"NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD."
a discourse delivered on Sunday evening, September 9, 1850 by the Rev. Professor Finney (of Oberlin College, U. S.) At the Tabernacle, Moorfields
"Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God." Mark xii. 34
These words occur in the following connection - " And one of the Scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, (that is Christ and the cavilling Jew), and perceiving that he answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength - this is the first commandment. And the second is like namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There are none other commandments greater than these. And the Scribe answered, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is one God, and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God."
The "Kingdom of God," as the phrase is here used, does not mean the visible Church of God; for this man was at that time connected with the visible Church. Christ did not speak of the visible Kingdom of God; but of that invisible kingdom which is set up in the heart, and consists in Divine authority being established there. Christ said on another occasion, "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, lo here! or lo there! for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you."
This Scribe saw the great fact of the spirituality of the Divine law - that after all, religion consisted in that love to God which the law requires - and by his answer to the Saviour, Jesus saw that he had broken so far through the common prejudices of his nation as to have overcome that darkness which supposed religion to consist in the mere formality of the ceremonial law. He understood that love was the great thing needed - the great thing in which all true religion consisted. Jesus saw, therefore, that nothing was wanting but faith, and the real building up of the heart. He was so near to the Kingdom of God - so instructed, as that a single act of the mind would bring him within it - he only had to yield his heart to what his intellect perceived he only had to submit his heart to this - and by that one act he would be in the kingdom. He, therefore, said -" Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." In speaking to these words I propose -
I. To show when it may be truly said, that a man is "far from the kingdom of God."
II. When it may be truly said a man is not "far from the kingdom of God."
III. The nearer men come to the Kingdom of God, the more solemn is their responsibility the more awfully critical is their crisis.
Please to keep in mind then, what is signified by the Kingdom of God - it is that law which is the rule of his universal kingdom, set up in the heart of the subject - established in full authority of the mind, yielding obedience to it. Through the heart in which this law is set up, the King controls the life of the subject.
When the mind is entirely engrossed with something else - when things connected with this Kingdom of God are not the subjects of thought and attention at all, a man is far enough from the Kingdom of God. This is the case with great numbers of persons; they have "no time" to look through into the real spiritual virtue of this kingdom and its laws; they give themselves up to business and pleasure, and think about everything else but what they ought to think about- it may well be said of such persons, that they are "far from the Kingdom of God." They have everything to learn yet.
Again, when persons are in worldly prosperity, full of worldly mindedness and ambitious projects, they are far enough from the Kingdom of God. Of course, their minds cannot be said to be directed in that way at all. Some of you perhaps have so increased in your worldly affairs, that even on the Sabbath, worldliness often engrosses your thoughts - even on the Sabbath-day, the world has such a hold upon you, that you have more of worldly thoughts than of any other. Is this your case? Then you are far enough from the Kingdom of God. Some of you have such prospects of getting rich, and elevating yourselves and families, that you turn your backs on religion and all thoughts of Salvation. You too are far enough from the Kingdom of God, and perhaps likely to be.
But again, when there are no reverses and changes to cross the path - when everything goes as you would have it, floating regardlessly along the tide of events, careless, prayerless - are you doing this? If so, far enough are you from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when persons are in great spiritual darkness and ignorance, and know but little about religion - when they have gross conceptions of it - of course, such persons are far enough from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when entrenched in error, giving themselves up to believe some lie, silencing the voice of conscience, cleaving to refuges of lies, they are far enough from the Kingdom of God. When the reins are given to the appetite, and pleasure is the great pursuit of men, running hither and thither, crying who will show us any good? How can we get pleasure, and enjoy ourselves in worldly things? That class of persons, of course, may be said to be far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when filled with the prejudices of education, false ideas of religion, are men far from the Kingdom of God. Who does not know, for example, how many false theories and doctrines of religion there are. Look at the Jews, how full they were of the prejudices of education. The Jews, in general, had not gone so far as this Scribe, by any means, inasmuch as he had come to see what the spirituality of the law really intended. Now, how many are there in this country who think religion is made up of ordinances? As the Jews, they suppose religion to consist in certain ordinances - in submission to certain priests, prelates, baptisms, and purifications - mere ordinances. Who does not see how full the Catholic Church is of this? How much of this there is after all in those gross ideas of religion and those prejudices of education, which close the mind like a bolted door, against God. Thus it was with the Jews; they had so much to unlearn, as to place the mass of them in an attitude of hopeless resistance. As far as salvation was concerned, they were gone beyond the reach of those efforts which God could wisely make to save them. It frequently happens that persons listen to some curious notions, and are so blinded by, and entrenched in them, that what they have learned will cost them probably more pains than they will ever take to rid themselves of them. Hold out the gospel to them - they have immediately some prejudices of education which strongly militate against its reception. They raise, perhaps, election, Divine Sovereignty, dependence on the Holy Ghost, or something else, which they call "orthodoxy," they must "wait God's time" - " if they are elected they are sure to be saved," and all such stuff. Now to unlearn all that men have been taught of this kind, is oftimes as hopeless, as for the Jews, or Roman Catholics, to unlearn all their prejudices and falsehoods. There is a sense, however, in which God is sovereign in which, without the Holy Spirit, they cannot be converted; so is the doctrine of election true; but they have perverted the true sense. Oh! how difficult it is for them to get into the Kingdom of God! Far enough are they from the Kingdom of God.
Again, let us say that persons are far from the Kingdom of God when their prejudices lead them not to listen to sermons on the subject. They have clearly closed their ears, and will not allow themselves to be instructed and warned of their responsibility. They will not hear even their own children, wives, or parents; surely it may be said of such persons as these, and it may be, perhaps, some of you belong to this category, are not far from the Kingdom of God. When they are so strongly entrenched in their position it is easy enough to see that such persons are far from the Kingdom- that it would be a wonder, almost, if they are saved. Many persons are troubled about many things - they give themselves so much care about the things of the world, as really to have no time to attend to their souls. Some are engrossed with politics, some in business speculations - some stumble at the conduct of professors of religion - others wait to see if the young converts "turn out well." They say, "We'll see. Wait." Many have done this till their feet have fallen. What were they doing? "O! Lord," they will say, "I was waiting to see whether those were really converted who profess to be; when, all at once, the foundation gave way - I fell! Yes! I was carried to the grave, and my spirit went weeping and wailing down the sides of the pit!"
Again, when persons are without interest, or where their interest is of such a kind, that it is a struggle against religion, they may be said to be far from the Kingdom of God. But I come not to the second part of the subject.
II. When it may be said a man is not far from the Kingdom of God.
Many of you perhaps, have been in this condition; some of you may even be so now. When the subject of religion has come to engage the attention of your mind, so far as to induce you to make up your mind to attend to it, and to do it now - when an individual has gone so far as to make this a present business - it may be said, in a very important sense, that he has taken an important step in his approach towards the Kingdom of God, although not an entrance into it. A step, it may be, infinitely important - as much so, perhaps, as his eternal salvation - is here taken; this will afterwards be seen.
Again, here a person has made up his mind to be honest with God, and with himself. This dishonesty on the part of men is a very great obstacle; they are unwilling to be honest - to ask God, honestly, "Lord what wilt thou have me do?" It is indeed a great point gained, where an individual says, I will not just look the subject in the face like an honest man. I could tell you many cases of individuals - just in this position - they have made up their minds to attend at once to the subject; some also have said, "I will now be honest with God." I could tell you many cases, indeed, many men in the United States have taken exactly this course, and soon, subsequently, been fully received into the Kingdom of God. When they have once made up their minds to be honest with God, it may truly be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. After all, the question is, not what I have persuaded myself to believe, but what God says. Let us have truth whatever way it is. When a man comes into such a state as this, how easily men find truth! When they come to God for instruction, casting aside all their prejudices - when their errors give way, and men find themselves no longer stubborn and confident in them - when they find they can no longer maintain the position they hold - it may be said, they are not far from the Kingdom of God. This was the case with the Scribe here referred to; but whether he ever entered the Kingdom or not, has not been recorded. It was clear, however, that he had broken through the prejudices common to his nation, and had come to understand the real spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.
But let me say again. When persons find the excuses by which they have been accustomed to soothe their consciences, begin to fail, it may be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. No sinner intends always to neglect the gospel; but he has, as he thinks, some valid excuse for present delay. When men find themselves stripped of their excuses - when they see and feel that they have not any excuse, and come so far as not to be disposed to make excuses; it may be said they are not far from the Kingdom of God. I recollect that such a period arrived, in my own experience, and I had fought my way through darkness, error, mysticism; I had made many excuses, and settled one truth after another, intellectually, and did not, for a long time, fail to make excuses for delay. But at length, one after another gave way, till, finally, I very distinctly came into this position. I really could not get up any excuse; and feel very unhappy at my inability to see any further hiding-place - I had no excuse that I was not ashamed to make. Now, if any of you are in this attitude - if you see your excuses are really good for nothing - if you are ashamed to make them, and resolve to make them no more - it may be truly said you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Whether you will ever enter will appear by and bye; but you are certainly now not far from the Kingdom of God. If you really see all your evasions go for nothing, it is because the truth has found you out, and the Spirit of God has enlightened you. He had enlightened this Scribe.
Again, when business causes us entirely to engross the mind, and religion is set in such a light as that the business cannot wholly engross the mind, and in or out of business, you are pressed solely with the great question of Salvation. I recollect the time when I myself sat down to examine a point of law, and in spite of myself, I could not read the page half down before the subject of religion was so pressing upon me, that I could not get on - I could not possibly engross myself so wholly with my professional duties. I dismissed it again and again, but it came up as often as I dismissed it. When religion gets such a hold on the mind as this - that a man cannot engross himself with his business, and feels that his business is but a trifle compared with eternal life - when this appears to the mind, that the business lasts but a few days, and where am I? When the mind comes into such an attitude - when the Spirit of God presses the subject in this manner - you are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when pleasure can no longer fully engross the mind when pleasure seems no longer to be pleasure - when those things which have formerly so enchanted and fascinated the mind, lose their hold upon it - when the eternal realities present themselves to the mind - when the heart stands quivering under the lashes of conscience by day and by night, and the great truths of salvation are weighing upon the spirit - rely upon it that such an individual is not far from the Kingdom of God.
As I go over these points, inquire, each one of you of yourselves, "Is this, or was it ever my case?"
But again, when conscience becomes so much awakened as that an individual can no longer comfortably go on in sin - cannot go on it without great pain and agony, finding by experience, that a transgressor's heart is continually agonizing within himself, filled with conviction and distress about sin - rest assured such a one is not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when spiritual darkness gives way, so that persons come to see their relations to God as a reality - when they come to understand the gospel and the way of salvation when they see it developed distinctly, so that they can easily understand it, and see their need of a Saviour - in short, when the truths of religion come to be revealed to the mind, so that the mind really conceives them in their relations - such persons may be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God. This was the case with the Scribe, and has often been the case with persons in these days. Many of you, doubtless, remember the time in your history, when you saw with a clearness of vision you never had before - perhaps you are in this state now - when you saw your relations to these truths, the motives and necessities of the plan of Salvation, and its suitability to your wants - then the word is nigh unto thee, even in thy mouth; and if thou believest on Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved. Who has dispelled the mists around you? The Holy Ghost has done it. You stand within one step - the single act of committing yourself in confidence to these truths, will bring you within the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes individuals are surrounded with special means - special efforts are made which take hold of the mind of an individual, a family, a congregation, or even a whole community, till large numbers may truly be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God.
But let me say again, especially when Christians have the spirit of prayer and pray for sinners - when Christians, in any family or congregation, receive the Spirit of God in answer to prayer - when God is drawing very near to them through revivals - it may be said that all persons within the circle of such influences, are not far from the Kingdom of God. This will explain Christ's meaning, when he said, "Be ye sure of this - the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you."
Again, when persons are "almost persuaded" to be Christians, they may be said to be not far from the Kingdom of God. We read of one in apostolic times, who said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." He was all but ready to yield. Perhaps some of you are in this condition; you have been here many times, and are almost persuaded to yield; you are brought so near as almost to enter the Kingdom of God. You can remember the time, many of you, if it be not now, or lately, you can well remember it - when the Spirit of God was working within you - when all your mind was in a state of quivering anxiety and intense agitation - when some death or other providence arrested your attention - you thought, and looked, and hesitated, almost making up your mind to submit. You came right upon the gate of this Kingdom; you could truly have said you were not far from the Kingdom of God.
Again, when the question comes to be balanced in the mind -- Shall I now accept the Saviour? or shall I not? When the question is pressed for your acceptance -- when you are told that now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation, and yet hesitate, looking at it -- oh! how near you often are, perhaps within a hair's-breadth, so to speak, of deciding the question for life and for heaven! Oh, how near! Almost ready to commit yourself, you have seen and felt the necessity and suitability of the atonement of Christ -- the blood ran through your veins -- you could hear your own heart beat -- your pulse was quickened -- your very soul was on the tiptoe, so to speak, balancing the question; still you looked and hesitated; how near you were to the Kingdom of God.
This leads me to say, again, when persons are often placed in such circumstances, that the truths of the gospel spread before the mind -- they are beginning to be pointed out clearly -- an individual is often brought into such a position, that he must either say yes or no, and yes or no to the very question of life or death, of Christ or no Christ. It often comes right to this, that he not only sees his sins, the spirituality of God's law, the meaning of the gospel, its relations to him -- he is crowded right up to this, and is only a hair's-breadth from the Kingdom of God. The Divine hand is beckoning him over the line, the Spirit strives, stretches out his hand and calls him -- he fairly hops on the line. Oh, how near is such a one to the Kingdom of God! Why, methinks angels look on with wonder, as they see men sometimes standing upon the very line itself, fairly "slewing" over -- all but in the Kingdom of God, and yet they don't give their hearts fully up! When we get to the solemn judgment I am expecting to learn that multitudes I have seen here during these many evenings, have been drawn into that attitude. Oh! Where are you now? where are you now?
III. The nearer a man comes to the Kingdom of God, the more solemn his responsibility the more awful and critical his crisis.
The man to whom the words of our text were spoken had already made some advance upon the condition of the people generally; the law was lying revealed to him in all its spirituality -- it was perceived in his intellect -- it was as near as possible to his heart, so to speak. Now, the more persons are enlightened, in the sense here meant, the nearer they are. Christ did not mean to say, however, that he was any the better, for being thus near, if after all he never entered -- he was not "almost a Christian" in the sense of "almost [as good as] a Christian." He saw what God's law in its spirituality required; and for it to take possession of his heart, would be the "Kingdom of God" within him." The more a person is enlightened, the greater his responsibility; this man, therefore, was all the worse, instead of better, for his nearness if he did not ultimately accept it. So it is with every sinner; the nearer they come, if they fail to enter it, the greater the wickedness; the better you understand the truth, if you refuse to yield to it, the worse you are, and the more dreadful will be your final account. Of course the nearer persons come to the Kingdom of God, if they decide against it, the guilt of the wrong decision, under such circumstances, is not only greatly increased, but the consequences of it, at such a time, is vastly more likely to be fatal, than under any other circumstances. When persons are in darkness -- engrossed with worldly things, they do not reject the truth in any such sense, or commit such a high crime; in short, they do not take such ground as to shut them up in their own impenitence, as they do when they see the truth clearly, and understand what they are doing, and then deliberately decide for the wrong. How fatal is their decision! See how deliberately they reject it!
Look at the case of Agrippa. He was "almost a Christian." Ah! almost! But was that all? -- was that all? "I would to God," says Paul, "that thou wert not only almost, but altogether such as I am, except these bonds." Felix -- when Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come -- Felix trembled, but said, "Go thy way for this time, and when I have more convenient season I will send for thee." There is much of this in the present day. How many of you do this? But, mark, when was the "convenient season?" Oh, sinner! inquire in hell, Is Felix there? Where's Agrippa? Is Agrippa here? And did these men hear the Apostle preach? "Yes." Did they hear him plead for the Kingdom of God, and was one "almost persuaded" and did the other tremble? But where are they now? Almost up to the Kingdom of God in time; but now as far from it as hell is from heaven.
A few further remarks must conclude what I have to say.
It is no doubt a general truth, and from conversations with multitudes of men, in various parts of the world, I have been inclined to think it is a universal truth -- that nearly all men, who listen at all to the gospel, are, at some time of their lives, really near to the Kingdom of God. Religion has come home to them at some time or other. I never found an individual who, when closely pressed on these subjects, did not acknowledge that he had, at some period of his history, been crowded quite close up to the Kingdom of God. It is remarkable to see how some providence -- some striking circumstances in which they have been placed -- some storm at sea; some danger on land; sickness, death -- look back into your history, and you will discover that the question has, at some time, pressed you, and you have been balancing it in your minds, and you were very near to a proper decision.
But I remark again. When men are in this condition, Satan is remarkably watchful. The Bible represents him as being ever ready to take the word away as soon as it is sown in the heart. See Satan's subtlety in putting by the crisis, sliding the individual past, and keeping him in a state of carelessness. Sometimes after an impressive service, when on the very eve of deciding aright, he suggests, "Better wait till you get home," so some thought is suggested to your attention -- some little squabble, or something comes into the mind and you turn away and look in another direction.
Now let me ask you, dying sinner, have you not, at sometime or other, been thus made the dupe of Satan, when none knew the workings of your mind but God and yourself? Perhaps it was in the dreary watches of the night when, unable to sleep, God made you wake up to a sense of your position; and, such was your agitation, that perspiration bathed your forehead, from the anxiety of your mind. Sin stared you in the face - God's claims so pressed you that your nervous system quivered. Ah! how near you were! One single act -the act of committing your soul to Christ, would have put you within the Kingdom of God. But where are you now?
This leads me to say when persons are brought close along upon the verge of the Kingdom of God - of the peace and joy of believing in Christ - so close that they can look over - that there is nothing but a single step between them and laying hold on eternal life - how very near they are to the Kingdom of God! If you could take a map of your life, some of you would see that, at some period of it the Spirit had directed your crooked way along till - there! see your place on the map! You are on the very margin of the stream! Its waters are flowing at your very feet. One step is all that is between you and eternal life, which is holding out all its charms; but, alas! where are you now? Oh! where are you now? As you have gone back to be engrossed with business, cares, and pleasures - oh! what a lengthened way there now is between that point and your present position - what a way you are from these fair fields on whose borders, with your "almost persuasion" you then stood. You have not yet taken your reckoning to discover your position. It was once said of you, "that man is not far from the Kingdom of God."
Now, perhaps, long tracks of error and wrong-doing have come between you. You have gone on in disobedience, and skepticism, and sin, - oh! sinner, hark! Do you hear that roar? What is that? "What is it?" Do you not know that you are nearing that tremendous precipice? - that you are reeling onwards to that mighty whirlpool? Hark! Rise up and flee; for death and hell are there! But, oh! your ears are deaf, your hearts are dull, and your eyes are dim!
Once more; God is leaving men entirely without excuse. Is it not true that if to-night the summons should be given - the great bell should be tolled - if to-night you were called to judgment you would be without excuse? There, who is that gone? Where is that man, and that woman? "Where are they?" They are gone to render account to the great God whom they have rejected. And is there any injustice - anything at all unreasonable in all this? No, indeed.
But to-night, it is with those who have not wandered so far away that I am principally concerned - those who have been so near, and wandered on very far away I have less hope of - the momentous crisis is past. I will not say there is no hope for you; but this I say, it is with those who have not wholly passed that crisis that I have now to deal. The opposite party are very seldom, perhaps, aware of the thing which they have done. Perhaps his decision turned upon some mere trifle, as other great things often do; Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; Adam and Eve fell into sin, dragging after them the whole of the race, through the merest trifle; and it often happens that persons break away from God, and run into sin for a very small matter.
Suppose Satan should tempt a man who is just on the borders of the Kingdom of God, to commit an enormous iniquity? Oh! No. Satan is wise enough not to do any such thing. He plies the man with something he considers a trifle - something he thinks he can do without doing himself or anybody else much harm - he tempts him to defer his decision till he reaches his home, or something of that kind, and it is this awful procrastination through which Satan prevails, and by which the deluded heart is separated and led away.
But, I say again, suppose it may truly be said that some of you who have not entered the Kingdom of God are well aware that some of these Sabbath evenings during which special services have been held, you have been brought into the state described, as not far from the Kingdom of God, if you never have before. A man once came to one of these Sabbath evening services who had previously been skeptical with regard to the necessity of his immediately attending to the salvation of his soul; he went up into the British School-room to the address to the Inquirers which is given after service; he confessed to a friend present, that he was then and there perfectly convinced of the necessity of at once giving up his sins; but, he said, he had a certain business transaction to take in hand the next week which we must do first; or else he could not do it at all. I was told of this before he left the room, and made for him through the crowd; but he slipped out before I got to him; I have never seen him since!
How is it with you, dying sinner, tonight? This is my last Sabbath with you. I may never meet you again till the solemn judgment when many of you may perhaps rise up and say, "Oh! Mr. Finney, under your ministry, at the Tabernacle, I was not far from the Kingdom of God; but I decided wrong!" Oh! did you decide wrong? How an angel might weep to hear you say so! "Ah!" you will say, "I wandered and wandered, and never came so near again; and now I have lost my soul!"
Oh! sinner, how shall it be with you tonight? Shall it be said again of any of you that you were not far from the Kingdom of God and yet you would not come into it?
Sinner, how is it? Oh! how is it? Will you decide tonight one way or the other? How is it? Oh! how will you decide tonight? How? How? How? If there is rejoicing in the presence of the Almighty over one sinner that repenteth, what quivering must there be over your present indecision! Oh! if those ministering angels who are waiting to carry the results of your decision to the Courts above, were permitted to break their silence, how they would cry out. Oh sinner, sinner, sinner - oh! decide aright, and have eternal life!
But oh! as they float about amongst you, with their invisible wings of love, to see how you will decide -- watching you in your adjournment to the British School Room -- beholding there the quivering of your mind as it trembles like the magnetic needle -- and you wait --yes, you wait till you get home; but if the angels were permitted to give utterance they would cry aloud, "Oh! you are lost, you are lost! and the echo would fly to heaven! Oh, sinner, decide tonight -- decide aright, and let it be told in the Courts above, that a wave of holy joy may sweep throughout those blissful regions!
It was reported of a man in this country, a person of great wealth, who devoted his time and talents to the cause of benevolence, and who was residing for a time in a place where there was a revival of religion, and nearly the whole of which was his property, that one evening the minister preached on the rejoicing there is in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, when this gentleman rose at the conclusion of the sermon, and said that he thought the time was come for him to decide. "Who," he asked, "dare now commit himself to God?" He then recapitulated very briefly the points of the discourse, and seemed to be lost in thought. "Who will do it?" said he, "shall I? Shall I? I will!" he exclaimed, "and let Gabriel tell it in heaven! I will, and let Gabriel tell it in heaven!" He then sat down; it was like a wave of light gleaming over the people. Since then everybody has known his position with regard to religion.
Dying sinner! - dare you now say, "I will, this night, accept Christ, and let it be written in heaven, and I will abide by it forever?"