Every kingdom is renowned for some distinctive feature. Rome was conspicuous for its warlike propensities. The Grecian States were celebrated for their love of the fine arts. France is eminent for its taste. The American States are famous for their enterprise. But the distinguishing mark of the kingdom of God is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
The “kingdom of God” is a comprehensive phrase, denoting the new sovereignty established by Christ in the hearts of individuals where he rules in power and grace, and likewise embracing the whole company of those throughout the globe who, by personal reception of the truth, have entered into a society with duties and privileges emanating from the Kingship of the Redeemer. The code of life lays down no hard specific rules of abstinence or conformity. “Eating and drinking” are no necessary part of Christian living. It is the spirit in which certain actions are performed or certain privations submitted to rather than the things themselves which make men Christians. External observances do not constitute religion. They are a visible embodiment of it, but not its vital principle. Let us not set too high an estimate on rites and ceremonies and forms of worship, or we may glorify the husk to the neglect of the kernel, and the shapely bark may conceal a rotten tree. Ordinances of touching, tasting, handling, concern things that perish in the using. Discussions respecting amusements, pleasures, occupations, as to which may lawfully be enjoyed and which not, seldom advance any man’s obedience to Christ; they are the fringe, not the vesture, of religion, and talk concerning them is apt to degenerate into trifling and casuistry. Let each decide for himself with prayerful meditation what his course shall be, and try to secure the best, most lasting possessions. He who is always deliberating about the necessary outworks will never reach the heart of the palace of truth.
Having dismissed the negative aspect of Christianity, the apostle proceeds to set forth the main qualities of the Christian life. These are “righteousness,” just, honourable dealing, keeping the commandments of God with a pure conscience, mindful of the claims of God and our neighbours. Also “peace,” the tranquillity of the child resting on the Father’s bosom, unruffled by storms without, not over-anxious about daily cares, nor depressed by bereavements or affliction. And “joy,” which is peace brimming over into exultation, triumphant like snow brightened by the sunlight, even made rosy by the setting rays. These are spiritual qualities. They are spiritual in source and nature, are “fruits of the indwelling Spirit,” are enjoyed and perfected “in the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness is not the laborious toil of the legalist; nor is peace the apathy of the stoic or the sleepy contentment of the epicurean; nor is joy the momentary excitement of the sensualist. They are pure inward feelings, springs that flow spontaneously into outward behaviour. They are very practical, dealing not with abstruse or knotty points of conduct, but with qualifications easily understood, and unambiguous as to the method of attainment. It is not holding a certain creed, but cultivating a certain disposition and character. They tend to the harmony and usefulness of the Church. Dissension is impossible where these graces prevail. Unprofitable arguing is abandoned for mutual comfort and service. Engaged upon the higher business of the kingdom, petty details sink into their rightful insignificance, minor matters settle themselves. Would that the Church had attended to this dictum of the apostle, and been ever distinguished by these amiable virtues, instead of one section quarrelling with and persecuting another, making Church history a weariness to read, and confirming rather than quieting the doubts of the sceptical! Volumes of theology are not so powerful to convince of the truth of Christianity as a holy life. Men quickly discriminate between ritualism and religion, and detect the asceticism which mortifies the body, yet nourishes the pride of the soul.
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21).
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed; or to be distinguished when it comes as the kingdoms of this world, by outward pomp and splendour, by temporal riches, external honours, and worldly power and grandeur; though it so far came with observation, that had they had eyes to see, they might have observed that it was come, by what they saw done by Christ, particularly the power that he showed in dispossessing devils out of the bodies of men (cf. Matthew 12:28). The Syriac version reads, “with observations”; and some understand the words of the observances of the ceremonies of the law, of days, months, and years, and the difference of meats, and the like, which the kingdom of God is not in, and which were to cease upon its coming (cf. John 4:23-24); but the former sense is best.
‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ or that place, country or city, the kingdom of God is set up; the throne of the Messiah is there; and there are the “regalia”, or ensigns of his regal power; no such thing will fall under the observations of man, not but that this would be said, and was said by some persons, as it is suggested it should (cf. Luke 17:23) and it appears from Matthew 24:26 that some would say he was in such a wilderness, and others, that he was in some inner rooms in a house, or that he was in such a town or city; “do not believe it”; as in Matthew 24:26.
The kingdom of God is in your midst: in the elect of God among the Jews, in their hearts; it being of a spiritual nature, and lying in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; in the dispossession of Satan, the strong man armed; in the putting down of the old man, sin, with its deceitful lusts, from the throne; and in setting up a principle of grace, as a governing one; and so escapes the observation of natural men, and cannot be pointed at as here, or there: hence it appears, that the work of grace is an internal thing; it is wrought in the hearts of men; it has its seat in the inward parts, and is therefore called the inner, and the hidden man: it does not lie in words, in an outward profession of religion: it is oil in the vessel of the heart, and is distinct from the lamp of a visible profession; it does not lie in external works and duties, but it is an inward principle of holiness in the soul, or spirit of man, produced there by the Spirit of God, and is therefore called by his name (cf. John 3:6), and it also appears to be a very glorious thing, since it is signified by a kingdom: it is a rich treasure; it is gold tried in the fire, which makes rich; it is an estate, that good part, and portion, which can never be taken away; it is preferable to the greatest portion on earth men can enjoy; even the largest and richest kingdom in the world is not to be compared with it; it is a kingdom which cannot be moved; and as it is glorious in itself, it makes such glorious who are partakers of it: “the king’s daughter is all glorious within” (Psalm 45:13), and it is high in the esteem of God; it is the hidden man of the heart, but it is in his sight; it is in his view, and is in his sight of great price: it is likewise evident from hence, that it has great power and authority in the soul; it has the government in it; it reigns, through righteousness, unto eternal life; and by it, Christ, as king of saints, dwells and reigns in his people. Now this is not to be understood of the Scribes and Pharisees, as if they had any such internal principle in them, who were as painted sepulchres, and had nothing but rottenness and corruption in them: but the sense is, that there were some of the people of the Jews, of whom the Pharisees were a part, who had been powerfully wrought upon under the ministry of John, Christ, and his apostles; and were so many instances of efficacious grace, and of the kingdom of God, and of his Gospel coming with power to them. Though the words may be rendered, the kingdom of God is in your midst; and the meaning be, that the king Messiah was already come, and was among them, and his kingdom was already set up, of which the miracles of Christ were a full proof; and if they could not discern these signs of the times, and evident appearances of the kingdom of God among them, they would never be able to make any observation of it, hereafter, or elsewhere.
Let us pray for the grace to experience the kingdom of God with the song “This Kingdom”: