A National Church is Unscriptural
Archibald G. Brown, October 10th, 1869, Stepney Green
"Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." John 18:36
"Jesus answered." Whom did he answer? Why, that miserable, vacillating, time-serving Pilate, who, prompted by men with shrewder intellects than his own, had asked our Master the cunning question, "Are you King of the Jews?" A question better adapted to the ends of the prosecution can hardly be imagined; its answer, whether in the negative or affirmative, was equally surrounded by difficulties.
In the manner which Pilate meant, the answer would be 'No;' but in a sense which never entered the head of the governor of Judea, the answer was 'Yes.' To have given therefore an unqualified negative or an unexplained affirmative, would have led to misunderstanding on the part of friends and foes alike.
To have answered the question with a bare 'No' would have appeared at first blush to be giving the lie to many of his previous statements in which he had claimed regal power. And to have simply answered 'Yes,' would have seemed to give grounds for the accusation that he was a competitor for Caesar's throne. Christ therefore, who in the language of Paul, witnessed "good confession before Pontius Pilate," 1Tim 6.13 gave an answer glittering with the wisdom of divinity. He accepts the title of king, with the explanation that his kingdom is "not of this world," and therefore he cannot possibly be a rival one to Rome. He repudiates the idea of his kingdom being one of earthly state and pomp, or having anything to do with earthly governments. It was established by no imperial legions, nor buttressed up by sword and spear. Its throne was not in some proud, wealthy capital — but in the hearts of all his subjects. Its laws were not the acts of some imperial worldly parliament — but the loving utterances of his own lips.
This declaration of the spirituality of Christ's kingdom is as true in the nineteenth century as when it first fell from the Master's lips, and the necessity for it is greater. For then, the very thought of union between the Christian church and state had never been entertained by the subjects of his realm; while now, unhappily, it is an accomplished fact. There never was greater necessity than in the present day for declaring in the most unmistakable language, the spirituality of Christ's church. There is a need to bring it, with all its outward pomp and show, face to face with the words spoken by the Savior in Pilate's Hall, "My kingdom is not of this world."
If this evening should give utterance to things that appear stern, and lacking in the spirit of charity towards other brethren in Christ, believe me, they are so in appearance only. It is quite possible to love the men — while you hate and denounce the system with which they are connected. And I for one cannot but love and honor many in the Established Church (the Church of England); nor can I ever forget that the man who was the means of leading me to Jesus was then, and is still, in her communion.
Besides which, much of what I want to say will apply with equal force to many who term themselves dissenters, and who yet seem to forget that "nonconformity" is something more than a mere distinguishing title. Many of our churches are pandering too much to the standards and whims of the world, losing their power for testimony, by trying to become all things to all men, if by any means they may please all.
I feel I will need much help from on high in treading upon what some would term dangerous ground — help that I may not needlessly wound the feelings of any, and help that I may be able fearlessly to proclaim what with all my heart I believe to be the truth, though that proclamation may condemn the system and practice of many. I will endeavor first and very briefly to try and explain what Christ here means by his kingdom. And secondly, direct your attention to what is said about the kingdom, namely, that it is "not of this world."
1. What does Christ mean by the term "My Kingdom?"I will be as brief as possible in trying to explain this definition, as I am anxious to devote most of my time and strength to the second division. It means, the empire Christ came to found on earth, or in other words the Church which he purchased with his blood. Although our Lord came on earth as man, and a poor, sorrowful, despised one at that — yet he came commissioned from Heaven to found an empire which would outlast and outlive all powers and dominions then existing. His deepest humiliation laid the deepest foundation for his future glory.
Every step he took downward, only added power and stability to the massive foundation of the kingdom he came to found. He laid the foundation in agony, and cemented it with his blood. Upon that immovable foundation, he reared his heavenly temple, composed of living stones, and which is destined to grow until the last elect person will have been gathered in — the last stone raised upon the walls, with shoutings of "Grace! Grace!"
The empire of Christ, consists of those who own allegiance to him. It was once far otherwise with them; with the weapons of the rebel grasped tightly in their hands, and with hearts burning with Hell's hatred, they blasphemously shouted "We will not have this man to reign over us!" They spurned his easy yoke; they scorned his gentle laws; and they cast off from them his loving cords. They were of the world, and therefore they hated the kingdom that condemned it.
But now all has changed. When the hour of the "day of his power" struck, omnipotent grace came forth to war. With a single stroke the day was won. Overpowered by the might of love, the rebels threw down their arms at the foot of Calvary, and tearfully cried for mercy. They found it full and free; and then with gratitude that knew no bounds, they offered themselves as loyal subjects to the one they once despised.
Lovingly their Lord received them and enrolled them as the members of his kingdom. And now listen to the shout that rises from all quarters of his wide domain. "All hail! All hail! King Jesus! We acknowledge you to be the Lord. We bow before your scepter. We worship at your throne. Bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all!"
The empire of Jesus consists of those in whose hearts he reigns. In every human breast there is by nature some hideous hateful Dagon — some proud usurper of the Savior's throne. But in the hearts of those who are included in the kingdom, this Dagon has been hurled with ignominy to the ground. The ark of the Lord has entered, and before, it the hideous idol has fallen. Christ has come with kingly tread, ascended the steps, and taken his rightful position. The heart's affections bow to him, and the whole man is under his control, while his daily language is,
"Nothing save Jesus would I know;
My friend and my companion, Thou!
Lord, seize my heart, assert Your right,
And put all other loves to flight."
The kingdom of Jesus is, as we have already said, his church. And what is the Church? Strange that such a question should need to be asked or answered! Yet it is not more strange than true; for no word is more wretchedly misunderstood than this simple one of Church. If you ask some what they understand by the word Church, they will point to some big building with spire or tower, ornamented with a glittering cross or a less pretentious weather rooster, and say "that is the Church." God forbid that it should be, for it is most certainly of this world. The glorious word "Church," is never more degraded or ill-used than when applied to a heap of bricks and mortar! It may be a parish building — but a parish church never.
And here I would utter my protest against the fashionable error that is fast gaining ground in some of our dissenting communities. The age is too respectable for old fashioned "Meeting Houses," but on every hand we have Congregational churches and Baptist churches springing up, prostituting a name belonging only to a blood-bought throng, to the work of the bricklayer. The building is no more the Church, than the house is the family; and it is nonsense if not blasphemy to call it so.
Nor is the Church a mere society. To hear some talk of "forming a church," one would imagine that it was a kind of religious building society that only needed its manager in the shape of the minister, and its directors by the name of deacons. The moment we place the Church on the level of a society, we do it foul dishonor.
The Church moreover does not consist of a visible union of believers. A Church may — but the Church does not. There are many who are in membership with our churches, who are not in Christ's church; there are many whose names are to be found in the church books in the vestry — but are not to be found anywhere in God's great Church Book of Life.
What is the Church then? The Church is a chosen, redeemed, blood-bought, blood-washed multitude, confined to no country, race or climate; to be found in all lands, among all nations, speaking all languages; to be found in connection with all classes, and in all denominations, and many in no denomination at all. The Church consists of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and are, as sinners, trusting alone in him for salvation.
Perhaps no better definition of the Church can be found, than in the following lines of an unknown poet:
"A band of faithful men
Met for God's worship in some humble room,
Or, screened from foes by midnight's star-lit gloom,
On hill side or lone glen,
To hear the counsels of his holy word,
Pledged to each other and their common Lord.
These, few as they may be,
Compose a Church, such as in pristine age
Defied the tyrant's steel, the bigot's rage;
For when but two or three,
Whatever the place in faith's communion meet,
There, with Christ present, is a Church, complete."
Yes, friends, the place has nothing to do with the Church. It does not matter whether it meets beneath the stupendous dome of a cathedral — or in the dim transepts of the abbey; the gothic building — or unfurnished barn; in the dark catacombs beneath the city — or under the spreading boughs of the forest tree. In all places it is equally "the Church," the kingdom of our Lord.
One thought more, and I will close this first division of our subject. The kingdom of Christ shall last forever. Will you turn to the second chapter of Daniel and read with me the forty-fourth verse. You will there find a glorious prophecy concerning the kingdom. "And in the days of these kings the God of Heaven shall 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 forever." Unlike other empires, age shall never decay its strength, nor shall time cause it to become defunct.
The glory of other empires has faded into insignificance. Where is the martial pomp and prowess of Rome, before whose eagle banner the world trembled? Where is the magnificence of vast Babylon, or the brilliant influence of Greece? Gone! But the kingdom set up by God abides still, with undiminished glory and ever-increasing influence. Its sun has not gone down nor reached its meridian height. It has stood unshaken amidst the crash of empires and the fall of dynasties. And should the day ever dawn when, according to an eloquent writer, some New Zealander shall sit upon the broken arch of London Bridge and view the silent ruins of this myriad-peopled city — then shall the kingdom of Christ have upon it the dew of its youth. And when this world, with all its proud domains shall have been consumed in the final conflagration, then transplanted into Heaven, shall this kingdom shine, the only one that has outlived the general wreck of time.
II. Let us now consider what is said concerning this Kingdom. It is "not of this world" — that is, it is not worldly.
1. Christ's Kingdom is not worldly in its CONSTITUTION or RELATIONSHIPS. It is purely spiritual, and intended to be entirely separate from the world, and devoid of all that pomp and grandeur which is usually associated with kingdoms. Let us look at this great truth in detail.
The first question arising from the idea of a kingdom is, who is its king? Our answer is — one not of this world. In our text, the Savior claims the kingdom as his own, and thereby teaches the truth that He, and He alone is its king. For anyone else to assume imperial power, or in any way whatever hold the reins of the government of this kingdom in his hands, is to commit an act of high treason against "the King immortal and invisible!" 1 Tim 1.17. The moment an earthly monarch puts his hand on the ark of the Lord — we declare he is exceeding his jurisdiction, and touching that over which he has no control whatever. As subjects of the realm of Christ, we acknowledge HIS Headship, and HIS only.
"One army of the living God,
To His command we bow,"
and we bow to no one else. As soldiers of his army, we will bend to him the knee, until the plumes of our helmets mingle with the dust; but to others, be they King or Queen, we may not, must not, will not bow in anything pertaining to this kingdom. Let us be zealous friends, of the glory of Christ in this particular, and acknowledge no other Head than Him, and recognize no other jurisdiction than His.
The lack of this, is the crying evil in the so-called Church of England. Worse than any other of its errors — for it is the foundation of them all — is its union with, or rather subjection to the state. The reigning monarch of England, whether good, bad, or indifferent — is in truth its head and ruler. The bishop appoints the incumbent, the premier appoints the bishop, and the throne appoints the premier — and then incumbent and bishop declare that Christ's kingdom "is not of this world!" Treason to the kingship of Christ, is stamped upon the brow of "Church and State."
But let us go a step further. Not only is the King himself not of this world — but when he came, he came in a manner not of this world. He was born in no stately palace — but in a lowly manger — for there was no room even in an inn for the Monarch of this empire; common swaddling clothes were his royal robes. To humble shepherds, his heralds announced his coming. His courtiers were rough fishermen.
The only triumphant entrance he ever made into Jerusalem, was made sitting "meek and lowly" upon the foal of an donkey, while the children shouted his praises. He only wore a crown once — and then it was one of thorns! His hands but once grasped a scepter — and then it was a reed given to him in derision! The only exaltation the world ever gave him — was upon the cross, and his grave was the gift of charity. Let then the Church be like its head, and learn from him to forego the emoluments, the pomp, and distinctions of the world. The King was not of this world; then shame to the subjects who accept what he refused.
2. The INSTITUTION of Christ's Kingdom was not of this world. The church has no cause to tip its hat to anyone. It is under no debt of obligation to any mortal man. It is the child of God — not the offspring of earthly royalty or wisdom. Its existence it owes alone to him mentioned in the verse we just read, "the God of Heaven shall set up a kingdom." He set it up, and did that without the help of man. Monarchs did not found it. Princes did not form it, nor is it the creation of a state. Neither the world nor the world's potentates gave birth to it. In origin, it is most emphatically "not of this world."
So far is the world from aiding its institution, that it has been set up in spite of the world's most bitter opposition. Had it been of the world, then the world would have loved its own — but as it came from above, the world hated it. Had the world been able to have its own way, it would long before this have stamped the church out with the iron heel of persecution, dripping with the blood of the innocents. In all ages, the church has been the bush burning with fire, and the only reason for the fact that it has never been consumed is that God is in the bush.
Do you want to know what the world has done for the church? I reply, "It has done its best to exterminate it!" Let the amphitheater of Rome, with its sand clotted with the blood of martyrs, tell how much the church owes its existence to the world's kind forbearance and help. Let those silent Alpine peaks find tongue, and tell how their eternal snows were stained to a gory red with the heart's-blood of the brave Waldenses. Let the hideous walls of the Catholic Inquisition confess how they have rung and re-echoed with the shrieks of racked and tortured Christians. Let old Smithfield itself recount the tale of those human bonfires, kindled by the world's malice. The united testimony of all is this: that Christ's kingdom in its origin is "not of this world!"
3. The SUBJECTS of Christ's Kingdom are not worldly. Of every single man, woman, or child, who is truly a subject of Christ and a member of Christ's spiritual kingdom, it may be said, "He or she is not of this world." All the members of Christ's church have been "born again, not of corruptible seed — but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever." 1 Peter 1.23. No man is born by nature, as a child of Christ's spiritual kingdom; if it were so, the kingdom would at once be of this world, which it is not.
To be a subject of an earthly empire requires only one birth; but to be a subject of Christ's kingdom requires two. Every child of God has in him that which all the world could never give. He is an unearthly man, and it is his mission to make it day by day more evident that he and the world are opposed to each other in spirit and practice. He is the "salt of the earth;" that is, to counteract its putridity, not to blend with it. He is a "light in the world" — to illumine its darkness, not to be lost in it.
Moreover it is not in the power of man to introduce a subject into this kingdom; for, if it were so, then again, the kingdom would be of this world, which it is not.
The national church may declare in its service that the child is by baptism made an inheritor of the kingdom, and some dissenters may imagine their baptism in riper years has enrolled them among its subjects; but they are both miserably mistaken — as they will find out to their cost, if they are not born again, and thus brought into the kingdom by a way that is not of this world. Search Christ's realm, I mean His Church from end to end, and you will fail to discover a single unconverted man. Written over the portals in indelible characters is, "Unless you are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven!"
To keep the visible church pure, is an imperative duty; and although terribly painful, it is far better to exercise discipline — than to have as a recognized member, a character known to be of the world. But what can be said of a church which, like the national one, embraces profligates and saints alike, and has in her communion men whose utter unfitness for church fellowship, is beyond a shadow of a doubt! Only one thing can be said, and that is, that such a church is in direct contradiction to the teaching of this text!
4. The DEFENSE and SUPPORT of Christ's Kingdom is not worldly. Just as the church owes nothing to kings and parliament for its origin — so it is equally independent of them for its defense and support. It requires no imperial legislation to maintain its existence, nor armies to subdue its foes. It thrives best when left alone, and grows the fastest when unaided by the world.
As sure as ever the shield of the state is held over it, it languishes and pines. The church has never thrived and flourished through the world's assistance — but against it. The influence of the world has never been an atmosphere in which the church has grown a healthy life. In fact, it was when she carried her life in her hand, that she flourished the most. It was the blood of the martyrs, not the smiles of government, that was her seed. The church that nestles under the wing of any state is only smothered — not strengthened by the warmth. A church pioneered by the sword and buttressed by a government — is the weakest church on earth, and one that is doomed to die.
Cast your eye but across the channel and see in poor Ireland's experience, how utter a failure is that church which depends for its existence on the money and patronage of a state. Well may the church exclaim, "Save me from my friends — I can deliver myself from my enemies." If the world were to withdraw tomorrow all its patronage from the Church of England, it would be none the worse — but so much the better for the loss, for the kingdom "is not of this world."
5. The LAWS of Christ's Kingdom are not worldly. On this point I need not dwell, as I have already said as much when I tried to prove its King was not. The laws which are binding on the church are only those which have been framed in Heaven, and are transcribed into God's statute book, the Bible; and we laugh all others to scorn. I can hardly imagine a more humiliating sight than a state parliament, discussing and debating and deciding the affairs of a church, as if it were merely some railway company. Christ's kingdom is so entirely spiritual, and so absolutely separate from the world, that to attempt to govern it by worldly laws is as impossible as it is wicked. "My kingdom is not of this world!" therefore the world has no ability to meddle with its government.
6. The COMMERCE of Christ's Kingdom is not worldly. No kingdom on the face of the whole earth has such a commerce, or rejoices in such a trade, as the kingdom of our Lord. It traffics in the costliest and choicest things, and all its merchants are merchant princes. Its ships are never wrecked. Its bank, for it has but one, possesses wealth that is infinite, and therefore can never break. None who have ever engaged in her commerce have been known to fail. Her trade is nearly all imports, and that is on an enormous scale. Morning, noon and night, indeed, every hour of the day, her ships are returning to her ports laden to the water's edge with untold wealth. True, she only trades with one port — but that one is sufficient to supply the needs of the whole kingdom, and make the fortune of every subject.
To drop the metaphor, or rather to explain it — the church's commerce is "not of this world." The port with which she trades is the port of Heaven. Her vessels are her prayers, some larger and some smaller, yet all equally insured against shipwreck; the faintest sigh as well as the most eloquent petition reaches the ear of God. All come back laden with blessing, for never was praying breath spent in vain. The costly, precious wares she is constantly receiving, consist of treasures such as pardon — peace — joy — contentment — and holiness — all of which are "precious things of Heaven." Deu 33.13. Her exports consists of thanksgiving — gratitude — love — devotion. But O, did I not say very rightly that her trade is nearly all import? What poor returns we make for the mercies that are literally heaped upon us. How lightly laden are our ships of praise, how poor and weak are our highest love and deepest gratitude!
"I cannot serve Him as I ought;
No works have I to boast;
Yet would I glory in the thought,
That I should owe Him most!"
Now you will see, dear friends, that the commerce we have just described is not of this world, nor does it deal with the sordid things of earth. Far different is the commerce in which the Established Church, which is of this world, is engaged — I mean the hateful trade in "livings." One has now but to look into the columns of a church newspaper, to see "living" after "living" advertised as mere business speculations; while sometimes the beauty of the scenery and the smallness of the parish are mentioned as enhancing the value of the property. Such merchandising is a crying shame to England, and a blot on her name. It is impossible to use language too strong and scathing in the denunciation of so infamous a trade. There is not a member of the established church present who (if his heart is right with God) will not join me in the prayer, that this great disgrace may be swept from off the land. The church is not to engage in such commerce as this, which is nothing else than a "trade in souls." Let her remember that our Lord said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
7. The PRECEPTS of Christ's Kingdom are not worldly. The church's un-worldliness shines transcendently in this. "Do unto others — as they do unto you" is the maxim of the world. "Do unto others — as you would have them do unto you" is the precept of Christ's kingdom.
"Pay him back in his own coin" is the precept of the world. "Pay him back in Heaven's coinage" is the maxim of the church, and that coinage is as follows, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink. Do not be overcome by evil — but overcome evil with good."
"One good turn deserves another" is the proverb of the world." "One bad turn deserves a good one" is the teaching of the kingdom.
"Resist and retaliate" are the mottos of the world. "If he strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also" is the command of our King.
"Every man for himself," says the world. "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others!" says the word.
Surely we do not need to give other illustrations to prove that the precepts of Christ's kingdom go directly "against the grain" of the human heart. They declare in a voice too clear to be mistaken, that the kingdom and its subjects are "not of this world."
8. The POMP and SPLENDOR of Christ's Kingdom is not worldly. We do not say that it has none, for it has. It is a kingdom of kings, and a nation of priests. Every subject is arrayed in royal robes, and the poorest is an "uncrowned monarch!" Aaron, as he entered the holiest of all, was not more magnificently arrayed in priestly robes, than the weakest and most unknown believer. They are a "royal priesthood" 1 Peter 2.9. But their glory is not a glory that can be seen with human eye. Their splendor is not of this world. You may pass them in the street, and only see the outward signs of poverty and want — and yet they are "heirs" to an eternal throne! They are to be recognized by no outward pomp, nor distinguished by loud-sounding titles. The kingdom which is of this world may deck its priests in finest millinery, and call them by the pompous titles of Reverend — Very Reverend — Lord Bishop — and I know not what besides; but by doing so, it only condemns itself, and shows what little union it has with the kingdom which is spiritual, not worldly.
The kingdom which is from above is content with the glory that Heaven gives it, and not seek to array itself with the importance and grandeur of a world which it professes to renounce.
9. The WEAPONS of Christ's Kingdom are not worldly. The verse seems to teach this fact most clearly, for our Lord says, "if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I would not be delivered to the Jews." We are not allowed to pioneer the way for our religion by the spear, nor enforce its truths by the sword, as Mohammed did his lies. The rack and stake are not to be our arguments as they were Roman Catholicism's. The power we have to bring to bear upon the masses is a moral, not a physical one. The weapons placed in our hands to wield are spiritual, not carnal — and their very spirituality is their power.
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ!" 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. I would to God that his subjects would be content to take their weapons from his armory, and not attempt to fight the Devil with his own weapons. The Gospel in its simplicity is the ram's horn before which the walls of this world's Jericho will fall.
We have no time to dwell in detail upon the worldly instrumentality too often employed by the church. But the truth still remains that the weapons destined by God to pull down sin's strongholds are spiritual, not carnal.
And now to CLOSE, let me say in two or three sentences only, that this subject has a personal bearing upon all present. If Christ's kingdom is a spiritual one — then am I a subject of it? Have I ever known that inward spiritual change which alone gives entrance to it? Mere obedience to the outward routine and forms of religion will never save. The world can give that. Mere union with a visible portion of the church, is no proof that you are a member of the church. Christ's kingdom is spiritual, not visible, and it requires a spiritual union. Let the prayer of all our hearts be this: "Lord Jesus be our King. Enroll us among your subjects; and may we all at last be found in that glorious kingdom of yours which is "not of this world."
God grant it may be so, for Jesus' sake. Amen.