most comprehensive of created forms in the number and variety of its profound harmonies. It would have been a very simple thing at the first to form a homogeneous society out of the undifferentiated family of Adam numerically multiplied. But for thousands of years God has been breaking up that family into a multitude of varieties passing all enumeration. In arctic, torrid and temperate zones; on mountains, valleys, coasts, continents and islands; in endlessly drawn-out successions of ages; under the influence of every possible variety of inherited institution; in every stage of civilization and under every political, social and religious constitution; through all possible complications of personal idiosyncrasy and of external environment,—God has been drawing human nature through endless modifications. All these varieties enter into and contribute to the marvelous riches of the Christian Church, for her members are "redeemed out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." And all these are further combined into all the endless varieties of ecclesiastical organizations, monarchical, aristocratical, republican and democratic, which the ingenuity of man, assisted by all complications of theological controversy and of social and political life, has been able to invent.
Who, then, shall guide all these multitudinous constituents in their recombination into the higher unity? Shall it be accomplished by a process of absorption into some ancient society claiming to be the Church? Shall it be helped forward by the volunteered offices of some self-authorized "Church congress"? A time can never come when many of these differences so evidently designed will be obliterated. But undoubtedly a time is soon coming when the law of differentiation, so long dominant, shall be subordinated to the law of integration, when all these differences so arduously won shall be wrought into the harmony of the perfect whole. The comprehension of so vast a variety of interacting forces must be left to God. His methods are always historical and his instruments are all second causes. He alone has been contemporaneous with the Church under all dispensations, and omnipresent with the churches of every nation and tribe, and with him "a thousand years are as one day."
The sin of schism is unquestionably very common and very heinous. In its essence it is a sin against the unity of the Church. If this unity were external and mechanical, then all organic division or variety would be schism. But since the principle of unity is the immanent Holy Ghost binding all the members in one life to Christ its source, schism must consist in some violation of the ties which bind us to the Holy Ghost or to Christ or to our fellow-members.
Hence all denial of the supreme Godhead and lordship of Christ is schism. All denial of the body of catholic doctrine common to the whole confessing Church and embraced in the great ecumenical creeds is schism. All sin against the Holy Ghost, every breach of the law of holiness and every defect in spiritual-mindedness tend to the marring and dividing of the body of Christ. All pride, bigotry and exclusive Churchism; all claim that the true Church is essentially identical with a certain external organization or form of organization or with a definite external succession of officers; all denial of the validity of the ministry and sacraments of any bodies professing the true faith and bearing evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit,—are schisms. All party spirit, jealousy and selfish rivalry; all unnecessary multiplication of denominational organizations; all want of the spirit of fraternal love and co-operation in the service of the common Master,—tend to the marring and dividing of the body of Christ.
If this be true, it is evident that the real union of the churches can best be cultivated by promoting the central spiritual unity of the Church which comprehends them all. For this end all who call themselves Christians must with one purpose seek to bring their whole mind and thought more and more into perfect conformity to the Word of God speaking through the sacred Scriptures, and their whole life and activity more and more into subjection to the Holy Ghost dwelling in the whole body and in all its members alike. This process must, of course, proceed entirely from within outward, never in the reverse direction. Organic unity will be the result of the co-operation through long ages of an infinite variety of forces. It cannot be brought about by any system of means working toward it directly as an end in itself. All such unionistic enterprises are prompted by many mixed motives, some of them essentially partisan, and therefore wholly divisive in their real effects. But hereafter, in God's good time, the result will come as an incidental effect of the ripening of all churches in knowledge and love and in all the graces, and especially of a whole-souled, self-forgetful consecration of all to the service and glory of their common Lord.
VI. The "CITY OF GOD."
The most sublime picture presented in the entire past history of the Christian Church since Pentecost is that presented by St. Augustine, the grandest of all uninspired Church teachers, when during the years A. D. 413 to 426, from the very midst of the conflagration of ancient Rome, the so-called "eternal city" of the pagans, he uttered in trumpet tones his argument and prophecy of the superior strength and beauty, and of the absolutely immortal life and glory, of the city of God in his De Civitate Dei. The Teutonic barbarians had already taken Rome and shaken to its foundations the ancient universal empire, upon which civilization and order and the hopes of mankind appeared to depend. The minds of men were in a state of chaotic confusion. The future was utterly dark. Even Christians began to despair. Then Augustine made all men see the difference between the "city of the world," called eternal, which was passing away, and the pure and rainbowed "city of God," the goal of contest, but the realm of peace and love, which shall abide secure and radiant, like the incorruptible stars, for ever and ever.
A city differs from a kingdom only in being its condensed essence, its central seat. What Paris is to France, what the city of Rome was to the empire of the same name, suggests the use of the title "city of God" for the consummate and glorified form of the kingdom. It is the kingdom comprised in its absolute unity, raised to its highest condition of culture, refinement, wealth and power.
Isaiah saw the "city of God" (Isa. 60:10–22) when he said, "The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee.… Therefore thy gates shall be open continually, they shall not be shut day nor night, that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought." "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about and see: all they gather themselves together.… the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee."
The author of Hebrews saw that "city of God" when he said (Heb. 12:22 seq.): "Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
And the apocalyptic prophet closes the volume of divine disclosures with the prophetic picture of the kingdom consummated in the form of this "city of God" descending from heaven: "And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." For the city "has the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.… And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.… And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." … "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
From Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (eBook)