The Victory of the Violent
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
There is little agreement among the Bible Scholars on the meaning of this strange pronouncement of our Lord. Some think He meant that the kingdom of heaven as represented by the King and His disciples suffered violence at the hands of its enemies. Of course, that was true and it's true to this day.
MacLaren thinks that Jesus referred to those who misunderstood the nature of the kingdom and were rudely rushing in with carnal enthusiasm as though it were an earthly realm, seeking to gain it by their own violence instead of by meekness, by arms and worldly force rather than by submission. Certainly we have always had these with us throughout the history of the church.
Is not this statement, however, really a picture, first of all, of the public reaction to the earthly ministry of our Lord? The multitudes were flocking to Jesus,
crowding like soldiers taking a fort. The rulers, the scribes, the Pharisees, the religionists, the Scripture scholars, stood aloof in their proud superiority, while the common people heard Him gladly and the rank and file thronged to hear His words. The very ones who should have been first to recognize Him never knew Him. Versed in prophecy, separated in conduct, punctilious in religious observance, more concerned over washing pots and pans than inward renewing, mistaking ritual for reality, they missed the kingdom, while publicans and harlots crowded in. Plain fishermen, beggars, tax-collectors, despised Samaritans, lepers, thieves, all these pressed in so desperately in earnest that they fairly stormed heaven. Bartimaeus got his blessing. So did Zaccheus and the Syrophenician and the poor sick woman who elbowed through a crowd to touch Jesus. The centurion and the paralytic and the man born blind, what a motley mixture of unlikely prospects took the kingdom by force! And all the while the very teachers of the law who knew in advance when and how and where He was to come, His very own, knew Him not.
I say this text is a picture of our Lord's earthly ministry, and we do well to freshen our memory here. Do not think of Jesus standing in a pulpit droning platitudes to a few benchfuls of comfortable, sleepy saints. See Him outdoors, sunburned and plainly clad, teaching by the seaside or on the mountain top, while crowds of common folk hang on every word. See the scandalized scribes and Pharisees looking on, shaking their heads, critical of this new prophet, listening only to find something to grumble about. And while they size up the meeting from the sidelines, the blind see and
the lame walk and the sick are healed and the lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. What meetings they were! Of course, our Lord had preached in the synagogue, but it was not a very successful service. Out here, with the sky for a roof, everybody felt welcome, and they fairly stormed into the kingdom. The violent took it by force.
It began that way, and He who began to do and teach has been at it ever since, and the picture has been about the same down through the ages. Let us take a sample. Two hundred years ago Whitefield and Wesley stood outdoors in England and called the masses to repentance. And they came! They crowded into the kingdom, to the alarm of dignitaries and clergymen and the intelligentsia. Even good men misread the movement, like Rowland Hill, who said, ''He [Wesley] and his lay lubbers go forth to poison the minds of men,'' and spoke of ''Wesley's ragged legion of preaching tinkers, scavengers, draymen and chimney sweepers.'' The good brother had been horrified by the violent taking of the kingdom!
Of course, it had happened before, as in the days of Savonarola, and it was to happen again, as with Moody and nearer our own day under the rough tabernacles of Billy Sunday. The Welsh Revival saw grimy miners crowding with holy violence into the kingdom, while, for instance, G. Campbell Morgan sat enthralled to watch a revival without choir, songbooks, publicity, offerings, and sometimes without a preacher.
Verily, from the days of John the Baptist until this day every fresh Pentecostal outbreak has seen the kingdom of heaven suffer violence and the violent taking
it by force. Around 1870 A. J. Gordon began his pastorate at Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston. It was an ivy-clad, sedate, closed corporation, so self-satisfied that an officer of the church was rebuked by a deacon for putting ''Strangers Welcome'' on some of the church circulars. A quartet choir in the gallery, which Gordon called the ice chest, furnished the music. Somebody called the church ''The Saints' Everlasting Rest.''
In the providence of God, D. L. Moody came to Boston in 1877 and pitched his tabernacle within three hundred feet of Gordon's church. Night after night for months he preached the plain Gospel to thousands of all ranks and conditions. Excursion trains brought in multitudes from all parts of New England. Seventy thousand homes in Boston were visited. Gordon's biographer writes:
At the center of these operations stood the Clarendon Street Church, like a cemetery temporarily occupied by troops in battle. What a shattering and overturning of weather-stained, moss-grown traditions followed! What experiences of grace, what widening vistas of God's power, what instruction in personal religion, resulted from these six months of revival! A new window was built into the religious life of the church, letting in floods of light. The true purpose of a church's existence began to be emphasized. Drunkards and outcasts were daily reclaimed, and brought into fellowship. . . . The entrance of reformed drunkards, and of all types of publicans and sinners, into membership opened the way for a progressive democratization culminating in the free-church system.
From ''Adoniram Judson Gordon,'' by Earnest Gordon.
It was simply another repetition of our text: the kingdom of God was preached by Moody and the violent
took it by force and every man pressed into it. Clarendon Street Church was given a blood transfusion of new life and a host of brand-new converts, the best thing that can happen to any church. Out of it all came a new church free of its fetters in the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free.
Nothing better could take place in many a cold church-sepulchre today than such an ''outbreak of violence,'' a mighty moving of God's Spirit sweeping multitudes into the kingdom of God. Indeed, the recent outpourings of blessing in the Billy Graham meetings can be explained only in the light of our text. We have witnessed the strange spectacle, which some said would never be seen again, of throngs of publicans and sinners crowding under vast tents and into stadiums, and standing outdoors to hear the Gospel. We have seen outcasts and movie actors and drunkards and gamblers and racketeers taking the kingdom by force. And such a sight has warmed the hearts of Christians, until multitudes of all denominations who never dreamed of worshiping together have sung and prayed and wept and rejoiced under the power of God.
Make no mistake about it, when proud, cold, official, organized Christianity quenches the free moving of the Spirit, God will break out in a new place and use converted rascals to preach the Gospel. And while modern scribes and Pharisees, and sometimes Bible scholars, sit aloof and look askance, the violent will storm the kingdom and every man will press into it. God does not blue-print His awakenings in our little committee meetings. He may set aside our big projects and programs and in His sovereign power raise up the unlikeliest man and use the most unexpected means to
call to Himself one more crop of sinners before He rings the curtain down. God grant us one more ''outbreak of violence'' on the pattern of our text!
Years ago a convention met in Indianapolis to discuss. ''How to Reach the Masses.'' One day during that convention a young man stood on a box on a corner and began to preach. A crowd gathered, mostly workingmen going home to their suppers. They were electrified by the sermon. They forgot that they were tired. They forgot that they were hungry. The crowd became so dense that they had to move. The preacher announced that he would preach again at the Academy of Music. They followed him down the street and they filled the main floor of the building, sitting with their dinner buckets, while he preached again with such power that they were moved to tears. But he had only a few minutes to preach, because the convention on ''How to Reach the Masses'' was gathering in the same auditorium. While the convention was discussing how to reach the masses D. L. Moody was doing it! He was preaching the kingdom of God, and every man was pressing violently into it!
Such as ''outbreak of violence'' as our text sets forth is a godsend to any day and generation, for in the things of God the victory goes to the violent. I mean by that, the kingdom of heaven is possessed by those who are resolutely in earnest, who make it their chief concern. I am not preaching self-effort nor recognizing any merit in ourselves, for it is all the grace of God, but the Scriptures exhort us to strive to enter in at the strait gate, to labor to enter into God's rest, to give diligence to make our calling and election sure. God does business with those who mean business. There is a world
of difference between leisurely walking down an aisle to join a church and desperately pressing through to Jesus. The preaching of this age has not disposed this generation to get very excited about going to heaven. Some Bible teaching has so minimized personal responsibility that any suggestion of effort on our part is frowned upon. To be sure, it is all of grace and the fight is a fight of faith, but it is still a fight and some saints could use a little sanctified violence to good profit. Why should we not be as desperately in earnest to possess our possessions in Christ as the world is to lay hold of all the devil has to offer? Joshua did not invade Canaan in a rocking chair and we do not take our Promised Land on a vacation jaunt. The saints of the ages have made the kingdom of God their absorbing passion, the main business of their lives. With them religion was not a side issue, a matter of an hour at church and a few dollars in a duplex envelope. Paul said, ''To me to live is Christ,'' and to him Christ was just that, everything, life itself. This business of getting saved, living a Christian life and winning others, is a full-time occupation. We have to pray over it and weep over it and study over it and work over it, and if we possess it, it must possess us.
What we call revival is simply an outbreak of this sort of violence, when men and women desperately and resolutely press through to Jesus. The real enemies of revival are not the publicans and sinners. They were not the trouble-makers in Jesus' day. The real hindrance to revival is found in religious scribes who sit on the sidelines with their ''i's'' all dotted and their ''t's'' all crossed, who will have nothing to do with anything that does not speak their shibboleth. The real
enemies of revival are those Pharisees who attend the meetings not only to find fault, who are more concerned with form than force, more interested in ritual than in righteousness. The greatest foes of a real work of God are found among those prim, dainty, self-righteous folk who look on disdainfully, who are too refined and nice to touch a revival with a forty-foot pole, who say, ''I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing,'' and who know not that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. These poor souls are spectators, not participants, and they file the sermon away in convenient little mental cubby-holes, never dreaming that it was meant for them, seeing, as they do, everybody's sins but their own.
All these are successors to those onlookers of Jesus' day who stood by critically while the violent took the kingdom, and to all the spectators of the days of Wesley and Finney and Moody who smiled away the call of God or else stubbornly snubbed the Spirit. At any rate, whatever such may do today, I would ignore them and say to any sin-sick soul, ''Come for yourself to the Saviour! Let no one keep you out of the kingdom. Make salvation your supreme interest and Christ your chief concern. Make it your one passion for the rest of your days to know Him and to make Him known. Join the ranks of the violent and take the kingdom by force. If it is worth anything it is worth everything. For Jesus paid it all and all to Him you owe.
I am resolved to enter the kingdom,
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.
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