"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
Its Priority and the Kind of Power Employed
The Manner of the Kingdom
The kingdom of God: God's absorption, so to speak, in its objectives, and the means used by Him to move men therein. That was the subject of Given O. Blakely in another of his kingdom sermons.
The King's Concern. The first stress-one of great need of recognition in religion today-was that God's interest, power, and activities center on His rule among men, or His kingdom, and its purpose. The overall intent by that rule is to glorify Himself by the salvation of men who will accept His grace, and the complete subduement and banishment of all who will not submit to Him, including the Devil and his angels. That must be recognized as the veritable situation with God, it was insisted, or people will be but beating the air in their relation to the Almighty.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," commanded Jesus (Mt. 6:33). That requirement of men is indicative of God's evaluation of kingdom ends. It certainly also reflects the attitude and life of the Lord Jesus, whose every thought, word, and deed during the days of His flesh was kingdom-centered. The prayer that He taught His disciples to pray involves a like disposition on their part. It begins, "Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done." It ends with an acknowledgement of the kingdom as God's, and an ascription of the power and the glory to Him (Mt. 6:9-13).
What was true of Christ was so of the Apostles. After the Day of Pentecost, they invariably put the kingdom first-above their own and every other interest. When the Sanhedrin Council, which was entirely capable of putting them all to death, ordered them to stop preaching Christ, they did not flinch. "Now, Lord, behold their threatenings," they prayed: "and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word." "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the Word of God with boldness," Luke adds (Acts 4:29-31). One has but to read of Paul's sacrificial life-which was one of great privation and suffering for Christ and the kingdom-to perceive in the concrete the self-effacing dedication to God and His rule which was characteristic of all the Apostles.
The Related Implications. Brother Given pointed out some highly-relevant implications related to the exclusiveness of the kingdom in God's interest and activity. For one thing, it completely nullifies self-centeredness or self-advancement as a legitimate attitude or objective in kingdom life. So many people's interest in God seems to be bounded by what they want or expect from Him, rather than by what contribution they can make to the execution of God's objectives. All these folk must learn that it is the accomplishment of His own concerns that God is about; theirs come in for consideration by Him only as they are blended with His. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" is an expression of the right attitude; not, Lord, give me this or grant me that (Acts 9:6; cf. Mk. 10:35-37).
The Paperback, Seminar Stress. A very popular paperback and seminar stress by today's churchmen is also nailed by the kingdom-centeredness of God, it was noted. Christ did not come, nor is the kingdom set, to correct the domestic, social, economic, physical, and political maladjustments of this life. This He categorically indicated in His reply to one who came to him with such a concern (Lk. 12:13-15).
Good family relations, happy homes, cordial personal relations in general, economic prosperity, good health, social and political well-being, thus, are not kingdom objectives. To some degree, they may result as a by-product of kingdom prevalence, but they are improperly regarded as its end. As respects the home, in fact, Jesus said He came to, in some cases, divide rather than unite it-in all cases, unless every member of the household is committed to Him (Mt. 10:34-39).
It is positively misleading, therefore, and cannot but result in frustration and possibly departure from the faith, to teach people that good family relations are necessarily a part of Christian discipleship. Or that any other elements of "success" dangled before them as part of the gospel package are integral to the faith of God's elect.
What the seminar conductors and success-mongers need to do, if they are really in earnest about serving God, is something quite different. They should cease their attempts to enlist God in their domestic, economic, physical, and social uplift pro· grams and undertakings, and go preach the kingdom of God in its purity and authenticity, as Jesus told the dallier who confronted Him in the days of His flesh (Lk. 9:59-60). That adequately done, those who have heard the preachers will be able to apply kingdom principles themselves, not requiring someone to do so for them, with his four or five steps to happyland.
The Inflexible Demand. When our objectives and pursuits are in accord with God's purpose in Christ, we can expect Him to work with us, but not otherwise, it was well observed. He just is not in the business of implementing human aspirations and plans, but His own. As Christ declared, both He and the Father are working "hitherto," or are still working (Jn. 5:17). But they are working in accomplishment of the Father's designs, not those of men, and particularly not of men whose kingdom concepts are largely earthbound.
The Use of Moral Power. The exclusiveness of God's concern with His, not men's, desires and purposes set forth, Brother Given turned to God's means for getting people to align themselves with His objectives. All the power presently exerted by Him to that end is in the nature of what is theologically known as moral power, as distinguished from physical power. Physical power will yet be wielded upon people-at the coming of Christ, when their bodies are literally and physically raised from the graves. In the era of spiritual regeneration, however, God operates upon men by moral means, i.e., by persuasion through the gospel.
The Power of the Gospel. It is a great and potentially disastrous error for one to count upon God to literally move him to do the Divine will, or to fall into line with kingdom objectives, it was remarked. It is conceivable that many people will wind up in hell waiting for such an intervention. God now sets before people the gospel of their salvation through the sacrifice of His dear Son. That is His power for their personal salvation and edification. He has nothing else for them for that purpose. Included in the gospel, of course, are the numerous powerful incentives meant to constrain one to go with God, which Scripture holds out. It is by belief of God's Word concerning these promises that people receive power from on high to do what is required of them. And that is positively the only way they get God's enabling power for redemption and sanctification.
Thus, it is written that we "are made partakers of the Divine nature" by belief of "the exceeding great and precious promises" given to us. It is by that means also that we escape "the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Pet. 1:2-4; cf. ch. 2:20). ultimately it is faith in what God has said, not some physical force from God, that must move people to obey Him, if that obedience is to be forthcoming. Any other means of prevailing upon men, who are made in God's image, would violate that imagery; and God simply does not work against the product of His own hands.
The Requirement of Constraints. The reason for this manner of the kingdom in the enlistment and government of its subjects is apparent, the preacher continued. Like his Creator, rational man does not act without an adequate cause. Just as "the curse causeless shall not come" from God (Prov. 26:2), so man, without sufficient constraint, will not turn from his sin and serve God. To ignore this fundamental principle of the kingdom and of man's constitution, and depend upon God's exertion of power in violation thereof, is to court spiritual ruin.
Christ and the Apostles especially fully recognized this nature of both man and God's dealings with him in their appeals to people. They consistently set before them God's promises as the incentives by which they were to themselves do what God requires them to do in order to His acceptance of them. Several examples of this procedure were cited.
The Reception of Christ. As the means of moving alien sinners to accept Him and His salvation, for example, Christ set before them both the rewards for doing so and the curses for not doing it. Each of these categories of consequences is designed to exert moral power upon men for them to make the right choice.
"Whosoever believeth in Him" shall "not perish, but have everlasting life," it was declared (Jn. 3:16). Thus, eternal life and eternal death (which death is everlasting banishment from God) are the options from which one must choose. Those who have followed Him, whatever the cost, Christ declared, will "receive an hundredfold [for what it cost them to follow Him], and shall inherit everlasting life" (Mt. 19:30). On the other hand, all who elect to "save" their lives in this world-by not being joined to our Lord in His death to the present evil world and sin-shall "lose" them in the world to come (Lk. 9:24).
"What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" the Savior asked, in further accentuation of the choice which every man must make for himself, and in appeal to men to choose for their own best interests. It is a lie of the Devil's devising that teaches people to expect God to have guaranteed that certain persons will inevitably make the right choice. That is each individual's responsibility, and the choice must be made under the constraint generated by belief of the promises and warnings of Scripture. It is, of course, quite true that God, in His prescience, knew full well before the world began who would so choose. But it is equally true that He made no arbitrary, unconditional determination, or decree, that they should do so.
It is likewise with the necessity of continuance in the faith and fruitfulness for Christ after His acceptance by the individual, it was explained. As incentives for this, the Lord held out blessed promises, but at the same time grave warnings for those who failed to abide in Him.
"He that endureth [the trial of faith] to the end shall be saved," He declared (Mt. 10:22). "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He [the Father] taketh away," it was warned, "and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (Jn. 15:2, 6). "That which ye have already hold fast till I come," it was added from the heavenly throne. "And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Rev. 2:25-27; cf. I Cor. 6:1-3; Heb. 2:5-9).
The Ministry of Succor. Even in the ministry of succor to His saints God does not proceed independently of means, it was remarked. He comforted Paul "by the coming of Titus" at one point in the Apostle's experience (II Cor. 7:6). Ordinarily, however, God succors His people by increasing in them (through their contemplation of them) consciousness of the glories to be experienced as a result of their present trials. In that awareness, they are enabled to overcome the discouragements, frustrations, and heartaches of the present.
If otherworldly considerations are ruled out, there is actually little bona fide succor for the people of God in this one. That is because both God and His kingdom are essentially otherworldly. The idea of "the good life," as men use that term physical health, worldly prosperity, and the like-as being God's consistent means of succor is contrary to Scripture.
In conclusion, the speaker had a word of sound advice and exhortation. "When God presents you with a heavenly incentive for faith in and loyalty to Himself, it is to your eternal benefit to embrace it, and allow it to exert its moral force for righteousness in your heart and life. Do not make the disastrous mistake of waiting for something other than God's written Word to move you toward Him and heaven."
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).