For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
~ Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Romans 10:8, Romans 10:21, Hebrews 6:4-6
Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
~ Luke 10:11
Upon Mark 12:34, Thou Art Not Far from the Kingdom of God, by James Renwick. Sermon 29.
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
~ Mark 12:34
1. There are two kingdoms in the world: God hath a kingdom, and Satan may be said to have a kingdom in the world. Although it be true that God hath a kingdom, even among the reprobates, in which he will be glorified in his justice: and (it will not be amiss to say) even in the elect before their conversion: For Christ came to the world, to destroy the works of the devil.
2. He hath a kingdom, which is his church visible: for his church is his special kingdom; I mean, the election according to free grace; for he hath a kingdom within a kingdom; an invisible within a visible kingdom.
But to come to the words. I shall not trouble you to repeat anything in the verses before: only, in the twentieth and eight verse there was a discourse past betwixt Christ and one of the scribes, who answered discreetly, and he asked at our Lord, What was the first and greatest commandment? And when Christ had told him the sum of all, the scribe answered, To love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbour as himself, was more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Then our Lord answered him again, and said, ‘Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. So then, the words may be taken affirmatively one way, and negatively another: Thus the Lord hath a kingdom over all the earth, as Creator of all his creatures; but more especially, he hath a kingdom in his church: But in a singular manner, he hath a kingdom in the election, over which he rules, reigns, and dwells, by his word and Spirit. And this we understand to be the kingdom spoken of by Christ in these words; and so there is no difficulty in them. And so I shall lay down this doctrine.
Doct. I. That they who embrace Jesus Christ, in the free offers of the gospel, which is the great sum of the gospel, may be said, to receive the kingdom of God. For it is called, the gospel of the kingdom, Matth. iv. 23. and ix. 35. And it is that only which enriches souls, and makes them fit to be members of this kingdom. O! it is a soul-satisfying kingdom, all delights are to be had in it.
But to clear the doctrine, I will confirm it by some marks and evidences, in showing how the gospel may be called the kingdom of God. And,
1. The gospel may be called the kingdom of God, because it points out the way to the kingdom of God, by shewing the duties required of all such, as mind to be in the kingdom of God, and the way of performing them by the strength that is in Christ, the gospel is like the star that guided and led the three wise men to Christ. This gospel never leaves such as believe it, till it put them in possession of the kingdom.
2. The gospel may be called the kingdom of God, because that in this gospel the way is laid down, and the terms proposed, not only to the blessed, but to all sinners; so that, if ye will embrace the offer, ye need not doubt, but ye shall be received into the kingdom, according to the free invitation given, Isa lv, 1. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Rev. xxii. 17. And the spirit and the bride say, Come: And let him that heareth say, Come: And let him that is athirst come: And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. So that, wherever this gospel is offered, the kingdom of heaven is offered therein. O sirs! if ye be willing to come to Christ, I offer him freely unto you, in this gospel: then choose what ye will do; if ye will receive him in this gospel, ye shall be heirs with him of that never-fading and glorious kingdom.
3. The gospel may be called the kingdom of God, because receivers of the gospel have a right to all that is within the kingdom; this is their privilege, they have a right to God, they have a right to Christ, and they have a right to glory, felicity, and endless happiness. Here is the way, if ye would have a right to this eternal life of happiness, come and receive the offers made in the gospel: and if ye will do it, I say, this is all that the justice of God requires of you, to come and embrace Christ, and take him upon his own terms, and then all the rich promises in the bible are yours, yea, ye shall have a right to all the great and precious promises of the gospel, and to this promise in particular, 2 Cor. vi, 17, 18. And I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
4. The gospel may be called the kingdom of God, because the Lord confers upon them that receive the gospel this rich privilege, that he gives them the earnest of the inheritance, as The apostle says, Eph. i. 13, 14. After that ye believed ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance. They get this as the sure earnest of the kingdom, so that they may be said to be in heaven, because they have got the earnest of heaven. O know ye what this is? It is far above what we can conceive: Yea, set to all the arithmeticians in the world, they would come far short, in counting the earnest penny that they have got, who have got the earnest of the inheritance of the kingdom. And, O what can the full possession and the enjoyment of Christ, of heaven, and of glory be, when the earnest penny is such! They are sealed with the holy spirit of promise: Know ye this any of you? Ye that know not what it is, to have the earnest of this inheritance, ye are strangers to that in ward joy and peace, that some are made to feel.
5. The gospel may be called the kingdom of God, because the receivers of the kingdom are Christ’s, and lie hath them to lead through the wilderness. Men and women, know ye what it is to come through the wilderness, leaning on your beloved? Think on this; for although it be a free gospel, yet it binds the receivers thereof, to walk in the way of commanded duties, as the king’s highway that leads to the kingdom. And there is a twofold use that I would make of this.
Use 1. Would ye be guided through the wilderness, then will ye come and receive the gospel; come and embrace Jesus Christ: Remember, sirs, I offer him freely unto you this day; I offer him to you, that is the darling of heaven, the eternal delight of the Father, that is given to be a leader and commander to the people. Now, would ye be led on in his way? Then will ye come to Christ. O! if ye really knew the necessity that ye have of a guide, for without this guide there is no winning to the safe harbour. O! if this were believed, verily Christ would be more sought after, for guiding and leading.
Use 2. Seeing it is so, that they that receive the gospel receive the kingdom of God. O then! will ye esteem much of the gospel: for it is that which leads to the kingdom. Sure then it is an inestimable benefit. Oh! if this gospel had been received by you, Christ should have been more seen in his excellency and worth, than now many see him to be. But, however, to such as receive the gospel it gives a right to the possession of the kingdom, and puts them in full possession thereof. Therefore, as ye would not reject the kingdom of heaven, reject not the gospel.
Doct. II. That a man may go near the kingdom of God, and not be in it.
Now, the text confirms this doctrine, as also the parable of the foolish virgins, Matth. xxv. 1- 14. for they were as diligent in trimming their lamps, as the wife virgins were, and they went out, that is, they went out from the wicked of the world they lived among, and joined themselves with God’s people, and had a well-trimmed profession, as is clear from the place: and they had a sort of seriousness after grace, for they sought grace, verse 8. Give us of your oil. Whence it is clear, that they went far, and left the way and guise of the world: and yet for all this, they were but near the kingdom of God: So a man may go a great length in the way to heaven, and yet never enter therein. And it is strange how near a child of God may go to the pit of hell, and yet escape, and how others may go a great length, in the way to heaven, and yet never enter therein. Therefore I shall.
I Give a glance how near a man may come to the kingdom of heaven, and yet not win in there.
II. I shall show you what he wants, that the man that enters this kingdom hath.
III. Give some marks whereby a man may know whether he be in this kingdom or not.
I. As to the first, what length a man or women may come in the way to heaven, and yet be but near the kingdom. This is a hard task indeed, therefore I dare not take in hand to speak of it to purpose; but yet there are some marks that I shalt name, of these that go a great length, and yet are but near the kingdom of heaven. And,
1. They may have an eminent profession, and some measure of knowledge, and yet be but near the kingdom; as the Apostle supposeth, that one may understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and yet be nothing, i Cor. xii.
2. So it is clear, that persons may have a great measure of understanding and knowledge, and yet be but very hypocrites, without the substance of holiness in their hearts. For a man may have the understanding enlightened, as to the knowledge of the letter of scripture, and our side of religion: yea, he may have a curious knowledge or desire to know with curiosity, which desire flows from the brain only, that thereby they may debate for truth, and keep up among the Lord’s people: And some glory in their knowledge, which glorying is not good: But this only is a right desire after knowledge, when it is desired, that thereby they may win to study obedience to the truth, and when they endeavour to believe and obey what they know; for otherwise it is not good, for the devil knows more of the truths of the scripture, and of the truths of God, than all the world beside him, for although he lost his holiness when he fell, yet he lost not his knowledge: But what is all such knowledge, but like a light candle to let him see to go down to the pit?
2. They may excel in the outward form of religion, and yet be far from the kingdom of heaven. Ye know what the Pharisee could say of this for himself, That he was beyond many; and yet we say what our blessed Lord say, That the poor Publican went down from the temple rather justified than be, Luke xviii. 14. So they may go on in the performance of duties, and not be in reality and sincerity, performing and doing these duties from a right principle, and for a right end. This only lieth in the heart, and that they never win to. Folk may be much in duties, and may out-strip many that are really godly, and be near the kingdom of heaven: And this both professors and ministers may have, and yet want this sincerity of heart, which the Lord, approves of. Many may be much in duties, that have but little or no grace. I could name some this day, by name and surname, that would have prayed four hours together, and yet they are this day discovered to be, but incarnate devils.
3. They may have purposes and resolutions, and yet never bring these to practice, and so be but near the kingdom of heaven. This Pharaoh had many times, and yet when he was out of his extremity he turned back again: so they may come far ben (peak) in their purposes, and yet never get purposes and practices compared and squared together; and whatever they know, and whatever their purposes be, they know not what it is to be a new creature: And though, when in extremity, they may promise fair, yet when they are delivered from that, they may be as bent in sinning as before, as Pharoah was. Many there are who think, if God was come with deliverance, they would be other folk, and study more holiness and tenderness; but seeing the rod continues, and lies on their back, they break off their purposes, and return with the dog to the vomit again: Many there be, that put God by with a good day, and put off to such and such a time, and then say they, we will fall to and pray, and repent, and seek God, but their purposes fail them, and Satan fortifies himself stronger in their heart than before, and so they are kept captives by Satan still.
4. They may come that length to confess sin with some seriousness, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven; look to Judas, who said, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed innocent blood, Matth. xxvii. 4. Now, the scripture holdeth out that at what time soever a sinner sincerely confesseth and forsaketh his sin, he shall find mercy, Prov. xxviii. 13. But this confession of theirs is either from a conscience awakened with wrath, as Judas’s was, or else it was for the shame of sin; so that there is no real grief of heart for sin, as it is dishonouring to God: And it is but for such sins as are public to the sight of the world; but to have true brokenness of heart for all sins, this they cannot win at, and though they confess sin, yet they still retain and love it.
5. They may win, not only to mourn for sin, but also to have a desire after repentance; as it was with Esau, who found no place of repentance, though he fought it carefully with tears, Heb. xii. 17. So let men and women be never so serious-like in mourning for sin, if it only flow from the evil that comes by sin, and not from the evil of sin itself, they know not what the right heart-conviction for sin is, although they win to a great measure of sorrow, as is clear from Scripture, yet they are far from real repentance.
6. They may hate sin in some respect, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven; as Absalom, ye know, hated his brother Amnon for his sin in defiling his sister Tamar. But what was it that moved him to this, but because of the shame of sin in the eyes of the world? So their hatred against sin would not so much appear, were it not shameful in the eyes of the world. Absalom hated uncleanness in Amnon, but he did not hate it in himself. I think every one hath some sin, that is like Saul, higher from the shoulders and upward, above all the rest of their sins, that they cannot win easily over: They may win to hate some sins in particular, but they cannot win to hate all sin, and though they may leave off many sins, that formerly they practised, yet they will keep a love to their beloved Saul-like sins.
7. They may forsake their former course that they lived in, and may assent to the truth of the gospel; they may leave off their drunkenness and uncleanness, and forsake their former company, that they used to haunt; yea, they may win to quit these sins in their practice, but yet they cannot from a right principle hate all sin.
8. They may have a desire after grace, where there is no true grace, or right desire after it, as it is said, The desire of the hypocrite shall fail: The desire that the hypocrite hath, fails anent (concerning) the object; for where grace is real, and rightly fought after, it flows from a love to holiness, to be really washed and cleansed from all sin, and to be renewed in holiness. It is true, hypocrites may have many flashes: but where this real love to holiness is wanting, all such flashes are naught. As, cast water often upon a stone, it may have some impression to make it soft, but it never reacheth the heart of the stone; even so it is with the hypocrite. I say, there may be many flashes where no grace is. The eloquence of a preacher sometimes may be get flashes in hearers, where nothing of saving grace is: Ezekiel was to, his hearers, as one that played skilfully on a pleasant instrument. There may be some seeming delight in hearing the word, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven. O the great length that a person may come with flashes and common operations, where true saving grace is wanting, when they win to hear the word, and to receive it with joy, (as in the parable of the seed sown upon the stony ground, Matth. xiii. 20.) and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven when all is done! The apostle says, That whatever he knew or did, if he wanted charity, which is love, he was nothing, 1. Cor. xii. 12. Yea, many many win to the very threshold of heaven, and have their hands chopped off on the threshold, and never enter in.
9. A man may have great gifts and eloquence in parts, and may be useful to others, and yet they themselves be but near the kingdom of heaven. A man may preach with eloquence, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven: Ye know that Judas came nothing behind the rest of the apostles in preaching and working of miracles, and yet he was but a devil: So. I say, a man may preach, have great gifts, and be useful to others, and yet be but a cast away, as Judas was, whose call to preach the gospel was not sanctified to himself; for Christ can water his people himself: But remember, they must have Christ’s commission, or else they cannot profit a people to whom they say they are sent: For the Lord says, concerning the prophets that ran and were not sent, That they should not profit the people at all, Jer. xxiii. 21, 22
10. Professors may have great hopes, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven; as the foolish virgins had, when they went out with the rest to meet the bridegroom, and trimmed their lamps. But, as Job says of the hypocrite, so, may I say of such, They will not always call upon God, Job xxvii. 10. Neither do they win always to depend upon God, and to fix their hope in him: nor have they this distinguished mark of a true believer, 1 John iii. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure, So if they endeavour not to have the heart purified and cleansed from all sin, they want the true mark of grace: for true hope is begotten into the heart by the Spirit of God, but the hope of the hypocrite, he takes it up of himself, and knows not whence it came; he may win to say that God is powerful, and so he will trust in him: but he can never win to lay hold on, and believe in Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen, and this way to make application of the promises to himself; and so, that hope of his is not of the right stamp. O but it is sad to consider, to see people have such big and strong hopes, as they think, and yet notwithstanding of all that, to be miserably deceived by this their hope! O! how sad and, lamentable will it be to such, when it shall be discovered to themselves, that for all that they have done or hoped for, they have been but near the kingdom of heaven.
11. They may go this length, to suffer many things for professing the truth: yea, even as Paul says, to give their bodies to be burned, 1 Cor. xii. 3., and yet wanting true love to Christ, all is naught: importing this much, that at the first view, men may be brought to die for the truth, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven. Hypocrites may be so wedded to their name and credit, that they may come this great length in suffering, and yet be but near the kingdom of heaven. But to suffer with an eye to the glory of God, and as suffering upon the account of Christ, this they cannot do. And likewise I shall add this word, That they that are near the kingdom may have some convictions. But these never work to conversion: for they are in this like Ephraim, a cake not turned, Hosea vii. 8. O seek for the thorough work of the Spirit, to convince you of sin, of your own inability to help yourselves, and that he may convert you, savingly.
I might mention more steps that the hypocrite may come to, that might make us all fear; for I fear there be many here, that are not come that length yet, that hypocrites win to. O! rouse up yourselves, and see what ye have been doing; for there are many here, I fear, in a dead case and condition, that have never win this length that I have named, that some win to, and yet never win within the kingdom of heaven more than devils shall win. O! that ye would fall to and search yourselves, and make sure work! I shall say no more, but leave it in the Lord’s hand, for the blessing to your souls.
And to him be praise.