Sermon 21. The Kingdom of the Saints Seasons - Pentecost

"The stone that smote the Image became a great Mountain, and filled the whole earth." Daniel ii. 35.

{244} [Note 1] YESTERDAY I drew your notice to the outlines of the history of the Church, and the clear and precise anticipation of it, by our Lord and His Apostles. The Gospel Dispensation is confessedly a singular phenomenon in human affairs; singular, whether we consider the extent it occupies in history, the harmony of its system, the consistency of its design, its contrariety to the existing course of things, and success in spite of that contrariety, and lastly, the avowed intention of its first preachers to effect those objects, which it really has attained. They professed to be founding a Kingdom; a new Kingdom, different from any that had been before, as disclaiming the use of force,—in this world, yet not of this world,—while it was to be, notwithstanding, of an aggressive and encroaching character, an empire of conquest and {245} aggrandizement, destroying all former powers, and itself standing for ever. Infidels often object to us, that our interpretation of the Scripture prophecies concerning Christ's Kingdom is after all but allegorical, and therefore evasive. Not so; we are on the whole willing to take our stand on their literal fulfilment. Christ preached that "the kingdom of God was at hand." He founded it and made Peter and the other Apostles His Vicegerents in it after His departure, and He announced its indefinite extension, and its unlimited duration. And, in matter of fact, it exists to this day, with its government vested in the very dynasty which His Apostles began, and its territory spread over more than the world then known to the Jews; with varying success indeed in times and places, and varying consistency and unanimity within; yet, after making every allowance for such partial failures, strictly a visible power, with a political influence founded on invisible pretensions. Thus the anticipations of its founders are unparalleled in their novelty, their boldness, and their correctness. To continue our review.

3. [Note 2] If the Christian Church has spread its branches high and wide over the earth, its roots are fixed as deep below the surface. The intention of Christ and His Apostles, on which I have dwelt, is itself but the accomplishment of ancient prophecy.

First, let it be observed that there was an existing belief among the heathen, at the time of its rise, that out of the East a new Empire of the world was destined to issue [Note 3]. This rumour, however originating, {246} was known at Rome, the then seat of dominion, and is recorded by a Roman historian. Next, it became matter (as it would seem) for heathen poetry. The most celebrated of Roman poets has foretold the coming of a new Kingdom of peace and righteousness under the rule of a divine and divinely-favoured King, who was to be born into the world. Could it be maintained that he wrote from his own imagination, not from existing traditions, this would not at all diminish the marvel, as not in any measure tending to account for it. In that case, the poet would but take his place among the Prophets. Further, if we admit St. Matthew's testimony, which we have no excuse for doubting, we must believe, that, just at the time of Christ's birth, certain Eastern Sages came to Jerusalem in search of a child, of whom they expected great things, and whom they desired to worship in His cradle. And lastly, another Eastern Sage, fourteen hundred years before, had declared, heathen though he was, and uninterested in the event, that "a Star should come out of Jacob, and a Sceptre should rise out of Israel, ... that out of Jacob should come He that should have dominion." [Numb. xxiv. 17, 19] Now, whether we may assume that this last prophecy is faithfully recorded by Moses or not, so far is clear, and not a little remarkable, that the Jewish traditions concerning the expected Empire profess to take their rise in heathen sources [Note 4]. It is a clear coincidence with the {247} fact, already adverted to, of the prevalence of such predictions among the heathen at the time of Christ's coming.

While such was the testimony of enemies and strangers to this destined rise of a prosperous Empire from Judea, much more full and varied are the predictions of it delivered by the natives of that country themselves. These, as contained in our holy books, have been again and again illustrated by Christian writers, and neither need nor admit of enumeration here. I will but cite one or two passages, by way of reminding you of them. "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." "Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most Mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty. And in Thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness: and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies, whereby the people fall under Thee … Instead of Thy fathers shall be Thy children, whom Thou mayest make princes in all the earth." "The Lord shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion; rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies … The Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath." "It shall come to pass in the last days, that the Mountain of the Lord's House shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it … Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. {248} And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." "It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou shouldest be My salvation unto the end of the earth." And almost in the same words, the aged Simeon recognises in the infant Jesus the Lord's promised "salvation, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel." [Ps. ii. 8, 9; xlv. 3-5, 16; cx. 2, 5. Isa. ii. 2-4; xlix. 6. Luke ii. 30-32.] In these passages the prediction of bloody revolution and of peace are as strangely combined, as in our Lord's account of His Kingdom, as being at once a refuge and consolation, and a sword. Maintain, if you will, that they have not hitherto been so fully accomplished in its history as is conceivable; yet, in matter of fact, has not this twofold character of the Dispensation been in such measure realized, as substantially answers to the words of the prediction? Consider only the wars and tumults of the Middle Ages, of which the Church was the occasion, and, at the same time, its salutary influence upon the fierce and lawless soldiers who then filled the thrones of Europe. Take the Prophecy, take the History; and say fairly, whether, in accordance with the Scripture prospect, we do not actually find in the centuries I speak of, a political power, making vassals of the kings of the earth, {249} humbling them beneath its feet, affording matter of endless strife, yet acting as the very bond of peace, as far as peace was really attained. How truly have "the sons of them that afflicted" the Church, "come bending unto her; and they that despised her, bowed themselves at the soles of her feet," [Isa. lx. 14.] and "the enemies of Christ been made His footstool!"

It may help us in entering into the state of the case, to consider what our surprise would be, did we, in the course of our researches into history, find any resemblance to this prophetic forecast in the annals of other kingdoms. Even one poor coincidence in the history of Rome, viz. of the anticipated and the actual duration of its greatness, does not fail to arrest our attention. We know that even before the Christian era, it was the opinion of the Roman Augurs, that the twelve vultures which Romulus had seen previous to the foundation of the city, represented the twelve centuries, assigned as the limit of its power; an anticipation which was singularly fulfilled by the event [Note 5]. Yet what is this solitary fact to the series of varied and circumstantial prophecies which ushered in, and were fulfilled in Christianity? Extend the twelve centuries of Roman dominion to an additional half of that period, preserve its monarchical form inviolate, whether from aristocratic or popular innovation, from first to last, and trace back the predictions {250} concerning it, through an antecedent period, nearly of the same duration, and then you will have assimilated its history—not altogether, but in one or two of its features—to the characteristics of the Gospel Dispensation. As it is, this Roman wonder only serves to assist the imagination in embracing the marvellousness of those systematic prophecies concerning Christ's kingdom, which, from their number, variety, succession, and contemporary influence, may almost be accounted in themselves, and without reference to their fulfilment, a complete and independent dispensation.

4. Lastly, the course of Providence co-operated with this scheme of prophecy; God's word and hand went together. The state of the Jews for the last four hundred years before Christ was a preparation deliberately carried on for that which was to follow; just as the wanderings of Abraham and his heirs, the descent into Egypt, and the captivity there, for the same period, constituted a process introductory to the establishment of the Jewish Church. Consider the nature of this preparation:—the overthrow of the nation by the Chaldeans, issued in the dispersion of its members all over the civilized world, so that in all the principal cities Jewish communities existed, which gradually attracted to their faith Gentile converts, and were in one way or other the nucleus of the Christian Church when the Gospel was at length published. Now, here, I would first direct your attention to this strange connexion, which is visible at first sight between the dispersion of the Jews and the propagation of Christianity. Does not such a manifest appearance of cause and effect look {251} very much like an indication of design? Next, I remark that this dispersion was later than the predictions concerning the Christian Church contained in the Jewish Scriptures: which in consequence cannot be charged with borrowing the idea of it from any actual disposition of things. And further, let it be observed that the disposition arose from the apparent frustration of all their hopes; a signal instance, as it would seem, of an over-ruling Providence, which would not be defeated as regards its object, in spite of the failure of those instruments, in which alone a human eye could see the means of accomplishing it.

Before concluding, I must explain myself on one point which has been incidentally mentioned more than once in the foregoing remarks, viz. as to the connexion between the temporal fortunes of the Church in the Middle Ages, and the inspired predictions concerning it. It may seem, before due attention has been given to the subject, as if none but members of the Roman Communion could regard them as parts of the Divine Dispensation; I therefore observe as follows:—

There is a considerable analogy between the history of what are called the Middle Ages and that of the Israelitish monarchy. That monarchy was perversely demanded and presumptuously realized by the nation when God had not led the way; it terminated in the dissolution of the federal union of the Tribes, the corruption of the people, and the ruin of their temporal power. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, that in one sense that kingdom was the scope of the Mosaic Institutions [Note 6], and {252} a fulfilment of prophecy. Its kings were many of them highly favoured in themselves, and types of the promised Saviour; and their government and subjects were singularly blessed. Consider the circumstances attendant upon the building of the Temple. This may be accounted as the most glorious event in their history, the fruit of Moses' anxieties and David's labours, the completion and resting-place of the whole Dispensation, and the pledge of the more spiritual blessedness which was to come. Connect it with Solomon's reign, its peace and prosperity.—on the other hand, with its voluptuousness, its departure from the simplicity of the Mosaic Law,—with Solomon's personal character, degenerating from faith and purity into sins which we are not given to fathom. Are we able rightly to adjust the relation between the blessings destined for Israel, and the actual prosperity and greatness of this kingdom set up in rebellion against God, so as to be able to say how far it was recognised in His counsels, how far not? Can we draw the line between God's work and man's work?

I am not maintaining that the case of the Papacy is parallel to that of the Jewish Monarchy; nay, I do not introduce the latter for the sake of the analogy at all, be it stronger or fainter; but merely in order to show that it is possible for certain events to be in some sort a fulfilment of prophecy, without considering every part of them, the manner of their accomplishment, the circumstances, the instruments, and the like, to be approved by God. The Latin ecclesiastical system of the Middle Ages may anyhow be the fulfilment of {253} that gracious design, which would have been even more exactly accomplished, had Christians possessed faith enough to keep closely to God's revealed will. For what we know, it was intended that all the kingdoms of the earth should have been made subject to the spiritual rule of the Church. The infirmity of man defeated this purpose; but it could not so far defeat it, but some sort of fulfilment took place. The mustard-plant, stopped in its natural growth, shot out irregular branches. Satan could not hinder, he could but weaken the Kingdom promised to the Saints. He could but seduce them to trust in an arm of flesh. He could but sow the seeds of decay among them, by alluring them to bow down to "Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites." Had it not been for this falling away in divers times and places, surely Christendom would not be in its present miserable state of disunion and feebleness; nor the prophecies respecting it have issued in any degree in defeat and disappointment. Still partial as is their fulfilment, there is more than enough, even in what is and has been, to attest in the Church the presence of that Almighty Hand, whose very failures (so to say) and losses are deeds of victory and triumph.

As for ourselves, what was the exact measure of the offences of our forefathers in the faith, when they tired of the Christian Theocracy, and clothed the Church with "the purple robe" of Csar, it avails not to determine. Not denying their sin, still after contemplating the glories of the Temple which were contemporaneous with it, we may well bewail our {254} present fallen state,—the Priests and Levites, and chief of the Fathers, all of us "weeping with a loud voice," though the many shout for joy,—"praising" indeed, "and giving thanks unto the Lord, because He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel," [Ezra iii. 11, 12.]—not undervaluing the blessings we have, yet humbling ourselves as the sinful offspring of sinful parents, who from the first have resisted and frustrated the grace of God, and seeing in the present feebleness and blindness of the Church, the tokens of His righteous judgments upon us; yet withal, from His continued mercies towards us, drawing the comfortable hope, that for His Son's sake He will not forsake us in time to come, and cherishing a sure trust, that, if we "give Him no rest" by our services of prayer and good works, He will at length, even yet, though doubtless in a way which we cannot understand, "establish and make Jerusalem a praise in the earth."

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Notes

1. Tuesday in Whitsun Week.
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2. [Points 1. and 2. are in Sermon 20NR.]
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3. Vide Horsley's Dissertation on the Prophecies among the Heathen.
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4. Gen. xlix. 10, does not speak of conquest or empire, so clearly as to constitute an exception; much less Gen. xii. 2, 3, and xxviii. 14, which could scarcely be so interpreted, except after other and clearer prophecies.
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5. Vide Gibbon, ch. xxxv. fin. The ancient prediction concerning the fortunes of Russia is a more remarkable instance. A brazen equestrian statue, which had been originally in Antioch, is said, by historians of the beginning of the twelfth century, to be "inscribed with a prophecy, how the Russians in the last days should become masters of Constantinople."—Vide Gibbon, ch. lv.
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6. Deut. xvii. 14-20.
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