Thy Kingdom Come
By Larry Pratt
I wish to consider the coming of the Kingdom of Christ on earth, and how God has ordained that it be brought about. It is an appropriate topic for this time of commencement, because you have an important role to play in the Kingdom as you go forth from here.
Jesus told us to pray that His kingdom would come on earth. We weren't told to pray for something that will not happen.
God has said He will build his kingdom through us - especially through generations ("children's children" is frequently used to express this idea).
The realization of Christ's kingdom is through battle - a spiritual battle. You should not be new to spiritual warfare, particularly considering the institution in which you have been studying.
Here is what Paul tells us about spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10 starting at verse 3:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Many who have gone before us have seen the nature of the battle they were in and the importance of taking a stand even in the face of great physical danger - the spiritual battle we are in often has physical implications.
In A.D. 390, a riot occurred in Thessalonica and the Roman Governor, Botheric, was killed. Theodosius, the Roman emperor at the time, invited the people of the city for games and entertainment in the Hippodrome and then had 7,000 of them slain.
Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, rose to the role of the good shepherd ready to lay down his life for his sheep. He wrote to Theodosius and told him to publicly repent for the evil he had done. Roman emperors were not in the habit of humbling themselves, and Theodosius refused Ambroses' demand.
That set the stage for the high drama that ensued. As Theodosius attempted to enter the church he attended, Ambrose literally interposed himself between Theodosius and the entrance (and hence the people, the church).
Ambrose firmly believed that the emperor was under God's law and should humble himself and serve that law. By the grace of God, Theodosius yielded. He stripped himself of his imperial insignia, entered the church and publicly called upon the Lord to forgive his sin in the matter.
And the good news kept coming - Ambrose became an unofficial counselor to Theodosius and was thus in a position to have a hand in rewriting Roman law to provide for what we now call due process. Ambrose believed, and happily Theodosius concurred, that the law of God is over the king because the King of kings of every realm is King Jesus who has the nations of the earth as His inheritance.
Who was Ambrose in the eyes of the world to stand up to the emperor of Rome? Yet Ambrose knew that God uses the weak things of the world to manifest His might. Ambrose did not know ahead of time the outcome of the stand he took, but he knew that he had to be faithful to God who is in charge of all circumstances.
Because there are still influences of the common law in the United States, we are still being blessed by what Ambrose did centuries ago.
John Knox was a man who believed in the triumph of Christ's Kingdom - on earth as it is in heaven - no matter what were his circumstances. The following are some of the hardships and challenges endured by Knox to which many would have succumbed.
1. He was imprisoned as a galley slave on a French warship.
2. He suffered failing health on the ship on which many died, but Knox was famous during this time for encouraging others to not lose hope or faith.
3. He managed to write a confession of faith and smuggle it to Scotland to encourage believers there.
4. Clergy of the state church ordered Knox to appear before a council, assuming he would not so they could condemn him and ruin his reputation at the same time. When he said he would come, they cancelled the meeting.
5. In the city of St. Andrews, Knox's measures to reform the church were met by a state-controlled bishop with the threat that troops would fire on him. When he delivered the sermon, nothing happened.
6. Catholics put a price on his head.
7. As the fortunes of the reformed church in Scotland ebbed and supportive nobles slipped away, Knox stayed the course and preached on the sin of relying on the arm of flesh. However weak the cause, it would eventually triumph. When the queen's regent died unexpectedly, the darkening political situation radically changed for the better.
8. On the eve of a French invasion, the French king died and the invasion was called off.
9. On numerous occasions Knox confronted Queen Mary and challenged the legitimacy of her authority.
Here is what Barnett Smith cites in his biography of John Knox:
"Do you think that subjects who have power may resist their princes?" she demanded.
"If the princes exceed their bounds and do against those things in which they should be obeyed, then they may be resisted, even by force. No greater honor or obedience should be given to kings and princes than God has commanded to be given to father and mother. If the father be stricken with a frenzy in which he would slay his own children, the children may join together, apprehend the father, take his weapons from him, bind him, and keep him in prison till his frenzy be past. Do you think, Madam, that the children do wrong? Or do you think that God will be offended with them for having kept their father from doing wickedness? It is even so with princes who would murder the children of God who are their subjects. Their blind zeal is nothing but a mad frenzy. To take the sword from them and bind their hands and cast them into prison until they be brought to a more sober mind is not a disobedience to rulers, but obedience because it is the will of God."
Knox's admonitions to the Queen enraged her, but as a result she backed off persecuting the church:
1. When a prominent supporter allowed himself to be promoted where he felt compelled to compromise, Knox broke with him, thus weakening his support from "the arm of flesh."
2. Knox was charged with treason by the Queen because he condemned her observance of the mass. He was urged by his supporters to repent, or at least back off. Instead, he went before the Queen when summoned and was acquitted by a vote of the council of nobles. What had appeared to be the verge of ruin for the church became a moment of great triumph and encouragement.
3. Protestantism came to Scotland as much as anything because John Knox would not compromise the gospel nor be silent even at the risk of his freedom or his life.
The Reverend John Witherspoon was a sixth generation grandson of John Knox.
He served as the president of Princeton University and was a teacher of presidents, senators, representatives, governors and other elected officials who served at the time of the War for Independence and afterwards.
Colonial preachers carried on the Biblical world view of John Knox. A couple of examples here will illustrate what was the general rule.
Although Patrick Henry was a member of the Anglican church, his mother usually took him to hear Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian evangelist.
Davies preached the triumphant growth of the Kingdom of Christ brought about by an army led on earth by ministers and elders and manned by all the believers. Apart from Sam Adams and John Jay, Henry - greatly influenced by Davies - was the most devout of the founding fathers. Many believe that Davies' rhetorical skills also were passed on to Henry who was probably the greatest orator America has ever had.
Charles Chauncey preached a sermon in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1747 in which he argued - as a great number of colonial preachers did - from Romans 13 that all men, including kings, are under the authority of God. For a king to rule unjustly, he pointed out, is for the king to become a rebel against God. Of course, rebellion is likened by the Bible to witchcraft, and is a capital offense. Resistance to tyranny was seen as obedience to God.
Romans 13:1 says: "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Those who understand that citizens owe blind allegiance to kings or presidents and legislatures point to the phrase "those [authorities] which exist are established by God."
To hang their argument on this, they have to ignore the first sentence and assume that kings, or presidents and legislators have no souls. If these individuals have souls, then we must conclude that they are under some sort of authority. Romans 13:1 calls it a governing authority. What would be the governing authority that a king or president would be under? In the context of the passage, the authority would be the Bible.
The apostle Peter refuted the notion of blind obedience to ungodly commands from political leaders who told Him not to preach salvation through trusting in Jesus, this way: "(Acts 5:29) But Peter and the apostles answered and said, "We must obey God rather than men."
Romans 13:4 says that: "for it [the ruler] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." Paul made it clear throughout his inspired writings that "good" can only be understood by consulting the Bible.
For example, he told his disciple Timothy this: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Chauncey and Davies were not aberrant; they were the norm. The Lordship of Christ the King and a belief that His kingdom was inevitably to increase on earth was a message proclaimed from countless colonial pulpits.
No wonder colonial soldiers went into battle against King George's troops shouting "No King but King Jesus."
This kind of preaching is not much heard today, and these truths have been ignored. There is a growing acceptance of the formerly discredited belief in the divine right of kings, only now it is more correctly labeled the infallible right of governments. There has been a disconnect between various generations; this accounts for the turning away from the old truths.
Consider a recent example:
Among the many organizations that virulently opposed President Bush's nomination of former Senator John Ashcroft to head up the Justice Department in 2001, the group formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) was as strident as any.
Michael Barnes, a former U.S. Representative from Maryland and former head of the United World Federalists, accused John Ashcroft of holding to the "extremist, widely discredited insurrectionist view of the Second Amendment that Timothy McVeigh," the Oklahoma City bomber, had articulated.
In one breath, the anti-gun spokesman had tacitly made Timothy McVeigh's terrorism the moral equivalent of the actions of George Washington and the colonial army. From the Knoxian view that resistance to tyranny was obedience to God, HCI, along with much of the media and the political elite who took no issue with the statement, showed how far we have fallen from the beliefs of the founders.
In our day we have seen the view of government shift from that of a shield to protect individual liberties (including the church) to an engine intended to do good - a secular, political savior.
The American colonists repeatedly argued that the British government was violating the constitutional liberties of the Americans. They made this case in various petitions to the King. They were making arguments derived from the world view of John Knox regarding the illegitimacy of governmental power exercised in rebellion to God.
Resolution of the Stamp Act Congress, 1765
The people's representatives in the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 objected to an unconstitutional tax which had been passed without American representation. They also objected to the attack on jury trials which were largely done away with by putting most criminal law under courts of Admiralty in the name of enforcing the Stamp Act. Something akin to that is found in our contemporary Administrative Law Courts run by the same agencies that are prosecuting a citizen.
Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, 1774
The First Continental Congress, in 1774, objected to the illegitimacy of taxes levied by Britain in America, warrantless searches, quartering of British troops in colonial homes, dissolution of colonial legislatures, weakening of jury trials, and establishment of the Roman church in Quebec. (This was seen as an omen for establishment of the church of England in colonies south of Canada).
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, July 6, 1775
The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms was issued July 6, 1775 - nearly four months after the battle of Lexington and Concord, but a year before the Declaration of Independence. Our War for Independence was initially seen by many as the Second English Civil War following by about 130 years the First Civil War. The Declaration reiterated earlier grievances as well as pointing to the commercial strangulation and piracy being committed against the colonies. The battle of Lexington and Concord was seen as an illegal and unprovoked attack by the king's troops resulting in the murder of eight inhabitants.
Objection was also made to the siege of Boston and the earlier seizure of arms in Boston and environs as well as efforts to silence press and speech.
The early state constitutions are yet another example of how a Biblical faith can be applied in society. This is made evident in Discipling the Nations, an important book by Dennis Woods . He shows the reader the Christian basis of the seventeenth century colonies. He then points out that at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, two important, and fatal flaw were introduced into the document.
Woods notes that the final version refused to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of the nation, and failed to require public office holders to confess their belief in the God of the Bible. Both were common practice in the states before the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
For example, the Mayflower Compact of 1620 starts out by saying "We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith. Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith, …" they pledged to submit to lawful authority in New England.
Likewise, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut promulgated in 1639 stated:
"…well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God…"
The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 required office holders to take the following oath: "I ____________, do declare, that I believe the Christian religion, and have firm persuasion of its truth."
Many state constitutions required their public officials to take oaths similar to that of Massachusetts'. But the turning from the Biblical origins of a republic under Christ was already occurring at the end of the eighteenth century.
The U.S. Constitution of 1787 begins with the words, "We, the People," without any reference to God. The people replaced God as the source of legitimacy of our government.
In the name of preventing the establishment of any particular denomination by the new U.S. government, God was removed from the government altogether. Moreover any religious test for holding office was prohibited. The states had such tests, and they were usually an affirmation of belief in the Triune God. Following ratification of the Constitution the states removed their religious tests.
We learn from all this, that as we do battle with the powers of this age, we must be aware that calls to return the Constitution are only good as far as they go. Such calls may be a first step, but we must be looking beyond that we might reestablish Jesus on the throne of this country. This is clearly something that is not going to happen until He is recognized by Americans individually as their individual Lord and Master. Christians will have to once again take the Bible seriously before our call on behalf of Christ to the nation will be taken seriously.
Patrick Henry saw the danger of removing God from the constitution. Politically, he pointed out, it moved the country from a confederation of states to a consolidated national government of majority rule. He saw that the northern majority had put one over on the southern minority, and that government would end up being a weapon of economic warfare against the South, which is what happened. Indeed, the effort under the Confederation that almost led to a treaty with Spain would have ruined any chance of a new Constitution. The northern states wanted to give Spain exclusive navigation rights to the Mississippi. This would have left New England with a shipping and commercial monopoly over the South.
Henry saw that treaties under the new government could end up becoming the law of the land, which they have. And treaties can become law by the affirmation of the President, and two thirds of the Senators present during the vote.
He correctly saw the danger of a run-away judiciary in the manner of its design.
His insistence on a Bill of Rights was a major reason why we have one protecting individual liberties. This was an important, although only partial, victory.
He predicted the Civil War would occur within 100 years. He was tragically correct. Yet his political defeat at the hands of the pro-constitution forces, with its tragic consequences for his country, did not make Henry's life a failure.
On the contrary, what we see of his family and their generations tells us that Patrick Henry was a great success. And thanks largely to him we do enjoy a Bill of Rights which has provided much needed protection of individual liberties.
Through all of the tumult in his life, Henry was a devoted family man and father of 17 children. He put the interests of his daughters need to live near eligible men over his personal desire to live on some of his isolated rural property. Henry did not put serving and trying to save his country above the commitment to his family that was more important still.
One of his great grandsons was the Rev. Edward Fontaine - the one to whom we owe the recording of Henry's dreadful prediction of the Civil War. Other descendants included other pastors who served into middle of the last century.
Modern Day Pilgrims
Paul Jehle is the pastor of the New Testament Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He is also headmaster of the school that operates at the church. Jehle has had a covenantal vision for the youth of the church and school. That vision includes the understanding that God's Kingdom advances through godly generations.
One of the ways Jehle prepares his young people for this covenantal role is to take advantage of Plymouth's uniqueness. As the landing place of the Pilgrims, Plymouth is a very popular tourist spot. While the official guides offer a politically correct account of the Pilgrims, Jehle has trained his young people to be unofficial guides prepared to offer tourists the Christian history of Plymouth.
On one occasion, Jehle had a group of young people along as he was serving as a tour guide. At the point where he was quoting Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Jehle got hauled into the police station for speaking about God on public property.
While the kids prayed outside in the van, Jehle was inside the station getting nowhere pointing out that all the talk about God was simply a quote from the former governor. But when Jehle mentioned that the young people also serve as tour guides, the police chief was so taken that two generations would work together in such a way and that young people would commit themselves to serve as guides for free, that he was immediately won over.
The chief told Jehle to go back to what he was doing, and that if he ever had any trouble like this in the future to let the chief know so that he could send a cruiser out to help Jehle.
The role of our children and their children in the building of the kingdom of Christ is seen in the lives of Knox, Witherspoon, Henry, Davies and Jehle. Psalm 127 tells us how the Lord intends to use our children in this great conquest.
Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
Jehle's young people were like arrows that were shot over the wall that Jehle was unable to penetrate by himself.
God regards us in terms of our generations, not just as individuals, or even just our immediate family.
Arrows, to be used effectively by a warrior, have to be crafted for use in his particular bow. The father's bow by itself is useless, and so are arrows without crafting and subsequent use in a bow. In other words, the generations must work in contact with each other to carry out the purposes of God. The fathers must pour themselves into their children and the children must be willing to receive what their fathers give them.
To reach our children so that we can pour ourselves into them requires more than lecturing and laying down our rules. We need to reach their hearts, even as God through His Holy Spirit reaches our hearts when He saves us. We need to spend the time to
educate our children in such a way that their goal in life is to do all that they do to bring glory to God. And all such efforts are likely to fail if they do not see us striving to bring glory to God in all that we do.
Consider what God told Abraham when establishing His covenant with him in Genesis 17:7:
And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
In the New Testament, Moses' impact was seen in terms of many generations (Acts 15:21): "For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
The Bible tells us that the coming of Christ's kingdom requires a long term commitment and requires a long term vision.
For good or evil, God often blesses and judges in spans of three generations as we can see in the following passages:
(Psalm 103:17) "But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children…"
(Jeremiah 2:9 ) "Therefore I will yet bring charges against you," says the LORD, "and against your children's children I will bring charges."
I urge you to go forth from here with the long term vision and commitment to the growth of the Kingdom of Christ. This is the vision for which He died, and we are His generations.
This same commitment to fearing God and keeping His covenant in terms of ourselves and our children's children was seen in the lives of the saints I have sketched today.
When we have been set free by Christ and can trust in Him alone for our salvation, we can be confident that His grace will continue to sustain us and our generations after us. We can then be confident that no matter what the circumstances may be, no matter how bleak the moment may appear, our children will be arrows in our hands and they will confront God's enemies in the gates.
The kingdom that is not of this world, and which begins within each and every one of God's people becomes the stone which in the book of Daniel overruns the kingdom's of this world.
Please go forth from here with confidence even though so much of the future is unknown at the moment. We can be confident because of the celebration that was revealed to the apostle John in Revelation 11:15: "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
May God's blessing be on you and on your children's children.
Larry Pratt is Executive Director of Gun Owners of America in Springfield, Virginia.
Their phone is 703 321 8585 and their web page is www.gunowners.org.
This article was originally delivered as the commencement address at Christ College in
Lynchburg, Virginia on May 10, 2001.
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