The Seen and Unseen Kingdoms

This entry is part 15 of 18 in the series The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)

In this entry, Lipscomb continues his thesis that ordinances of God are not all intended to be carried out by his set-apart people, the Church, using the examples of heaven and hell. Through the examples of these unseen kingdoms, he draws a parallel to the operations of the kingdoms seen on earth. The presentation is interesting, if not perfectly compelling. But read for yourself and see what you think.

The Church of Christ and World-Powers (15) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, November 27, 1866, pp. 753-755.

To show that God’s institutions are good only for those for whom they are ordained and not for others, we simply instance the two great leading ordinances of God, the one for the benefitting and blessing the human family, for nurturing and rewarding virtue and holiness, the other for repressing and punishing vice and disobedience to God – Heaven and hell. Both are equally ordinances of God – both equally good for the purpose for which God ordained them. Yet both are not equally good and desirable in themselves, nor are both of them equally in the working and the execution of their laws and the accomplishment of their designed ends, the legitimate organizations for the operation and participation of God’s approved subjects. Each of these institutions have ministers appointed of God for operating through and in them, and for carrying out their laws, that are in character and spirit fitted for the work assigned them.

Over and in one of these kingdoms – the one, good and desirable in itself – the one intended to encourage and reward virtue and holiness, the Lord Jesus Christ and his holy angels’ role and work. They are God’s ministers to execute the laws and bestow the blessings of this kingdom and receive their rewards in so doing. But in that other kingdom, the one ordained of God to repress and punish vice, another being, the devil, with his attending furies, is God’s minister to execute its laws and inflict its eternal punishment, and be himself forever tormented in tormenting the damned. Gabriel, one of the angels in the better kingdom, could often wing his way to a world of sorrow with messages of promise and warning to sinners to deliver them from sorrow and death, but to go down into the pit of eternal horror, to inflict the woes of darkness upon the fallen there, would have made him a partaker of those woes. Jesus Christ could himself suffer and die to redeem man, but to punish in hell, is a work fitted only for the great arch fiend, the devil himself. It does not need even a suggestion to convince everyone that those wicked spirits could not participate in the affairs of the Heavenly abode. Then the approved subjects of God may not engage in establishing, carrying forward and perpetuating every ordinance of God. The major premise or leading predicate of the position is false – the conclusion must be unreliable.

Again, to bring the promises and rewards of the Heavenly Kingdom within the reach of man in his weakness and shortsightedness in this world, and to help him in his efforts to attain the eternal home, a kingdom corresponding in spirit, purpose, operation and end to the spiritual, unseen kingdom, with the same minister or ruler, was established. The Kingdom of Heaven, the church of the living God, corresponds to the Kingdom of Heaven above. It has the same benignant minister, king or ruler, Jesus the Christ, it cultivates the same spirit, its purpose is the same – to encourage and reward virtue and holiness – the same laws that attain in the “blessed home over the rolling river,” so far as they may be adapted to the condition of fallen humanity, controls in this kingdom on earth. The same end, the complete and perfect endowment of all his citizens, with “An inheritance, incorruptible, undenied and that fades not away in the heavens,” is the object of both alike. But Heaven and hell are the issues at stake – a foretaste of the rule of Prince Messiah is given in this world, an earnest of the joys of spiritual life is presented in that kingdom against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, to encourage a faithful continuance in well doing to the end. So too, the devil, the minister of hell, has his earthly kingdoms through which he “executes his wrath and vengeance,” punishes wickedness and performs the same work here, in a modified degree, that he does through his spiritual kingdom of darkness in the unseen world, in order to give man a foretaste, through the never-ending strife of his kingdoms on earth, of his eternal sorrows in the world to come.

The two institutions ordained of God in this world, with their two distinct sets of minsters, animated by antagonistic spirits, accomplishing different ends, although territorially and locally in contact, are as really separate and distinct here as the two kingdoms in the unseen world. The Church of Jesus Christ, with Jesus the anointed as its great founder, ruler and head, is God’s appointment for nurturing and rewarding virtue and conducting man upward to God. The self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit of the Savior of mankind is the animating, pervading, controlling spirit of this kingdom. But sin and violence and disobedience to God must be punished in this world. God declares emphatically to his followers, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21. Here God gives the Christian positive instruction that forbids his punishing of wickedness and revenging wrongs, for He is the avenger. How does he avenge? Through his ministers and institutions of wrath the higher powers, whom in the next verse he introduces to their attention, the evil, human institutions and ruler who are His “ministers, the avengers to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Here the contrast is presented between the spirit and work of the two institutions, by the Holy Spirit. They are distinct and diverse.

The Savior in his temptations recognized the kingdoms of this world as the kingdoms of the wicked one, the apostles even spoke of the devil as the prince of this world. His mission was to punish wickedness and sin; to execute God’s wrath against the disobedient. The kingdoms of man on earth perform the same work by the appointment of God. Hence we are forced to the conclusion that the earthly, human, political kingdoms of this world bear precisely the same relationship to the wicked one and the spiritual kingdom of darkness, that the Church of Christ bears to Christ, its head, and to his spiritual kingdom of light. They are ordained of God just in the same sense and for the same purpose that he ordained the unseen kingdoms of the wicked one. The wicked one is the great head or ruler over both the seen and unseen kingdoms of vengeance and through and in his servants in them, he is God’s minister to execute wrath and take vengeance on him who doeth evil. We here see the sense in which they are ordinances of God. It is simply that God ordains that when men refuse to submit to the benign rule of Prince Emanuel, they must be ruled by the wicked one. But that he ever ordained the institutions of wrath for his subjects to operate in and through, lacks one word of authority. His subjects of light are no more permitted to engage in and participate in these kingdoms of the evil one than the angels of light can descend into the dark abyss of eternal night, and become participators in the operations of the gloomy shades of an undying death. Then God’s appointed subjects may not enter into and participate in every ordinance of God, nor are all of His ministers his approved subjects.

Before we can determine whether his subjects can enter into any of his ordinances, we must determine for what purpose that institution was ordained, and who rules over it, Jesus Christ or the wicked one. If it was and is ordained of God for the blessing of his children, for nurturing, encouraging and rewarding virtue and holiness; if its labors are such as to require the development of the qualities that were exhibited in the life and mission of the Son of God, and if Jesus Christ rules over it and his spirit dwells within it, then, and only then, may Christians enter into it. Do these political governments of man fill these requirements? Were they ordained as kind and beneficent gifts of God to his children, as marriage, or were they ordained as a curse upon the disobedience of man, as human servitude. They did not originate among God’s people, hence could not have been ordinances of God for them to use for their good.

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