Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
SEEKING FIRST THE KINGDOM
"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Every Bible student has noted the great frequency of reference to the Kingdom in the teaching of our Lord and the Apostles. We read that the message which John proclaimed was, "The Kingdom of God has come nigh," and that when Jesus sent forth the twelve Apostles their mission was to declare the Kingdom of God at hand.
And later, when He sent forth the seventy others, their message was the same, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." We notice that when the disciples asked the Lord how to pray, one of the principal items of the petition He taught them was, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is done in Heaven." We notice, further, that nearly all of our Lord’s parables, and hence nearly all of His teachings, were in respect to the Kingdom, which was likened to a net, likened to a sower and his crop of thirty, sixty and an hundred fold, likened to a field, the wheat of which was finally gathered into the garner, likened to the merchant seeking pearls and giving all that he had for the choicest, likened in the end of the Age to the ten virgins, the five wise of whom went into the marriage.
It is with some degree of astonishment that these same students notice that in modern theology, as represented by the colleges in Christendom, there is scarcely a reference to the Kingdom of God. When sometimes inquiry is made respecting the matter—as to why this teaching is so prominent in the New Testament and so little heard in modern pulpits—the reply usually is to this effect: "Yes, the poor Jews had the opinion that God would establish them as the Kingdom; and that when
Messiah would come He would receive them as associates in the Kingdom, and would honor them and use them as His instrumentality in blessing all the families of the earth. In all this the poor Jews were evidently mistaken, as our Lord did nothing of the kind for them. In some vague sort of way we must suppose the Church to be the Kingdom now, though we scarcely understand how to apply that name to it." This answer is generally taken by the students as satisfactory; for they know no better and have not learned how to reason on subjects theological. Few people understand God’s Word.
BLESSINGS THROUGH ABRAHAM’S SEED
Let us look on the other side of the subject. Let us remember the falling away of the Dark Ages, in which nearly all the precious doctrines of Jesus and the Apostles were buried under a mass of human tradition and superstition and "doctrines of devils." (
.) The Lord be praised that we are gradually getting out of that terrible darkness. But on some subjects many of God’s people are still evidently far from clear, far from an appreciation of the teachings of our Lord and His Apostles. Wiping the dust of the darkness of the past from our eyes, let us examine God’s Word on this subject of the Kingdom.
We find that the Jews did have as the mainspring of their religious and political system the thought that they were to be the representatives of God in the work of blessing the world in general—that He had called them out first, in advance of other nations, that He might use them as His holy nation under the Messiah, and through them communicate a blessing to the world. This thought had its foundation in the Divine promise to Father Abraham, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." As the seed of Abraham they expected the fulfilment of that promise and took the various trials and difficulties, captivities, etc., that came upon them as a nation as so much of Divine instruction
preparing them for the Divine service when Messiah should come and establish His Kingdom.
Nor is there a thought in the Old or in the New Testament contradictory to this. They had the right idea. In harmony with this thought our Lord at His First Advent preached only to Israel and said to His Apostles, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and unto the city of the Samaritans enter ye not: for I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the House of Israel."
The blessing and privilege went first to that nation.
St. John (1:11,12) distinctly tells us that our Lord came unto His own people and that they received Him not, except a remnant; and that to that remnant was granted a special blessing of spirit-begetting, which constituted them the nucleus or start of Spiritual Israel. The rest of the nation of Israel, the Apostle tells us, were turned aside and blinded for a time until a sufficient number should be found from among the Gentiles to complete the foreordained number of Spiritual Israel. This gathering of Spiritual Israelites out of all nations, peoples, kindreds and tongues, and the testing of these, has been the work of this Gospel Age; and when the full number shall have been found and tested and perfected this Age will end and a new Age, the Millennium, will begin.
THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
It will be noticed, then, that the central thought held by the Jews respecting God’s purpose of establishing a Kingdom in the world for the blessing of all nations was substantially correct; and that the difficulty was that there were not enough Jews to constitute the elect class.
Hence the delay of this Gospel Age, which God had foreseen and approved. The Kingdom thought, however, is still there; for, as we have just seen, the Lord and the Apostles continually referred to it and invited all the faithful to be "heirs of the Kingdom." As a matter of fact, then, the Church, as Spiritual Israel and the Spiritual Seed of Abraham, has inherited this chief blessing
which God offered primarily to Abraham and his posterity. This Spiritual Israel, composed of "Israelites indeed" and the faithful ones of every nation, is to constitute the Bride of Messiah, and as such is to share with Him the Kingdom honors and Kingdom work specified in the Abrahamic promise, "In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." That there may be no doubt of this, note carefully the Apostle’s arguments in Gal. 3 and 4. Note especially his words, "If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs [of the Kingdom and its work of blessing the world] according to the promise."—
No wonder, then, that our Lord continually appealed to the Kingdom thought. It is along this line that the entire Divine Plan is arranged. The Kingdom class must first be found, selected, glorified. Then the Kingdom work of blessing the world will be due to begin—not before. Any blessings that may come to the world through the Church intermediately are merely incidental.
This is the meaning of the various invitations given us all through the Scriptures, such, for instance, as our Lord’s words in our text, "Seek ye first [chiefly] the Kingdom of God and His righteousness"; "Pray ye, Thy Kingdom come"; "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom"; "As My Father has appointed unto Me a Kingdom, so I appoint unto you"; "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne"; "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him"; etc., etc.
Another part of the same Kingdom story we shall not have time to tell you on this occasion. We merely, in passing, note the fact that the Scriptures most clearly set forth that from the Divine standpoint there are two seeds of Abraham, and that both seeds are to be blessed and to be used in communicating the Divine blessings to the world in general. Spiritual Israel has attained the highest place as the Seed of Abraham, but there is
still a promise to Natural Israel—"This is My covenant with them when I shall take away their sins." "It shall come to pass after those days," saith the Lord, "that I will make a New Covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah....I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." "I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh."—
The Apostle tells us when this will be fulfilled; namely, when Spiritual Israel shall have been completed and Natural Israel shall have obtained mercy through Spiritual Israel. (
.) It is in harmony with this that the Apostle assures us that the promise shall be sure unto both the seeds, both that which is according to the spirit and that which is according to the flesh. (
.) These two seeds of Abraham were distinctly referred to in the Lord’s promise to him in which He said: "Thy seed shall be as the stars of Heaven [the spiritual class, the Heavenly, the Church], and as the sand upon the seashore [the earthly seed]," although favor to Natural Israel will gradually extend and absorb into that nation all of the entire human family who love righteousness, all others being destroyed in the Second Death.—
#Ps 67:3,4; 37:38
HOW WE SEEK THE KINGDOM
Having now before our minds what the Kingdom is, we appreciate the fact that the Church in the present time is the Kingdom, but without power and without glory—in an embryo or undeveloped stage—in preparation for the glories that shall be ultimately revealed.
We perceive the force of the Apostle’s explanation that we are walking by faith and not by sight, and that the world knoweth us not. The world is not aware of the Divine purpose, nor does it recognize the heirs of salvation.
Hence, as it crucified the Lord Jesus we must not marvel if it hate those who have His spirit, even
as darkness hateth the light. We must not marvel if persecution, therefore, be the lot of those who shall be favored of God in connection with this Kingdom and its privileges. Indeed, these very experiences are necessary for our development and preparation for the Kingdom.
Thus by faith these heirs of the Kingdom are to realize that all things connected with their interests are under Divine supervision, and all working together for good to them that love God—the called ones according to His purpose—His Kingdom class. (
.) Those unwilling to walk by faith, those unwilling to endure hardness as good soldiers, those who love the world and its honors and praise, and seek not alone that which cometh from Above, will by these conditions be separated from the loyal, true overcomers. And this is the will of God, as only the latter are fit for the Kingdom.
Now we understand why the Lord said of some, "Blessed are your ears, for they hear," and intimated that many of His time were not in the condition to either see or hear or in any sense appreciate this message, this blessing of the Spiritual Kingdom now proclaimed. Not only so, but even among those who do have the hearing ear or seeing eye of understanding, the spiritual perception of the Kingdom, its call and its conditions, there is a need, as our text tells us, that they seek the Kingdom.
It will not be thrust upon anybody; it is a high privilege, a high honor, and whoever shall get it must appreciate it. And whoever seeks the Kingdom under present conditions will find, as the Master said, that the way is narrow and difficult.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS CONTRASTED
Our Lord is addressing not the world, not sinners, not unbelievers. The Jewish nation was a believing nation, nominally at least, just as Christendom professedly believes in Christ. But our Lord’s message was not merely to Israelites, but only to such as were "Israelites indeed" and had signified their desire as
His disciples to walk in His steps and to become joint-heirs with Him and His Kingdom. He calls the attention of these to the earthly things for which the majority of mankind are seeking—What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
We are not to understand the Lord’s words to signify that His followers should be improvident, careless, so inattentive to the responsibilities of life as to depend upon others for their food and raiment or else go naked and hungry. There are two extremes in this matter, and our Lord was controverting the one that is most troublesome to His followers. The spirit of the world is a spirit of selfishness, which spurs all the brighter minds of earth to get, to enjoy, to be, according to earthly standards.
Summing the matter up, our Lord says that what we shall eat, what we shall drink, wherewithal we shall be clothed are the things after which all the Gentiles seek—the whole world is seeking for earthly good things, but the Lord’s disciples are to take a different course.
Having the invitation to joint-heirship in the Kingdom of God before their minds as the grandest possibility imaginable, they are to so esteem it that all other interests and ambitions are to sink into insignificance in their estimation and to be comparatively neglected. Our Lord’s advice is, therefore, "Seek ye first [primarily—as of the first or primary importance] the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, raiment, etc.] shall be added unto you."
Be it noted that the Lord does not say that His followers shall have as much of these temporary good things as others have; but elsewhere He declares, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of." The implication, therefore, is that to those who have put their matters entirely in the Lord’s hands by a full consecration of all they possess, their every talent, their every opportunity, and who are thus seeking to please God and obtain the Kingdom inheritance which He has promised—to
these He will give earthly good things according to His wisdom—those which would bring the highest measure of blessing as New Creatures, those which would prepare them and assist them best for a share in the Kingdom.
Whatsoever of earthly good things would be a hindrance to their chief aim and desire in life this class would not intentionally choose. Hence they should be glad that the matter is entirely out of their hands and entirely in the Lord’s hands. It is for them to rejoice that their affairs are being more wisely and more favorably ordered than if under their own control. It is for these to rejoicingly pray, "Thy will be done," in respect to all of life’s affairs. Thus seeing and thus doing and thus praying this class may rejoice even in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh experience, patience, hope, and will ultimately make them not ashamed, because it will be God’s method of chastening and polishing them for a share in the Kingdom.—
SEEKING HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
It is not enough that the Lord’s Elect shall seek the Kingdom. They might seek it in a measure of selfishness, because of its honor and glory. Hence, the Lord makes another stipulation: That we shall not only seek the Kingdom, but seek its righteousness—the righteousness which the Kingdom will bring, the righteousness which God will approve. Ah, this is a searching proposition!
All who will be counted worthy a place in the Kingdom must come up to the standard of perfect love toward God and toward men. This is the Divine standard, and nothing short of it will be acceptable. It means that this class will be in harmony with their God, right, just, loving, peaceable wherever found; and that they will be out of harmony with all injustice and unrighteousness wherever found—in themselves and in others.
Since we were all born in sin, since we were all tainted with selfishness, even though in differing degrees, it follows that we must all fight a good warfare against this
element of our human natures—that as New Creatures we shall not be in sympathy with any of the fallen proclivities and tendencies in ourselves and in others. It is a work of days, months and years to find out and rout these selfish propensities, these Amalekites, which have entrenched themselves in our fallen flesh, and to bring in instead of them the loving, generous impulses and endeavors of the spirit of love, which seeks to do good unto all men as we have opportunity, especially to the Household of Faith. This is learning to speak evil of no man, to have no sympathy with slander, backbiting and evil surmisings, but, on the contrary, to rejoice in the Truth and in "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report."—
The law of absolute justice, righteousness, the Law of Love, which will be introduced world-wide during the Millennium, must already, even now, have our sympathy and support. In the present time, when so much may be gained by a little deflection from the proper standards of purity or truth or honesty, when so many are in favor of graft if it works favorably to themselves, and so unfavorable to graft if it works against their interests—in these times the heirs of the Kingdom are to be governed strictly by the laws of the Kingdom. They are to seek after and to appropriate to themselves the principles of righteousness which they perceive will be the laws of the Kingdom for the whole world by and by.
It will be much easier for the world to conform to the laws of righteousness by and by, when every transgression will receive prompt rebuke or punishment, and when every good word or deed will receive a prompt reward.
But it is comparatively difficult now for this Kingdom class to think and to act along opposite lines from those which prevail to a large degree amongst their friends and neighbors. This sympathy for righteousness, truth and
purity must be sought even as the Kingdom is sought; and those consecrated believers who find the one find the other. Much of the Christian’s time, therefore, must be devoted to self-examination and self-instruction in righteousness, as well as building one another up in the most holy faith, the Divine Word being the censor.
All such are really taught of God. They learn to consider honesty not merely in respect to dollars and cents, but also in regard to words and actions. Yea, more, they learn to observe honesty in their thoughts—to be honest with the Lord, honest with the brethren, honest with themselves. As these lessons are learned, appropriated, the pupils in the School of Christ are being made meet for an inheritance in the Kingdom.
THE LESSON OF SELF-DENIAL
One great difficulty among these "heirs of salvation," "heirs of the Kingdom," "heirs of glory," lies in our inability to rightly appreciate the importance of the little things in life and the little things in our own minds.
Many who would have the courage to go to the stake in defense of some principle of righteousness and truth find it very difficult to "examine themselves," and, as the Apostle suggests, to bring eventually even the very thoughts of their minds into subjection to the will of God as expressed in Christ. But our Lord’s word is, "He that is faithful in that which is least will be faithful also in that which is greater." Hence we should have in mind that the Lord will instruct us along the lines of little things; and in our endeavors in all the trifling affairs of life we should cultivate and exercise the spirit of Christ, the spirit of meekness, gentleness, patience, long suffering, brotherly-kindness, love, that these things being in us, and abounding, an entrance shall be administered to us abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
An important feature of the teaching of the School of Christ is the necessity for self-denial. The repudiation
of sin and sinful words, acts and thoughts is a difficult enough matter, but the Lord calls upon His followers to repudiate and fight against more than these. They must learn to be well-rounded-out characters, copies of God’s dear Son. They must learn self-denial; our Master as the Great King and our Bridegroom learned obedience in His self-denials. And these were not along the lines of sinful things; for in Him was no sin; His special trials were of self-denial, self-sacrifice in the interest of and in the support of righteousness and for the blessing of others. Thus He developed and manifested the spirit which the Father is pleased to reward in the Kingdom.
All who will be counted worthy to be kings and priests to God in that Heavenly Kingdom must demonstrate now to Divine satisfaction their willingness to sacrifice their own personal interests and rights in favor of the Kingdom and the Father’s will and the blessing of those whom the Father designs shall be blessed by the Kingdom.
Whoever, therefore, refuses to take up his cross of self-denial and to deny himself cannot long be one of the Lord’s disciples. He will fall out by the way, for ultimately only those will constitute members of the Kingdom class who shall count it all joy to gain that Kingdom and the Divine favor and the great privilege of being associated with Jesus in the great work of blessing the world at any cost, at any self-denial. Let us, dear brethren, emulate more and more this spirit of our Redeemer, who made Himself of no reputation that He might work the works of God, who sent Him. Thus we also shall be counted worthy of a share with Him in the Kingdom and its glorious opportunities.