THE kingdom of God in the writings of divines, and specially in sermons and treatises of devotion, is taken most commonly for eternal felicity, after this life, in the highest heaven, which they also call the kingdom of glory; and sometimes for the earnest of that felicity, sanctification, which they term the kingdom of grace; but never for the monarchy, that is to say, the sovereign power of God over any subjects acquired by their own consent, which is the proper signification of kingdom.
To the contrary, I find the kingdom of God to signify in most places of Scripture a kingdom properly so named, constituted by the votes of the people of Israel in peculiar manner, wherein they chose God for their king by covenant made with Him, upon God's promising them the possession of the land of Canaan; and but seldom metaphorically; and then it is taken for dominion over sin (and only in the New Testament), because such a dominion as that every subject shall have in the kingdom of God, and without prejudice to the sovereign.
From the very creation, God not only reigned over all men naturally by His might, but also had peculiar subjects, whom He commanded by a voice, as one man speaketh to another. In which manner He reigned over Adam and gave him commandment to abstain from the tree of cognizance of good and evil; which when he obeyed not, but tasting thereof took upon him to be as God, judging between good and evil, not by his Creator's commandment, but by his own sense, his punishment was a privation of the estate of eternal life, wherein God had at first created him: and afterwards God punished his posterity for their vices, all but eight persons, with a universal deluge; and in these eight did consist the then kingdom of God.
After this, it pleased God to speak to Abraham, and to make a covenant with him in these words, "I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee; And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession."1 In this covenant Abraham promiseth for himself and his posterity to obey, as God, the Lord that spake to him; and God on his part promiseth to Abraham the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. And for a memorial and a token of this covenant, he ordaineth the sacrament of circumcision.2 This is it which is called the Old Covenant, or Testament, and containeth a contract between God and Abraham, by which Abraham obligeth himself and his posterity in a peculiar manner to be subject to God's positive law; for to the law moral he was obliged before, as by an oath of allegiance. And though the name of King be not yet given to God; nor of kingdom to Abraham and his seed, yet the thing is the same; namely, an institution by pact of God's peculiar sovereignty over the seed of Abraham, which in the renewing of the same covenant by Moses at Mount Sinai is expressly called a peculiar kingdom of God over the Jews: and it is of Abraham, not of Moses, St. Paul saith that he is the father of the faithful;3 that is, of those that are loyal and do not violate their allegiance sworn to God, then by circumcision, and afterwards in the New Covenant by baptism.
This covenant at the foot of Mount Sinai was renewed by Moses where the Lord commandeth Moses to speak to the people in this manner, "If you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar people to me, for all the earth is mine; and ye shall be unto me a sacerdotal kingdom, and an holy nation."4 For a "peculiar people," the vulgar Latin hath, peculium de cunctis populis: the English translation made in the beginning of the reign of King James hath, a "peculiar treasure unto me above all nations"; and the Geneva French, "the most precious jewel of all nations." But the truest translation is the first, because it is confirmed by St. Paul himself where he saith,5 alluding to that place, that our blessed Saviour "gave Himself for us, that He might purify us to Himself, a peculiar (that is, an extraordinary) people": for the word is in the Greek periousios, which is opposed commonly to the word epiousios: and as this signifieth ordinary, quotidian, or, as in the Lord's Prayer, of daily use; so the other signifieth that which is overplus, and stored up, and enjoyed in a special manner; which the Latins call peculium: and this meaning of the place is confirmed by the reason God rendereth of it, which followeth immediately, in that He addeth, "For all the earth is mine," as if He should say, "All the nations of the world are mine; but it is not so that you are mine, but in a special manner: for they are all mine, by reason of my power; but you shall be mine by your own consent and covenant," which is an addition to his ordinary title to all nations.
The same is again confirmed in express words in the same text, "Ye shall be to me a sacerdotal kingdom, and an holy nation." The vulgar Latin hath it, regnum sacerdotale, to which agreeth the translation of that place, sacerdotium regale, a regal priesthood;6 as also the institution itself, by which no man might enter into the sanctum sanctorum, that is to say, no man might enquire God's will immediately of God Himself, but only the high priest. The English translation before mentioned, following that of Geneva, has, "a kingdom of priests"; which is either meant of the succession of one high priest after another, or else it accordeth not with St. Peter, nor with the exercise of the high priesthood. For there was never any but the high priest only that was to inform the people of God's will; nor any convocation of priests ever allowed to enter into the sanctum sanctorum.
Again, the title of a holy nation confirms the same: for holy signifies that which is God's by special, not by general, right. All the earth, as is said in the text, is God's; but all the earth is not called holy, but that only which is set apart for his especial service, as was the nation of the Jews. It is therefore manifest enough by this one place that by the kingdom of God is properly meant a Commonwealth, instituted (by the consent of those which were to be subject thereto) for their civil government and the regulating of their behaviour, not only towards God their king, but also towards one another in point of justice, and towards other nations both in peace and war; which properly was a kingdom wherein God was king, and the high priest was to be, after the death of Moses, his sole viceroy, or lieutenant.
But there be many other places that clearly prove the same. As first when the elders of Israel, grieved with the corruption of the sons of Samuel, demanded a king, Samuel, displeased therewith, prayed unto the Lord; and the Lord answering said unto him, "Hearken unto the voice of the people, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."7 Out of which it is evident that God Himself was then their king; and Samuel did not command the people, but only delivered to them that which God from time to time appointed him.
Again, where Samuel saith to the people, "When ye saw that Nahash, king of the children of Ammon, came against you, ye said unto me, Nay, but a king shall reign over us; when the Lord your God was your king":8 it is manifest that God was their king, and governed the civil state of their Commonwealth.
And after the Israelites had rejected God, the prophets did foretell His restitution; as, "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem";9 where he speaketh expressly of His reign in Zion and Jerusalem; that is, on earth. And, "And the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion":10 this Mount Zion is in Jerusalem upon the earth. And, "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you";11 and, "I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant";12 that is, I will reign over you, and make you to stand to that covenant which you made with me by Moses, and broke in your rebellion against me in the days of Samuel, and in your election of another king.
And in the New the New Testament the angel Gabriel saith of our Saviour, "He shall be great, and be called the Son of the most High, and the Lord shall give him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."13 This is also a kingdom upon earth, for the claim whereof, as an enemy to Caesar, he was put to death; the title of his cross was Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; he was crowned in scorn with a crown of thorns; and for the proclaiming of him, it is said of the Disciples "That they did all of them contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there was another King, one Jesus."14 The kingdom therefore of God is a real, not a metaphorical kingdom; and so taken, not only in the Old Testament, but the New. When we say, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory," it is to be understood of God's kingdom, by force of our covenant, not by the right of God's power; for such a kingdom God always hath; so that it were superfluous to say in our prayer, "Thy kingdom come," unless it be meant of the restoration of that kingdom of God by Christ which by revolt of the Israelites had been interrupted in the election of Saul. Nor had it been proper to say, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand"; or to pray, "Thy kingdom come," if it had still continued.
There be so many other places that confirm this interpretation that it were a wonder there is no greater notice taken of it, but that it gives too much light to Christian kings to see their right of ecclesiastical government. This they have observed, that instead of a sacerdotal kingdom, translate, a kingdom of priests: for they may as well translate a royal priesthood, as it is in St. Peter, into a priesthood of kings. And whereas, for a peculiar people, they put a precious jewel, or treasure, a man might as well call the special regiment or company of a general the general's precious jewel, or his treasure.
In short, the kingdom of God is a civil kingdom, which consisted first, in the obligation of the people of Israel to those laws which Moses should bring unto them from Mount Sinai; and which afterwards the high priest, for the time being, should deliver to them from before the cherubim in the sanctum sanctorum; and which kingdom having been cast off in the election of Saul, the prophets foretold, should be restored by Christ; and the restoration whereof we daily pray for when we say in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come"; and the right whereof we acknowledge when we add, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory, for ever and ever, Amen"; and the proclaiming whereof was the preaching of the Apostles; and to which men are prepared by the teachers of the Gospel; to embrace which Gospel (that is to say, to promise obedience to God's government) is to be in the kingdom of grace, because God hath gratis given to such the power to be the subjects (that is, children) of God hereafter when Christ shall come in majesty to judge the world, and actually to govern his own people, which is called the kingdom of glory. If the kingdom of God (called also the kingdom of heaven, from the gloriousness and admirable height of that throne) were not a kingdom which God by His lieutenants or vicars, who deliver His commandments to the people, did exercise on earth, there would not have been so much contention and war about who it is by whom God speaketh to us; neither would many priests have troubled themselves with spiritual jurisdiction, nor any king have denied it them.
Out of this literal interpretation of the kingdom of God ariseth also the true interpretation of the word holy. For it is a word which in God's kingdom answereth to that which men in their kingdoms use to call public, or the king's.
The king of any country is the public person, or representative of all his own subjects. And God the king of Israel was the Holy One of Israel. The nation which is subject to one earthly sovereign is the nation of that sovereign, that is, of the public person. So the Jews, who were God's nation, were called a holy nation.15 For by holy is always understood either God Himself or that which is God's in propriety; as by public is always meant either the person or the Commonwealth itself, or something that is so the Commonwealth's as no private person can claim any propriety therein.
Therefore the Sabbath (God's day) is a holy day; the Temple (God's house), a holy house; sacrifices, tithes, and offerings (God's tribute), holy duties; priests, prophets, and anointed kings, under Christ (God's ministers), holy men; the celestial ministering spirits (God's messengers), holy angels; and the like: and wheresoever the word holy is taken properly, there is still something signified of propriety gotten by consent. In saying "Hallowed be thy name," we do but pray to God for grace to keep the first Commandment of having no other Gods but Him. Mankind is God's nation in propriety: but the Jews only were a holy nation,. Why, but because they became his propriety by covenant?
And the word profane is usually taken in the Scripture for the same with common; and consequently their contraries, holy and proper, in the kingdom of God must be the same also. But figuratively, those men also are called holy that led such godly lives, as if they had forsaken all worldly designs, and wholly devoted and given themselves to God. In the proper sense, that which is made holy by God's appropriating or separating it to his own use is said to be sanctified by God, as the seventh day in the fourth Commandment; and as the elect in the New Testament were said to be sanctified when they were endued with the spirit of godliness. And that which is made holy by the dedication of men, and given to God, so as to be used only in his public service, is called also sacred, and said to be consecrated, as temples, and other houses of public prayer, and their utensils, priests, and ministers, victims, offerings, and the external matter of sacraments.
Of holiness there be degrees: for of those things that are set apart for the service of God, there may be some set apart again for a nearer and more especial service. The whole nation of the Israelites were a people holy to God; yet the tribe of Levi was amongst the Israelites a holy tribe; and amongst the Levites the priests were yet more holy; and amongst the priests the high priest was the most holy. So the land of Judea was the Holy Land, but the Holy City wherein God was to be worshipped was more holy; and again, the Temple more holy than the city, and the sanctum sanctorum more holy than the rest of the Temple.
A sacrament is a separation of some visible thing from common use; and a consecration of it to God's service, for a sign either of our admission into the kingdom of God, to be of the number of his peculiar people, or for a commemoration of the same. In the Old Testament the sign of admission was circumcision; in the New Testament, baptism. The commemoration of it in the Old Testament was the eating (at a certain time, which was anniversary) of the Paschal Lamb, by which they were put in mind of the night wherein they were delivered out of their bondage in Egypt; and in the New Testament, the celebrating of the Lord's Supper, by which we are put in mind of our deliverance from the bondage of sin by our blessed Saviour's death upon the cross. The sacraments of admission are but once to be used, because there needs but one admission; but because we have need of being often put in mind of our deliverance and of our allegiance, the sacraments of commemoration have need to be reiterated. And these are the principal sacraments and, as it were, the solemn oaths we make of our allegiance. There be also other consecrations that may be called sacraments, as the word implieth only consecration to God's service; but as it implies an oath or promise of allegiance to God, there were no other in the Old Testament but circumcision and the Passover; nor are there any other in the New Testament but baptism and the Lord's Supper.
1 Genesis, 17. 7, 8
2 Ibid., 16. 11
3 Romans, 4. 11
4 Exodus, 19. 5
5 Titus, 2. 14
6 I Peter, 2. 9
7 I Samuel, 8. 7
8 I Samuel, 12. 12
9 Isaiah, 24. 23
10 Micah, 4. 7
11 Ezekiel, 20. 33
12 Ibid., 20. 37
13 Luke, 1. 32, 33
14 Acts, 17. 7
15 Exodus, 19. 6
Last updated Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 13:15