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The Kingdom of God. Biblical and Historically Considered. Cunningham Lectures

Author: James S. Candlish
Publisher: T. and T. Clark
Publish Date: 1886

This is the tenth series of the Cunningham Lectures. By its contributions to the theological literature of our times this endowment is acquiring a reputation. Are we to regard these volumes as manifestoes of the Free Church of Scotland?

            The chosen author, in this instance, inherits an honored name; his career will be illustrious if he sustains its reputation. It may, however, be his aim to strike out a path of his own.

            As chosen lecturer for the term, he had his choice of subject within a wide range. He made a wise selection. "The Kingdom of God" or the kingdom or reign of the heavens of Matthew is a theme of thrilling interest and deserves very careful study

            At the very outset we protest vehemently against any such invidious comparison as blurs the opening paragraph of the first of these lectures. Modern theological literature he tells us, assigns a more prominent place to the kingdom of God than it occupied in former times. And why? Because these newer critics consider that the teachings of the prophets of Israel and of our Lord himself, center in that rather than in what these gentleman choose to call "the more modern ideas of religion, incarnation, atonement, the church, or the like."

            This surely is an unwise and impolitic introduction. Why prejudice your reader against you on the first page? New books, like new pictures and new poems of any merit, are hailed by none with heartier welcome than by enthusiastic admirers of the old classics. Young workers in the schools of art, who are true to nature, must notwithstanding all their passion for vernal freshness, be thoroughly imbued with a spirit that honors the renowned fathers of past generations; or else, with all their genius, they will pine in hopeless obscurity for want of patrons. This is as true of divinity as of sculpture or painting. When writers are eager to set aside "the ancients," we feel sure that their own light is feeble.

            And yet, not withstanding this, or any other defect in the treatment of his subject, our author has surveyed it all round; and whether we agree, or disagree, with his finding, his arguments are peculiarly helpful. The more clearly we understand the mute points of the problem, the more interested we feel in a fresh contribution to the debate.  Open the New Testament as if for the first time. Four evangelists entertain you with a narrative of the life of Jesus Christ on earth. Two of them begin with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. This is history. The two facts are presently condensed into two doctrines; the one we call "incarnation," the other we call "atonement." Unless your faith can grasp both of these you cannot have a clear apprehension of "the Kingdom of God". That kingdom begins to challenge special attention when John the Baptist, as harbinger of our Lord, comes preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3, 1-2). After John was cast into prison, Jesus himself takes up the same note (Matt. 4:17). But Mark, the most graphic of the three synoptical Evangelists, describes it in more striking terms; "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the gospel."

            As you go on reading about "the kingdom" there are two questions that any child in the Sunday school might ask, but not every teacher would be prompt to answer...if the kingdom was at hand and indeed actually present (Luke 17:20, 21) why did our Lord teach his disciples a prayer to be used through all the centuries, "Thy kingdom come"? ...if the proclamation of the  kingdom was publicly heralded by our Lord, as it had been by his forerunner, why did he veil in parables the mystery of the kingdom when addressing the multitude, and reserve the interpretation for his own disciples? Were it possible to give categorical replies to clever questions, there would be no need for a volume four hundred pages like that which lies open before us. When you put your problem down on paper, it is sometimes solved in the process. May-hap some of our friends have already perceived that "the gospel of the kingdom" and "the mystery of the kingdom" are not precisely analogous terms. The kingdom of God is presented to us in holy Scripture in three distinct aspects; first, as a gospel, wherein is revealed the righteousness of god, perfect in all its proportions; secondly as a growth, like seed planted, a tree expanding, & c. (Matt 8); and thirdly as a predicted manifestation of unrivalled sovereignty that puts down all other rule and authority when the Son of God shall reign in our nature, King of Kings and Lord of Lords; of whose kingdom there shall be no end. It is clear that the subject is a large one, and affords a wide field for holy thought; it is a pity that it should be treated in the fashion of these lectures.

            In his third and fourth lectures, our author, with ripe scholarship studious research, and skillful analysis, renders us some valuable assistance. We tender our best thanks to any man who will end us his brains provided they are worth borrowing. Brain is all our author ahs to lend us, for he puts himself outside the inner circle to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Unfortunately for him, and for us, his concluding lecture leads up to a disastrous failure, and if we appreciate his meaning rightly, he perceives and confesses it. "The kingdom of god in relation to modern social ideas" is his text. Here he reaches an age of enlightment so brilliant, that it requires a German word to express it, "Autklarung" (illumination). Fishing about for a state of things in which the welfare of the community shall supplant the evangelical aim to secure the personal salvation of individuals, he claims kindred with those who do not accept Christianity, but agree to a certain extent with what he holds to be the Christian ideal. Here he turns to Leibnitz and Kant, hails the conceptions of philosophers form Plato downwards talks about socialism, sanitary science, and political economy. All who labor to secure the best state of human society are, in his account, fellow workers with God, though in helping on the consummation of his kingdom "they have not a plan or pattern to guide them." Then he leaves us on the last page to comfort ourselves with the assurance "that the kingdom of God shall not remain for ever a mere ideal, but be one day a reality, in the form of a perfect human society, in which all shall in love serve one another, and so serve and glorify God." Howbeit we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, are not to be put off with ideals. Our theology, despite the subtleties of the rationalistic schools is positive. Probably our author does not see where he is going, but we have seen these speculations about a mythical kingdom of God used by others to conceal determined attacks upon the cross of Christ; and therefore we are not inclined to give such figments the slightest countenance, even when the honored Free church of Scotland warrants them with her seal and imprimatur.

            A good book on "the kingdom of God" would be welcome just now. Since the "Cunningham Trust" in Scotland has so signally broken down, the "Carey Trust" in Ireland might advantageously take it up.