These words are in the second lesson for this morning's service. Let us think a little about them.
What they mean must depend on what the kingdom of God means; for that is the one thing about which they speak.
Now, the kingdom of God is very often spoken of in the New Testament. Indeed, it is the thing it speaks of above all others. It was the thing which our Lord went about preaching. It was the thing of which He spoke in His parables, likening the kingdom of God first to one thing, then to another, that He might make men understand what it was like.
Now, it is worth remarking that we--I mean even religious people-- speak very little about the kingdom of God nowadays. One hears less about it than about any other words, almost, which stand in the New Testament. Both in sermons and in religious books, and in the talk of godly people, one hears the kingdom of God spoken of very seldom. One hears words about the Church, which are very good and true; but very little, if anything, about the kingdom of God, though both St. Paul, and St. John, and the blessed Lord Himself, speak of the two together, as if they could not be parted; as if one could not think of the one without thinking of the other. And we hear words about the gospel, too, some of them very good and true, and others, I am sorry to say, very bad and false: but, true or false, they are not often joined now in men's minds, or mouths, or books, with the kingdom of God. But the New Testament joins them almost always. It says that gospel must be good news. Therefore the gospel must be good news about something. But about what? We hear all manner of answers nowadays; but we hear the right one very seldom. People talk of the gospel as if it only meant the good news that one man can be saved here, and another man can be saved there. And that is good news, certainly. It is good and blessed news to hear that any one poor sinner can be saved from sin, and from the wages of sin. But the holy scriptures, when they talk of the gospel, call it the gospel of the kingdom of God. And I think it best and wisest to call it oftenest, what the holy scripture calls it oftenest, and to try and understand, first of all, what that means, what the good news of the kingdom of God is: and to understand that, we must first understand what the kingdom of God is.
But some may answer, holy scripture speaks of the gospel of salvation. True, it does, once or twice. But what does that show? Is that a different gospel from the gospel of the kingdom of God? Are there two gospels? Surely not. Else why would holy scripture speak so often of "the gospel"--"the good news," by itself, without any word after to show what it was about? It says often simply "the gospel;" because there is but one gospel; and, as St. Paul says, if any man or angel preach any other than that one, "Let him be anathema."
Therefore the gospel of salvation must be the same as the gospel of the kingdom of God; and, therefore, it seems to me, that salvation and the kingdom of God must be one and the same thing.
Now, do you think so? When I say "The kingdom of God is salvation," do you think it is? Have you even any clear notion of what I mean when I say it? Some of you have not, I am afraid; you cannot see at first sight what salvation and the kingdom of God have to do with each other. And why? You think salvation means being saved from hell, and going to heaven, when you die. And so it does: but I trust in God and in God's holy scripture, that it means a great deal more; for I think it means being unfit for hell, and fit for heaven, before we die. At least, so says the Church Catechism, which teaches every little child to thank his Heavenly Father for having brought him into such a state of salvation in this life, even while he is young. Thanks be to The Spirit of God which taught our fore-fathers to put these precious words into the Church Catechism, to guard us against falling into the very same mistake as the Pharisees of old fell into, when they asked our Lord when the kingdom of God was to come. And, believe me, it is easy enough and common enough to fall into the same mistake.
For what was their mistake? They fancied that the kingdom of God was not yet come. And do not most of you think the same? They did not deny, of course, that God was almighty, and could rule and govern all mankind if He chose so to do. But they did not believe that He was ruling and governing all mankind then, because they did not know what His rule and government were like. Now, St. Paul tells us what God's kingdom is like. The kingdom of God, he says, is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. So wherever there is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, there the kingdom of God is. But His kingdom over what? Over dumb animals, or over men? Over men, certainly; for dumb animals cannot have righteousness, or joy in the Holy Spirit. But over what part of a man? Over his body or over his spirit, as we call it nowadays? Over his spirit, certainly; for it is only our spirits which can be righteous, or peaceful, or joyful in God's Spirit. Therefore God's kingdom, of which St. Paul speaks, is a kingdom, a government over the souls, the spirits of men. Now, are our spirits the inward part of us, or our bodies? Our spirits, certainly. We all say, and say rightly, that our bodies are the outward part of us, and that our spirits are within us. Now, do you not see how that agrees exactly with the blessed Lord's saying in the text, "Behold, the kingdom of God is within you"--that is, in your spirits, because it is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; and these are things which only our souls, not our bodies at all, can have.
But these Pharisees were not righteous; they were wicked and hypocritical men. Was the kingdom of God within them? The blessed Lord said plainly that it was. He said not, "The kingdom of God is within some people's hearts;" or, "The kingdom of God is within the hearts of believers;" or, "The kingdom of God might be within you if you liked." But He said that the kingdom of God was then and there within the hearts of those wicked and unbelieving Pharisees.
Now, how could that be? In the same way that some time before that, as St. Luke tells us, the power of the Lord was present to heal those same Pharisees; and they were for the time amazed, and glorified God, and were filled with fear at His mighty works; but not healed. Their souls were not cured of their sin and folly by any means; for we find in the very next chapter, that because Jesus cured a palsied man on the Sabbath-day they were filled with madness, and consulted together how to kill Him.
For, my friends, as it was with them, so it is with us. God's kingdom is within every one of us; but it may make us worse, as well as make us better. It may fill us with righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; or it may fill us, as it filled the Pharisees, with madness, and hatred of religion and of goodness; as it is written, that the gospel may be a savour of death unto death to us, as well as a savour of life unto life. And it depends on us which it shall be.
This is what I mean: God's kingdom is within each of us. God is the King of our hearts and souls; our baptism tells us so; and it tells us truly. And because God is the King of each of our hearts, He comes everlastingly to take possession of our hearts, and continues claiming our souls for His own. He speaks in our hearts day and night; whenever we have a good thought, He speaks in our hearts, and says to us: "I am the King of your spirit. It must obey me. I put this good thought into your hearts, and you are bound to follow that good thought, because it is a law of my kingdom." Or again, God speaks in our hearts, and says to us: "You have done this wrong thing. You know that it is wrong. You know that it is an offence against my law. Why have you rebelled against me?" Or again, when we see anyone do a good, a loving, or a noble action; or when we read of the lives of good and noble men and women; above all, when we read or hear of the character and doings of the blessed Lord Jesus, then and there God speaks in our hearts, and stirs us up to love and admire these noble and blessed examples, and says to us: "That is right. That is beautiful. That is what men should do. That is what you should do. Why are you not like that man? Why are you not like my saints? Why are you not like me, the Lord Jesus Christ?"
You all surely know what I mean. You know that I do not mean that you hear a voice speaking to your ears, but that thoughts and feelings come into your heart, without you putting them there: ay, often enough, in spite of your trying to drive them away. Now, those right thoughts are the kingdom of God within you. They are the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ speaking by His Holy Spirit to your spirit, and telling you that He is your King, and that you ought to obey Him; and that obeying Him means being righteous and good, as He is righteous and good; and calling on you to give up your own wills and fancies, and to do His will, and let Him make you holy, even as He is holy. That, I say, is the kingdom of God showing itself within you, telling you that God is your King, and telling you how to obey Him.
But what if a man will not hear that voice? What if a man rebels proudly against the good thoughts that rise in his mind, and tries to forget them, and grows angry with them, angry with the preacher, the Church Service, the Bible itself, because they WILL go on reminding him of what he knows in his heart to be right? What if those good thoughts only make him the more stubborn and determined to do his own pleasure, and follow his own interests, and do his own will?
Do you not see that to that man God's kingdom over his heart is a savour of death unto death--that his finding out that God is his Lord only makes him more rebellious--that God's Spirit striving with his heart to bring it right, only stirs up his stubbornness and self- will, and makes him go the more obstinately wrong?
Oh, my friends, this is a fearful thought! That man can become worse by God's loving desire to make him better! But so it is. So it was with Pharaoh of old. All God's pleading with him by the message of Moses and Aaron, by the mighty plagues which God sent on Egypt, only hardened Pharaoh's heart. The Lord God spoke to him, and his message only lashed Pharaoh's proud and wicked will into greater fury and rebellion, as a vicious horse becomes the more unmanageable the more you punish it. Therefore, it is said plainly in scripture, that THE LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart; not as some fancy, that the Lord's will was to make Pharaoh hard-hearted and wicked. God forbid. The Lord is the fountain of good only, and not He, but we and the devil, make evil. But the more the Lord pleaded with Pharaoh, and tried to bend his will, the more self-willed he became. The more the Lord showed Pharaoh that the Lord was King, the more he hated the kingdom and will of God, the more he determined to be king himself, and to obey no law but his own wicked fancies and pleasures, and asked: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?"
And so it was with the Pharisees. When they found out that the kingdom of God was within them, that God was the King of their hearts and minds, and was trying to change their feelings and alter their opinions, it only maddened them. They were determined not to change. They were determined not to confess that they had been wrong, and had mistaken the meaning of holy scripture. They were too proud to confess what Jesus told them, that they were no better than the poor ignorant common people whom they despised. And yet they knew in their hearts that He was right. When the Lord told them the parable of the vineyard, they answered, "God forbid!" they felt at once that the parable had to do with them--that they were the wicked husbandmen on whom He said their master would take vengeance: but that only maddened them the more, till they ended by crucifying the Lord of Glory, upon a pretence which they knew was a false and lying one; and when Judas Iscariot said, "I have betrayed the innocent blood," they did not deny that the Lord Jesus was innocent; all they answered was, "What is that to us?" They were determined to have their own way whether He was innocent or not. They had seen God's likeness. They had seen what God was like, by seeing the conduct of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. And when they saw God's likeness they hated it, because it was not like themselves. And the more God strove with their hearts, and tried to make them obey Him, the more, in short, they felt His kingdom within them, the more they hated that kingdom of God within them, because it reproved them, and convinced them of sin. Oh, my friends, young people especially, beware; beware lest you fall into the same miserable state of mind. The kingdom of God is within you. The Holy Spirit, by which you were regenerate in holy baptism, is stirring and pleading with your hearts, making you happy when you do right, unhappy when you do wrong. Oh, listen to those good thoughts and feelings within you! Never fancy that they are your own thoughts and feelings: else you will fancy that you can put them away and take them back again when you choose to change and become religious. Do not let the devil deceive you into that notion. These good thoughts and feelings are the Spirit of God. They are the signs that the kingdom of God is within you; that God is King and Master of your hearts and minds; and that you cannot keep Him out of them: but that He can enter into them when He likes, and put right thoughts into them. But though you cannot prevent God and His kingdom entering into you, you can refuse to enter into it. Alas! alas! how many of you shut your ears to God's voice: try to drive God's Spirit out of your own hearts; try to forget what is right, because it is unpleasant to remember it, and say to yourselves, "I will have my own way. I will try and forget what the clergyman said in his sermon, or what I learnt at school. I am grown up now, and I will do what I like." Oh, my friends, is it a wise or a hopeful battle to fight against the living God? Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption, lest He go away from you and leave you to yourselves, spiritually dead, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, whose end is to be burned. Grieve Him not, lest He depart, and with Him both the Father and the Son. And then you will not know right from wrong, because God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of right, has left you. You will not know what a man ought to be or do, because the Son of Man, the perfect likeness of God, and therefore the pattern of man, has left you. You will not know that God the Father is your Father, but only fancy him a stern taskmaster, reaping where He has not sown, and requiring of you more than you are bound to pay, because God the Father has left you.
You may, indeed, keep out ugly thoughts for a time. You may go on wantonly in sin, and worldliness, and self-will. And then, by way of falling deeper still, you may take up with some false sort of religion, which makes people fancy that they know God, and are one of His elect, while in works they deny Him, and their sinful heart is unchanged. Then your mouth indeed may be full of second-hand talk about the gospel. But what gospel? I call that a devil's gospel, and not God's gospel, which makes men fancy that they may continue in sin that grace may abound. I call any grace which leaves men in their sins the devil's grace, and not God's grace. Certainly it is not the gospel of the kingdom of God; for if it was, it would produce in men the fruits of that kingdom, righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, instead of the fruits which we see too often, bigotry and self-conceit, bitterness, evil-speaking, and hard judgments, and joy in a most unholy and damnable spirit, not to mention covetousness and deceitfulness, or even in some cases wantonness and lust. And yet such men will often fancy that they belong especially to God, and doubt whether He will have mercy on any who do not exactly agree with them; while in reality God and His kingdom have utterly left their hearts, and they are as blind and dark as the beasts which perish. May God preserve us from that second death which comes on sinners, when, after a sinful youth, their terrified souls begin to cry out in fear at the sight of their sins; and they, instead of casting away their sins, keep their sins, or change old sins for more respectable and safe new ones, and drug their souls with false doctrines, as foolish nurses quiet children's crying by giving them poisonous medicines. I know men who have fallen, I really fear at times, into that state of mind, and are like those Pharisees of whom our Lord said: "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" Even for them it is not too late: but, let them recollect, if the kingdom of God is within them, if they have any feelings of right and wrong left in them, that their covetousness, and lying, and slandering, and conceit, is fighting against God; that these are just what God desires to cast out of them; and that unless they give up their hearts to God, and let Him cast out their sins, and be converted, and become like little children, gentle, humble, teachable, friendly, and kind-hearted, obedient to their heavenly Father, God will cast them out of His kingdom among the things which offend, and bring a bad name on religion; among those very profligate and open sinners whom they are so ready to despise and curse.