Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 10, 1959
NUMBER 31, PAGE 4-5b

"Not Of This World"


"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." (Jno. 18:36.)

One of the most famous trials in American religious history was the "heresy trial" of Dr. Charles A. Briggs before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Northern Presbyterian). This trial grew out of some statements made by Dr. Briggs on January 20, 1891, in his inaugural address when he was installed as Professor of Biblical Theology in Union Theological Seminary. The charge against him was that in that address he had taught that "Reason is a fountain of divine authority which can and does savingly enlighten men, even such men as reject the Scriptures as the authoritative proclamation of the will of God and reject also the way of salvation through the mediation and sacrifice of the Son of God as revealed therein."

Dr. Briggs was found guilty; appealed the decision, got a reversal, a new trial — and was again found guilty. His suspension from the ministry of his denomination followed.

The irony of this incident is that a clear majority of preachers in the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. (and most other denominations) would in our day unhesitatingly accept Dr. Briggs' position. For "modernism" has taken over the prominent pulpits of our day, and nearly all denominational preachers in the bigger churches would now say that it is indeed possible that multitudes of people might "find God" in nature, in work, in creative art, or in various ways separate and apart from the Bible revelation of him. Dr. Briggs lived fifty years too soon.

One of the most difficult problems of all, apparently, for many religious people is to understand the full significance of the "other-worldliness" of the kingdom of Christ. There is always present the tremendous pressure of this present world. Evils are here to be righted; injustices are on every hand, crying for correction; poverty and suffering call for relief. Starving children need to be fed; broken hearts need to be made whole again; frustrated and despairing lives need to be encouraged and strengthened; fearful and anxiety-ridden souls in torment need peace and courage and fortitude. The awful urgency of the present so easily crowds out and makes unimportant the future.

This is the fateful mistake of the "social gospelers", of whom Dr. Briggs was one of the foremost. These people, warm and outgoing in their sympathies, often of tender hearts and high ideals, are blinded to the eternal verities by the present iniquities growing out of "man's inhumanity to man." The piteous cry of a hungry child, or the sobbing grief of a soldier's widow wrings their heart, and makes them throw themselves into frenzied efforts to correct present wrongs, to make this old world a better place in which to live.

All of which altruism, of course, has its right and proper place in the Christian scheme. Indeed, the true follower of Christ is really far more concerned about the welfare of his fellow-creatures than any other person can possibly be. But his concern is spiritual rather than physical, eternal rather than temporal. In short, he is looking toward "the world that is to come" and not toward "the world that now is." He will be interested in relieving the needy, in feeding the hungry, and in freeing the captive. But his primary interest will be in helping the needy, the hungry, and the captive to partake of that "bread of life" which has to do with eternity, and not merely with time.

It is a sad commentary on the American religious life as we know it that far more attention is given to youth camps and Boy Scout activities than to presenting the truths and requirements for a life beyond the grave. American "Christianity" has become predominantly a religion whose aim and purpose will center in this present life — the making of a better society, a better earthly life, a richer, fuller, and happier seventy or hundred years on this earth, which for all practical purposes, is the only life which concerns the modern religionist.

This ideal is perhaps more fully realized in what we know as "Unitarianism" than in any other modern religious philosophy. This is a liberal philosophy which partakes in a sense of "religion", and which is centered on "this worldly" rather than "other worldly" objectives. That the objectives are worthy, noble, and truly altruistic is not to be denied. But they are of this present world; not of the world to come.

But the church of Christ from her beginning has had her eyes set "on things above, not on things on the earth". Worldly good, human benevolent enterprises, the moral elevation of society are a by-product, and never the chief objective, in converting men to Christ. The gospel of Christ, that blood-bought message of eternal hope and salvation, is our chief concern. To turn from that to organizations for mere human betterment is to throw away the grain and eat the husks.

Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the present controversy throughout the land over the "orphan home" problem. Thousands upon multiplied thousands of humble followers of Christ have taken poor and neglected children into their homes, loved them tenderly, cared for them with all the love and patience and watchful concern of true parents, and have provided "homes" for these unfortunate ones that have been true examples of all implied in the words "Christian home". They have been concerned for the souls of these children; not merely in providing food and shelter and clothing. Whereas, the denomination world (and to some degree the Church of Christ) has had thousands of "social gospel" advocates whose concern for the children has been first for things temporal, for food, clothing, and shelter; and only secondarily, if at all, for the eternal welfare of these creatures of God. Consequently these people have wanted to build vast "institutions", where the little ones are regimented, organized, systematized, and housed on a "social" basis, rather than a family basis. This is but one instance (of scores that might be cited) showing the impact of the "this worldly" influence of the social gospel.

But Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Those who would follow Christ must remember always to have their "affections set on the things that are above", and not on the things on the earth. When one truly loves God, he will be concerned, to be sure, for the physical welfare of others; but far and above all of that will be his deep and abiding concern for the immortal soul of his neighbor. He will be looking toward that "city, whose builder and maker is God", not toward any earthly city, however free from poverty, disease, and social injustices that city might be made. Heaven is his goal; he will be content with nothing less, regardless of how "perfect" men might make it.

— F. Y. T.