From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matt. 4:17.
Our subject tonight, beloved friends, is "the kingdom of heaven." And when I advert to the fact that the expression occurs in the gospel by Matthew just as many times as there are chapters in that gospel, I need say nothing more to assure you of the importance of the subject.
"The kingdom of heaven" is an expression that occurs only in Matthew, and we must not confound it with "the kingdom of God;" for although sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, yet there is never an alteration from one to the other without the Holy Ghost having a distinct reason for it; while at other times they are used in very different senses. For instance, the kingdom of God in one sense expresses, if I may so say, the largest thought in Scripture. It is God's kingdom, that which has to do with God Son, and Holy Ghost. In the eternal state the Son will have delivered up the kingdom to God, that God may be all in all. The kingdom of God in this sense is that which a person enters into only by regeneration. Many a false professor belongs to the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." And the Holy Ghost by Paul also says, that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." So that the kingdom of God is sometimes very distinct in Scripture from the kingdom of heaven, which I trust will be made plainer as we consider the various Scriptures on the subject.
Let me also say, that the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing in Scripture as the Church of God. The mistake of confounding these two things is one of the most fruitful sources of error in the present day, and greatly affects the Christian's walk and conduct. They differ exceedingly in various ways. Let me call attention to a few of those differences. First as to the relationship of Christ. Those who will be in the kingdom of heaven, looked at in its best sense, will have the relationship with Christ of subjects to a King. They will be reigned over and ruled by Him as a perfect King would rule His subjects. The relationship of the believer with Christ now, as being in the Church of God, is the relationship of the bride or body of Christ membership of His body — union with Christ; so that Christ is never called in Scripture the King of the Church. I am aware that in the fifteenth chapter of Revelation there is an expression "king of saints;" but the margin reads "king of nations;" and this is the true meaning. Christ is Lord in the sense of a husband being the head of the wife; so that our destiny is to reign with Christ, to sit on the throne with Him, to share His glory, to possess the kingdom with Christ. Therefore you see there is an amazing difference as to relationship. Then as to discipline. With regard to the kingdom, when the servants in the parable of the wheat and the tares ask whether they shall root up the tares, the Lord said, "Let both grow together until the harvest." In the kingdom-condition of things, the tares are not to be touched until the Lord Himself comes and sends His angels to deal with them; but in the Church of God, holiness is to be the characteristic of the assembly. No fellowship with unbelievers; no communion with that which is evil; but separation from the world. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing;" "put away from among yourselves that wicked person;" and such like scriptures, show the mind of Christ as to what should be the discipline of the Church of God. Then again as to hope. The hope proper to the kingdom is, that the period will come when what is evil now upon the face of the earth will be swept away, and that the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea. But the hope proper to the Church of God is that of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so to be for ever with Him.
These are some of the points of difference between the principles of the Church of God and the principles of the kingdom; and if I speak of any persons being now, as to their souls, on kingdom ground, I mean such as are seeking to maintain its principles, instead of contending for the distinctive truths of God's assembly. The kingdom of heaven is not defined in Scripture; but if I were to make a suggestion on the point, I should say that the kingdom of heaven consists of persons on the earth taking a place of acknowledging the authority and rule of the Lord in heaven. It may be either true, or mere nominal profession.
In the gospel by Matthew alone, I repeat, we meet with the expression, "The kingdom of heaven;" but before entering upon the subject, it seems to me that it might be helpful to say a few words on some of the leading characteristics of each of the four gospels; for I am persuaded, my beloved friends, that the gospels are less understood by Christians than perhaps any other part of God's word.
The four gospels present to us four distinct aspects of the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh, and each writer was inspired by the Holy Ghost to deal with a special line of truth concerning Him.
Matthew presents Him to us as the Messiah; in Mark we have Him as the perfect servant; in Luke He is peculiarly dwelt on as the Son of man; and John most blessedly unfolds Him as the Son of God.
In Matthew we have, in the first chapter, the genealogy of the Lord traced from Abraham and David, because these are the two roots of the children of Israel, — promise being specially connected with Abraham, and royalty with David. Jesus is here traced from them, and is presented to us in relation to the Jewish people all through this gospel. He is introduced as born king of the Jews. We have the Sermon on the mount more largely brought before us than in any other gospel. The parables of the kingdom of heaven, of which there are many, are only found here. We have also two remarkable expressions in relation to the crucifixion of Christ. One is the imprecation of the Jewish people — "His blood be on us and on our children;" the other is a quotation from the 22nd Psalm, "He trusted in God: let Him deliver Him," — bringing into ridicule His trust in God. These things are noticed in this gospel alone. Moreover, the soldiers being bribed with money to tell the lie, that His disciples came by night and stole Him a way while they slept, having such special reference to the Jewish people, is recorded only in this gospel. Lastly, in Matthew, the Lord Jesus is set before us as risen from the dead, but not ascended. The evangelist speaks of Him as risen, and standing on the earth, and sending out His servants to disciple the nations. Christ assures them of His presence all the days until the completion of the age.
In Mark we have the elect servant, in whom Jehovah delighted, doing most perseveringly and uninterruptedly the will of Him that sent Him. We find the words "immediately," "straightway," and "gospel," used more than by any other evangelist. We get the looks and feelings of this perfect Servant referred to in a way we have not elsewhere. We find that "He looked round about on them with anger," — that "He sighed," — and, again, that "He sighed deeply in His spirit." Connected with the persevering ministry of this blessed One, we are told, "They had no leisure so much as to eat;" and again, "They could not so much as eat bread." He is thus presented in untiring devotedness until He sat down on the right hand of God. He always did those things that pleased Him; it was His meat and drink to do the will of Him that sent Him, and to finish His work.
In each of the gospels we have the cross, and circumstances connected with the death of Christ most blessedly unfolded; but each of the evangelists relates the particulars according to the special object which the Spirit of God gave him in writing the gospel.
In Luke we see the perfect Man among men. The first chapter gives us one of the most beautiful pictures that we have in Scripture. We have, on the one side, the portrait of the child, John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth; and on the other, the picture of Him who was the holy thing, the Son of God. The one is called "the prophet of the Highest;" and the other is called "the Son of the Highest." In the next chapter we have the "swaddling clothes" and "the babe lying in a manger" described, because it is peculiar to the object which Luke had, under the Holy Ghost, of unfolding the glories of the person of Him who was the Man Christ Jesus. Then you remember that the genealogy of Christ is traced, not, as in Matthew, downwards from Abraham and David, but quite the reverse, from Mary back to Adam and to God. Because He is here presented, not, as in Matthew, as the Seed of Abraham, and the fruit of David's loins, but as the Seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent's head. We have also, in the course of this beautiful gospel, the child "twelve years old" brought before us, which we have nowhere else. We have also the touching story of the Lord meeting the widow of Nain carrying her only son to the grave, and how his tender heart, moved with sympathy and compassion, raised him from the dead, and delivered him to his mother. We find also in this gospel the charge brought against this blessed Jesus, that He received sinners, and did eat with them. This charge drew from the Lord's gracious heart that grand, sublime, and precious story of grace commonly called the parable of the prodigal son. The touching picture, too, of the rich man and Lazarus is alone found in the gospel by Luke. At the end of this gospel, we find that when the Lord was risen from the dead, in perfect keeping with Luke's object; He is traced as having walked with the two going to Emmaus, that He went into the house to tarry with them, sat down, broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. On another occasion He is seen in company with an assembly of the disciples; and when they were terrified, He said unto them, "Why are ye troubled? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." To give further proof of His real humanity in resurrection, He asked them for something to eat; and "they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb, and He took, and did eat before them." And more than that: He showed them from the Scriptures that it behoved Him to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day. Lastly, we see Him leading the disciples out as far as to Bethany, as a man would lead his dearly-loved children or companions, step by step, and then He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. Thus strikingly does this beautiful gospel present Jesus the Son of God in His perfect humanity.
The gospel by John is more striking still in its difference. It goes further back than any other part of Scripture — to the Word who in the beginning was with God, and was God. That blessed One is also presented to us as "the Word made flesh," "the Son of God," "the Lamb of God," "the King of Israel," "the Messiah," "the Life," and "the Light." He is also set forth as the Life-giver, the Quickener of the dead, the Resurrection, and as the one who will execute all judgment, because He is the Son of man. In this precious gospel, where the business of the evangelist is to speak of Him who came to reveal the Father, we find that when He had been virtually rejected by Israel, He calls His eleven together, and unfolds to them the wondrous depths of blessing of the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters. Then He utters the beautiful prayer of the 17th chapter, the concluding words of which are, "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." So also at the end of this gospel, we find that the Lord Jesus, when risen from the dead, presents Himself to His disciples as the minister of peace, and again declares the Father. He shewed unto them His hands and His side, and said, "Peace be unto you." To Mary He said, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
In concluding this hasty sketch of the different lines of instruction given in the four gospels, allow me to point out that in their termination Matthew presents Christ to us as the risen man, but still on the earth. I mean, he gives no account of His ascension. Mark sets Him before us as risen, ascended, and sitting on the right hand of God. Luke concludes with an account of Christ risen, ascended, and promising the gift of the Holy Ghost. John's gospel goes a step further still. There we have Christ risen, ascended, breathing on His disciples the Holy Ghost, and giving testimony of His coming again. So much for the distinct lines of teaching that each gospel presents to us. We must remember, that in this, as well as every part of God's Word, there is a fulness of divine teaching which is to us unsearchable. What I have tried to show is, that in each gospel a distinct line of truth is manifest; and I believe that no person can have even a superficial understanding of the four gospels, who does not see that the four evangelists present the Lord to us under the different aspects we have considered.
Enough has been said, I trust, to show why we should expect peculiar instruction in Matthew as to the kingdom. Let us now turn to it. In the first chapter we have Christ traced as the legal heir to the throne of David. Jesus is born of a woman; He is really born "King of the Jews." His genealogy is therefore traced from Abraham and David to Joseph, His reputed father, to show the royal line of succession, and that Jesus was legal heir to the throne of David. The whole of the particulars are detailed with striking beauty.
The second chapter shows us the condition, the sinful condition, in which the people of the Jews were; for when Herod and all Jerusalem heard that this child was born in Bethlehem, they were all troubled instead of being filled with joy. But it may be well to ask, Is it not the same thing that troubles people now? Some seem never more troubled than when Christ is solemnly and personally preached to them. They cannot bear being spoken to about the love of Christ. This shows the enmity of the heart. It was exactly the same with Herod, though he had professed to be a worshipper. The enmity so wrought in him, that after a time he issued an edict, by which he thought to include the infant Saviour, ordering all the children from two years old and under in the land of Israel to be slain. However, he did not succeed. To fulfil the Scripture Joseph was commanded to take the young child down into Egypt, because it was written, "Out of Egypt have I called my Son." Thus God overrules man's wickedness to accomplish His own purposes. If we do not see that, my Christian friends, we shall be at a loss to understand much of the Scriptures. I repeat, that God overrules man's wickedness to carry out His own purposes. Did He not do so at the cross, where man's wickedness in putting to death the Son of His love was overruled to carry out His own blessed purpose of eternal redemption? Did He not overrule too the rejection of Messiah and the kingdom to fulfil His own eternal purposes and counsels as to us?
In the midst of this sinful state of the nation that I have referred to, a person was raised up who lived outside the people as a separated man. He could not sympathise with the sinful nation. He was full of the Holy Ghost. He lived on locusts and wild honey, and was clad with camel's hair. He was the Lord's messenger. In due time he is led by Jehovah to give forth this cry, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was John the Baptist. Now observe here that God thus publishes, not that the kingdom is come, but that the kingdom was at hand. That is, that God was ready to bring in the kingdom, but that a change must be wrought in the minds of the people before they could have it. He cannot have a kingdom of thieves and murderers, of drunkards and idolaters. No, He could not acknowledge a kingdom of that sort. There must be a thorough change of mind true repentance, and then He would set up the kingdom. Now what was the effect of John's cry? The effect was that many came to him to be baptized; but John was thrown into prison, and was at last put to death.
The people went out to be baptized in crowds. They said, "We want the kingdom;" and that is just what people are about now. They say, "Let us go to glory by all means; but we must have the pleasures of sin too." But God says, "I cannot have you on such terms. You must repent." No one therefore could have the blessing except there be a change of mind. John preached the baptism of repentance. "Repent of your sins, and be baptized." But did they repent? No, they wanted the kingdom as they were. John therefore called them "a generation of vipers." And so it is in the present day. You ask people if they are going to glory, and they will answer, "I hope I shall go to glory." But what is the truth? They are hugging their sins; they love the pleasures of sin; they have never repented before God; there has not been a change of mind. John was faithful, and suffered for it.
When Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, He began to preach, saying, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Now what must have been the effect of these words on intelligent Jews? Let us look at some of their Scriptures. In Daniel 2:44 we have, "And 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." In chap. 7:13, 14: "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." In Deut. 11:21: "That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth." Turn also to Isaiah 11:1-9: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of His roots: and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears: but 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. And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the failing together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Read also the last verse of the last Psalm. "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord."
I might, if time would permit, multiply quotations of a similar kind to show what an intelligent Jew must have understood when he heard that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He knew that the kingdom of which the Old Testament prophets prophesied would be a kingdom of blessing — a kingdom of power — a kingdom in which "the knowledge of the Lord should cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea," and "when all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest." But observe that the Lord added something to John's testimony. He preached the same words — "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," but He also gave some signs to signify that He was the Messiah. For instance, He cast out devils. We read in the fourth chapter of Matthew: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them." This was enough to show them, if they had eyes to see, that He was the Messiah, and able to set up the kingdom, because we are told in the thirteenth chapter of Zechariah that one characteristic of the promised kingdom, "the day of the Lord," will be, that He "will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land." Jesus showed, by casting out devils, that He could cast the unclean spirit out. The presence, too, of evil spirits in Israel showed how unfit the nation was for God.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew give us what is called the Sermon on the mount — a discourse which presents the principles on which Christ could set up His kingdom, and on which He will set it up by-and-by. The very first words that He utters are, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Again, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." It does not say that they shall inherit heaven, but inherit the earth. Then, further on, we read that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees — that is, practically. They must not manifest the hypocrisy of being outwardly blameless, while inwardly full of uncleanness. There must be a practical righteousness exceeding that for the kingdom of God; and in the sixth chapter the instruction is followed up by, "Take heed that ye do not your alms [or fast] before men, to be seen of them." As to prayer, He gives them a form of prayer fitted for disciples that were on kingdom ground for disciples who had not, as we have, the Holy Ghost, and the blessed truth of an accomplished redemption. This prayer is commonly called the Lord's Prayer. It was given to disciples, as I have said, who were on kingdom-ground. It was perfect for its kind, and in its suitability to such. There is no mention of the name of Jesus in it. There is no acknowledgment of the Holy Ghost in it. There is no drawing nigh to God through the atoning work of Christ in it. God is acknowledged as their Father in heaven, because they were children by regeneration; and it is asked that His kingdom may come — that is, that it might be set up on earth. But when our Lord concludes His ministry, after His rejection by Israel, you will find, on turning to the sixteenth chapter of John, He says, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name;" and insists, both here and in the fourteenth chapter, on the importance and blessedness of asking the Father in His name. He said, "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full;" and associates all this with the hope of His coming for them, to take them to the Father's house. He instructs them also that He is going to be put to death, and will rise again from the dead — that He will leave the world and go to the Father; and assures them that whatsoever they ask in His name, He will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. In the eighth chapter of Romans we are told also, We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." The Holy Ghost, then, is the power of prayer. He leads us to pray in the name of Jesus. The power of prayer is not found in saying over a form of prayer, however truthful it may be. It consists in the Holy Ghost giving utterance to the heart through the name and blood of Jesus, who is now risen and ascended to God's right hand. People find fault with us sometimes that we do not formally use this prayer of the disciples, because they do not see what an amazing change has taken place, and do not understand the difference between being on kingdom-ground and on the ground of the Church of God. Since it was spoken Christ has died, the vail has been rent; Jesus is above, having entered into heaven by His own blood; and the Holy Ghost has come down to dwell in us. We cannot find fault with people taking up some of the sentiments expressed in the prayer. But surely we who are in Christ cannot say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." This was a saying which would be quite consistent for those who were on ground where righteousness ruled; but now, while "grace reigns through righteousness," we are to forgive all, whether they forgive us or not. We are to love our enemies, and bless them that curse us; in short, to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us. We now have God's forgiveness solely on the ground of Christ's atoning work. The perfection of that prayer for the disciples in their then condition as on kingdom-ground, prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, cannot be disputed. The mistake with Christians is, that they get away from Christ from the ground of the Church of God — the true grace of God, wherein we stand, and go back to principles of the kingdom. They do not, therefore, get on in their souls, or get clear of the world.
The eighth chapter of Matthew opens with our Lord coming down from the mountain; and it appears that the first thing He sees is a man coming to Him who is a leper. This was remarkable, because it showed the degraded condition into which the nation had sunk. It showed that the nation had so far departed from God that, although in the fourteenth chapter of Leviticus an ordinance had been given for cleansing the leper, there was evidently no care for God's glory about it. It was just a sample of what the nation was. Now mark the ways of Jesus. He stretches out His hand and touches him. Whoever touched a leper before without getting defiled? He does not send him to the ordinance in Leviticus, but says, "Be thou clean;" and when the man becomes clean, which was "immediately," He says, Go to the high priest, and show him that you have been cleansed, and offer the offering according to the law of Moses. Now what ought to have been the result of this most beautiful action of the blessed Lord? Why it ought to have been this, that the priest would have come to Him at once, and said, "You must have come from God. There was never such a thing known before in Israel as a leper cleansed immediately and simply by a word." But instead of this, there seems to have been no response. When the Lord sent this cleansed leper to the priest, it was like knocking at the door of the nation; the same way as a foreigner would knock at the door of this nation, if he sent a message to the prime minister. But the Scripture is silent as to any answer. The next thing consequently is that the Lord meets a Gentile. The case of the miraculous cure of the leper showed Christ's readiness to heal the leprous nation, and His power to bring them into immediate blessing. The miracle that follows shows that, although the Jews rejected the Messiah, there was blessing in His heart ready to flow out to the Gentiles. And let us never forget that the way we get blessing from Christ is through the poor Jews having rejected Him. We are told that when Jesus entered into Capernaum, "there came unto Him a certain centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented." The answer of Jesus was, "I will come and heal him." But the man says, You need not come, but speak the word: your word is quite enough. For I am a centurion, and have soldiers under me: "and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." You have therefore only to speak the word, Lord, and my servant will be healed. Well, the Lord did speak the word; the servant was healed; and to those who followed Him Jesus said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." A most important declaration, because the mission of Christ was unto Israel. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Matthew writes as if up to the twelfth chapter the Lord's works and ministry were entirely confined to Israel. I might go through the eighth chapter as giving further instruction of the same kind, but I pass on to the next, where we see another very striking case. A further appeal is made to the consciences of those around that Jesus was able to bring in the kingdom of blessing on the earth, of which the prophets had prophesied.
The ninth chapter is introduced by a paralytic man being brought to Jesus. The leper showed the filthy condition of the nation; this palsied man sets forth its helpless condition. His presence elicited a strange sound from Jesus. He said, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." What a statement! What gracious, what wonderful words! But the unbelieving people were alarmed. They began to say within themselves, "This man blasphemeth." Now mark our Lord's reply. "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith He to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." What is the meaning of these words? How is it possible for any one to give an intelligent explanation of them who does not understand in some measure the truth of the kingdom? When the Lord's testimony to Israel as coming to His own is seen, then it becomes simple enough. Here the Lord connects together two things the healing of disease and the forgiveness of sins. If you turn to the one hundred and third Psalm, you will find there a text that is often used, but perhaps seldom understood. It is the third verse: "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." This is clearly a millennial psalm. It opens with praise to Jehovah for the blessings of the kingdom. Now you see why the Lord connects the two things, the healing of disease with the forgiveness of sins, — and also in what sense it is used by David in this kingdom psalm. This psalm will not have its accomplishment till the millennium; and then the song of the people of Israel will be, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." If you turn also to the thirty-third chapter of Isaiah, you will find in the last verse — "The inhabitant shall not say, [speaking of millennial times,] I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." Thus the kingdom will be characterised by two things — the forgiveness of sins, and healing of bodily disease. The gospel now preached tells us that the believer's sins are forgiven; that he is reconciled to God, through faith, by the blood of Jesus; that He is a justified man. But the gospel does not touch bodily disease; so that a man having bodily illness when receiving Christ for his Saviour may get worse as to health of body, sink, and die, though able fully to rejoice in the forgiveness of sins. How can this teaching of our Lord possibly admit of any other explanation than that the Lord was here appealing to the consciences of the people of Israel? Let us not forget, then, that the kingdom will be characterised by these two things. Jehovah's people will be all taught of God, and blessed by Him soul and body, so that they will heartily sing — "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." We are to understand, therefore, by what we find in the beginning of the ninth chapter of Matthew, that our Lord is there presenting Himself to Israel in a still more significant manner, as able to accomplish the two things — the forgiveness of sins and the healing of bodily disease. They ought by these things to have known that He must be the Messiah.
In the tenth chapter, the Lord calls His twelve apostles, and sends them forth to preach. He said to them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead." Notice here that their commission was limited to Israel. They were not even to enter into a Samaritan city. Connected with this, they were to preach "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." With this verbal testimony, with a view of making a still stronger appeal, they had to show that Jesus had given to them the power to cleanse lepers, and to raise the dead. In thus sending them out, observe, in the 23rd verse, that our Lord says, "I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come." We know that their mission was interrupted; they did not go very far with their testimony. The twenty- fourth chapter teaches us that this same ministry touching the kingdom will be resumed after the Church is gone. Christ has gone up into heaven, the Holy Ghost has come down, and is now forming the Church, the body of Christ; and when the body is complete, we shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then this testimony will go out again, and it will take a larger course. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew it is stated that "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached as a witness in all the world [the civilized world], and then shall the end come." (v. 14.) Observe, it is "the gospel of the kingdom." Be careful to distinguish between the gospel of the kingdom, and what Paul calls in the Acts of the Apostles, "the gospel of the grace of God."
In the eleventh chapter of Matthew we have two remarkable statements as to the kingdom of heaven, which, I believe, are often misunderstood. One referring to John the Baptist, where, after it is stated that there was none greater born of women, it is added, "Notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." How do some interpret this? They say that the kingdom of heaven is the Church, and that the least in the Church is greater than John; but this is very unsatisfactory. The kingdom of heaven, as we have seen, is not the Church. In the kingdom there will be such distinctions as least and greatest; but there are no such distinctions in the Church.
There are various gifts; but no such idea as least and greatest. We cannot find such words in the writings of the apostles applied to the Church. There are some who have greater faith than others; there are also apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers, and so on; but, I repeat, not least and greatest. The statement, I believe, means, that although John the Baptist had up to that time been the greatest that had been born of a woman, yet in the millennial kingdom the glory will be so marvellous, and the blessing so beyond anything that could have been conceived by man, that the place of privilege John had will be inferior to the least amongst those who will be in the enjoyment of that time of blessing.
The other expression is in the twelfth verse. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." That is, Christ preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; and if a man, whether he were a fisherman, a publican, or any other person, believed the message, he had to press through difficulties, to force his way against persons and prejudices, in order to take kingdom-ground. Everybody being against him, he had to take his place in this relationship to Christ by force. This was the last time, according to Matthew, that Christ mentioned the kingdom, (in the sense of referring to the kingdom which the prophets prophesied would be set up,) before He begins to give the nation up.
The twelfth chapter of Matthew gives us a most remarkable incident in connection with Christ's ministry of the kingdom. We are told that "the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Christ, how they might destroy Him." Notwithstanding all His patience and love for His ancient people, they went about to destroy Him. Then you find that Christ pronounces them to be a "generation of vipers," and "an adulterous generation," whom the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South will rise up in judgment to condemn, because He was greater than Jonas and greater than Solomon. He then puts before them the story of the unclean spirit, to show the condition in which they were, and that they would get worse and worse; and when, as we find at the close of the twelfth chapter, some one said unto Him, "Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee," He asks, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" He begins to shake off, if I may so say, the acknowledgment of Jewish relationship, and feels Himself to be the rejected one. He will no longer deal with people because of their Abrahamic relationship; but any would now be blessed who received His word. He had come with the testimony that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and plainly showed in various ways that He was able to set it up; but now He opens His arms wide, and says, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." So that He goes out now beyond the limits of Israel. Therefore He goes out of the house, takes the place of a sower of seed by the wayside — sowing the seeds of His truth broadcast, and no longer confines His ministry to Israel. This was a remarkable change. From that time, because of Israel's unbelief, the kingdom of heaven assumes a different character.
We come now to the thirteenth chapter, which presents truths of great practical importance to every Christian. Here we find two remarkable verses, which I will read as a kind of preface to the parables. In answer to the disciples, who asked His reasons for speaking in parables, after He had given the parable of the sower, He said, in the eleventh verse, "Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." We have not had the word "mysteries" before in connection with the kingdom of heaven. The testimony of the prophets as to the kingdom had no mystery about it; but it is a result of Christ being rejected by Israel. Therefore you will observe, in the 35th verse, that all this was kept secret till this time. Jesus said, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." We are thus prepared to expect that the Lord would bring out some things in these parables which had been kept secret since the foundation of the world. And so it was. We cannot find anything like them in the Scriptures that came before. Some have not improperly called this peculiar condition of things, the kingdom of heaven in mystery, by way of distinguishing it from the kingdom of heaven of which prophets prophesied. In the kingdom spoken of by the prophets there was to be no devil working; the unclean spirit would be cast out; no unholy people the sinner was to be accursed, and iniquity not tolerated. But now, in consequence of Christ's rejection by Israel, the kingdom of heaven has taken this mysterious form, and it is still going on. It refers to every one who professes to acknowledge Christ.
In connection with the instruction given by our Lord on the subject, He sets before us seven parables.
The first parable is that of the sower sowing the seed — the word of God. I will not occupy time with any remarks on that. Strictly speaking this parable does not show us the kingdom, but the new position taken by the Lord, of sowing the good seed everywhere, and the results.
The next parable is that of the wheat and the tares, in which "the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way." Observe, that the tares are not judged till the end of the age. It is the kingdom of heaven taking this mysterious form that the prophets never prophesied of, and is going on at the present moment. It commenced with the good seed, causing wheat to spring up; but while the Christians were drowsy and unwatchful the enemy came in, and introduced bad seed wicked people. We see precisely the same thing in the most solemn and important epistle of Jude. In that epistle we are told that "certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness." In this parable we find that the tares continue until the end of the age — until Christ Himself comes in judgment to deal with the kingdom. Jude also, in looking at the same thing, traces this evil working, and shows that it will go on until Christ comes with ten thousand of His saints, taking vengeance upon them. Pause for a moment, my beloved friends. Does this look like the world being converted by the preaching of the gospel? It is positively stated that the tares are the children of the wicked one, that they are mixed with the wheat, and that they are not to be rooted up. It is also declared that they will continue in the field till the Lord comes in judgment and deals with them. Can anything be clearer?
The next parable is that of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. So the work of the Lord was the most insignificant thing in the world as to outward appearance when it began. It consisted of a few people in an upper room, whom nobody cared about. But from this small seed a great tree has grown up — a gigantic thing in the world's eyes. A tree is a symbol of power in the earth. This is what the Lord here prophesied the kingdom of heaven would be — it would lose its separate and spiritual qualities, and become a great thing in the earth. But observe that the tree becomes so large, that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches. The fowls, as we read in a previous parable, are typical of Satan, the wicked one. So that we thus see the devil can now really find a resting-place in that which professes the name of Christ. The fact is manifest to every discerning mind.
Then follows the parable of the leaven, in which, you will remember, we are told that all will eventually be leavened. A woman is represented as introducing leaven into pure flour, and the leaven working in the flour soon affects the whole mass. The question arises, What is the meaning of this parable? Now, I confess that it seems to me astonishing that any Christian man, if he prayerfully read the Bible, should have any question as to this parable showing the quick and sure working of principles of corruption among professing Christians, till the whole mass becomes influenced by it. In every place where leaven is used in Scripture, it means something bad. This parable, then, shows us the introduction and working of evil among those professedly bearing the name of Christ; it began to work early, and the thing is going on still, and will go on till all is leavened. When Christ comes and removes His saints, what a mass of corruption ostensibly bearing His name will be left behind! It is a matter for deep thankfulness that none of the true, dear children of God can perish. How plainly this parable also shows that the promise of universal blessing on the earth cannot have its fulfilment till after judgment!
Having uttered these four parables, the Lord, we are told in the thirty-sixth verse, goes into a house, and the disciples came unto Him, saying, "Declare unto us the parable of the tares." The Lord, therefore, expounds the parable to them. He says, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man. The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one." I call attention to a point which, although mentioned once before in these lectures, yet it seems to me desirable to refer to it again. It is, Are we sufficiently aware of the fact that it is the business of Satan to make people profess the name of Christ without having Christ in their hearts? It is to be feared that many Christians in mistaken zeal are helping this on. Every now and then you hear it said "We must raise the people." I ask, Raise them to what? How can you raise a dead man? He must have life. He must know Christ, and be in Christ. If you could bring a man into Christ, that would be the only way of really raising him. But it is said we must try to raise him. What is meant is that we must first make a tare of him. We must get him to give up this and that sin, and to profess Christ, go to sacrament, attend to religious ordinances, and all that; and then we may have some hope of making a Christian of him. But this parable does not suppose that a single tare was ever converted unto wheat, but rather that they both go on to the harvest. The tares will then be burned. Therefore the Lord went on to say, "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world" (or age). Now, I need not tell many of you that the word here translated "world," really means "age." The word is not kosmos, which is always translated world, but it is aionos. In the sentence, "The field is the world," it is kosmos, and means world; but in the sentence, "So shall it be in the end of the world," it is aionos, and means age. Then we are told, "The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire." This is not the Lord coming for us; we shall have been caught up to meet Him in the air before that. The subject of our Lord's teaching here is not the Church, or the Christian's hope; the subject is, the kingdom in its present form, and its coming end in judgment. Christ is coming to judge this great thing that bears His name. As Enoch prophesied, "The Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon the ungodly." Those of whom I have been speaking are some of the ungodly; and Christ will come to execute judgment upon these living wicked, and leave a people for blessing upon the earth. The wicked will be removed, and the blessed ones left. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun." In this way He will introduce the kingdom of which the prophets prophesied, when in a great measure the will of God will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
The Lord having given to the disciples the explanation they asked for, narrates three other parables — the treasure, the pearl of great price, and the net cast into the sea. He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." The treasure evidently means the redeemed, I believe, more than the Church, — all the redeemed, whether for the heavens or the earth. The treasure was hid in a field, and Christ has bought the field by His redemption work. He did not wear the crown of thorns in vain. That mark of God's curse on the earth for man's sin found a place upon His spotless brow, and the blood of the cross tells us the price even of creation's redemption. He bought the field. And, by-and-by, "instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree," to the praise and the glory of His blessed name. He has, then, at the cost of all that He had, bought the field for the sake of the treasure. The world, therefore, belongs to Christ by redemption; it is His by right. He is the Author and Creator of all things, as well as the Saviour of the world.
The pearl of great price is doubtless the Church looked at in its unity, not as the mystery. That was not revealed till afterwards. There is a hymn somewhere which begins,
"I've found the pearl of greatest price,"
as if that pearl was Christ. It is unaccountable how some have so interpreted Scripture. There never was a greater mistake, my beloved friends. We have not given anything for Christ. Blessed be His name, it is quite the reverse, Christ has given everything for us. Do you not see how simple this is? The pearl was loved by Christ when it lay hidden at the bottom of the sea covered with mud and filthiness. But Christ saw it. His heart was set on the Church; but to have it, and bring it back to Himself, He must go down under the waves and billows of God's wrath. And down He went; He sunk as it were to the bottom, and brought up the Church in risen life, and will present it to Himself a glorious Church, a pearl bought indeed at a great price, the price of the Saviour's blood. This doubtless refers to the Church; but, I repeat, the mystery of the Church was not known until it was revealed to Paul.
Our Lord also relates another parable that of the good fish and the bad. There is a difference between this parable and that of the wheat and tares, which I cannot enter into tonight. I may just remark that it also shows (and it is a most important point) that the judgment that will be exercised by the Lord when He comes in manifested glory will be not to take away the good and leave the bad, but to take away the bad and leave the good. These parables teach us that Christendom is going on to judgment. Christ will take out of His kingdom "them which do iniquity;" He will separate the wicked from among the just. I call attention to this, because these parables do not speak of the Lord coming for us. When the Lord comes for us, the good are taken away, and the bad are left behind for judgment; but when He comes with us in flaming fire for judgment, then He takes the bad away, and leaves the good for blessing on the earth.
Well, dear friends, when Christ has taken away by judgment all the wicked, put all enemies under His feet, — what will be the result? We shall have the time of predicted blessing, when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea. In the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah and the ninth verse we are told, "When God's judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." What I have been endeavouring to show is, that the kingdom will be set up by the judgment of the Lord being executed upon the wicked. In the next verse the words are, "Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness." Now God is showing favour — preaching the forgiveness of sins, and we see that they will not learn righteousness by it; but we know that the time is coming when people will not say, "Know the Lord; for all shall know Him, from the least to the greatest." This state of things will characterise the kingdom, but we are nowhere told that the gospel will fill the world with fruit. To suppose it is surely a mistake, and I may add a terrible hindrance to understanding a great deal of divine truth. The earth is to be filled with blessing; but what saith the Scripture? The answer is plain. In the twenty-seventh of Isaiah we are told that "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." So we see that restored and blessed Israel will fill the world with fruit; not the Church, not the gospel, but Israel.
The Lord still further taught His disciples in the fifty-second verse that every one who is instructed in the kingdom of heaven brings out of his treasure things new and old — the new things being the mysteries of this chapter, the old, the things of the kingdom prophesied by prophets.
Thus we see in the teaching of this chapter the real condition of what now bears the name of Christ on the earth. Let us not forget that the field is the world, not the Church; and that both good and bad professing Christ's name — wheat and tares — will continue mingled together till the end of the age. The principles of the Church are not contemplated here; but, in point of time, since Christ uttered these sayings, He has died for sinners, was raised from the dead, has ascended into heaven, has sent down the Holy Ghost to form the Church the body of Christ, and when complete it will be removed before the end of the age. So that between the sowing of the seed and the end of the age there is room for the Church to be formed, and caught up to meet Christ in the air. The wheat now belongs to the Church of God. A true believer therefore, at this time, is both in the Church and in the kingdom. A mere professor is in the kingdom, and does not belong to the Church. After the Church is gone, an elect Jew will belong to the kingdom, and not to the Church.
The remaining parables in this gospel have for the most part the same termination of blessing and judgment. It is well to notice, however, after all that we have seen of the Lord's patience and rejection, He still goes on in faithful testimony and love to the nation.
In the 14th chapter the Lord, deeply affected by the assassination of His honoured servant John, goes into a desert place. This speaks to our hearts. But He still manifests love to the nation of Israel, in feeding the multitude, and thus gives a still further sign of His Messiahship. It is also repeated in the 15th chapter. He feeds thousands on a few loaves and fishes, according to the prophetic words of the 132nd Psalm: "I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread." They thus had further testimony as to the presence and power of Him who was able to fulfil the Scripture as to the kingdom, to say nothing of His wondrous grace and compassion in healing all the sick that were brought unto Him. All was, however, unheeded by the people. In the 15th chapter the Lord exposes the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, who were among the leading men at Jerusalem, in having made the word of God of none effect by their tradition, and in honouring God with their lips while their hearts were far from Him but He accepts and honours the faith of a poor Gentile, who takes the place of a dog before Him. This is very significant, and strongly intimates the Lord's purpose.
The sixteenth chapter is very important in a dispensational sense. The Lord pronounces the Pharisees and Sadducees to be "hypocrites," "an adulterous generation," and "left them, and departed." Then, on Peter's confession of Him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," we have two things brought out for the first time. 1st. "Upon this rock I will build my Church." 2nd. His sufferings, death, and resurrection. As to the first point, it shows not only how distinct the Church is from the kingdom, but also that, being rejected by Israel, another thing would be built, according to the eternal purpose of God, that had no existence before — the Church. In reference to the second point, not only is it certainly foretold by Christ that the Jews, instead of repenting and having the kingdom, would hate Him more and more until they put Him to death, but also, when the Church is spoken of, we are told, "from that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem . . . suffer . . . be killed, and be raised again the third day." The calling of the Church being heavenly, the blessings being spiritual, and her position union with Christ risen, the moment He mentioned the Church, He began to show that He must be rejected and put to death by the Jews, and be raised again from the dead. Before this there is no mention of His death; no one could have gathered from His ministry about the kingdom that He was going to die; for "He came unto His own," as able to set up the kingdom, and He would have gathered them together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but they would not. God thus permitted wicked and apostate Israel to do their own will in rejecting and killing Jesus, to carry out His own purpose of providing an offering and a sacrifice for sin, that the children of God might be gathered together in one, and that the nation might be righteously and permanently established on the ground of redemption. We therefore find after this a picture of the kingdom in power in the 17th chapter. The two pillars of the nation — Moses and Elias are there in glory with Jesus; and, from another evangelist, we learn that the all-absorbing subject of conversation is the death of Jesus. This will, doubtless, be the case in the earthly department of the coming kingdom, as well as the heavenly. The universal cry will be:
"For ever be the glory given
To thee, O Lamb of God;
Our every joy, on earth in heaven,
We owe it to thy blood."
Our time, beloved friends, has expired, or we might have pursued our meditations on "the kingdom of heaven" for several chapters further in this precious gospel. Enough, however, has, I trust, been said to call attention to the subject. It is lamentable to think how eagerly principles of Judaism are being embraced by Christians, so as not only to destroy spiritual-mindedness, undermine the truth of the accomplished redemption and all-prevalent priesthood of Christ, but to lower the tone of souls, foster worldliness, and keep in ignorance and bondage dear children of God. We may be sure that no Christian will really live above the world and worldly religiousness, who does not apprehend his union with a rejected, risen, and ascended Christ.