The Kingdom and the Church

To most Christians perhaps, even at the present day, the kingdom and the Church are one. The Church practically is the whole body of professors: what else is the kingdom? They would not deny that these are different aspects,- that the thought connected with each is different, but they are aspects only of the same thing. We have now, then, to consider how far this difference extends - whether it be only of thought, or of the things themselves.

The kingdom we have seen to be the sphere of discipleship; the Church is, in its fundamental idea, the body of Christ,- it is the unity of His members. Notice that that action of the Spirit by which we are brought into this body is called "baptism:" "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Scripture, by adopting this word in this connection. institutes a comparison, thus, between the kingdom and the Church. But the one baptism is an external rite; the other, inward and spiritual. The error of identifying the two spheres has led to that of identifying the two baptisms; but the one is in the hand of man, the other in the power of God alone.

The Church is not only the body of Christ; it is also the house of God: and under this figure of a house the Lord first speaks of it in the gospels,-"Upon this rock I will build My Church." Peter, taking up and extending the Lord's words, shows us this building and its foundation clearly: "To whom coming. as unto a Living Stone, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:4, 5). But Paul it is, to whom the doctrine of the body of Christ was committed, who first explicitly calls the Church, as indwelt by the Holy Ghost, the house and the temple of God (Heb. 3:6; 1 Cor. 3:19). As the Church, then, is in the kingdom, which is yet wider and external to it, it stands with respect to the kingdom as the temple to its outer court. In the former, the priestly family drew near and worshipped; in the other alone, the Israelite of the common people. Peter identifies, as it were, the house and the priesthood: "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood."

The house and body were, in God's design, and for a short time at the beginning, exactly commensurate. The one was composed of living stones, the other of living members. But men with their bad building have done as was foretold: they have unduly enlarged the house. They have built in "wood, hay, stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12-17). Thus the house is become "as a great house," in which there are vessels of gold and silver, of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour." And it will be purged from its disorder only when the Master comes.

But we have not here to think of the disorder, but to look back to the beginning to get the true design of the divine Architect. The more simply we can do so the better.

In the kingdom, then, we have individual responsibility, conditional blessing, a place of privilege to which man has authority to introduce his fellow; in the Church, a place of absolute grace, relationship to one another, communion: and here belongs another institution which expresses this. Paul, the special apostle of the Church, to whom it was given to complete the doctrine of it, was not sent to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17). But he has, by distinct revelation from the Lord, the institution of the memorial feast, in which not only do we symbolically "eat the Lord's flesh and drink His blood," but in which also it is expressed that "we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread" (chap. 11:24; 10:17).

Baptism and the kingdom speak of conditional blessing and individual responsibility; the Church, and the breaking of bread, of already-enjoyed (therefore absolute) grace, and fellowship in it, relationship to one another and the Lord. The kingdom is the outer court of the sanctuary; the Church, the house of God, the sanctuary itself. The first affirms God's desire toward all; the last is the espoused object of Christ's unchanging love. It may thus be seen why Paul, the "minister of the Church" as we have seen in a special sense, claims to he also specially the "minister of the gospel" (Col. 1:23), and to have as his peculiar mission "to preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 1:17), the last in some sort of opposition even to a commission to baptize. So he speaks of "my gospel" (Rom. 16:25), associating with it the "mystery" of the Church. And,, as has been fully shown by others, in fact it is Paul who alone speaks plainly of justification and of our place in Christ. With the other inspired writers it is rather forgiveness, although I do not say that there are not passages which look beyond this.

In the kingdom, the twelve are to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28). Here we cannot imagine a thirteenth throne for Paul. The commission to baptise, we have seen, was given to them also, although Paul takes it up and acts upon it, as we all do since. Paul thus completes - as the sense is in Col. 1:25 - the Word of God. The complete truth is given through him, and hence he preaches also the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25). All lines of truth we shall find in his epistles who in his own person is the expression of the perfect grace of God. Nay, in a sense, he can bring out the very truth of the kingdom itself with more distinctness, because he is able to give along with it the full position and standing of the true believer.

Accordingly, nowhere so fully as in Paul's epistles do we find the warnings as to a fruitless profession with which we are so familiar. He who can say, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law, but under grace," can on that very account the more insist that "to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness" (Rom. 6:14, 16). The freedom to which God has called us, the power with which He endues us, - make the service of sin now so unutterably solemn; because it is manifestly on man's part the choice of evil: it is man's will in rejection of the grace of God.

On the other hand, even he in the experience of the seventh of Romans can still say, "The good that I would," "the evil that I would not," while of Christians characteristically it is said, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (chap. 8:14). The true Christian, conscious of the grace of which he is. the subject, and established in a place which is unchangeably his, is just the one who submits himself joyfully to all the conditions of discipleship; and this is what Paul does in those words of his so often misinterpreted, (9:26, 27):
"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest after having preached to others I myself should be a castaway."

He is here speaking as a disciple under the rules of the kingdom - as a disciple to disciples; but he knows not only how to tread the courts of the Lord, but how, as a priest, enter the sanctuary also, and to say, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us: who can separate us from the love of Christ?"

Here again, to keep the kingdom and Church distinct, throws light upon the Word. Never will you find these conditions insisted on where it is a question of the child of God as such, or of justification and the place in Christ, membership in the body of Christ, or any thing which implies that divine grace has indeed wrought in the soul. All such conditions apply to the disciple - to all disciples surely, but as such - to the kingdom, the court of the temple. The Church is the temple of God itself, the place of enjoyed nearness and settled relationship.

Three Spheres in Ephesians Ch. 4
Before we close this, it will be well to notice how the apostle separates these different spheres in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. His seven unities there comprise and are divided into three concentric circles of blessing, of which he begins with the innermost and proceeds outward. The innermost circle is that of the Church: "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." Next, we have that of the kingdom: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Outside, again, is the world; not, of course, in the evil sense, but as the creation of God: "one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." This is the Scripture classification, which it has been our object to establish here.