By J.R. Miller
Our Lord spoke a great deal of a kingdom that is not of this world. He said this kingdom does not come with observation; that is, men do not see its progress; it makes no display of pomp and pageant. He said it is not an outward kingdom--but that its realm is within men's hearts and lives. It was this kingdom, which Christ himself came to establish and which he sent his disciples to win for him. He is the King. He sets up no throne in any earthly capital--his throne is in heaven. All who own Christ as Master, are subjects of this kingdom, not of this world. Paul puts it very clearly when he says, "Our citizenship is in heaven." Those who belong to Christ--are citizens of a heavenly commonwealth.
The thought is very interesting. If you travel through foreign countries, leaving behind your loved ones and your dearest interests, you will see many beautiful things--mountains and fields, cities, rivers, noble buildings, works of art--but your heart will be in your homeland all the while.
So it should be with the Christian. He is living in this world for a time, going among the world's people, taking part in the world's affairs--but his heart is in heaven, his true home. His thoughts go continually to that blessed country. His highest interests are there. This does not mean that we are to neglect our work here. Sometimes men have made the mistake of thinking that they could live near to God--only by separating themselves from all earthly life. But this is not the way the Master wants us to do.
The New Testament says not one word against living in the midst of the world. Jesus did not ask that his disciples should be taken out of this world--he asked that they should stay here and be kept from the evil of the world. The ancient Greeks thought that toil was vulgar. They had nothing to do with those who wrought in the shops or in the fields. But the religion of Christ from the beginning had the same message for the toiling masses--and for the great and mighty. Instead of being antagonistic to godliness, work is a means of grace. We grow best, not away from men and ordinary human experiences--but in the midst of human interests and in connection with common tasks and duties. We grow best in spiritual life--when we are doing our part the most diligently in the affairs of earth.
"It is through the limitations, the frictions, the surprises, the monotonies of this work-a-day world--that we lay hold on the life which is life indeed." We are not therefore to retire from the toils and tasks of every-day life--in order to cultivate saintliness. Saintliness does not lie on any such pathway--but is to be sought rather on the dusty mart, where men throng, where human needs make their appeal. The holiest duties of earth, ofttimes are found in places which seem most unheavenly to our eyes. But we are to do all our work to please the Master.
Our secular life should be penetrated by spiritual motives. Instead of unfitting men for doing the world's work--the grace of Christ should make them all the more proficient in secular duties. One may do the lowliest things--in a heavenly way. One may work in the humblest secular calling and make it radiant, and live a saintly life; while another may be engaged in what is regarded as a sacred calling, and yet may do his work in a profane and an undevout manner. A shoe-shine may be more saintly, may live nearer to God, and may be a better citizen of heaven--than a minister of the gospel, busy in incessant religious duties.
Browning represents the angel Gabriel taking a boy's tasks in this world, doing the work well and praising God meanwhile. We have something finer even than that, however, not in a mere poet's fancy--but in gospel story. The Son of God came to earth and lived a human life and wrought at a common trade, teaching us that a holy motive glorifies the lowliest work!
Yet while Jesus wrought at the most common work, his heart was in the holy of holies. He toiled cheerfully and did his work well, because he was in communion with his Father. Even while engaged in the world's work--we are to have a lofty, spiritual motive, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If we do this, God will care for us.
George Macdonald says that a man's business is just to do the will of God--and that then God takes upon himself the care of that man.
When the heavenly citizenship is realized, sorrow finds comfort and blessing. There are those who say that because of the vastness of the sorrow of the race, it would have been better if there never had been any human life in this world. But we must wait until sorrow's work is finished, before we speak so hopelessly. The deepest joys--come out of the sorest griefs. "Your sorrow--shall be turned into joy!" the Master promised. It is when we let into the darkness of our trouble, the sure hope of such transformation, that the stars shine out in our night. Some people look only down in their time of grief--down into the grave, down into their own breaking hearts, down at the emptiness, the ruin, and the darkness about them. These find no comfort. Others, with grief no less keen, with loss no less sore, look up into the face of God--and see love there; look into heaven where their loved ones are; look at the blessed stars of hope which shine above them, and are comforted.
The only life that grows into the best character, is that which has its source in heaven. This earth does not afford a large enough sphere for the growth of an immortal life to its full possibility.
The difference between the ethical moralist and the true Christian, is that the former gathers into his character only human and earthly qualities, while the other builds in Christ and heaven besides. It is said that astronomers have discovered that a sensitized plate will photograph stars which the eye cannot see even with the strongest telescope. You look with your naked eye and you see many stars. You look into a telescope and you see many more. Then you put your sensitized plate in its place, and let the skies look into it for a while; and on the plate you find imprinted the image of many other stars unrevealed even by the telescope. A man looks for the beautiful things of character and finds many in human lives. But in the perfect human life of Christ, where all the fullness of divinity is revealed, he finds a thousand lovely things which nowhere else on earth can be found.
A character with none of the beauty of heaven in it, is sadly defective. One who never prays, who never ponders the Word of God, who holds no fellowship with spiritual things, who lives only on the earth, thinking only earthly thoughts, groping ever in the glooms and mists of doubt and fear--may grow into a measure of beauty and may do some noble work--but he has missed the best--for the best can be found only in Jesus Christ.
"He who never connects God with his daily life knows nothing of the spiritual meaning and the uses of life; nothing of the calm, strong patience with which ills may be endured; of the gentle, tender comfort which the Father's love can minister; of the blessed rest to be realized in his forgiving love, his tender Fatherhood; of the deep, peaceful sense of the infinite One ever near, a refuge and strength."
There is more culture, more spiritual inspiration and uplift, in one hour's study of the character of Christ, than in years and years of the study of earth's best lives and rarest wisdom!
It is a law of life--that our thoughts build our character. If we meditate on the purity, the holiness, the goodness, the love, the righteousness, of Christ, these qualities will print themselves upon our own hearts. Paul has given us an infallible direction for the best spiritual culture. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things!" Philippians 4:8. Then he adds, "These things do--and the God of peace shall be with you."
If our citizenship is truly in heaven, we will receive inspiration and strength from above, for all our life. It is never easy to live worthily and victoriously in this world. From first to last, life is a struggle between the natural and the spiritual. The gains we make must be won always in the face of antagonism. The rewards and honors of life are only for "him who overcomes." We never can live victoriously, if we fight alone. But if we are living in communion with Christ--we have all the strength of omnipotence with us in every struggle, in every striving, under every burden. Christ is alive and is with us always.
Outside a garden wall, hangs a noble vine which every year bears its great wealth of purple clusters. When you look for its root you find that it is inside the wall. Its home is in the garden where it has all care and nurture, while its fruit hangs outside where the hungry may feed upon it. It should be thus with us. With the roots of our life in heaven, we should bear fruit in this world to feed the hunger of men.