The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Four: The Various Periods Of The Church
27 min read
27 min read
Here it must further be observed that this external glory and happiness are indeed due to the Church and are proper to it, but not at any particular time. For there is a time when our King, to declare his heavenly might in the infirmity of his subjects and to illustrate their faith in him, permits Satan to stir up the entire world against them, and to bring it about that they are hateful to all men for his name’s sake (Matt. 10:21-22), and they are handed over to be killed with inhuman cruelty, even a brother by a brother, children by their parents, and parents by their children. There is likewise a happy time when our King provides for his subjects a surface calm and procures the favor of men, even under the rule of tyrants, as he did in the early Church, as Luke describes in Acts, the second, fourth, and fifth chapters.
Besides this, there is a time in which our King magnificently fulfills the prophecies mentioned about the happiness and glory of the Church as he did under Constantine and the pious emperors who followed him, who adjoined and consecrated both themselves and their wealth and peoples to the Church of Christ insofar as they could.
With what ardor Blessed Constantine was aflame, Eusebius of Pamphilia, in his orations about the life of this prince, and Theodoret, in the first book of his Church History, relate. For Eusebius writes about him in his fourth oration, that he observed all Christian feasts and ceremonies with utmost reverence and was most devoted to saying his prayers; and he inflamed his armies and his court in every way to have the same sort of zeal. For he showed himself an assiduous teacher and preacher to them and always had religious services conducted in his presence even in camp. He bestowed great honors, too, on the priests of the Lord, who were really fit for their office rather than being secular and courtly; when the people of God were on the increase everywhere in the cities, he built temples for sacred assemblies; in all places he wiped out the profession and equipment of idolatry. He made magnificent donations to the churches of Christ, both in lands and in annual endowments of income from the state to support virgins, widows, and all needy men, children, orphans, and women. And he did this with such great liberality that a third of this liberality was later abundantly sufficient for the churches, the amount restored by the Emperor Jovinian, when the great need of the state compelled him to such a reduction of the generous provision of Constantine. For the man who preceded him, the wicked Julian, had robbed the Church of all the benefits of Constantine (Theodoret Book, I, Ch. 2).
How much care this same Constantine took to drive away from the Church the quarrels and controversies which arose and to preserve the churches and their leaders in devout agreement with the pure doctrine of Christ and true religious worship, no one can sufficiently admire and praise after reading what Church History has to say about the religion of this pious prince. So also no one has ever adequately celebrated his politeness, humanity, and attentiveness in assembling three hundred and eighteen holy fathers at the Council of Nicaea; he personally welcomed and embraced them as they arrived in public vehicles and urged them to do their duty; he himself was present at the Council, but he was seated in a place more humble than those which he had prepared for the fathers, and he also entered their discussion about religious ques- tions, professing that he too was a servant and bishop of the Lord, as the fathers in matters spiritual, so he in matters temporal.
Similarly, the holy fathers and church histories mention very many fine things about the religion and piety of Theodosius, his zeal for the peace of the churches, as well as his kind treatment of Them.
Truly in these periods the churches of Christ experienced that abundant kindness of the Lord toward themselves which the prophets had predicted.
Yet it must also be noted that in these prophecies the prophets have so described a temporal glory and happiness for the Church that they have included the eternal, which the saints will enjoy after this life. But because the Church has rarely had the great happiness and glory which the prophets foretold, it must be remembered that these promises were made not to the nominal but to the real people of Christ; they never have become so numerous as to cease to be a little flock in comparison with the rest of mankind. But if one considers how lost in iniquity all kinds of men are, so that always in every people many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14), he will certainly find nothing wanting in the period of Constantine and the emperors who followed him, in regard to the happiness of the Church of Christ promised through the holy prophets, when churches were raised up all over the world and flourished in exceptional piety.
However, as even very holy men always sin and it pleases the Lord to test and try the faith of his own by various temptations, so the churches never lack his chastising and proving by heretics or false brethren or worldly men, nor will they ever, while they are here on pilgrimage and away from the Lord (cf. II Cor. 5:6).
But the most difficult time of the Church, through which it still passes in so many nations, was when it was oppressed for so many centuries in the service of Antichrists, as can be seen in so many kingdoms of Europe today. For since the Lord preserved in these churches some echo of his gospel and Holy Baptism with the invocation of his name, it cannot be doubted that he had and still has many citizens of his Kingdom among them, although these are involved in very many grave errors and labor under a weakness of faith. For the Antichrists, the pseudo bishops and clergy, following their head, the supreme Roman Antichrist, first horribly corrupted the teaching of the gospel with numerous harmful comments about the merits of the saints and those proper to each, and about the saving power of their ceremonies, things which are obviously impious and which they also conduct impiously. Furthermore, they present all this to the people of Christ in an alien tongue, and forbid the reading of the Holy Scripture. Finally, they completely overturn the sacraments and the discipline of Christ and do everything in their power to prevent them from ever being restored. Concerning this wretched oppression of the churches under these Antichrists and their extreme wickedness and obstinate perversity, Saint Bernard complained in his time as follows:
“Woe to this generation from the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy: if indeed it can be called hypocrisy, when it cannot lie hidden for its very abundance and does not seek to be, so impudent is it. A stinking pestilence today crawls through the whole body of the Church: the more widely, the more destructively; the more dangerously, the deeper it goes. For if a heretic arises as an open enemy, he is cast out and withers: if a violent enemy, the church might hide from him. But now whom shall it cast out or from whom shall it hide itself? All are friends and all enemies; all for and all against; all domesticated and none peaceful; all neighbors and all seeking their own. They are the ministers of Christ and they serve Antichrist; they partake with honor of the good things of the Lord and they do not honor the Lord. Hence what you see daily, harlot colors, stage dress, court apparel; hence gold on bridles, on saddles, and spurs; and more spurs glisten than altars. Hence tables splendid with both food and drink; hence revelings and drunkenness; hence the zither and lyre and drums; hence the rumbling winepresses and full larders, giving forth this and that. Hence colored chests, hence custom purses. For this they want to be and are heads of churches, deacons, archdeacons, bishops, archbishops. Nor do they come to this by merit but by a transaction which walks in darkness (Ps. 91:6). Once it was predicted and now the time of fulfillment has come: Behold, in peace my most bitter bitterness (Isa. 38:17). Bitter first in the slaughter of martyrs, more bitter later in the conflicts with heretics, most bitter now in the characters of the Church’s servants. One cannot flee them or rout them: so strong they have become and multiplied above numbering. Intestinal and incurable is the plague of the Church, and therefore in peace its most bitter bitterness. But in what peace? It is both peace and not peace (Jer. 6:14). Peace from the pagans, and peace from the heretics; but not, surely, from the children. There is a voice of wailing at this time: I have nourished and reared children, but they have despised me (Isa. 1:2). They have despised and dirtied me by a shameful life, shameful gain, shameful commerce, a business walking in darkness. What is left but for the noonday devil to rise from the middle of things (cf. Ps. 91:6), to seduce, if they are any left in Christ, those who persist in their simplicity; if indeed he has absorbed the rivers of the wise and the torrents of the strong and trusts the Jordan to flow into his mouth (Job 40:23), that is, the simple and humble who are in the Church. For he is the Antichrist who lyingly calls himself not only day but midday, and is extolled above what is said or is worshiped as God; him the Lord Jesus will kill by the breath of his mouth and destroy by the brightness of his coming (II Thess. 2:8) ; as the true and eternal midday, the bridegroom and advocate of the Church, who is God above all, blessed forever. Amen.” (Bernard, Thirty-third Sermon on the Canticles.)
Saint Bernard complained of these and similar things nearly five hundred years ago. But these evils of the Church have greatly increased and accumulated in the meantime. Truly, therefore, the churches of Christ in Europe never were in worse condition than after the Roman Antichrist established over so many Christian people the tyranny in which he maintains himself today with the support of so many great monarchs and nations.
Finally, the present time of the Kingdom of Christ is as yet fluctuating and uncertain. For in some places those who exercise public power rage against no criminals more cruelly than against those who belong to the Kingdom of Christ. In other places, those who are in control make concessions to their citizens and permit them to aspire to the Kingdom of Christ. For they allow them the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of the gospel as long as they are not held responsible for this and as long as they experience no inconvenience.
During the last thirty years there have also been some, especially in Germany, who have seen to it that a right preaching of the gospel was received and who have let it be their primary concern that the religion of Christ be rightly established. On account of this they faced no small dangers. Yet there still can be found only a few who have become entirely subject to Christ’s gospel and Kingdom, indeed who have allowed the Christian religion and the discipline of the churches to be restored throughout according to the laws of our King. But until now the ministers of these churches have not accomplished much, insofar as they should make it their business, first, firmly to demand a confession of faith and of obedience to Christ from all who have been baptized as infants, once they have matured, and then to see to it that those who have charge of the churches do their full duty by all the baptized by teaching and admonishing them not only publicly but also at home and privately. This is so much a part of the office of pastors and ecclesiastical administrators that those who neglect it are responsible for all those entrusted to their care who Perish.
Much less has it been permitted to trusted and proved ministers of the churches, nor have many ministers yet wanted it to be conceded to them, that those who have not acquiesced to private warnings and have been unwilling to withdraw from their open sins, should be called together by them together with the elders of the Church elected for this in the name of the whole Church. They should bind them over to penance, and with the consent of the Church, pronounce those who refuse this remedy of salvation to be regarded as heathens and publicans (Matt. 18:16-17). All know that this discipline of penance was most seriously sanctioned by Christ the Lord and is very greatly salutary if it is reverently Administered.
It is so remote a possibility for most princes or magistrates to admit this efficacious remedy for sins that they do not even leave the public preaching of repentance to the ministers of Christ, namely, for the plain correction of all the sins of all orders of people. Many have even demanded that the ministers of the churches give the most holy sacrament of communion of Christ to anyone who asks, without any probing into his faith and life. Nor have there been lacking among the ministers those who have preferred to do this rather than undertake the burden of listening to and admonishing sinners and undergo the odium of this ministry. Thus, real care according to what the Lord has commanded in his law is never taken that the holy days are really sanctified to the Lord.
And so for the most part they seem to have learned these things from the gospel of Christ: first, to reject the tyranny of the Roman Antichrist and the false bishops. Next, to throw off the yoke of any kind of discipline, penitence, and universal religion which was left in the papacy, and establish and do all things according to the desire and whim of their flesh. Thus it was not displeasing to them to hear that we are justified by faith in Christ and not by good works, in which they had no interest. They never seriously considered what was explained to them about the nature and power of true faith in Christ, and how necessary it is to be prolific in good works. A number of them accepted some preaching of the gospel only in order that they might confiscate the rich properties of the Church.
And so it has happened that in a great many places the entire doctrine of the Kingdom of Christ has been faithfully announced to the people, but I for one cannot say in what churches it has yet been firmly accepted and Christian discipline publicly constituted. Therefore, insofar as they have refused to accept the Kingdom of Christ entire as it was offered to them, the Lord has with just judgment remitted them to the tyranny of the Roman Antichrist and the false bishops and subjected them to the trials of many other calamities.
In Hungary, by the grace of the Lord, there are now quite a number of churches which accept a solid Christian discipline along with a pure Christian doctrine and observe it religiously. Christ our King has brought it about that many are following the example of these churches.
From these things it can now be seen how varied the ways by which the Lord treats his churches in this world. Meanwhile, however, there are no churches, or even private individuals, who, if they give themselves over completely to the Kingdom of Christ, will not perceive all the happiness which the prophets foretold, even in this life, in its fashion of the moment, in such a way that they cannot thank God enough, in joy and gladness. For the Lord really repays us a hundredfold, even with persecutions, for whatever temporal thing or comfort we have sacrificed for his name or for whatever discomfort we have sustained (Mark 10:30). From Jeremiah, the twenty-third chapter: “I shall gather the remnant of my flock from all the countries to which I have driven them, and I shall lead them back to their fold, and they shall fructify and be multiplied” (Jer. 23:3).
The prophet here teaches that the Church of Christ must be gathered from all nations throughout the world, and that this is a work proper to our King himself. But since this is the proper and supreme work of Christ, as so many times the holy prophets tell us, it is necessary that whoever are his own should serve him in his purpose, every individual person doing his share.
There follows: “And I shall set shepherds over them to feed them, so that they may not fear or be confused, that not a single one of them may perish, says the Lord” (Jer. 23:4).
And here we are taught that after men have been gathered to the Church, it ought to be the first concern of everyone who seeks the Kingdom of Christ that each one should serve Christ our King in this according to his own portion, so that suitable shepherds may be placed in charge of individual churches, to feed them in good faith, i.e., with deep concern to preserve them in the faith and obedience to Christ the King, and to live up to all the functions and roles of the sacred ministry, namely, by a sincere dispensation of the doctrine and sacraments of Christ and by a faithful administration of his discipline. As a result, after faith in Christ has increased among them, all will act confidently in the Lord, free from any fear or disturbance of spirit from all enemies, both spiritual and temporal, and no one will abandon the grace of the Kingdom of Christ which he has received.
There follows in the prophecy: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and administer his charge prudently and happily, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5).
The prophet testifies, first, that only Christ the Lord is truly righteous and justifies those who believe in him; secondly, that he alone is the only true King, and administers a true kingdom among his own subjects, and brings it about that among them all things are inaugurated and pursued prudently and happily and therefore rightly and in good order, i.e., righteously.
There follows: “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell confidently; and this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Here the prophet testifies that a sure and saving way of life can be found only in the Kingdom of Christ. All those will certainly obtain it who can dare to call him by this glorious name: “The Lord is our righteousness/’ i.e., Christ our King, true God and true man (for here is applied as a title the sacred name Jehovah), has reconciled us, freed from sins, to the Father and has obtained the spirit of righteousness, and so, in order that our sins may not be imputed to us in the judgment of God, he reigns and governs us effectively unto eternal life.
From the thirty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel: the Lord says: WI shall preserve my flock, and my sheep will not henceforth be open to attack, and I shall judge between sheep and sheep” (Ezek. 34:20- 22).
The prophet teaches that the Kingdom of God and of Christ are one and the same, a saving kingdom in which no one of those who have been truly received perishes. But this Kingdom also has its judgment between sheep and sheep, namely, that of the admonition and correction of sinners.
There follows: “And I shall set up one shepherd over them, to feed them, my servant David. He shall feed them and be to them a shepherd. And I, the Lord, shall be their God, and my servant David a prince in their midst. I, the Lord have spoken” (Ezek. 34-23-24).
Again the prophet testifies that the Kingdom of God and of Christ are the same, a kingdom not only of utmost gentleness but also of most exact and singularly salutary care, as good shepherds watch over the helpless flock of sheep and take care of them. And it must be noticed that he says: “I shall set one shepherd over them,” namely, Christ, the Son of David, whom he calls by the name of his father David. Likewise, he says this next: “He shall feed them, and be to them a shepherd.” By these words we are taught, as from the following statement, “And my servant David will be a prince in their midst,” that the Church of Christ has only one head, Christ, the prince and chief shepherd, and that he himself is always in their midst, and has no need of vicars, although he uses ministers, as has been said above.
It must also be observed that God the Father shows himself to be our God, i.e., the giver of eternal life, when we follow our shepherd, Christ, in his sheepfold, i.e., then we remain in the true fellowship and discipline of the Church.
There follows: “And I shall make with them a covenant of peace, and banish harmful beasts from the land; and they shall dwell confidently in the wilderness and sleep in the forests. And I shall set them around my hill and make rain to fall in its season, and they will be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field will give their fruit, and the earth will give its harvest” (Ezek. 34:25- 27).
In these words the prophet teaches that to those who seek first the Kingdom of Christ and consecrate themselves to it, nothing shall be harmful anymore, but everything salutary (cf. Matt. 6:33). God at all events gives this to his people, who accept the entire Kingdom of his Son, even though he wants certain private individuals to give testimony to his goodness and the certain promise of eternal happiness, at the cost of all things present, and even of blood. In these, however, he also instills that fortitude of spirit, and he gives them such a taste for heavenly blessings that with their whole heart they exult and glory in what they suffer for his name’s sake.
It has seemed good to me here to call to attention and note a few things from the words of the prophets concerning the Kingdom of Christ. For, as I warned above, there are still only a few who seek out and know enough about all the characteristics of the Kingdom of Christ. I shall next mention a little from the testimony of the psalms, and then from the Gospels and apostolic writings; then, from the foregoing and the prophecies to be mentioned, and the words of the Lord and of the Holy Spirit, I shall offer a definition of the Kingdom of Christ and what must be required of those who wish to keep this Kingdom among them.
From the Second Psalm: “I have anointed my king, my holy one upon Mt. Zion. I shall relate a decree: the Lord has said to me: You are my son; today have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I shall give the nations to you for an inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession” (Ps. 2:6-8) .
First of all, the prophet teaches that Christ our King has been anointed by the Father and constituted King of his Church, i.e., holy Mt. Zion, so that the nations of the world and their kings and princes oppose his Kingdom not only in vain, but also to their own horrible destruction, as they try to reject his easy yoke and break the salutary bonds of his doctrine and discipline. Hence the prophet urges all kings and rulers to kiss this Son of God, i.e., acknowledge him their King, lest in his anger “they perish from the way” (Ps. 2:12), i.e., they be cast out of this present life into Gehenna.
Next he teaches that this Kingdom is a kingdom of a proclamation, namely, of this proclamation, that our Lord Jesus is the only Christ and Son of God, whom the Father brought forth for this Kingdom when he raised him from the dead, as Saint Paul has interpreted this text in the address which he gave in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:325.). Certainly everything in the Gospels is written about the Lord, as John testifies, “that we might believe that this Jesus is the Christ and that believing we might have eternal life in his name” (John 20:31). Therefore we should note here that where this proclamation of our Lord is absent, neither he nor his Kingdom is present.
Lastly, the prophet testifies that the Kingdom of Christ pertains to all nations. On this account, they who make no effort to extend this Kingdom as far and widely as possible are not of Christ. From the Twenty-second Psalm: ”Sovereignty is the Lord’s and he shall be dominant among the nations. All the prosperous of the earth shall bow down and adore; before him all shall bend the knee who go down to the dust and whom no one can keep alive. Posterity shall serve him and be accounted to the Lord for generations. Men shall come and announce his righteousness, which he has done to a people yet to be born” (Ps. 22:29-32). The prophet here sings, first, that the Kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of all nations; also, of all men, both living and dead; and of the living, whether they have social standing and wealth or are in need and oppressed.
Next, that those who have entered the Kingdom of Christ are going to eat the bread of life, “which comes down from heaven,” i.e., they will enjoy the holy communion of Christ (John 6:33). For he has sung above that they are to be satisfied, from which satisfaction it comes about that they adore Christ and in him the Father, in spirit and in truth, and subject themselves in all things to his will.
Finally, he gives testimony about the permanency of the Church and its supreme function, which is righteousness, i.e., to proclaim and pass on to those who come after us the eternal goodness of our King.
The Forty-fifth Psalm sings magnificently of the omnipotence, magnificence, and splendor of our King and his Kingdom, i.e., the Church.
The Forty-eighth Psalm sings very clearly how immense the joy is which the Kingdom of Christ brings, and how it stands unconquered against all the world’s power, so that in it alone is God’s graciousness set forth and justly celebrated, and finally, with what great ardor we must reverence this Kingdom.
That our King, acting with power in fulfillment of hope, vindicates his own who are oppressed in the world, gives them the peace which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) and multiplies them, subjects all nations and kings of nations to himself and humbles them, and fulfills all things abundantly out of his kindness. All this the Seventy-second Psalm celebrates (likewise, Ps. 96, 97, 98, and 99); likewise, Ps. 122 and 145.
Psalm 110 sings, first, of the exaltation of our King at the right hand of the Father and that all his enemies are to be prostrated at his feet as footstools; secondly, that the scepter of this our King, i.e., the administration of his Kingdom, is to come forth most powerfully from Zion and will rule in the midst of his enemies. Thirdly, that the people of Christ will be willing and strong, like the heavenly dew of the morning multiplied in the splendor of holiness, i.e., will glorify God frequently in meetings of worship. Fourthly, that the Kingdom of Christ is established by the immutable oath of God, and it will therefore be an eternal kingdom. It adds that there will be a priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, as this Melchizedek blesses Abraham and his people, i.e., all the faithful, and is honored by them by all manner of gifts, such as are thought to please him. Lastly, that God will always have this our King at his right hand, and will destroy his enemies completely, and with drink from a heavenly torrent, i.e., the consolation and strengthening of the Holy Spirit, he will wonderfully console and strengthen this King in his members in every hardship and affliction from the hands of the godless.
From the Gospel of Matthew, the first chapter: The angel to Joseph, the foster father of the Lord, concerning Mary, the virgin espoused to him: “What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; for she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). Here we are taught in prophecy that our Lord Jesus Christ, inasmuch as he is of the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, without sin and was made man, has come for this very purpose, to establish a kingdom of the elect of God to free them from their sins. He does this especially in the administration of his Kingdom, through all administration of its doctrine and discipline, that men might acknowledge their sins, be freed from them by him, and live to righteousness. From Luke, the first chapter: The angel Gabriel said to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of the Lord: “Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God, and, behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Here we are taught that Christ will reign only in the elect of God, i.e., over the house of Jacob, and his Kingdom will be eternal, i.e., it will endure until the end of the world. And thus there will always be churches of Christ, wherever they may be. From Matthew, chapters three, four, and ten; and from Mark, the first chapter; and Luke, the tenth: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’* (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9).
Therefore, it is a quality of the Kingdom of Christ that in it the repentance of sinners must always be preached. Hence where the Kingdom of Christ has been truly received, there it is necessary that the sins of all be severely rebuked, that men may give themselves up completely to the Kingship of Christ in order to be cleansed from their sins and endowed with the spirit of righteousness. There follows in the fifth chapter: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Thus no one will have a capacity for the Kingdom of Christ unless he truly acknowledges his sins and feels the wrath of God aflame against them, so that he is poor in spirit and in need of good things, i.e., he is of a humble and contrite heart. There follows in the same book, in the seventh chapter: “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
Thus it is a hollow mockery that those who do not make a wholehearted effort to do the things that are pleasing to the heavenly Father should declare themselves citizens and members of the Kingdom of Christ.
There follows in the sixteenth chapter of the same book: The Lord said to Peter: “To you I will give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and if you bind anything on earth, it will be bound in heaven, and if you loose anything upon earth, it will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
Here the Lord clearly teaches that he wishes his Kingdom to be closed to some, opened to others: opened to those who, if they are adults, show to the Church their good faith concerning their repentance and belief by their own confession which is proved by the witness of their lives; but closed to all who refuse to make this kind of a confession of faith and profession of obedience to Christ or who are found to negate by their own wicked deeds what they confess with their lips.
The Lord teaches us here, furthermore, that inasmuch as his Kingdom is to be closed through the sacred ministry to those who are obstinate in sins, those who are quite seriously delinquent but still curable must be brought to do penance and show the Church adequate fruits of repentance, just as in civil affairs the citizens are occasionally remanded for a time to prisons and chains on account of their crimes. We must note how gravely Christ our King sanctions this discipline when he remarks that those who have been bound and loosed in the Church will be bound and loosed in heaven.
Nor should we overlook that in this text this power is handed over to the whole Church and not only to Peter or his successors, as the Lord testifies clearly below in chap. 18 (Matt. 18:15 ff.). For although this power is to be wielded by the ordinary ministers of the Church, nevertheless this ought to be done with the consent of the entire Church; just as the apostle Paul was unwilling to hand over the incestuous Corinthian to Satan on his own authority alone, but rather by the assembled Corinthians, he being with them in spirit (I Cor. 5:3-5). Since Peter too made his confession to the Lord not only in his own name but also in the name of all his colleagues and thus of the entire Church, it is certain, as Saint Augustine and the other holy fathers have well concluded, that the Lord wishes his response to Peter to apply to the whole Church of Christ.
There follows in the twenty-first chapter of the same Evangelist: ‘Tor this reason I say to you that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be taken away from you and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits” (Matt. 21:43).
Hence let us learn that the Kingdom of God does not remain, or even exist, where its fruits, i.e., the works of all piety and righteousness, are not manifested. And when this sterility of good works publicly prevails in some nation, the Lord transfers his Kingdom, i.e., the administration of man’s salvation through pure doctrine and his salutary discipline, to another one.
We must also consider reverently those parables by which the Lord has wished to explain the properties of his Kingdom, as when he compared his Kingdom to a sower of good seed, only a fourth of which fell on good ground and bore fruit (Matt. 13:4 ff.). Likewise, to a good field planted with wheat, in which an enemy planted weeds (vs. 24 ff.). Also, to a net holding good and bad fish (Matt. 13:47 ff.). Then to a royal wedding and a great banquet, to which those invited were unwilling to come, some injuring and even killing the servants of the Lord sent to call them to the wedding; but one entered without a wedding garment, and was cast out into the outer darkness (Matt. 22:2 ff.; Luke 14:16 ff.). Finally, to ten virgins, of whom the foolish were not careful to have oil with them for their lamps (Matt. 25:1).
For by these parables the Lord teaches, first, that it is proper to his Kingdom for the word of life to be offered to all, even though very few genuinely accept it, and that those who yield to this word in any way, unless their pretense is obvious, are to be received into the Church, kept in it, and continually called to a living faith in Christ until by their wicked deeds they plainly deny the faith they profess with their lips.
Next, that the true servants of our King should not desist from offering his Kingdom to all men simply because all too many do not accept it in their hearts, and some even reproach them with all manner of insults and wrongs on account of this very great favor.
Lastly, although the hypocrites must be tolerated in the Church, as long as they are hidden, they will nevertheless finally be separated horribly from the saints and cast into hell as men born and bred by the devil; they are nothing but a scandal in the Kingdom of Christ (Matt. 13:41).
We must also conscientiously consider that parable of the householder who hired laborers for his vineyard at various times during the day and gave the same pay to those who had worked for only one hour as to those who had worked from morning to night (Matt. 20:1 ff.). For by that parable we are taught that where Christ truly reigns, there will always be some who are brought to his Kingdom, and all who are really his serve the Lord with ardent zeal toward this very end. That the same pay was given to all shows that whatever good the Lord returns to us is due to the grace of our King and not due to human merit, although we seem to have labored long and hard and to have suffered much for his glory. From Matthew, the last chapter: The Lord, about to ascend into heaven, says to his disciples: “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make all nations my disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Here the Lord teaches, first, that he has received power from the Father over all, both men and spirits, and even over all creatures. Next, that his Kingdom ought to be offered to all nations. Further, that all the citizens of his Kingdom ought to be incorporated into himself in Holy Baptism and to be dedicated to the communion and discipline of his Church. In this regard, it is the function of the ministers of his Kingdom to teach all the baptized to observe whatever he has commanded, to teach them diligently, perseveringly, and in every way both to care about the precepts of Christ and wholly to consecrate themselves day by day to be more fully perfected in all things.
On this account, loyal ministers of Christ would also not fail (besides giving public explanations of the Scriptures and exhortations derived from them) assiduously to instruct ignorant Christians in the catechism, admonish individuals privately and at home concerning their duties, and correct delinquents, and, finally, by pious conversations, come to the aid of those who adhere to some doctrine other than that of Christ and who are weak. Thus those confirmed in the gospel faith will not allow themselves to be moved by any current of false doctrine (Eph. 4:14). Lastly, he teaches that he will always be present to his own, and he will make the organization and teaching of his Church effective.
From the third chapter of the Gospel of John: “Amen, amen, I say to you,” the Lord said to Nicodemus, “whoever is not born again cannot see the Kingdom of God.” And a little later: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5).
Here we may see that it has been defined that one not only cannot be received into the Kingdom of Christ, but cannot even know it, if he has not been reborn, and this must be of water and the Spirit, i.e., by Holy Baptism (received at least in intention if not in actual fact) and renewal of heart by the Holy Spirit. From the letter of Paul to the Romans, the fourteenth chapter: “The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
We must learn from this that in the Kingdom of Christ we have complete external freedom, and we must seek to realize this one thing, that righteously, i.e., living by the faith of Christ, we may enjoy peace with God and men, and hence with every creature, and thus rejoice and exult continually in our Lord and King. From the first letter to the Corinthians, the fourth chapter: “The Kingdom of God does not consist of talk but of power” (I Cor. 4:20).
It is indeed fitting for the word of the Kingdom of Christ, i.e., the gospel, to be preached with utmost care and reverence, and not to be squandered rashly and inconsiderately; but we do not gain the Kingdom of God through this, however accurate and careful is the word we speak or however eagerly we hear; there must be present a heavenly power to crucify and abolish the old man and to form and perfect the new (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9).
From the sixth chapter of the same letter; likewise from the fifth chapter of the letter to the Galatians and from the fifth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians: “Make no mistake: the unrighteous, fornicators, idolators, adulterers, lovers of ease, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy” (who seek worldly things immoderately), “drunkards, slanderers, these will not inherit the Kingdom of God,” nor do they have any part in it (I Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5).
Since, therefore, those who persevere in manifest wickedness have no part in the Kingdom of Christ, once they have been exposed, they ought also to be excluded from any association with it, through the discipline of the Church.
From the first letter to the Corinthians, the fifteenth chapter: “Afterward the end, when he has handed over the Kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (I Cor. 15:24-25).
The Kingdom of Christ in this world is the ministry of salvation of the elect of God, by which our King, as he daily cleanses from sins those who have been given to him by the Father, ever more delivers them from the power of Satan and makes them acceptable to himself and guards them from all evils. This is why there will be nothing left of sin in the saints after the resurrection, and “God will be all in all” (I Cor. 15:28), and then there will be no more need in the Kingdom of Christ and in its administration for the elect of God to be delivered from sins and from the devil. Then, therefore, having properly discharged his duty, Christ our King will turn over to the Father his sovereignty and power by which he has redeemed his elect from all evil and led them to the life of God, and with the Father he will live in them eternally and be glorified by them.
Then he shall also abolish every other rule, whether of men or of spirits, all power and might, with no distinction as to what serves or opposes his Kingdom (Eph. 1:21) . For he will have his holy ones with him in heaven, perfected in all righteousness, needing no outside government or regulation. The wicked, however, both spirits and men, he will plunge into hell (Matt. 13:42), from where they will have no power further to trouble the saints. But until these things are accomplished, and while the elect are yet in this world, and there are enemies of Christ our King left in the world, he must reign, i.e., administer salvation for his own and vindicate them from sin and from Satan until he has subjected all his enemies under his feet, either by their conversion from their impiety to his Kingdom or by their rejection to Gehenna. But since the work and governance of the Kingdom of Christ will not be perfected except by the regeneration of the elect of God through a blessed resurrection, eternal life and that perfect righteousness in the saints are sometimes called in the Scriptures “the kingdom of God.” As when the Lord, already facing his passion, said to his disciples: “And I appoint to you, as the Father has appointed to me, a Kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30). What Paul wrote to the Corinthians pertains to the same thing: “This, in truth, I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor will corruption inherit incorruption” (I Cor. 15:50). He means that while we are yet burdened with this flesh and blood, we cannot perceive our accomplished salvation and our restoration, by which God is all things to us; and for this reason we must first be renewed by corporal death and a blessed resurrection, and become completely spiritual. The rest is properly said to be, and is, the Kingdom of Christ, which he administers in this world by vindicating his own through the gospel and his Spirit from the power of Satan, and sanctifying them, and leading them to the Father.
Whoever considers devoutly the texts which we have here proposed will readily understand the nature and makeup of the Kingdom of Christ as well as its properties, and will see what must be sought and forsaken by those who wish this Kingdom of Christ to be firmly restored among them.
From these texts, therefore, we shall propose an organized definition of the Kingdom of Christ and itemize its properties in an orderly way for the sake of greater clarity for the reader, and we shall indicate how necessary these things are for salvation, and how earnestly they should all be renewed and restored. Those who neglect this, which, sadly enough, is today the case for not a few, can glory about the Kingdom of Christ in their midst with only empty words, for they show that they are still completely destitute of reality.