By J.R. Miller
Already we have learned to keep back the thought of our own needs when we enter the gate of prayer, and to pray first for the hallowing of God's name. We are here checked again in our expression of our own eager desires, and bidden to pray instead for the coming of God's kingdom. The things of God must come before our things.
"May Your kingdom come." What is the kingdom of God for whose coming we are here taught to pray? It is not the rule of God over the material universe. Already the divine sway in this realm is complete. No star ever rebels against the laws ordained for the heavenly bodies. There is nowhere in nature any resistance to the will of God, which is revealed in what we call nature's laws. There is no need, therefore, to pray for the coming of our Father's kingdom in the natural world.
Nor is this a prayer for the speedy coming of death to the child of God, that he may enter into the joys and felicities of heaven's blessedness--the full glory of the kingdom of God. Our Lord's own prayer for his disciples, was not that they should be taken out of the world, for they have a work to do here--but that they should remain in the world--and be kept from its evil.
"May Your kingdom come" is a prayer for the coming of God's moral and spiritual sway over the hearts and lives of men in this world. There is no need to prove that in this realm, God's kingdom does not now have unresisted sway. We know well how man is in rebellion against God. It is not necessary to recite here the sad facts of this story of rebellion. It began in Paradise. It is interesting, however, to notice that immediately after man had fallen, God set about restoring his kingdom upon the earth. The gospel promise was spoken amid the very words which told of sin's ruin. From that day to this, God has been seeking to reclaim his place as king in the hearts and lives of men. In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ came to declare God's mercy and love, to reveal to man the possibilities of spiritual life, to die for sinners, and to set up the kingdom of God in full power on the earth.
We have only to turn to our Lord's teachings, to learn the character of this kingdom. It is spiritual; it seeks to rule over man's conscience, his affections, his whole life. A kingdom is where a king rules; God would rule in our heart. God's kingdom has come in any of us--just in the measure in which God governs our thoughts, our will, our desires. The kingdom has failed fully to come in us--in so far as we still resist God's will and fail to obey him perfectly, whether, it be in act, or word, or wish, or affection, or feeling.
If we ask "What is the character of this kingdom of God?" We find the first answer in the name of the King. He is our Father. We need not be afraid of this King. The Bible in every chapter, declares the goodness of God. The Old Testament shines with revealings of his mercy. Then in Jesus Christ, we have the full revelation of the divine character. "He who has seen me--has seen the Father," Jesus declared. Every word, act, and disposition of that life of marvelous beauty--showed us some new revealing of God. Then on the cross we have the unveiling of the very heart of our Father--when he gave his only begotten Son; when Christ the Son of God, gave himself up to a death of shame for us.
This is our King. He was one of us in his earthly revealing. He was lowly and humble, moving among the people with infinite gentleness. Yet divine love filled his heart and wrought itself out in every touch of his hand--until at last that hand was nailed on the cross!
The King desires to reign in us. His name is Love. No reign of the gentlest sovereign on earth--was ever so beneficent, so gracious, as the sway of him who desires to be our King, and who craves of us that we submit ourselves to him.
When we turn to our Lord's teachings, we find many thoughts about this kingdom, revealing to us its character. It "comes not with observation"; that is, so that its progress can be noted by earthly signs. Earthly kingdoms advance with pomp and noise, in cruel war, crushing enemies before them, and in display of power which awes men. The kingdom of God advances silently. One of its symbols is light--the morning comes noiselessly.
This kingdom is not an earthly organization. The visible church is not the kingdom of God--the church, with its ecclesiastical system, its rituals, simple or elaborate, its membership footed up in statistical tables, its sacraments, its ministrations. "The kingdom of God is within you," said the Master. It sets up its throne in men's hearts. It rules over men's lives. The kingdom of God is not food and drink--but righteousness and peace and joy. Every true Christian is in the kingdom of God, and this kingdom is also in him. But the kingdom of God and visible church are not identical. There are many lowly friends of God in whom this kingdom has been set up--yet whose names are on no roll of any church; and no doubt there are members of the visible church, perhaps some who are prominent and conspicuous in it--in whom the kingdom of God has not found a realm!
Christ himself came and lived and taught and died to make men holy, and to bring them into the heavenly kingdom. If we ask what the LAWS of this kingdom are, we find them plainly revealed in our Lord's teachings; the sermon on the mount is Christ's own exposition of the life of the kingdom God. This sermon begins with the beatitudes which tell us who are the blessed or happy ones.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:3-12
At every point in these beatitudes, we recognize the difference between earth's ideals of happiness, and God's standards. The whole sermon runs upon the same lofty lines. Think what the community would be--in which these teachings should be fully realized, lived out, wrought into conduct and character. Yet that is the coming of the kingdom for which we pray in this petition!
LOVE is the great central law of this kingdom. Christ taught his disciples that they must love each other--as he had loved them. They must love not merely the good and the lovable--but the evil and the unlovely as well. The love must be like God's, and he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. John, who learned the lesson on the Master's bosom, into whose life the kingdom came with marvelous power, transforming him into the very gentleness of Christ, taught that "if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us... If a man says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he who loves not his brother whom he has seen--cannot love God whom he has not seen."
We have come under the rule and sway of the kingdom of God, only in so far as we sincerely love others. This love must not be a sentiment merely; it must rule the life, revealing itself in all graces of character, and leading to lowliest service--love always serves.
When the disciples once were disputing among themselves as to who was greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus took a little child and set him in the midst of them, and said to them that they must become like this little child--if they would even enter the kingdom. He referred to the absence of ambition, the simplicity and sincerity, humility and lowliness of heart, in a child. True greatness is unconscious of itself. It is not puffed up with a sense of its own importance. It is humble and simple-hearted.
On another occasion, when a like question was being considered, and the disciples asked Jesus who was greatest in the kingdom, he said the greatest was he who served most deeply and unselfishly. The world's idea of greatness, is exemption from service; but he is the best Christian--who serves others the most humbly and the most helpfully.
In Christ himself, the kingdom of God had perfect development, and he said of himself, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto--but to minister." The kingdom of God has come in us--just in the measure in which we love and serve.