THE Lord's Prayer for all its simplicity is full of difficulties, full of those divine paradoxes by which alone the fulness of truth can be suggested to our small minds.
"Thy Kingdom come!" How simple they sound, these three plain words. They are quite simple; we use them every day. But how many of those who use them understand them?
Why, so universally has their simplicity been overlaid that the very words have become a slang expression for something quite different from their meaning. "Kingdom come "has got to mean the next world: to go to "Kingdom come "has become a slang expression for dying.
So deeply has a false conception of Christianity penetrated into the popular mind. No wonder that the people have grown indifferent to Christianity, when its most ennobling lessons have been slurred over by the religious world.
For this teaching about the Kingdom is more unmistakably set forth than anything else in the Gospels. The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of the Messiah, the coming age when all shall be set right, and God manifested in His glory, and Christ shall reign in truth, and meekness, and righteousness. To the Jews who heard our Lord, the phrase was among the most familiar, the best understood: their one constant consolation as they groaned under the thought that they, the chosen people, were subject to the foreign oppressor, their one constant faith in their bitter servitude was that the Kingdom of the Messiah would come and set them free.
And the Lord came, and did not contradict this faith. His words and His acts confirmed them in their hope. It was a kingdom on the earth that He had come to found. He came under the banner of that Kingdom which S. John the Baptist had spread before Him, with the cry, "Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And with the same words did the Lord begin His own mission--"From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Those were His first words--through His ministry that Kingdom was His constant burden. And what was the last subject about which He taught the disciples before His Ascension? We are told in the Acts, "the things concerning the Kingdom of God."
What wonder then that second in His prayer He put the coming of the Kingdom. And He made its meaning clear by adding words to show that we must hope for it in this world. For the clause "in earth as it is in heaven "is meant to cover each of the first three petitions; and is so printed now in the best Greek texts. The meaning is:
"Hallowed be Thy Name, in earth as it is in heaven."
"Thy Kingdom come, in earth as it is in heaven." "Thy Will be done, in earth as it is in heaven." Yes, it is the establishment here on earth of a reign of goodness and truth that we pray for. That lofty contempt which some religious people affect for the littleness of mere earthly transactions is not learnt in Christ's school, nor in the school of the prophets. He claimed to be an earthly King, though His methods were heavenly. "Art thou a King then?" And He answered "Yes." The people flocked to Him as their earthly Helper, and He helped them; as their Leader, and He led them; as their Healer, and He delivered them from the most visible, bodily, earthly pains and miseries; as their Teacher, and He taught them of a Kingdom of Heaven, that was to be--not a Kingdom in Heaven--but a heavenly Kingdom upon the earth, spreading gradually like leaven, or like the mustard seed, containing bad men as well as good, like the field sown with tares, or the draw-net (so unlike Heaven itself in this), yet precious as a pearl of great price.
But, there came a point where their ideal stopped, and His vision went on. They looked for a triumphant Judaism: He looked for a redeemed world. They hoped for Israel: He hoped for mankind. They believed in earthly methods, earthly weapons: He believed in the Sword of the Spirit.
So He rebuked them. "My Kingdom is not of this world," He said to Pilate. What did He mean? That His Kingdom was not to be brought about in this world? Far from it. But that His Kingdom is not of the world, not a worldly empire, not to be helped by this world's weapons. "My Kingdom," He goes on, "is not from hence." "If My Kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight."
"Then would My servants fight!" A hard lesson! Easy for Crusaders to adopt the methods of Mohammed and pour out across Europe, bringing not one single convert to the Cross, but ruining the Christian cause in the East, and lowering it in the West. Easy always to use force, easy to persecute; over and over again it has been tried, and always failed. Christ's Kingdom is not from thence.
It is a heavenly kingdom, and can only come by heavenly methods; therefore slowly, through the blood of the martyrs, through the tears of the saints.
It comes slowly, yet it comes. .Each age brings it nearer. The young man arises in his enthusiasm, and thinks it will come in his time. The older man, who has out-grown the disappointments of his youth, looks back, and sees the world in a larger perspective. He sees life growing through millions of years upon the earth, slowly, yet with unshakeable sure-ness, growing ever upward. He sees in the foreground a short span of two thousand years--a mere speck in the history of the world, during which great moral victories have been won, great strides made--far greater than in the ages before Christ, though even then the divine order was being woven out, point by point, in the hearts of men.
"Thy Kingdom come." To say these words is to place one's self in co-operation with the eternal will of God, the eternal purpose of the universe. It is to drop our fretful impatience in the infinite patience of God. It is to lose our narrow interests and schemes in the vast issues of the divine method. For what are our most cherished schemes? We learn often enough that they were mistaken. And what is our own party, or even our own country? Tiny points in the great plan, only of worth if they subserve it. And our own private, and personal, and selfish wishes, and ambitions, and fears, what indeed are they? Ah! good for us that we must sink them far out of sight, when we kneel down and say, "Thy Kingdom come!"
Thou Who has brought the world to this level of excellence, let us be shown how to serve Thee in this work. Thou Who hast endured such fierceness and folly in created things, and yet hast planted in our hearts the conviction that love and wisdom are better, and are divine, teach us to follow those more excellent things that we may help to bring about Thy Kingdom, which is coming, ever coming, and will come.
But there is more than this general aspiration after perfection. This far-off Kingdom is focussed, as it were, in a Kingdom now in the earth. This distant Kingdom is also "at hand." The Church of Christ is the image of that Kingdom. So it is itself called the Kingdom of Heaven, and the parables of the Kingdom refer to it.
The Church represents the Kingdom here and now--lest we should grow faint with expectation, and in our loneliness should despair. With all her imperfections, she is the Kingdom being realised from age to age.
And she is also the agent of that future Kingdom. By means of the Church the divine consummation is being brought nearer. She it is who is doing Christ's work in the earth--not by the sword, but by love--not in ways that are of this world--not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit. To pray for the coming of the Kingdom is to pray for her, its agent and its image--to pray for her missions abroad, for her work at home, to pray for her reunion, and her reform--to pray for the day when, all narrowness and worldliness swept aside, she shall be perfect, and in her perfection shall embrace every people and nation and kindred and tongue.
Yes! to pray for the coming of the Kingdom is indeed to pray for social reform in the deepest, truest sense--for it can only be done through the divine, the Christian spirit, which is embodied in the Church--through the gradual change in the hearts of men--through that mystical Kingdom of Heaven which is in the heart of every man. Laws and reforms indeed can help, and are necessary; but they only become possible through changes in the wills of men; and when decreed, they fail unless the moral level of society is high enough to carry them out. They are merely the tools; it is the underlying spirit that alone can create them, and having created, can handle them.
And that Spirit is the Spirit of the Kingdom. For what is a kingdom? A kingdom is a common life of men, lived in obedience to law. And the Kingdom of God is the fellowship of obedience to God's laws. All sin is lawlessness, and before man can frame any useful earthly laws, he must so far overthrow the disobedience to God--lawless lusts and appetites, lawless ambition, and insolence and denial, godless worldliness, and lies and vanities, cruelty, oppression, malice.
For this we pray. And praying for it, we must believe it. We must believe in religious, moral, and social reform. We may not despair, though we see the forces of evil strong around us. To despair of the present must be bad; to hope for the future must be good. The Paternoster is the prayer of hope. No one can say it unless he hopes.
This is Utopian, you say, to believe that the world will ever be perfect. Yes, it is; and every Christian has to be Utopian. It would be a blasphemy to say, "Thy Kingdom come," if all the while we believed that God's Kingdom could never come. We pray it, because our Lord told us to pray it; and He never told us to pray for what is impossible. That which we ask in His name--in the spirit of Christ, which is in its essence in the Lord's Prayer--will be done. We pray it; and we must believe that it will come to pass. We must believe in progress--not looking back regretfully to some fancied past, but looking forward to a sure future.
And, also, if we must hope as we pray, so as we pray must we work.
To pray for the Coming of the Kingdom is to pledge ourselves to work for it, to serve our fellow-man in every way in which his welfare can be bettered, to serve our Church in every way that she asks our service--to be social reformers, moral reformers, and beneath it all, religious reformers--never content with the present, always working for a better future, always driving on towards the perfection of the Kingdom.
Ah, yes! The personal lesson of this petition is as the Church Catechism says, Service--"that we may serve Him." Each of us must work for that--worthless and impertinent would be the words, "Thy Kingdom come/' upon our lips, if we were content to idle, and idle in our content.
"The Kingdom of God is within you." It is focussed in the Church--so closer still must it be focussed, epitomized in our hearts. Here Christ must reign as King! Here must be perfect obedience--so hard to render--to His laws. Here must be first of all that perfect reign of truth and righteousness, of equity and love.
Then beyond. The Kingdom of God begins within. But only that it may manifest itself without. Only that we may serve in the great army that never fights, that is not from hence.
So we work, and we pray when we say, "Thy Kingdom come." We pray that the King of Kings will reign over our spirits, souls, and bodies. We pray for the extinction of all tyranny, whether it be the tyranny of the few or the many. We pray for the exposure of all corruption. We pray for truth in all departments of government, art, science. We pray for honesty in trade, and forbearance in all the dealings of life. We pray that the proud may be scattered in the imagination of their hearts, that the humble and meek may be exalted, that the hungry may be filled with good things. We pray that love may triumph over greed, meekness over malice, purity over lust, temperance over excess, God over mammon--that the Gospel of Christ, in faith and practice, may prevail throughout the world.
And we pray quite calmly and confidently, knowing that we are praying according to His will--knowing therefore that He will hear us, knowing that step by step His Kingdom will come upon the earth, and His will be done.