[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
In these days of apostacy men have sought out many inventions. Some have attempted to get into the kingdom of heaven without being born at all. Others imagine that they can be born of the Spirit, without water, and that the King is as well pleased with them who have been born without a mother, as with those who are lawfully born of father and mother. Others think that neither Spirit nor water is necessary; but if they are politically born of the flesh, they can enter the kingdom as rightfully as the Jewish circumcised infants enter the earthly kingdom of Israel. But as we have no faith in any modern improvements of the gospel, change or amendment, of the constitution of the kingdom of heaven, we must leave them to account to the King himself, who "have transgressed the law, changed the ordinance, and broken the everlasting covenant;" and proceed to the question,
THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM.
When did the kingdom of heaven commence? "With the ministry of John," says one;--"With the ministry of Jesus," says another;--"With the first sending out of the Twelve Apostles," says a third;--"At the resurrection of Jesus," says a fourth;--"At none of them: but by degrees from the baptism of John to the fall of Jerusalem," says a fifth.
The reader will please remember that there are at least five elements essential to a perfect organized kingdom, and that it may be contemplated in reference to one or more of these component parts. Hence the numerous and various parables of the Saviour. Sometimes he speaks of the administration of its affairs--of its principles in the heart--of its subjects--of its King--of its territory--of its progress--  of various incidents in its history. Hence the parable of the sower--of the wheat and darnel--of the leaven--of the merchant seeking goodly pearls--of the grain of mustard seed--of the sweep net--of the marriage of a king's son--of a nobleman going into a far country--of the ten virgins--of the talents--of the sheep and goats, present to our view the kingdom of heaven in different attitudes, either in its elements or in its history--its commencement or its close.
The approaching, or the coming of the reign of heaven, can properly have respect only to one or two of the elements of a kingdom; or to the formal exhibition of that whole organization of society which we call a kingdom. It can have no proper allusion to its territory; for that was created and located before man was created. It can not allude either to the persons who were constituted subjects, for they too were in existence before the kingdom commenced. It can not allude to the birth or baptism of the King, for it was not till after these that Jesus began to proclaim its coming or approach. It can not have reference to the ministry of John or of Jesus, any more than to the patriarchal or Jewish dispensations; because Jesus did not begin to proclaim the coming of this reign till after John was cast into prison. This is a fact of so much importance, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke distinctly and circumstantially declare that, in conformity to ancient predictions, Jesus was to begin to proclaim in Galilee, and that he did not commence to proclaim the doctrine or the gospel of the coming of the Reign, till after John's ministry ceased and he was cast into prison. In this assertion the Evangelists agree:--"Now Jesus [after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness] hearing that John was imprisoned, retired into Galilee; and having left Nazareth, resided at Capernaum. For thus said the Prophet," etc. From that time Jesus began to proclaim, saying, "Reform, for the Reign of Heaven approaches;" or, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," as says the common version.1
Some Baptists, for the sake of immersion, and some of our brethren in the Reformation, for the sake of immersion for the remission of sins, seem desirous to have John in the kingdom of heaven, and to date the commencement of the Christian dispensation with the first appearance of John the Immerser. They allege in support of this hypothesis that Jesus said, "The Law and the Prophets continued till John," (the only instructers of men;) "since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it." "Publicans and harlots show you the way into the kingdom of heaven," said Jesus to the Pharisees. Again, "Alas! for you Scribes and Pharisees! for you shut the kingdom of heaven against men, and will neither enter yourselves, nor permit others that would, to enter."  "The kingdom of God is within you." "The kingdom of heaven has overtaken you." From these premises they infer that the kingdom of heaven was actually set up by John the Baptist: "For, say they, "how could men and women enter into a kingdom which was not set up? And did not John immerse for the remission of sins, and call upon men to repent and reform in order to baptism?"
The Paidobaptists, too, will have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, David, and all the circumcised Jews in the kingdom of heaven, because Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am;" "Abraham saw my day and was glad;" and Paul says Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, and forsook Egypt in faith of the Christian recompense of reward. Yes, and Paul affirms that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their families, who dwelt in tents in the promised land, looked not only to the rest in Canaan, but they sought a heavenly country, and expected the city of foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Thus the Jews had Christ in the manna and in the Rock, and baptism in the cloud and in the sea.
The mistake is specifically the same. Christ was promised and prefigured before he came, and the kingdom of heaven was promised and preached by John, by Jesus, the Twelve, and the Seventy, (who went about proclaiming the glad tidings of the Reign) before the reign of Christ, or kingdom of heaven, commenced. Because Christ was promised and prefigured in the patriarchal and Jewish ages, the Paidobaptists will have the kingdom of heaven on earth since the days of Abel; and because the glad tidings of the reign and kingdom of heaven and the principles of the new and heavenly order of society were promulged by John, the Baptists will have John the Baptist in the kingdom of heaven, and the very person who set it up.
Let us, then, examine this matter with all candor: and first we shall place the passages above quoted out of the testimonies of the Evangelists on one side, and the following passages on the other side; and then see if we can reconcile them. John says, "Reform, for the reign of God approaches." Jesus began to proclaim, saying, "Reform, for the reign or kingdom of heaven is at hand." He also commanded the Twelve and the Seventy to perigrinate all Judea, making the same proclamation.2 Of John the Baptist he said, though greater than all the Prophets, "The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Thus after John was beheaded we have some eighty-four preachers daily proclaiming the nigh approach of the reign of God; and Jesus often assuring his disciples that the kingdom of God was soon to appear, and that some of his companions would see him enter upon  his reign before they died--and yet the kingdom was set up by John! Scribes and Pharisees were shutting the kingdom against men, when Jesus had only given the keys to Peter! John the Baptist was in the kingdom, and the least in the kingdom is greater than he! More than eighty preachers say, "Reform, for the reign of heaven is at hand;" and John the Baptist before he died introduced all Judea and Jerusalem into it! How, then, shall we reconcile these apparent contradictions? Make both sides figurative, and it may not be done. Regard both sides literally, and it can not be done! To say that the kingdom came in one point of view at one time, and in another point of view at another time, is only to say that it came in different senses--literally and figuratively. For our part we must believe that the kingdom of heaven began, or the reign of heaven literally and truly commenced in one day.
Many of its principles were developed by the ancient Prophets; David, Isaiah, and others wrote much concerning it; John the Baptist proclaimed its immediate and near approach, and more fully developed its spiritual design; therefore, he was superior to them. Jesus often unfolded its character and design in various similitudes; and every one who understood and received these principles were said to "press into the kingdom," or to have "the kingdom within them;" and wherever these principles were promulged "the kingdom of heaven" was said to "come nigh" to that people, or to "have overtaken them;" and those who opposed these principles and interposed their authority to prevent others from receiving them, were said to "shut the kingdom of heaven against men;" and thus all those Scriptures must of necessity be understood from the contexts in which they stand: for it was impossible that the reign of heaven could literally commence "till Jesus was glorified," "received the promise of the Holy Spirit," was "made Lord and Christ," and "sat down with his Father upon his throne"--for he left this earth to receive a kingdom.3
To make this, if possible, still more evident, we ask, When did the kingdom of God, established by Moses amongst the seed of Abraham, cease? This question penetrates the whole nature and necessity of the case: for will any one suppose that there were two kingdoms of God on earth at one and the same time? Certainly the one ceased before the other began.
Now that the kingdom of God, ministered by Moses, had not ceased during the personal ministry of the Messiah on earth, is, we think, abundantly evident from the following facts and documents:--
1. Jesus was to have appeared and did appear, "in the end of the world," or last days of the first kingdom of God. "In the conclusion  of the age has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The "world to come" was one of the names of the gospel age. He has not subjected "the world to come" to the angels, as he did the world past, says Paul to the Hebrews. He appeared, then, not in the beginning of the gospel age, but in the end of the Jewish age.
2. The Temple was the house of God to the very close of the life of Jesus. For it was not till the Jewish ministry conspired to kill him that he deserted it. At the last festival of his life, and immediately before he fell into their hands, on walking out of the Temple, he said, "Behold your house is deserted, for you shall not see me henceforth till you shall say, Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Lord!" It was his Father's house, the house of God till that moment. Then, indeed, the glory departed.
3. The Jewish offerings and service, as a divine institution, continued till the condemnation of Jesus. He sent the cleansed leper to the priest to make the offering commanded in the law. He commanded the people to hear the doctors of the law who sat in Moses' chair. He paid the didrachma. He was a minister of the circumcision. He lived under, not after the law. He kept all its ordinances, and caused all his disciples to regard it in its primitive import and authority to the last Passover. Indeed, it could not be disannulled, for it was not consummated till on the cross he said, "IT IS FINISHED."
4. When he visited Jerusalem the last time, and in the last parable pronounced to them he told them plainly "the kingdom of God should be taken from them" and given to a nation who should make a better use of the honors of the kingdom; consequently at that time the Jews had the kingdom of God.
5. It was not until his death that the veil of the Temple was rent; that the things "which could be shaken were shaken." It was then, and not till then, that he nailed the legal institution to his cross. Then, and not till then, was the middle wall of partition broken down. The last Sabbath he slept in the grave. From the moment of his death there was no life in the old kingdom of God. The Temple was deserted, its veil rent, its foundation shaken, the city devoted, the ritual abolished, and as after death the judgment, the Temple, city; and nation waited for the day of his vengeance.
The kingdom of God was evidently in the Jewish institution till Jesus died. Hence the kingdom of heaven came not while Jesus lived. In anticipation they who believed the gospel of the kingdom received the kingdom of God, just as in anticipation he said, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" before he began to suffer; and as he said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for the remission of the sins of many," before it was shed. So while the doctrine of this reign--faith, repentance, baptism, and a  new principle of sonship to Abraham were promulging by John, the Twelve, the Seventy, and by himself, the kingdom of heaven was approaching; and those who received these principles by anticipation were said to enter into the kingdom, or to have the kingdom within them.
The principles of any reign or revolution are always promulged, debated, and canvassed before a new order of things is set up. A Party is formed upon these principles before strength is acquired or a leader obtained competent to the commencement of a new order of things. In society, as in nature, we have first the blade, next the stem, and then the ripe corn in the ear. We call it wheat, or we call it corn, when we have only the promise in the blade. By such a figure of speech the kingdom of God was spoken of while as yet only its principles were promulging.
When these American states were colonial subjects of the King of England, and long before the setting up of a Republic, republican doctrines were promulged and debated. The believers and advocates of these doctrines were called Republicans, while as yet there was not a republic in this continent. He who dates the commencement of the kingdom of heaven from the ministry of John the Baptist, sympathizes with him who dates the American Republics from the first promulgation of the republican principles, or from the formation of a republican party in the British colonies. But as a faithful and intelligent historian, in writing the history of the American Republics, commences with the history of the first promulgation of these principles, and records the sayings and deeds of the first promulgers of the new doctrines; so the sacred historians began their history of the kingdom of heaven with the appearance of John in the wilderness of Judea, preaching the Messiah, faith, repentance, a holy life, and raising up a new race of Israelites on the principle of faith rather than of flesh: for this in truth was "the blade" of the kingdom of heaven.
Having from all these considerations seen that until the death of the Messiah his kingdom could not commence; and having seen from the record itself that it did not commence before his resurrection, we proceed to the development of things after his resurrection to ascertain the day on which this kingdom was set up, or the reign of heaven began.
The writer to whom we are most indebted for an orderly and continued narrative of the affairs of the kingdom of heaven, is the Evangelist Luke. His history begins with the angelic annunciations of the nativity of John and Jesus, and ends with the appearance of the great standard-bearer of the Cross in Imperial Rome, A. D. 64. That part of his history to which we now look as a guide to the affairs of  the commencement of the Reign, is the notices which he makes of the forty days which the Lord spent in his crucified body, previous to his ascension. The reader ought not to be told (for he ought to know) that Jesus rose in the same body in which he was crucified, and in that reanimated fleshly body did eat, drink, and converse with his Apostles and friends for forty days. That body was not changed till, like the living saints who shall be on the earth at his second personal coming, it was made spiritual, incorruptible, and glorious at the instant of his ascension. So that the man Christ Jesus was made like to all his brethren in his death, burial, resurrection, transfiguration, ascension, and glorification; or rather, they shall be made to resemble him in all these respects.
The Apostles testify that they saw him ascend--that a cloud received him out of their sight--that angels descended to inform them that he was taken up into heaven, not to return for a long time--that he ascended far above all the visible heavens, and now fills all things. Stephen, when dying, saw him standing on the right hand of God.
Much attention is due to all the incidents of these forty days--as much, at least, as to the forty days spent by Moses in the Mount with God in the affairs of the preceding kingdom of God. For the risen Messiah makes the affairs of his approaching kingdom the principal topic of these forty days.4 Towards the close of these days, and immediately before his ascension, he gave the commission to his Apostles concerning the setting up of this kingdom. "All authority in heaven and in earth is given to me: go, therefore," said he, "convert the nations," (announce the gospel to every creature,) "immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the things which I have commanded you; and behold! I am with you always, even to the conclusion of this state."5 "But continue in the city of Jerusalem until you be invested with power from on high." Thus according to his promise and the ancient prophecy, it was to "begin at Jerusalem."6
The risen Saviour thus directs our attention to Jerusalem as the place, and to a period distant "not many days," as the time of the beginning of his reign. The great facts of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, not being yet fully developed to his Apostles, they were not qualified to take any steps to the setting up of a kingdom which was to be founded upon Christ crucified. They needed an interpreter of these facts, and a supernatural advocate of the pretensions of the King, before they could lay the foundation of his kingdom. 
Again, the King himself must be glorified before his authority could be established on earth; for till he received the promise of the Spirit from his Father, and was placed on his throne, the Apostles could not receive it; so that Christ's ascension to heaven and coronation were indispensable to the commencement of this reign of heaven.
Here let us pause for a moment--leave the earth, and on the wings of faith in the testimony of Prophets and Apostles, the two witnesses for Jesus, let us follow him to heaven and ascertain his reception into the heaven of heavens, and exaltation to the right hand of God.
Alexander Campbell. "The Coming of the Kingdom."
The Millennial Harbinger Extra 5 (August 1834): |
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)