Sermon 17. Sanctity the Token of the Christian Empire

"With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." Isa. xi. 4.

{237} WHEN Christ visited His Church in the flesh, He left it what it was, yet made it what it was not; He left it a Church, and He made it a kingdom. He made it a kingdom or empire, like those four ungodly kingdoms which Daniel saw in vision, to which His Church was successively subjected, and to which His own kingdom succeeded. But though it was as really a kingdom as it was a Church; yet, as it differed from its former state under the Law, though still a Church, so, though a kingdom, it differed in some essential respects from those heathen kingdoms to which the Prophet compares it.

What this great difference is, the text expresses. Kingdoms of this world are supported by weapons of this world; but Christ's kingdom, though a visible temporal kingdom, is in this world, but not of this {238} world, and is maintained by weapons, not carnal, but heavenly. "With righteousness," says the Prophet, speaking of His rule, "and with equity;" "with the rod of His mouth," by preaching and teaching, by exhortation and confession; and "with the breath of His lips," by judgment and sentence, by denunciation and anathema.

As then it may in many ways be shown that the Church of Christ, though one Church with the Jewish, differs from it as being a kingdom; so now let me dwell on this point, that though a kingdom like empires of the earth, it differs from them in being a Church, i.e. a kingdom of truth and righteousness.

Few words are necessary to show that it is thus described in Scripture; but some explanation may be necessary, in order to reconcile the description with its fulfilment.

First, then, as to Scripture. Our Lord, we know, calls it not only a kingdom, but a kingdom of heaven; or, as He says elsewhere, "My kingdom is not of this world." Now the Prophets comment largely by anticipation on this title, and show what it implies. For instance, the work is attributed to Almighty God, not to man. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." [Zech. iv. 6.] Again, "Thou sawest," says Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, "till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet." [Dan. ii. 34.] Again, "The word that goeth forth out of My mouth ... shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it {239} shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." [Isa. lv. 11.] Again, we read of "the Spirit being poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness being a fruitful field, and the fruitful field being counted for a forest." [Isa. xxxii. 15.] Again, "So shall they fear the Name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun: when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." [Isa. lix. 19.] And again, "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob." [Isa. xliv. 3-5.]

Thus the empire was to be of a moral nature; and this is further seen by such words as "law," "light," and "righteousness," which are used in describing its progress. "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." [Isa. ii. 3.] Again, "A Law shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment to rest for a light of the people." [Isa. li. 4.] And again, "For Zion's sake will I not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." [Isa. lxii. 1.] And all such passages as the text, which speak of righteousness, equity, truth, and wisdom, being the attributes of the kingdom; or as the words in the Psalm, "Ride on because of the word of truth, of meekness, and righteousness." {240}

The same thing is shown by such descriptions of the heavenly kingdom as speak of its rise as a creation; implying thereby that it was an inward change resulting from moral influence, or the like cause, not an outward conquest. "I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by My Name; for I have created him for My glory, I have formed him: yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears." Again, "Behold, I will do a new thing … I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert ... This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise." [Isa. xliii. 6-8, 19-21.]

And to the same purport are such passages as speak of the subjugation of the nations to Christ's kingdom being voluntary on their part. It is a conquest by persuasion, a winning over, not a tyrannous compulsion. "Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths." [Isa. ii. 3.] And in the Prophet Zechariah, "There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts: {241} In those days ... ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." [Zech. viii. 20-23.]

That Scripture then speaks of the Kingdom of Christ as not an earthly kingdom, not supported by strength of arm, or force of mind, or any other faculty or gift of the natural man, is plain. But now let us consider some objections to which the circumstances of its actual history and condition give rise.

1. And first, it may be said that the event has not fulfilled the prophecies, in this very respect in which I have been speaking of them; that the kingdom has indeed been large and powerful, but it has not ruled according to justice and truth; that at times it has had very wicked men among its rulers, and that great corruptions, religious and moral, have been found in it; and that, as has sometimes been said, worse crimes have been perpetrated under colour of religion than in any other way. But this may be granted in the argument, and yet the Scripture account of the Church remain uncompromised. That there have been things that offend, and those that commit iniquity, in Christ's kingdom, in great abundance, is true indeed; but of this we are forewarned in Scripture itself. "The kingdom of heaven," says our Lord, "is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind." [Matt. xiii. 47.] Nor does the one truth interfere with the other. It is true there have been "many called and few chosen" in this kingdom; yet it is true also, that it is a kingdom {242} of righteousness, for this reason, because it is a kingdom founded, based in righteousness. This is how the prophecies speak of it. "In righteousness shalt thou be established," [Isa. liv. 14.] "in mercy shall the throne be established," "by liberal things shall He stand." [Isa. xvi. 5; xxxii. 8.] "A king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." [Isa. xxxii. 1.] "Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins." [Isa. xi. 5.] It is a kingdom which, from first to last, in every age, endures because of the righteousness which is in it. Earthly kingdoms are founded, not in justice, but in injustice. They are created by the sword, by robbery, cruelty, perjury, craft, and fraud. There never was a kingdom, except Christ's, which was not conceived and born, nurtured and educated, in sin. There never was a state but was committed to acts and maxims which it is its crime to maintain, and its ruin to abandon. What monarchy is there but began in invasion or usurpation? What revolution has been effected without self-will, violence, or hypocrisy? What popular government but is blown about by every wind, as if it had no conscience and no responsibilities? What dominion of the few but is selfish and unscrupulous? Where is military strength without the passion for war? Where is trade without the love of filthy lucre, which is the root of all evil? But Christ's kingdom was of another sort. It was destined to be powerful and wide-spreading above other kingdoms; it was to be the abode of proud, covetous, ambitious, sensual hearts; it was to look like {243} the kingdoms of this world, first, because of its wealth and power; next, because there were many among its subjects who sought these things. But this is the indelible distinction between it and all other kingdoms, that they spring from evil, and depend on evil; they have their life and strength in bold deeds and bad principles: but that the life of the Church lies, not in inflicting evil, but in receiving it; not in doing, but in suffering; in all those things which the world despises, as being fitter in themselves to pull down an empire than to build it up; in patience, in simplicity, in innocence, in concession, in passiveness, in resignation.

True it is that numberless offences occur in the kingdom; but when its members sin, its original principle is abandoned, and its life is imperilled: on the other hand, by truth, by justice, by mercy, by sanctity, it arose, it gained power, and it keeps it. It awes men into obedience, not by strength of arm, by a soldiery, implements of war, strongholds, silver and gold; for of these it has none: but by its visible tokens of a Divine ministry; by the weapons of God. When the Church displays her proper gifts, she prospers: when she disuses them, she declines. "Put up again thy sword into his place," said our Lord to St. Peter, "for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." [Matt. xxvi. 52.] "Lord," said James and John, "wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did? And He turned and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but {244} to save them." [Luke ix. 54-56.] We conquer by turning the cheek to the smiter; by repaying good for evil; by praying for the persecutor; by giving to him that asks; by suffering for the feeble; by sheltering the widow and the fatherless; by being champions of the poor; by fortitude, firmness, constancy, disinterestedness, fairness, moderation, nobleness, bountifulness, self-sacrifice, and self-command; by patience in enduring ill, and perseverance in doing well. Thus the heavenly kingdom rose at the first: thus, and thus only, in spite of its untrue members, which cumber it, is it still maintained. Thus it fulfils the paradox of being a holy Church, yet containing "not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour." [2 Tim. ii. 20.]

2. What has been said brings to mind another paradox, which is fulfilled in the kingdom of Christ, and which may require some explanation. In the Gospel, Christ's followers are represented as poor, despised, weak, and helpless:—such pre-eminently were the Apostles; but in the Prophets, especially in Isaiah, the kingdom is represented as rich, and flourishing, and honoured, and powerful, and happy. So much is this the language of prophecy, that the Apostles, till our Lord enlightened them, thought that, in being rulers in His kingdom, they were to inherit the goods of this world. They had been led to look out for a throne like David's, and a king's house like Solomon's: but far different is the nature of Christ's kingdom. At length they learned, what is the truth, that under the {245} Gospel, they who look out for such a throne and such a palace, do never obtain them, or, if so, obtain them to their harm, not to their benefit. In truth, so has it been ordered by Divine Providence, that in the Gospel kingdom is instanced a remarkable law of ethics, which is well known to all who have given their minds to the subject. All virtue and goodness tend to make men powerful in this world; but they who aim at the power have not the virtue. Again: virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasures; but they who cultivate it for the pleasure-sake are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because they never can have the virtue. So is it with the Church of Christ. If she were to seek power, wealth, and honour, this were to fall from grace; but it is not less true that she will have them, though she seeks them not, or, rather, if she seeks them not. For when men see disinterested goodness, and holiness which has no selfish aims, and conscientiousness which is strictly bound by a sense of duty, and faith which sacrifices this world for the next, they cannot help giving to those who display these excellences that which such persons are content to lose, and for which they ask not,—credit and influence. He who withdraws himself, is courted; he who solicits favour, is disdained. Satan offered our Lord the glory of all the kingdoms of the world, and He repelled the Evil One; but He gained from His Father what He refused from the Tempter.

So is it with all His followers. The Saints live in sackcloth, and they are buried in silk and jewels. The Church refuses the gifts of this world, but these gifts {246} come to her unbidden. Power, and influence, and credit, and authority, and wealth flow into her, because she does not ask for them: she has, because she does not seek: but let her seek them, and she loses them. She cannot help the accumulation of worldly goods, except by seeking them, except by showing anxiety about them. Men aim at robbing her of them, when they see that she prizes them. They envy her them, when she makes much of them. They grudge her them, and stint her of them, when they see that her ministers squander them on themselves, on their own persons, on their families, their relations, and their dependents; when they convert them into private property, and desecrate them, and leave them away by will for purposes not religious. In this way indeed the Church can keep herself from power and dignity, by making them the direct object of her thoughts. And this the Holy Apostles at first supposed they ought to do. And so is it with the kingdoms of this world. Revenue and property, tribute and tax, are weighty matters necessarily with states and governments; and power, dignity, and honour, wealth and splendour, are considered great prizes by the children of men. But so must it not be with us. "Before honour is humility." "Ye know," says our Lord, "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 {247} unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." [Matt. xx. 25-28.] "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross;" and therefore "God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name." [Phil. ii. 8, 9.] So is it with us; we rise by self-abasement.

The case is the same in the matter of eating, drinking, and clothing. If we seek them not, we shall have them. "Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." [Matt. vi. 31-33.] We are to seek, not temporal things, but God's righteousness; and temporal things will come, as it were, of their own accord.

Again; what is the command given us about the riches of this world? "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." [1 John ii. 15, 16.] Such is the Church's rule. But now, let us hear from the Prophet what the result of it is. "The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah. All they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord." [Isa. lx. 6.] What is this but to {248} say, that while gold and silver are applied by the Church to the purpose of showing forth the praises of the Lord, they will be given, and may be accepted; but that directly they are loved for their own sake, then they return to their original dust, lose their sanctification, and become "not of the Father, but of the world"?

Again, universal dominion, or Catholicity, is what all empires of this world have sought after; and what the Church alone has obtained, and obtained from the first: and how? I said it just now, by the bond of gentleness and charity. Other empires have attempted it by ambition; but the kingdom of God by meekness. And such was our Lord's declaration before He set it up. "Blessed are the meek," He said, "for they shall inherit the earth." [Matt. v. 5.] They shall gain without effort, what the children of men have ever with great efforts been seeking. They shrink and flee from the episcopate of the world, and they are crowned with an ecumenical dominion: they write themselves servants of servants, and they become vicars of Christ. "Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together: they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee." [Isa. lx. 4, 5.] "Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and {249} removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?" [Isa. xlix. 21.] The Church finds what she sought not for; and hence our Lord says to St. Peter, "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold, now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions." [Mark x. 29.] And in this respect, the Christian Church is prefigured in the history of Solomon, to whom God appeared in a dream, and said, "Ask what I shall give thee;" and next, when he asked for an understanding heart, answered, "Because thou hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy words: Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart … and I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honour." [1 Kings iii. 5, 11-13.]

Such, then, is the law of Christ's kingdom, such the paradox which is seen in its history. It belongs to the poor in spirit; it belongs to the persecuted; it is possessed by the meek; it is sustained by the patient. It conquers by suffering; it advances by retiring; it is made wise through foolishness. "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." [1 Cor. iii. 18.] Again: "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise {250} men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence." [1 Cor. i. 26-29.] Or, as He says elsewhere, contrasting their apparent weakness with their real power, "By honour and dishonour; by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." [2 Cor. vi. 8-10.]

But here we are brought to a third and very large question, with some mention of which I shall conclude.

3. Temporal power and wealth, though not essential to the Church, are almost necessary attendants on it, as I have already implied. They cannot long be absent from it; it is but a matter of time, as we speak, when they will be added. But if so, the question rises, whether, for instance, Herod had not cause to fear Him who was born King of the Jews in Bethlehem. For if the spiritual power of the Gospel Kingdom is followed, as a matter of necessity, by temporal power, what matter to him whether such temporal power was of the essence of the Church or not? He did not care for theological distinctions; any {251} how it belonged to the Church, or was henceforth to belong; that was the practical issue of the whole matter, and it was enough for him to know this. If so, he was right in being jealous of One who was going to resume in His own person, and delegate to His ministers, all power, temporal and spiritual, all over the earth. And again, the Romans too had cause to be jealous, and the cry of the Jews would seem to have reason in it: "Whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Csar;" and all this in spite of our Lord's most solemn and impressive statement, "My kingdom is not of this world." Such is the objection.

I answer, in the first place, by granting that Herod and other irreligious kings and states certainly had much reason to fear what was coming on them: especially since we have the plain prophecy in Scripture addressed to the Church, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish." And the event confirms this conclusion. The Roman power would not serve the Church. It was sagacious enough to discern her aggressive, imperial character from the first. It followed the steps of Herod and Pilate, and it inflicted a series of cruel persecutions upon her. We know well what resulted. The prophecy was accomplished. The nation and kingdom that did not serve the Church perished. The empire was broken; the Church triumphed; and then the empire humbled itself. It fell down and worshipped the King of the new kingdom, and it was allowed to live. It rose from its ruins. Rome, that guilty Pagan city, lives to this day (though Babylon is destroyed), because it has become Christian. {252}

Still, granting that Christ's Church, as being a temporal power, does necessarily interfere in the concerns of this world, still is the Church not of this world, because she does not use the instruments of this world. For instance: Are there not many alterations going on in civil and political matters now, of which the Gospel is the author altogether; which nevertheless no one would feel an infringement of the spiritual nature of its kingdom? If then it may alter or modify the states of this world in one respect, it may do so in another. Who can deny that the treatment of prisoners has been much improved by Christianity? Who can deny that the laws for the poor are considerably influenced by its precepts? Take, again, the case of duelling: Does not the voice of Christian feeling among us support the law of the land in a special way, in denouncing it as a sin, in spite of most specious arguments in its favour? or rather, as far as it is discountenanced, is it not discountenanced, not by the power of the law, though the law is against it, but by an influence issuing now, as five hundred years ago, from the Church? Or, to come to a more apposite instance,—what greater revolution has there been in society, than the liberation of slaves? a revolution which is going on even now, as in times past. This has been owing to the Kingdom of the Saints. It has ever exalted those of low degree. It has changed the structure of the body politic all through Christendom. Is it a greater revolution that it should tend to humble the great, than that it should raise the low? or, rather, are not both achievements predicted as prerogatives of Him who is the glorious {253} Lord and King of the new kingdom? "He hath showed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree." [Luke i. 51, 52.] So it was of old time; so it is now: whenever the Kingdom of the Most High fulfils its mission, the mighty bow down, and the despised are exalted.

And, moreover, we see from this instance of the abolition of slavery, as in the other instances I mentioned, how the Church conquers—not by force, but by persuasion. It is written, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power;" [Ps. cx. 3.] and so it is fulfilled. And hence in the prophecies of the book of Isaiah the willingness of the kings of the earth to humble themselves to the Church, is noted as a special characteristic of the spread of the Church. They are overcome by the beauty of holiness, and they yield freely. "Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee." [Isa. xlix. 18.] "The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." "The isles shall wait for Me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them ... Thy gates shall be open continually, ... that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought." [Isa. lx. 3-11.] It is by influence only that the Church reigns, or by what is sometimes called opinion. Kings and states still have the power of the sword, and {254} they only. They must still be obeyed by the Church, if they prefer to command and rule over her, to honouring her. They must be obeyed, and they will come to nought. She must leave her cause to God, who has promised to avenge it on every proud kingdom and nation. For herself, she has no arms, but peace, quietness, cheerfulness, resignation, and love. "Being reviled, she blesses; being persecuted, she suffers it; being defamed, she intreats;" she does not defend herself: like her Master, she does not "cry in the streets, or strive;" but she prevails, because God fights for her.

Lastly. If the Kingdom of Christ be what this view, drawn from the prophecies, represents it, you will say a very heavy responsibility lies upon those parties at present, civil or religious, who withstand that heavenly Kingdom, and a miserable destiny lies before them. You will say that it follows that such men of power or influence as insult the Church, and such professors of religion as speak against her, are in very great peril. I do not wish to undervalue their perilous condition, in charity to them. But I will observe this one thing, that it is very different to resist the Kingdom of Christ when it was at unity with itself, and now, when it is broken up into sections. Christ said, that whoso spake against Himself should be forgiven; but whoso spake against the Spirit should not be forgiven. I hope it is not presumptuous to say, that to many of us the Kingdom of the Saints comes, or before now has come, not in demonstration of the Spirit, but as Christ was in His Passion, broken, defaced, with its glory hidden, {255} and its power more or less suspended. And as then our Saviour, as if in fulfilment of His promise that His own persecutors should receive pardon, prayed for them on the Cross; so I trust now, without intruding into things unseen, we may hope that whatever hard things some among us speak or have spoken against that Heavenly Stranger which sojourns on the earth, yet, considering how she is disfigured and deformed by strife and calamity, Christ says for us continually, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

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