The Reign of Christ. Book One. Preface and Chapter One: Names of the Kingdom of Christ
8 min read
8 min read
Dedicated to Edward VI, King of England
May the benevolence and kindness of God our Heavenly Father, through our Savior Jesus Christ, more and more abound toward Your Royal Majesty, O most glorious and devout King.
I have just recently been reflecting on the fact that those who teach Holy Scripture in the schools of higher learning at Your Majesty’s appointment and command, are accustomed at the beginning of the year, as do also his other ministers, to wish Your Majesty a successful passage of the entire year, and at the same time to offer some small service appropriate to their profession. I, too, do not wish in any way to be neglectful of my duty, most especially toward Your Majesty, whom God has enlightened with a broad knowledge of his name, inspired with zeal and adorned with all other virtues like some saving star shining in the darkness and turmoil of this disastrous age for the great comfort and restoration of his people, whom the Antichrists have not completely suppressed.
So far as these things are concerned, what would I not do for Your Majesty if only I might accomplish or produce something pleasing to him who has so kindly received as exiles into his kingdom both me and Paul Fagius of blessed memory, that very select vessel of Christ our Savior; in addition to this, he committed to us the sacred trust of explaining Holy Scripture in this illustrious University of his at so very generous a salary, which he even wished us to enjoy during the months when, hindered by ill health, we were able to do nothing at all in the work of our ministry. But Your Majesty’s kindness was by no means satisfied with this; he added a splendid gift of twenty pounds with which I might obtain, not so much a convenience as a necessity, a stove to warm my frail body, exhausted as I am by age and broken by sickness. When I am now comfortably warmed by it, I rightly beg the Lord to warm and foster Your Majesty with the fire of His love and the kindling of every blessing, keeping from him everything cold, whether it be a matter of sins or of disasters and sorrows.
The Lord knows how much I want to show myself grateful to Your Majesty for his most generous and noteworthy kindnesses to me. Therefore, if I had known that it was appropriate also for me to make some little effort for him at the beginning of the year, even though at that time I was feeling rather low and indisposed, I would have made some kind of attempt to produce something of my own. I acknowledge, however, that it is not in my power, even if I were in excellent health, to produce anything worthy of Your Majesty and befitting my vocation. I readily understand literary composition is expected of me, some small work giving counsel on some phase of our religion, something that would both please and prove useful to Your Majesty. But I see that to compose a writing of sufficient excellence for Your Majesty with respect to learning and Christ’s religion is far beyond the limits of my talents. But just as God our most indulgent Father finds it enough if we have good intentions and do our best, so Your Majesty, who seeks to show forth the image of God, as is the special duty of pious kings, will not despise whatever small attempts I make to please him.
It would seem fitting to write for Your Majesty a little about the fuller acceptance and reestablishment of the Kingdom of Christ in your realm. Thus it may be better understood how salutary and necessary it is both for Your Majesty and all classes of men in his realm, thoughtfully, consistently, carefully, and tenaciously to work toward this goal, that Christ’s Kingdom may as fully as possible be accepted and hold sway over us. I shall present the ways and means which are proper, sure, and suitable to advance, recommend, and urge effectively and acceptably this cause in which is contained the eternal happiness and salvation of all. Above all, I shall bend my energies to show from Holy Scriptxrure the nature and properties of the Kingdom of Christ among and within us who live in an age in every way perversely opposed to God. I shall set forth what the Kingdom’s fellowship and order really are. Very few people today have any solid knowledge of these mysteries of our salvation, although they repeat so many times, “Our Father who art in heaven, … thy Kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10).
I shall advise about these few matters from the eternal word of God as the Lord gives me the gift to do so. And first I shall treat of what the Kingdom of Christ among us is and describe its nature, its distinct purpose, fellowship, and order. Then I shall show how salutary and completely necessary it is for all to direct all concerted thoughts and efforts to have this Kingdom fully accepted and restored among us. Finally, I shall indicate how Your Majesty can and should establish, foster, and encourage the full restoration of the Kingdom of Christ among his subjects.
May our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, be present in his Spirit, that I may offer this counsel completely according to his view and Your Majesty may read it with profit. Amen.
To know more fully and surely the nature and properties of the Kingdom of Christ among his people in this world, and the nature of true fellowship and order in this Kingdom, let us consider first by what names it is called in Holy Scripture, and then what properties are attributed to it. Furthermore, we should do this with the confidence that the Lord and Holy Spirit, just as in the naming of other things, so also in the naming of his Kingdom, has used names most appropriate, descriptive, and meaningful, and has explained so clearly and abundantly what the essence, nature, and proper marks of this Kingdom are that only a sincere and firm faith is needed for us to grasp and hold firmly the meaning of these names and the characteristics which the Scriptures attribute to this Kingdom.
We read that this Kingdom is called “the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33), “the Kingdom of Christ the beloved Son of God” (Eph. 5:5), and “the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matt. 3:2).
Now, we know that a kingdom, if it is rightly and properly so called, is said to be the administration of a people or state by which the one person who excels the others in wisdom and every virtue so arranges and obtains whatever is for the well-being of the citizens that nothing at all is lacking to them, in such a way that from earliest childhood everyone is formed and led toward a responsible and happy way of life.
Since this is the nature and purpose of any kingdom which can really be called a kingdom, let us consider that the kingdom about which we are reading is called the Kingdom of God. Whatever good properties exist in any human kingdom exist and are found in fuller perfection here, inasmuch as God is above all men, both in the wisdom of his governance and in the benevolence of his will for all mankind. Indeed, since God alone is good, wise, and powerful, only in his Kingdom can those things which ought to be done by royal rule be plainly perceived.
We discover the same thing when we read in Holy Scripture that this is the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, “the beloved Son of God” (Col. 1:13), for he is of the same nature as his Father. But let us furthermore devoutly consider and ponder in what way the Lord as he was made man aided and began to govern his Kingdom in this world, and promised to do so until the world’s end. When he came into this world, sent by the Father into his Kingdom, “he emptied himself, and taking the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:7), showed that he was a man of the common people, without worldly wealth or office. Nor did he “have any place to rest his head” (Matt. 8:20); and when he was seized for torment, he was deserted by all his own (cf. Matt. 26:56). He manifested none of this world’s wisdom and eloquence, for they who were then held to be the wisest and holiest among the people of God judged him to be insane and unworthy of a wise man’s hearing (John 10:20). And so he found no favor among the powerful, I mean the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people, as well as the Pharisees, so that they were not able to satisfy their hatred of him by insult or injury, until they had brought about his nailing to a cross.
And so this our King chose for himself ministers altogether contemptible in the judgment of the world, unsophisticated, inept, inexperienced in the affairs of men. On account of him they were themselves numbered among the lowest class of men; indeed, they were considered unworthy of being tolerated among men (Rom. 8:36). For like men condemned to death, they were sorely afflicted with hunger, thirst, and all manner of injury; they were beaten, hammered with shouts and blasphemies, excluded from hospitality, and were in every way known as the castoffs of the world, rejected by all (1 Cor. 4:9-11).
Although the world and, worst of all, his own people, the Jews, paid back only with great cruelty and inhumanity the most wonderful benefits of our King, which both through himself and through his ministers he daily heaped upon them, nevertheless he subjected himself to all and made himself a minister of their salvation, even unto death (Phil. 2:8), and by doing good for all in word and deed, and also by very great miracles, he made an effort to conquer their savage madness. He evaded the kingdom offered by the people (John 6:15), and assumed so little worldly power for himself that, when Pilate, exercising public authority, pronounced that most unjust sentence of death, he accepted it in a tranquil spirit, acknowledging that Pilate’s power over him was from heaven (John 19:11).
Furthermore, in his deep humiliation and rejection, our Lord and Redeemer, in that extreme want of worldly things, in contempt, hatred, and most cruel affliction, nevertheless truly reigned and exercised wonderful power, not only over all material and spatial things and bodies, but also over minds. Those true citizens of his Kingdom whom the Father had given to him he moved with his word and Spirit to follow him most eagerly wherever he went, with parents, wives, children, and all things else left behind (Matt. 4:18-22); and they followed him to poverty, shame in this world, and even death itself, but also to holiness, piety, and righteousness. He controlled with a nod his enemies who were furiously intent upon killing him; with a whip he expelled them from the Temple; by means of a word he prostrated them on the ground; the demons, the sea, the winds, and all creatures he held obedient to his will as often as he wished. How? He had received all power from his Father in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). But he wielded and used that power only by his word and Spirit, without the aids, tools, and weapons of this world. And toward the same purpose, he opened his Kingdom to all and established it through his apostles and ministers. Nor was there ever a time that he ruled among men in any other way, nor shall he ever, in this world.
All this we must know, ponder, and think about with a deeply religious spirit as we hear or remember or read anything about the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of the Crucified One.
The third name of this Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, teaches us almost the same things. First of all, when it is called the Kingdom of Heaven, it is clearly expressed that it is not of this world, even though it is within us, who are still involved in this world (John 17:11). It is of heaven, where we have and invoke our Father and Creator, where our King Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and establishes all things which are in heaven and on earth (Eph. 1:10); we are invited by the gospel and the Holy Spirit into this Kingdom, and we are directed toward eternal life. Therefore our citizenship ought to be in heaven (Phil. 3:20), as God has chosen us from this world (John 15:19), and together with his Son has vivified us, raised us up, and placed us on high (Eph. 2:5-6). That is, he made us, through faith in himself and his Son, participants in a blessed, heavenly life, and certain of our hoped-for resurrection and translation into heaven, where we may fully enjoy this life of God.
In order that we may more clearly and surely realize what the nature and power of the Kingdom of Christ are, and what is necessary for its restoration among us, let us discuss what things are common to this Kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, and what things are specifically different.