In the context of the clash of European empires for the American colonies, Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies (1723-61) turned the colonists’ attention to Christ’s kingdom as “the best refuge from this boisterous world” of violence and domination.1
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said, as much as to say, “I do not deny that I claim a kingdom, but it is of such a nature, that it need give no alarm to the kings of the earth. Their kingdoms are of this world, but mine is spiritual and divine, and therefore cannot interfere with theirs. If my kingdom were of this world, like theirs, I would take the same methods with them to obtain and secure it; my servants would fight for me, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now, you see, I use no such means for my defence, or to raise me to my kingdom: and therefore you may be assured, my kingdom is not from hence, and can give the Roman emperor no umbrage for suspicion or uneasiness.” (185)
The Jews of Jesus’ day failed to recognize David and Solomon as mere types of the coming King and therefore expected a political messiah (187). No wonder Herod acted so rashly at the news (188).
It is the mediatorial kingdom of Christ that is here intended, not that which as God he exercises over all the works of his hands: it is that kingdom which is an empire of grace, an administration of mercy over our guilty world. It is the dispensation intended for the salvation of fallen sinners of our race by the gospel; and on this account the gospel is often called the kingdom of heaven; because its happy consequences are not confined to this earth, but appear in heaven in the highest perfection, and last through all eternity. (190)
Indeed, “The whole universe is put under a mediatorial head; but then, as the apostle observes, he is made head over all things to his church, Eph. I.22. That is, for the benefit and salvation of his church, all uses of the universe put to that end” (190). His priestly ministry has conquered not only sin and death but demons, powers, and Satan himself (192). Even ordinary providence in sending sunshine and rain is ordered ultimately “to support and accommodate heirs for his heavenly kingdom.”
But Jesus reigns absolute and supreme over the kings of the earth, and over-rules and controuls them as he thinks proper; and he disposes all the revolutions, the rises and falls of kingdoms and empires, so as to be subservient to the great designs of his mediation; and their united policies and powers cannot frustrate the work which he has undertaken. (192)
His empire encompasses not only the living but the dead. “You hence see, my brethren, the universal extent of the Redeemer’s kingdom; and in this respect how much does it differ from all the kingdoms of the earth?” And just in case the application was left in doubt, Davies supplied specifics:
The kingdoms of Great-Britain, France, China, Persia, are but little spots on the globe. Our world has indeed been oppressed in former times with what mortals call universal monarchies; such were the Babylonians, the Persians, the Grecian, and especially the Roman. But in truth, these were so far from being strictly universal, that a considerable part of the habitable earth was not so much as known to them. But this is an empire strictly universal.
And while huge empires have always proved disastrous in the earth, “Jesus is equal to the immense province of an empire strictly universal.” (193)
The laws of earthly kingdoms can reach only to the end of one’s life in this world, but the laws of Christ’s kingdom extend into the world to come; “human laws extend only to outward actions, but these laws reach the heart, and the principle of action within.” Earthly kings have their ministers, but this King has heavenly angels and ministers “of an humbler form” who are “appointed to preach his word, to administer his ordinances, and to manage the affairs of his kingdom.” Their courts are adorned with “a meek and quiet, zealous and faithful spirit, and a life becoming the gospel of Christ,” not with silver and gold (194).
Earthly regimes have their armies, so too the kingdom of Christ in heaven and earth, but his war leads to everlasting peace, salvation, and blessing, not to perpetual turmoil and death (195).
Other kingdoms are often founded in blood, and many lives are lost on both sides in acquiring them. The kingdom of Christ, too, was founded in blood; but it was the blood of his own heart: life was lost in the conflict; but it was his own; his own life lost, to purchase life for his people. Others have waded to empire through the blood of mankind, and even of their own subjects, but Christ shed only his own blood to spare that of his soldiers….O! the generous patriotism, the ardent love of the Captain of our salvation! (197)
His subjects have spilled their blood as well in their witness to this gospel, but the most oppressive kingdoms of this world have not been able to subdue it (197-8).
Jesus, our king, has his arms too, but O! of how different a kind! The force of evidence and conviction in his doctrine, attested with miracles, the energy of his dying love, the gentle, and yet efficacious influence of his Holy Spirit; these are the weapons with which he conquered the world. His gospel is the great magazine from whence his apostles, the first founders of his kingdom, drew their arms; and with these they subdued the nations to the obedience of faith. (201)
After summarizing the history of this kingdom from Adam to the martyrs, Davies refers to Constantine’s conversion: “But now she had a more dangerous enemy to encounter, I mean prosperity: and this did her much more injury than all the persecutions of her enemies. It has fanned the flames of heresy, ambition, pride, and worldly power” (204). Yet withal, Davies assures them that the small gains of Christ’s kingdom in Virginia will prove fruitful, especially in view of the missionary enterprise being extended to the ends of the earth, especially to the Jews who have by God’s providence been remarkably preserved as a people to this day. In fulfillment of Romans 11, God will again pour out his Spirit on the Jewish people. “Posterity shall see this glorious event in some happy future period” (205). “What conqueror ever erected such a kingdom!” (206). A sermon like this demonstrates that it is quite possible to sharply distinguish the two kingdoms without setting them in irresolvable conflict when each is going about its proper task. Davies could draw stirring contrasts between the story of empire and the story of Christ’s kingdom that Stanley Hauerwas would relish, yet see no reason to reject the appropriate jurisdiction of the temporal state, however its goals and procedures differed from that of the church.