« AnteriorContinuar »
government, necessarily require, that they should not be overruled and compelled by force. For here, the thing that God requires, is the free consent of the will; which, in the nature of things, is not subject to compulsion; obedience itself being no obedience, where there was no possibility of having disobeyed. By sin, therefore, this moral kingdom of God began to be opposed; by the sins of evil angels, and by the sins of wicked men: among whom, as they corrupted themselves by degrees, in departing from the living God, Satan set up a kingdom of idolatry and great wickedness, in opposition to the righteous kingdom of God. In order to destroy which works of the Devil,—(to destroy them not by the exercise of Omnipotence, but by the establishment of virtue and true religion, which is the proper and only proper destruction of immorality and vice)—God was pleased to give assistance and strength to the light of nature and reason, by making revelations of himself from time to time to the degenerate world, and of the true manner of worshipping him; first by the Patriarchs, whom he appointed to be preachers of righteousness both before and after the flood; and then by Moses and the Prophets; and at last by his own Son; who came into the world, and was 'manifested' (as St. John assures us) for this cause, 'that he might destroy the works of the Devil;' that is, that he might root out idolatry and superstitious worship, and reform men from debauchery and all unrighteous practices; that by the knowledge, worship, and love of the One true God and Maker of all things, in purity and holiness of life, in justice, meekness, and universal charity and good-will towards each other, he might bring them back, from a state of general corruption, to become worthy and obedient subjects of his Father's kingdom of righteousness.
For this reason, the state of the Gospel, the religion of Christ, the obedience of faith, is in Scripture perpetually styled the 'Kingdom of God:' that kingdom of God, which we are commanded to seek, in the righteousness thereof: that kingdom, which our Saviour told the Jews, when he began to preach, was then come unto them: which he elsewhere declared to the Pharisees, 'cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, lo here, or lo there; for J)ehold, the kingdom of God is within you:' which, he assured his disciples, whosoever did not receive with the meekness and inoffensiveness of a little child, should not enter thereinto at all; and which he threatens, in case of men's unworthiness, should be taken from one nation, and given to another that would bring forth the fruits thereof: that kingdom, which, in his parables, our Lord represents under various similitudes of a moral signification; setting forth, by apt and proper comparisons, its different states in the present world; and out of which, he tells us, shall finally be 'gathered all offences, and they which do iniquity:' that kingdom, which God thus described of old to Moses: [Exod. xix. 6\] 'Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation: " and the prophet thus, [Ps. xlv. 6.] 'A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.' Lastly, that kingdom, which the apostle St. Paul tells us, 'is not in word, but in power; is not meat and drink,' (forms and ceremonies) 'but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.'
This, in the New Testament* is the frequent and usual acceptation of this phrase, * the kingdom of God;' it signifies the state of the Gospel, or the establishment of true religion in the world. From which use of the phrase in Scripture, we mfty by the way observe, how greatly all such enthusiastic persons err, who, under the notion of the 'kingdom of God,' represent to themselves either the saints exercising temporal authority and dominion in this world, or God himself influencing the minds of men by his absolute and irresistible power. As to the former notion, that of the saints exercising temporal authority and dominion in this world,—in this sense, our Saviour has expressly declared, that his kingdom is not of this world; and the true prosperity of the Church of God, it is plain, does not at all consist in the increase of temporal grandeur, which tends always to corruption; but in the increase of true holiness and virtue only, in the hearts and lives of men. And as to the other notion, that of God's influencing the minds of men by his absolute and irresistible power,—this also is a Very erroneous apprehension concerning the manner of God's ruling over moral agents: for the true greatness and glory Of a prince reigning in his kingdom, is the willing obedience of his subjects, not their weakness and incapacity of resisting him: and in all things relating to religion and morality, it is not magnifying the glory and majesty of God, to suppose Him acting upon and over-ruling men's wills by his
power, but to suppose them (like reasonable creatures) chusing to obey his commands by their wills, and loving the practice of virtue and goodness.
Nevertheless, since, at the best, all that can here be done in this imperfect state towards establishing God's kingdom of virtue and righteousness, and consequently of true happiness among his creatures; since all that can be done towards these great ends, in this present frail and imperfect state, is only in order to a more complete and perfect state hereafter, whert God shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power; and when all enemies, Satan, and sin, and death, shall be entirely destroyed; and his saints shall reign with him in glory for ever;—therefore to that future and perfect state it is, that this phrase, 'the kingdom of God,' always has reference, even when it is applied to the state of the Gospel here. That heavenly state it is, which ultimately and properly is styled the * kingdom of God;' wherein * the righteous shall shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their father: into which kingdom, there shall in no case enter any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever loveth or maketh a lie; but they who overcome,' (that is, they who so resist the temptations of covetousness, ambition, and sensual pleasure, as in the midst of a degenerate and debauched world, to follow truth, and right, and charity, fearing God, and keeping his commandments),—' these * shall receive the kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of the world, and' (according to the gracious promise1 of their father) * shall inherit it for ever.' This heavenly state It is, to which that phrase, 'the kingdom of God,' always has reference, even when it is expressly applied to the state of the Gospel here.—And it is with great propriety of expression, that both these states are, as well separately as jointly^ included under this one denomination: they being, indeed, not two distinct states, but one the continuation only of the other; differing from each other no otherwise, than as seed-time from harvest, or as childhood from the perfection of man's estate: virtue, and goodness, and the love of God, and obedience to him at present, being the beginnings of happiness here; and the glories of heaven hereafter being nothing else but the same virtue, and goodness, and love of God, and obedience to him, completed and made perfect there, by an assurance ef his uninterrupted favour and presence for ever. ■• ■•'
From what has been hitherto said in explication of this phrase so very frequently met with in the New Testament, it appears therefore, that there are three senses, to which the full notion of the kingdom of God extends. There is his kingdom of nature, by which he ruleth with irresistible power, absolutely over all. There is his kingdom of grace or virtue; by which he reigneth in the hearts of moral agents, who obey him willingly or of free choice; and there is his kingdom of glory; wherein he shall finally be for ever adored by those, who, through a life of virtue and true holiness, shall be found meet to be partakers of that inheritance of the saints in light.
And according to these several senses of the phrase, must the petition in the text, 'thy kingdom come,' be in like manner understood, to extend to different significations.
1. In the first place, as to the natural kingdom of God; we cannot with any propriety pray, that this may come, because, by necessity of nature, it always is, and cannot but be, actually present. It is, necessarily, from everlasting to everlasting, a kingdom of absolute and irresistible power; without limits, and without interruption; in all places alike, without distinction; and that cannot come at one time, more than at another. Nevertheless, though the kingdom of God, in this sense, is what we cannot pray may come; yet we may and ought to rejoice in the thoughts of its being always present: [Ps. xcvii. 1.] 'The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof.' It is matter of great and just satisfaction to reasonable minds, to consider that the government and sovereignty of the universe, the alone truly absolute and uncontroulable power, is in the hands of unerring wisdom and of perfect goodness; and that things are not under the uncomfortable dominion of blind chance, or of inexorable and unrelenting fate. But,
2dly, That, therefore, which our Saviour principally directs us to desire and pray for in this petition, is the establishment of God's kingdom of grace or virtue. That as his kingdom of nature ruleth always absolutely over all things, so his kingdom of grace or virtue may, in due time, be universally established over its proper subjects: as his natural power is absolute and uncontroulable, so his spiritual dominion over the hearts and wills of rational creatures, may prevail finally against all the opposition of sin and Satan: as his glory essentially is infinite and immutable, so relatively, also, it may in due time be promoted and acknowledged by all reasonable creatures. This is the principal sense of our praying for the kingdom of God to come. It is expressing our earnest desire, that the Gospel of Christ, the true religion of God, in its native and uncorrupted simplicity, may spread and prevail over the whole earth, as the waters cover the sea; and that all the kingdoms of the world may become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; may become his kingdoms, not by conquest of temporal power, but by persuasion and force of truth, by the power and demonstration of the spirit. And that all they who have embraced the Gospel in profession, may let the kingdom of God rule in their hearts, by living as worthy subjects of it. For it is in the willing subjection of the mind to truth and right, and in the regulating consequently all actions, passions, appetites, and affections, according to the divine laws; in this it is, that this kingdom of God principally consists. By his power, he can at all times subdue all things unto himself; and by this irresistible dominion, the whole material, unintelligent world is perpetually governed, and obeys it necessarily, without any possibility of disobeying: but it is the will of God, that intelligent and rational beings should not obey his will, but by their own; should not obey by necessity of nature, but by the free choice and unconstrained compliance of the will. The material universe, therefore, the whole frame of nature, is subject to the power of God; but reasonable creatures only are subject to his laws. By this they become accountable, and capable of being judged: by this, they are rendered either acceptable to him, and capable of reward; or obnoxious, and liable to be punished. This trial, this probation he puts upon them suitable to their rational nature; and it is the perfection of their nature, and the highest improvement of their virtue, to chuse to obey him cheerfully and readily. The more excellent the nature, and the more perfect the virtue of any reasonable creature is, the more does it delight in obeying the most perfect will of God, who is perfection and goodness itself. For this reason, the angels in heaven are styled in Scripture, by way of eminence, 'those servants of His that do His pleasure.' And our Saviour, as it were by way of explication of this petition, 'thy kingdom