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Lecture IX: The Kingdom Of God in the Future and the Present Life of Man

(Art. 11)

We nathing doubt, bot the self same bodie, quhilk was borne of the Virgine, was crucified, dead, and buried, and quhilk did rise againe, did ascend into the heavens, for the accomplishment of all thinges: Quhere in our names, and for our comfort, he hes received all power in heaven and eirth, quhere he sittes at the richt hand of the Father, inaugurate in his kingdome, Advocate and onlie Mediator for us. Quhilk glorie, honour, and prerogative, he alone amonges the brethren sal posses, till that all his Enimies be made his futestule, as that we undoubtedlie beleeve they sall be in the finall Judgment: To the Execution whereof we certainelie beleve, that the same our Lord Jesus sall visiblie returne, as that hee was sene to ascend. And then we firmely beleve, that the time of refreshing and restitutioun of all things sall cum, in samekle that thir, that fra the beginning have suffered violence, injurie, and wrang, for richteousnes sake, sal inherit that blessed immortalitie promised fra the beginning.

Bot contrariwise the stubburne, inobedient, cruell oppressours, filthie personis, idolaters, and all such sortes of unfaithfull, sal be cast in the dungeoun of utter darkenesse, where their worme sall not die, nether zit their fyre sall bee extinguished. The remembrance of quhilk day, and of the Judgement to be executed in the same, is not onelie to us ane brydle, whereby our carnal lustes are refrained, bot alswa sik inestimable comfort, that nether may the threatning of worldly Princes, nether zit the feare of temporal death and present danger, move us to renounce and forsake that blessed societie, quhilk we the members have with our Head and onelie Mediator Christ Jesus: Whom we confesse and avow to be the Messias promised, the onlie Head of his Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our onlie hie Priest, Advocate, and Mediator. In quhilk honoures and offices, gif man or Angell presume to intruse themself, we utterlie detest and abhorre them, as blasphemous to our Soveraigne and supreme Governour Christ Jesus.


The leading thought expressed by the Scottish Confession under the heading “of the Ascension” is the following. The Kingdom of God and thus the only valid and real sovereignty and authority over all men and over the whole world is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Outside the Kingdom of Jesus Christ there is no kingdom of God and therefore no kingdom at all, i.e. no valid and real sovereignty and power. To Him is given all power in Heaven and on earth. The expressions “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Jesus Christ” mean the same thing. But precisely because we see the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God, we distinguish the Kingdom of God from the kingdom of this world, i.e. from the realm of all strange and false gods, the realms of nature and spirit, fate and arbitrary power. And conversely, precisely because we see the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, we see in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ the one single and real power over us and over all things, beside which there is no other about which we need trouble. In the light of this we can understand here once more the emphasis with which Reformed teaching speaks of the unique nature of God. But now we can understand also that it was necessary to have the name of Jesus Christ immediately and categorically in connection with all that we said in lectures 3 and 4 about the majesty and personality of God and the creation and government of the world, and equally necessary to say whatever was said only with Him as our starting point, so to speak.

Note the strong emphasis contained in the words “the self same bodie” with which the 11th Article begins. Hence by Jesus Christ is to be understood the real man Jesus Christ, the same man whose revelation, true divinity and manhood, death and resurrection for our salvation had been spoken of in Articles 4–10. That it is He who is the Lord over us and over all things is unquestionably good Reformed teaching, and is to be expounded in Article 11.


Jesus Christ is Kύριος. What does that mean? It means that He is the great change in man's life. He changes it radically, because He changes it in its relation to God, because His work is the salvation of man and because this work of His is the work of God Himself. There is no greater or more radical change of man's life than that which consists in the translating of man's life out of the rebellion of sin and the disaster consequent upon it into that new gratitude for his salvation which binds man once and for all and into the knowledge of the divine power of this divine work which has taken place for man and on him; and it consists in man's having the right in this gratitude and knowledge to understand his existence anew as grace and favour.

Jesus Christ is this change in man's life. And that means that it is a hidden change. We think of the words “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3, 3). If it is a visible life—and how else could it be a human life?—and if in this visible life there can be no lack of visible change of every kind, yet none of the visible changes in our life is the change, the great change which has taken place for us and on us in our relation to God. Jesus Christ is the great change and to seek this change even for a moment elsewhere than in Him, and hence to desire to see the change instead of believing it, is to confound two things and to deceive oneself, and by this one's salvation can be lost. But this fact that Jesus Christ is the great change in the life of man means also that it is a real change. God's decision and man's election, the death of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins, His resurrection and our justification—all this, as we have already seen, is beyond question irrevocable and cannot be undone, because it is God who acts here. If we seek the change in our life, where we can see changes and hence somewhere else than in Jesus Christ, we shall certainly find it to be a very changeable kind of change! But if we seek it in Jesus Christ, and hence if we seek it by believing in Him, then we find it to be a change which we can no more go back on than God can cease to be God. The hiddenness of this change of life is therefore not to be separated from its reality nor its reality from its hiddenness.

The reality of this change is proved true by its determining man's future and by the way in which it does so. What does it mean to exist as man? It means to have a future before us. We live to-day for to-morrow. If there were no Jesus Christ and therefore no great change in our life, to-morrow could not but mean the end of what we to-day are wishing, willing and striving after. But what we wish, will and strive after to-day, i.e. what we are to-day, is simply our sin, which is forgiven by Jesus Christ. The end of our sin, of our effort to-day, which could only be death, cannot be our “to-morrow” in Jesus Christ and in the change accomplished by Him in our lives. Its place is taken instead by the eternal life following on our righteousness before God which is founded on Jesus Christ. But because it is He alone, in whom the old end, death, is removed and a new one, eternal life, established, we must say, “He is our end, our future, and our to-morrow.” I do not know who or what I will be to-morrow. He has to decide about that. Therein lies the hiddenness of my future destiny. That points me to the fact that I must go to meet the future in faith and that I can only do so in faith. But I know that Jesus Christ will be to-morrow and eternally—that is the reality of my future destiny and means that I am free to go to meet my future in faith.

The hiddenness of Christ's great change is proved true by its determining man's present and by the way in which it does so. To exist as man means to live for to-day and not merely for to-morrow. We live to-day for to-morrow. If it were not for Jesus Christ and this great change, “to-day” could not but mean the very doubtful enjoyment of what we yesterday wished for, willed and sought after, the tragic harvest of what we sowed yesterday. But we sinned yesterday and this our sin of yesterday also is forgiven us in Jesus Christ. What appears in its place to-day is our righteousness before God which is founded on Jesus Christ and is valid retrospectively and for yesterday, but is none the less ours to-day. It is the new garment, and clothed with it, we, who are not Jesus Christ, may wait for Him and so may look towards Him as our future and hasten towards Him. I know that He is my full salvation—this is the reality of my present state and allows me to believe already to-day and to be joyful in faith. But who and what am I? He alone has to decide about that. This is the hiddenness of my present state which compels and obliges me still to-day to have faith and therefore to leave to Him the revelation of what to-day remains hidden.


He who has already come as the Messiah of Israel and done once and for all everything necessary for the salvation of man is—and is as such—the Lord of man's future too. He is the guarantor of our righteousness who is to come, and the bringer of eternal life whom we expect. It is therefore He who will decide who and what we shall be to-morrow and who and what we shall be finally and for all eternity. He therefore is the Judge with whom it rests to set men on His right hand or on His left as partaking or not partaking in the salvation ordained in Him. The Confessio Scotica has spoken very clearly and concretely about this judgement of Jesus Christ and the discipline and comfort which it means for those who expect it. But the following points must be noted: (1) The Confession describes this judgement as the “refreshing and restitutioun,” i.e. the restoration and manifestation of a relation which had already existed before this judgement. (2) Those who are rejected by Jesus Christ are described as “stubburne, inobedient, cruell oppressours, filthie personis, idolaters,” and therefore apparently—but only apparently—in moral terms, whereas those who are accepted by Jesus Christ and partake of eternal life are not described as good, righteous, pious, etc., but simply as those “that have suffered violence, injurie and wrang.” (3) In this 11th Article what is emphasised is not what we should do to prepare for this judgement, but the Being and Work of Jesus Christ as that of our advocate, mediator, priest, lawgiver and governor. All that requires us to understand in a quite specific way what our text conceives as the decision which is to be expected in Jesus Christ, i.e. what it conceives His office as Judge to be. What we have here is not just the usual view which people hold about the Last Judgement. In the judgement of Jesus Christ which we must all go to meet, it is not a question of establishing that some are righteous and the others sinners. In God's decision and man's election and in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it has already been decided that in ourselves and by ourselves we are all sinners, but that being saved through the complete incarnation of the Son of God we are all righteous. What is therefore involved in the expectation of Jesus Christ as the coming judge is not that I go to face this judge in fear and trembling, but that, according to the unsurpassable formulation of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 52), “In all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head, I look for the judge, who has before offered Himself for me to the judgement of God, and removed me from all curse, to come again from heaven.” In face of this judgement there can be only one question, namely Do I really look for Him? Do I believe that He is my only and my complete salvation? That and that alone is what will be decided at the Judgement. If I believe, then it is this life and faith of mine which will be disclosed and judged as my eternally holy and blessed life in God's light. It will be so disclosed and judged not because it is a noble faith but because it is faith in Him. And this after it has been in my own eyes and that of others no triumphant life, but, as the Confession describes it, one which has been worsted in its struggle with the powers of darkness in the world, a life wretched and burdensome. If I lack faith, and have sought my salvation elsewhere than in Jesus Christ, if in insolence and disobedience I have sought to perfect it myself in this way or in that one, if my “to-morrow” and ultimately my eternity has continued to be the end which I have wished for, willed and striven after—in that case how can my life be disclosed and judged as anything but a continuing in sin and therefore in the darkness of eternal death? Note therefore that the Scottish Confession speaks even of the judgement of Jesus Christ only in order to repeat that He and He alone is the Saviour of man, that men may be summoned thereby once more to faith in Him. We are on our way to meet this judgement, there is therefore point in summoning us to faith; for we have still time to believe. And He Himself is the judge, He who wills that all men be succoured and who acknowledges our sin only as forgiven sin and our condemnation only as the condemnation borne by Him. We have therefore not merely time but also ground and occasion for believing. Jesus Christ is our Hope, our real and certain hope. Only if we were to set our hope not in Him but in something else, could the future be one which we would have to contemplate with fear.


It is precisely because Jesus Christ is our future that He also necessarily determines our present. To expect Him as our judge means to believe in Him to-day and therefore to acknowledge Him as our righteousness and our life. That is the comfort of the believer and the comfort of the church struggling and suffering in the present. Since we have not to fear Jesus Christ and therefore not to fear the Lord of all men and the world, there is no man and no thing which we need fear. What man could have power enough, or what danger could be great enough, or how could bodily death itself be terrible enough to frighten the man who looks towards Jesus Christ not in fear but “with uplifted head”? Faith's present being completely hidden yet completely real is a present full of joy. Faith has nothing to fear. The only thing which it could fear is that it might cease to be faith and degenerate into unbelief, error or superstition. All false belief is characterised by its deceiving men with other hopes outside and alongside Jesus Christ, and by the man who has such false faith holding fast to such other hopes. But however great and noble such hopes may be, they cause man to lose fellowship with his Saviour and to fall back into sin and under its curse. Such a man will now of necessity fear Jesus Christ and will now have to live his life once more in the world and among men as one afraid. The present of all false faith is a joyless present, perhaps again in a hidden sense but certainly in a real one, just as certainly as its future is darkness. It does not lie in the power of faith to maintain and sustain itself as faith. This again would be false faith wishing to live by its own powers. But true faith lives from the power of Jesus Christ Himself and on that account need not fear either that it may become false faith.