Not far from the Kingdom

Mark 12:34.---' And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'

'Not far from the kingdom of God.' Was that a satisfactory position, or was it not? There is a conventional way of looking at it which is mainly occupied with the unsatisfactoriness of it. 'Not far from it: not in it. The man might just as well be miles away.' That is a very common way of looking at the position. But it is not Christ's way. He says this of the young lawyer with a feeling of genuine respect and admiration for him. There was a candor, and honesty, a spirituality of temper about him that quite won the Lord's heart. He had the qualities of a good disciple in him, and it was by way of praise and in the hope that the scribe might take the final step that our Lord said to him 'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'

If Christians are to learn to appreciate aright a hundred characters, and views, and movements that do not exactly correspond with their own, they must take notice of Christ's attitude when He said this.

The virtues of the pagans, said Augustine, were nothing but splendid vices. Now, nothing can be more remote from the manner of Christ than that. Virtue was virtue to Christ, goodness was goodness to Christ, whenever He found it. And wherever He found it the sight of it gladdened His heart. Goodness was to Him just the sign of the presence of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Instead of denouncing the high and splendid qualities of men like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius as being "splendid vices," He would have rejoiced in them and would have said to each of them as He said to this scribe, 'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'

What is the Kingdom of God? The phrase is hardly ever out of Christ's mouth. He is always talking about the Kingdom---inviting men to claim its citizenship, to share its privileges, to shoulder its obligations. Now He is describing its lowly origin---now picturing its silent but steady growth---now depicting its inevitable and ultimate triumph. It was for the Kingdom of God He lived. It was for the Kingdom of God He died. It is for the realization of that Kingdom that all the redeeming energies of His risen life are being given so freely today. What do we mean by the Kingdom of God? I would paraphrase it as a new social order based on God, or a new type of civilization centered in God. 'The Kingdom of God,' is the rule and realm of God in the hearts and lives of men. As definitions these may be inadequate. Taken together they may give us some idea of the range and scope of Christ's Kingdom. When the laws of God become the laws of man, when the love of God has become the universal rule of common life, when the Father's will is done on earth as it is done in heaven, when the nations of the world have claimed their place in the great family of the redeemed and entered into the full enjoyment of their inheritance in Christ---when they have learned to find in the discharge of every obligation and in the rendering of their fullest service that happiness and that harmony which are the ultimate goal of all human desire and endeavor---then the Kingdom of God will have come in power. That time is not yet. But there is a sense in which the Kingdom of God has already come. It is here in embryo at least---here in promise if not in power---here wherever there are men living in conscious fellowship with God---loving their fellows, striving to serve them, seeking to relate their time and their talents to the universal purpose of Christ, finding in Him at once the source of their strength and the secret of their joy.

'Not far from it.' Then some men are far from the Kingdom? Yes, there are many of whom it can be said without any want of charity that they are a long way from the Kingdom of God. They never name the name of Christ except in oath or blasphemy. They never kneel in prayer. They have no use at all for the Bible. Their minds and hearts are occupied wholly with other things. Their pleasures are found in other and very different places. Sometimes they are actively hostile, more often they are quite indifferent, but in mind and sympathy and purpose they are far from the Kingdom of God. And some men are in the Kingdom. That inference is equally clear. They have heard the voice of Christ, and seen the vision of need. They have marked His teachings and given heed to His invitation. They have come in all their weakness and failure, and all their promise of better things; they have come with their hopes and fears, their aspirations and their strivings, with their hunger for something better and bigger than they know, and in Christ they have found their real life. The challenge of His Kingdom they have heard and accepted---its citizenship they have claimed, its rights and privileges they are now enjoying, its obligations they are endeavoring to discharge, and to its service they are giving their lives.

Our Lord, however, in the text reminds us of a third class, whose relation to the Kingdom is more indefinite and perplexing---they are 'not far from' it. They stand on the borderland of the Kingdom; their mood is sympathetic, their attitude expectant; they have tender susceptibilities, sincere desires, and an affinity of soul for all things holy and good that constitutes them almost Christian. They are like the trees of spring bursting here and there into green shoot and pink blossom, and only waiting for a sunny hour or a sprinkle of rain to put on the fullness of beauty.

What should we see, then, as some of the signs that this scribe was not far from the Kingdom.

In the first place, and in a general sense, this is true as a plain fact of history. This scribe was a Jew, trained in the Jewish faith, familiar with the doctrine of the Kingdom. He lived in Palestine at the very time when Jesus Christ was there. Often would he have seen Him in the streets, often would he have listened to Him talking; and no man could be so near the King without being near the gateway of the Kingdom. He was not like Simon of Cyrene, or Lydia, born in entirely different continents from Christ. He live within a stone's-throw of the Master; he studied the very books the Master loved; and doubtless among the followers of Jesus were some whom he would call his friends.

Again, this scribe was not far from the Kingdom because he had a great admiration for the Lord. Probably he had listened to Christ before, and had been deeply stirred by what he heard. Dissatisfied with all his weary studies, there was that in Christ which made him dream of peace. But now, as he heard the discussion with the Saducees, and saw Christ masterly handling of these skeptics, all other feelings, dim and ill-defined, gave place to a great and glowing admiration. Had he been a little man his spite would have rejoiced to see his rivals, the Saducees, confuted. Had he been a blind man and a bitter parader of his learning in the schools, he would have been angry at any triumph of the Carpenter. But there was something noble in this scribe, something that lifted him above all petty feeling; he felt he was in the presence of a Master, and was filled with warm and lively admiration. Now whenever a man feels that, he is not far from the Kingdom. It is true we are not saved by admiring Jesus Christ. We are saved by loving Him and serving Him. It takes something mightier than admiration to pierce to the very deeps of a man's being. But admiration is so akin to love, and is so truly its herald and its harbinger, that if anyone truly and morally admires Christ, he is not far from the Kingdom.

And again, this scribe was very near the Kingdom because he was intellectually convinced that Christ was right. With perfect frankness, and with full sincerity, he admitted that what Jesus said was truth. Nothing would have been easier for him than to challenge Jesus' answer to his question. It was a matter of endless debate among the scribes which was really the great commandment. And had he been seeking what so many seek in argument---not truth, but a dialectic triumph---he could easily have summoned his scholastic learning. But the scribe was not a disputer of this world; he was a genuine searcher for the truth. Weary with all his study of law, he longed for a ray of light upon his darkness. And when he welcomed the doctrine of the Christ, and said, 'Well, master, thou hast spoken truth,' Christ recognized what was implied in that, and said, 'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.' If he had let the words sink down into his heart, that moment he would have been within it.

Men are seeking today. To be a seeker is to be of the next best sect to being a finder, and such shall every honest seeker be in the end. So, instead of being disheartened because so few make the open profession, let us take heart from the spirit of earnest seeking that is abroad. 'For he that seeketh,' said our Lord, 'findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.'

And then, lastly, the scribe was near the Kingdom because he was deeply stirred by Jesus' answer. Emotionally as well as intellectually he was very deeply impressed by Jesus Christ. It was a dangerous thing to acknowledge Jesus Christ, and the scribe would never have done it in cold blood. To admit in public thus that Christ was right was to expose himself to bitter suspicion. and then the words that followed his confession are so torrent-like, and so intense, and so aglow, that we feel through them the excitement of the speaker, and realize how deeply he was moved. There is no sign that his conscience had been touched; there is every sign that his feelings had been touched. The crust of formalism had been broken through---he was no longer the cold and dry scholastic. And it was then, when he was so impressed---so ready for great action and decision---that Jesus, looking at him, said 'Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.'

It is not by what we feel that we are saved. It is the height of folly for one to trust his feelings when the Bible calls on him to trust his Savior. It takes more than emotion, as it takes more than intellect, to enter the glad Kingdom of the Lord. But what we ought to realize is the value of our seasons of emotion in sweeping us forward to a great decision in a way that argument can rarely do. Let us seize these hours, and seal them at once in personal decision; we are never so near the Kingdom as just then. There are times when a single step makes all the difference, as when a man is standing on the edge. One step, and he is on board the ocean vessel that will carry him over the deeps to other countries. But let him stand inactive, and all the feeling of which the heart is capable will not prevent his return to the old life, there to be haunted by a dull regret.

Scientists affirm that copper is simply aboriginal elemental matter that was on they way to become gold, but it got shunted on the wrong track and stopped just short of the splendid consummation. How much that just stopping short meant! Yet who can measure the distance between the baser metal of unregenerate nature at its best and the transformed and transfigured character which is the fine gold of the Holy of Holies.

We do not know anything further about this scribe. Did he take the decisive step and cast his lot with Christ, and bear his own clear and unmistakable witness that to obey is better than sacrifice? or did he smother his conscience and retain his place? For it is one thing to see the truth, and it is quite another thing to obey it.

In Christ, timothy.