What the Kingdom Is
Now, another thing: the Kingdom has come, but it is always coming. We have entered, but we ought to be always entering. There is a little word at the end of the Letter to the Hebrews - "Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken ..." (Hebrews 12:28). The literal sense there is - "being in the course or process of receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken ..." It has come, but it is coming; and it is at that point that I think we all need to recognize a difference, to discriminate between two things - between conversion and salvation.
Have you ever made that distinction? There is all the difference between conversion and salvation. Conversion is a crisis, something that happens perhaps suddenly, in a moment, and it is done. Salvation? That is something that has commenced; but you find also that the New Testament speaks about "receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9), thus indicating that salvation is still future. Some people have built a false doctrine upon this, teaching that you cannot know you are saved until you are at the end, because it is spoken of in the future tense. But we are saved, and we are being saved. We have entered the Kingdom by conversion, but salvation is a far greater thing than conversion. Oh, salvation is a vast thing, and is only another word for the Kingdom - the Kingdom coming all the time. A spiritual babe who has just received Divine life has not got everything, except potentially. It has conversion, it has new birth. Would you say that a little babe has everything it is intended to have? Potentially, in the life, all is there. But how much more that is to be known of what that life implies, of all that it carries with it and may lead to, of all the capacities that are there!
This is the difference between conversion and salvation. The Kingdom is a vast kingdom - "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom" (Daniel 4:3). "Of the increase of His government ... there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:7). 'No end' simply means eternally expansive. Can you make just a geographical matter of that? Surely not. It must be spiritual - the vast inexhaustible resources of God for His own people. It will take eternity to know and to explore all those resources, the dimensions of His Kingdom.
The Kingdom Suffers Violence
Now, having in a very imperfect way considered what the prophets were taking about and what you and I have come into touch with, let us see what can be missed. Let us look at these other words: "The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it" (Luke 16:16). "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force" (Matthew 11:12). It 'suffereth violence." That does not simply mean that it permits of violence. It really means that it calls for violence, and it is men of violence that take it by force. Luke puts it "entereth violently."
Here is the spirit of citizenship in that Kingdom - "by force." Why? This is not merely an appeal to be in earnest - though it certainly includes that, seeing what a tremendous thing this Kingdom is, and what an immense loss will be suffered if we do not take it seriously. But you see, the Lord Jesus is speaking as in the midst of things which are constantly opposing. There is a whole organized system, expressing tremendous prejudice. He said to them on one occasion "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves" (Matthew 23:13). There is everything, from devil and men, to obstruct; to enter in requires violence. If you can be hindered, you will be hindered. If you are going to be easygoing, you will give to antagonistic forces all the ground that they want to put you out.
That is why I pointed out that it is not only a once-for-all entering into the Kingdom, but it is a continuous entering. The
Kingdom is so much bigger than conversion. Of course, if you are going to be saved at all - I mean saved initially - you will have to mean business for that. You will have to make it a desperate matter, because there will be everything to stop you. But the Kingdom means a very great deal more than merely getting into it, far more than being converted. There is a great deal more in the purpose of God for our lives than we have ever imagined, and if we are to enter into that, violence has to characterize us. We must desperately mean business, and come to the place where we say: 'Lord, I am set upon all that Thou dost mean in Christ. I a set upon that, and I am not going to allow other people's prejudices or suspicions or criticisms to get in the way; I am not going to allow any man-made system to hinder me; I am going right on with Thee for all Thy purpose. I am going to do violence to everything that would get in the way.' It calls for violence, and we have to do a lot of violence to get all that God wills for us.
Oh, how easily many lives are side-tracked, simply because they are not desperate enough! They are caught in things which limit - things which may be good, that may have something of God in them, but which none the less are limiting things, and do not represent a wide open way to all God's purpose. The only way for us to come into all that the Lord means - not only into what we have seen but into all that He has purposed - is to be desperate, to be men of violence; to be men who say, 'By God's grace, nothing and no one, however good, is going to stand in my way; I am going on with God.' Have that position with the Lord, and you will find that God meets you on that ground.
No men - not even Paul himself - knew all that they were going to know. Paul was constantly getting fuller unveilings of that unto which he was called. He received something fairly strong and rich at the beginning; then, later, he was shown unspeakable things (2 Corinthians 12:4). He was growing in apprehension. But why? Because he was a man of violence. God meets us like that. "With the perverse Thou wilt shew Thyself froward" (Psalm 18:26). That, in principle, means that God will be to you what you are to Him. He will mean business if you mean business. There is a vast amount in the Kingdom that we have never suspected. Do believe that. There is more for all of us to know than anybody on this earth knows - far more than the very greatest saints, the most advanced Christians, know of the purpose of God.
Paul intimates that. In his Philippians letter he makes it clear that, even at the end of his life, he has yet to apprehend, he needs still to know. "That I may know ..." (Philippians 3:10). There is far more to know. Are you going to allow your life simply to be boxed up within the measure that you know, or within the measure of other people? No - it is the measure of Christ that is God's end. "Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). No movement, no society, no evangelical organization, no church on this earth has come to that yet, but that is the objective in view. But God requires, in order to bring us to fullness, that we be men of violence, that we really mean business, that we say to everything that gets in the way - and oh, the plausible voices, which nevertheless are subtly influenced by prejudices! - 'Stand thou aside; I am going on with God, I am going to allow nothing to stand in the way!'
"The gospel of the kingdom is preached." Can you imagine those Judaizers speaking to the people about Jesus? 'be careful; mind you don'[t get caught! Our advice to you is to steer clear of that - don't get into too close touch with Him!' All that was going on. Paul was up against it all the time. He was tracked down throughout his journeys by these very people who, following on his heels, said, 'Be careful - it is dangerous!' The Lord Himself experienced the same violence." It calls for violence; you will not get in to begin with, and you will certainly not get in in growing fullness, unless you are one of those people who do violence to everything that stands in the way of God's full purpose as revealed in Christ. You will not even know what that purpose is, God will not be able to reveal to you the next part of it, unless He find that you are one after this kind - entering in violently.
Are you like that? Well, if we are passive, there is everything to be lost; if we mean business, there is everything to be gained. The Lord make us men and women like that, lest we be numbered among those of whom it is said that they "have ears to hear, and hear not' (Ezekiel 12:2).
(continued with # 1 - "The Contrast Between the Old Dispensation and the New")