"Thy Kingdom Come."
From the beginning to the end of our Lord's earthly Ministry, the establishing of a visible Kingdom on earth was the purpose which He had always before Him. He came to fulfil all that had been foretold in prophecy of a world-embracing, indestructible Kingdom, and to exercise upon earth the authority which was proclaimed by the angel who announced His Birth: "The Lord shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end" (S. Luke i. 32, 33).
Accordingly His Minister is heralded by S. John Baptist, in the warning, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Then "after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand" (S. Mark i. 14. i5).
The Kingdom of God was the subject of His parables, and the burden of His teaching until on the charge of making Himself a King He was nailed to the Cross, and His title "The King of the Jews" was written over His Head. When after He had risen from the dead, He was seen of the Apostles forty days, the subject of His teaching was still until the very day in which He was taken up into Heaven, "the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Acts i. 2, 3).
But a King must have subjects, and since our Lord came to establish a world-wide and imperishable Kingdom on earth, that Kingdom must not only gather under its sway all nations of the world, but it must so perpetuate its rule and its order as to outlive every generation of men, and defying "the gates of hell,'' the power of death, remain unshaken until its ultimate triumph at the end of the world.
In our Lord Himself all kingly authority resides. He is in this alone and unapproachable. Nevertheless we find Him choosing out from the great multitude of His disciples, twelve men whom in a way altogether remarkable He associates and identifies with Himself. He gives them authority and power to do what He Himself did, and to them He says: "I appoint unto you a Kingdom as My Father hath appointed unto Me, that ye may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (S. Luke xxii. 29). Again, to one of them, S. Peter, He says, "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," while to all the twelve He gave the assurance that in the exercise of the power of binding and loosing, their judgment pronounced on earth, would hold good in Heaven (S. Matt. xvi. 19. and xviii. 18).
When our Lord ascended into Heaven He left the Apostles with plenary authority to act as His representatives in that Kingly, Priestly and Prophetical office, which by their ministry He would unceasingly exercise upon earth. To this end He promised to send them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and He left them with the assurance that He Himself would be with them all days, a promise reaching beyond the natural life of those who first received this commission, to include all who, by succession in the same office, should hand down this authority to the end of the world. It is then in entire accordance with our Lord's plan for establishing and perpetuating a divine hierarchy on the earth, that in one of the petitions of the prayer which He gave us, we should be taught to pray "Thy Kingdom Come" (S. Matt, xxviii.20).
Let us dwell upon the word "come." It is the characteristic of this Kingdom that it comes down from above. It is the Kingdom of Heaven, it must therefore descend to the earth if it is to take men up in its embrace. They cannot raise themselves up of their own power. The answer to this prayer was the day of Pentecost. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those whom our Lord had chosen and ordained for their kingly and priestly work as His representatives on earth, the Kingdom of God had come.
Why then do we continue to use this same prayer, "Thy Kingdom come?" Because this Kingdom is always coming. The kingdoms of the world are always going. They have a short life and then they pass away forever. They appear on the pages of history; for a little while we read of their rise, and the extension of their power, then they begin to wane, and at last, first of one then of another, history records the fall.
Not so the Kingdom of God. It came at Pentecost, it is always coming, and it never passes away. For eighteen centuries, age after age has seen it come; to every generation in turn it has come with its offer of a new birth and of a heavenly life sustained from above. Men have not to go after it; it comes to them if they will but receive it. It is ever coming too, in its "tendency and power, while growing inwardly, to penetrate ever more and more the substance of humanity, to sink more deeply into its members1 souls with its blessings, while spreading outwardly from laud to land, from nation to nation, and widening its borders." [Döllinger First age of the Church.]
And how does this Kingdom come? Through the steady onflow of that Pentecostal stream which was poured out first upon the Apostles, and which ever descends along the line of apostolic succession. Holy orders are the life of the Kingdom of God on earth. Should they fail (as they cannot on our Lord's word), the Kingdom of God would cease to come, and the gates of hell would have prevailed against it. The Apostolic ministry preserved and handed on, is as Julian the Apostate too well understood, the vital chord necessary to the perpetuation of the Kingdom of the Nazarene, and which, in his edict for the extermination of the priesthood, he sought in vain to sever.
And Holy Orders come. Man can no more make them for himself than he can make the sunlight or create a world. They are God's gift, good and perfect, and they come clown from above.
From Christ, the true King, the true Priest, the true Prophet, they descend in order. His authority in this three-fold office is first transmitted to the Apostolate to be perpetuated in the Episcopate. From this plenary commission the sacerdotal office of Christ descends in its further transmission to the Priesthood, and finally to the Diaconate descends the commission which is exercised in union with His prophetical office. The Priesthood includes the Diaconate, the Episcopate includes them both; from Christ is derived all.
"All authority and power is given unto Me in Heaven and earth." "Go ye therefore and disciple all nations, (that is, to exercise the kingly office of Christ in bringing the world to acknowledge His rule), "baptizing them," (that is, to exercise His priestly office for the remission of sins), "teaching them," (that is, to exercise His prophetical office in making known the commands of God). The first office is especially that of the Apostolate and Episcopate; the second is sacerdotal in its nature, and belongs especially to the Priesthood; the third is shared in the ministry of the Diaconate.
It is because the orders of the Sacred ministry come from above, that they are charged with supernatural powers. No such mysterious powers are ever claimed by those, who, on the strength of a mere "inward call," take upon themselves a quasi ministerial relation. Even when such persons seem to be ministering sacraments, they are by their own vehement protest exercising no supernatural power, or doing more than any other man might do as well.
The petition, "Thy Kingdom Come," as thus viewed in the light of the Sacrament of Orders, has its bearing upon a question, the discussion of which, at the present time, is at least a hopeful and encouraging sign.
The reunion of Christendom when it comes, will come in answer to the prayer of this petition. It will come from above, not from below. No mere human devices will ever be able to bring it about. "Go to," said they on the plain of Shinar, "let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." So they builded, but they were no nearer Heaven. They inherited confusion and strife as the end of their toil.
The Spirit Who alone can bind together into one, is the Lord Who maketh men to be of one mind in an house, the same Spirit who came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Certainly, we may expect that in His own good time, His healing touch will first rest upon those who, though through their sins they have lost external communion, are nevertheless in their common inheritance of an Apostolic commission inwardly one, and that when these discern in each others' faces the tokens of His presence, the whole house where they are sitting will be filled with the knowledge of His voice.