Sermon 20. The Kingdom of the Saints Seasons - Pentecost

"The stone that smote the Image became a great Mountain, and filled the whole earth." Daniel ii. 35.

{232} [Note] DOUBTLESS, could we see the course of God's dispensations in this world, as the Angels see them, we should not be able to deny that it was His unseen hand that ordered them. Even the most presumptuous sinner would find it hopeless to withstand the marks of Divine Agency in them; and would "believe and tremble." This is what moves the Saints in the Apocalypse, to praise and adore Almighty God,—the view of His wonderful works seen as a whole from first to last. "Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints! Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?" [Rev. xv. 3, 4.] And perchance such a contemplation of the providences of God, whether in their own personal history, or in the affairs of their own country, or of the {233} Church, or of the world at large, may be one of the blessed occupations of God's elect in the Intermediate State. However, even to us sinners, who have neither secured our crown like the Saints departed, much less are to be compared to the Angels who "excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word," [Ps. ciii. 20.] even to us is vouchsafed some insight into God's providence, by means of the records of it. History and Prophecy are given us as informants, and reflect various lights upon His Attributes and Will, whether separately or in combination. The text suggests to us an especial instance of this privilege, in the view which is allowed us of the introduction and propagation of the Gospel; and it will be fitting at a Season when we are especially commemorating its first public manifestation in the Holy Ghost's descent upon the Apostles, to make some remarks upon the wonderful providence of God as seen in it.

The words of Daniel in the text form part of the disclosure he was inspired to make to Nebuchadnezzar, of the dream that "troubled" him. After describing the great Image, with a head of fine gold, arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay, by which were signified the four Empires which preceded the coming of Christ, he goes on to foretell the rise of Christianity in these words: "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the Image upon his feet which were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was {234} the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became like the chaff;" heavy and costly as the metals were, they became as light as chaff "of the summer threshing-floors, and the wind carried them away ... And the stone that smote the Image became a great Mountain, and filled the whole earth."

Afterwards, he adds this interpretation: "In the days of these kings, shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever."

This prophecy of Daniel is fulfilled among us, at this day. We know it is so. Those four idol kingdoms are gone, and the Kingdom of Christ, made without human hands, remains, and is our own blessed portion. But to speak thus summarily, is scarcely to pay due honour to God's work, or to reap the full benefit of our knowledge of it. Let us then look into the details of this great Providence, the history of the Gospel Dispensation.

1. Observe what it was that took place. There have been many kingdoms before and since Christ came, which have been set up and extended by the sword. This, indeed, is the only way in which earthly power grows. Wisdom and skill direct its movements, but the arm of force is the instrument of its aggrandizement. And an unscrupulous conscience, a hard heart, and guilty deeds, are the usual attendants upon its growth: which is, in one form or other, but usurpation, invasion, conquest, and tyranny. It rises against its {235} neighbours, and increases by external collisions and a visible extension. But the propagation of the Gospel was the internal development of one and the same principle in various countries at once, and therefore may be suitably called invisible, and not of this world. The Jewish nation did not "push westward, and northward, and southward;" but a spirit went out from its Church into all lands, and wherever it came, there a new Order of things forthwith arose in the bosom of strangers; arose simultaneously, independently in each place, and recognising, but in no sense causing, the repetitions of itself which arose all around it. We know indeed that the Apostles were the instruments, the secret emissaries (as they might be called) of this work; but I am speaking of the appearance of things as a heathen might regard them. Who among the wise men or the disputers of this world will take account of a few helpless men wandering about from place to place, and preaching a new doctrine? It never can be believed, it is impossible that they should be the real agents of the revolution which followed. So we maintain, and the world's philosophy must be consistent enough to agree with us. It looked down upon the Apostles in their day; it said they could effect nothing; let it say the same thing now in common fairness. Surely to the philosophy of this world it must appear as absurd to ascribe great changes to such weak vessels, as to attribute them to some imaginary unseen agents, to the heavenly hosts whose existence it disbelieves. As it would account the hypothesis of Angelic interference gratuitous, so did it then, and must {236} still pronounce the hypothesis of the Apostolic efforts insufficient. Its own witness in the beginning becomes our evidence now.

Dismissing then the thought of the feeble and despised preachers, who went to and fro, let us see what really happened. In the midst of a great Empire, such as the world had never seen, powerful and crafty beyond all former empires, more extensive, and better organized, suddenly a new Kingdom arose. Suddenly in every part of this well-cemented Empire, in the East and West, North and South, as if by some general understanding, yet without any sufficient system of correspondence or centre of influence, ten thousand orderly societies, professing one and the same doctrine, and disciplined upon the same polity, sprang up as from the earth. It seemed as though the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and some new forms of creation were thrown forward from below, the manifold ridges of some "great Mountain," crossing, splitting, disarranging the existing system of things, levelling the hills, filling up the valleys,—irresistible as being sudden, unforeseen, and unprovided for,—till it "filled the whole earth." [Isa. xli. 15, 16] This was indeed a "new thing;" and independent of all reference to prophecy, is unprecedented in the history of the world before or since, and calculated to excite the deepest interest and amazement in any really philosophical mind. Throughout the kingdoms and provinces of Rome, while all things looked as usual, the sun rising and setting, the seasons continuing, men's passions swaying them as from the beginning, {237} their thoughts set on their worldly business, on their gain or their pleasures, on their ambitious prospects and quarrels, warrior measuring his strength with warrior, politicians plotting, and kings banqueting, suddenly this portent came as a snare upon the whole earth. Suddenly, men found themselves encompassed with foes, as a camp surprised by night. And the nature of this hostile host was still more strange (if possible) than the coming of it. It was not a foreigner who invaded them, not a barbarian from the north, nor a rising of slaves, nor an armament of pirates, but the enemy rose up from among themselves. The first-born in every house, "from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne, to the first-born of the captive in the dungeon," unaccountably found himself enlisted in the ranks of this new power, and estranged from his natural friends. Their brother, the son of their mother, the wife of their bosom, the friend that was as their own soul, these were the sworn soldiers of the "mighty army," that "covered the face of the whole earth."

Next, when they began to interrogate this enemy of Roman greatness, they found no vague profession among them, no varying account of themselves, no irregular and uncertain plan of action or conduct. They were all members of strictly and similarly organized societies. Every one in his own district was the subject of a new state, of which there was one visible head, and officers under him. These small kingdoms were indefinitely multiplied, each of them the fellow of the other. Wherever the Roman Emperor travelled, there he found these seeming rivals of his power, the Bishops of the {238} Church. Further, they one and all refused to obey his orders, and the prescriptive laws of Rome, so far as religion was concerned. The authority of the Pagan Religion, which in the minds of Romans was identified with the history of their greatness, was plainly set at nought by these upstart monarchies. At the same time they professed and observed a singular patience and subjection to the civil powers. They did not stir hand or foot in self-defence; they submitted to die, nay, accounted death the greatest privilege that could be inflicted on them. And further, they avowed one and all the same doctrine clearly and boldly; and they professed to receive it from one and the same source. They traced it up through the continuous line of their Bishops to certain twelve or fourteen Jews, who professed to have received it from Heaven. Moreover, they were bound one to another by the closest ties of fellowship; the society of each place to its ruler, and their rulers one with another by an intimate alliance all over the earth. And lastly, in spite of persecution from without, and occasional dissensions from within, they so prospered, that within three centuries from their first appearance in the Empire, they forced its sovereigns to become members of their confederation; nay, nor ended there, but as the civil power declined in strength, they became its patrons instead of its victims, mediated between it and its barbarian enemies, and after burying it in peace when its hour came, took its place, won over the invaders, subdued their kings, and at length ruled as supreme; ruled, united under one head, in the very scenes of their former suffering, in {239} the territory of the Empire, with Rome itself, the seat of the Imperial government, as a centre. I am not entering into the question of doctrine, any more than of prophecy. I am not inquiring how far this victorious Kingdom was by this time perverted from its original character; but only directing attention to the historical phenomenon. How strange then is the course of the Dispensation! Five centuries compass the rise and fall of other kingdoms; but ten were not enough for the full aggrandizement of this. Its sovereignty was but commencing, when other powers have run their course and are exhausted. And now to this day, that original Dynasty, begun by the Apostles, endures. Through all changes of civil affairs, of race, of language, of opinion, the succession of Rulers then begun, has lasted on, and still represents in every country its original founders. "Instead of its fathers, it has had children, who have been princes in all lands." Truly, this is the vision of a "stone cut out without hands," "smiting" the idols of the world, "breaking them in pieces," scattering them "like chaff," and, in their place, "filling the whole earth." If there be a Moral Governor over the world, is there not something unearthly in all this, something which we are forced to refer to Him from its marvellousness, something which from its dignity and greatness bespeaks His hand?

2. Now, with this wonderful phenomenon before us, let us consider well the language of Christ and His Apostles. In the very infancy of their Kingdom, while travelling through the cities of Israel, or tossed to and fro as outcasts among the heathen, they speak {240} confidently, solemnly, calmly, of its destined growth and triumph. Observe our Lord's language: "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the Gospel." Again, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." "I appoint unto you a Kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me; that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel." "The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." Is it possible to doubt that Christ contemplated in these words the overshadowing sovereignty of His Kingdom? Let it be observed that the figure used is the same applied by Daniel to the Assyrian Empire. "The tree that thou sawest," he says to Nebuchadnezzar, "which grew and was strong … upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation, it is thou, O King." How wondrously was the parallel prophecy fulfilled, when the mighty men of the earth fled for refuge to the Holy Church! Again, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." [Mark i. 14, 15. Matt. xvi. 18. Luke xxii. 29, 30. Matt. xiii. 31, 32. Dan. iv. 20, 22. Mark vi. 15, 16.] {241} With what "authority" He speaks! What majestic simplicity, what unhesitating resolve, what commanding superiority is in His words! Reflect upon them in connexion with the event.

On the other hand, consider in what language He speaks of that disorganization of society which was to attend the establishment of His kingdom. "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household." "The brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death; and ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake … In those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken." [Luke xii. 49, 50. Matt. x. 34-36. Mark xiii. 12, 13, 24, 25.] In the last words, whatever difficulty there may be in the chronological arrangement, is contained a clear announcement under the recognised prophetical symbols, of the destruction, sooner or later, of existing political institutions. In like manner, observe how St. Paul takes for granted the troubles which were coming on the earth, and the rise of the Christian {242} Church amidst them, and reasons on all this as if already realized. "Now hath He promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." [Heb. xii. 26-28]

The language, of which the above is but a specimen, is the more remarkable, because neither Christ nor His Apostles looked forward to these wonderful changes with exultation, but with a deep feeling of mingled joy and sadness, as foreboding those miserable corruptions in the Church, which all Christians allow to have since taken place, though they may differ in their account of them. "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold … There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before." "In the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, … traitors, heady, high-minded … having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof … Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." [Matt. xxiv. 12, 24, 25. 2 Tim. iii. 1-5, 13.]

Now, if we had nothing more to bring forward than the two considerations which have been here insisted {243} on, the singular history of Christianity, and the clear and confident anticipation of it by its first preachers, we should have enough of evidence, one would think, to subdue the most difficult inquirer to a belief of its divinity. But, tomorrow we will see, please God, whether something may not be added to the above view of it.

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