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Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson The Two Kingdoms

First Principles of the Kingdom from Charles Hodge

After looking at the younger Hodge on WCF 23 last week, I’d like to examine and summarize the elder Hodge’s principles of the kingdom from his Systematic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 599-609.

The kingdom of God, Hodge says, has always existed on earth since the Fall, but it is administered now specifically by the Theanthropos, a fact which he connects to the “new kingdom” that follows his first coming. This kingdom, therefore, is not only appropriately called the “kingdom of God,” but also the “kingdom of Christ, or of the Son of God” (599): it is called the latter because it is administered by Christ, and the former because Christ is God, and also because it is to be distinguished from the kingdoms of men on earth. It is administered at all times not by the disembodied Logos considered apart from Jesus Christ, but by Christ the Mediator himself.

Nevertheless, the kingdom (that is, Christ’s rule) “is presented in different aspects, or, in other words, Christ exercises his royal authority, so to speak, in different spheres” (ibid.). First, he has what Hodge calls, following others, his “kingdom of power” (600). This is tied directly to Christ’s words about himself in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The universality of Christ’s authority is affirmed also in passages such as Eph. 1:20-22; 1 Cor. 15:7; Heb. 2:8; and Phil. 2:9-10 (“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”). Regarding this last passage, Hodge refers to it as “a perfectly exhaustive  statement”; “[t]he person to whom they are to bow the knee is Jesus, not the Logos, but the God-man” (ibid.).

How does Christ the Mediator govern his kingdom of power? Through providence, Hodges says, “and for the benefit of his Church” (601). Christ’s mediatorial government of the universe is to last until all of Christ’s enemies, all evil, and death itself are finally subdued.

The second aspect or sphere of Christ’s kingdom is the “kingdom of grace” (ibid.). This is further subdivided, in a way that will not be surprising to TCI readers, into two more aspects: the invisible and visible churches.

Christ is king immediately over all true believers, whose “governing purpose” for life is “to spend and be spent in his service and in the promotion of his kingdom” (ibid.). Under this aspect, the kingdom “is a purely spiritual community, consisting of those truly and inwardly his people” (602). The conditions for entrance are faith and repentance; or conversion; or purity of life (601). Hodge later writes, “As religion is essentially spiritual, an inward state, the kingdom of Christ as consisting of the truly regenerated, is not a visible body, except so far as goodness renders itself visible by its outward manifestations” (604). Thus, Christians are not only to believe; they are also to love one another with brotherly love (603), for this renders faith visible.

This manifestation is absolutely necessary, and so “there is and must be a visible kingdom of Christ in the world.” This “visible kingdom” is the visible church, which Hodge calls “an external society” (604), consisting of “all who profess the true religion, together with their children” (ibid.). Hodge believes that this society, though external, is still spiritual in nature, which he glosses to mean that “it is not of this world” and that it has no power over its members’ worldly goods (ibid.). He draws a very sharp distinction between this kingdom and earthly kingdoms: the latter are directed toward temporal social well-being, while the former promotes “religious objects”.

Hodge believes that “all secular matters” lie beyond the jurisdiction of the visible church (ibid.), though this interestingly does not entail that all political and scientific questions lie beyond its purview: “It can decide no question of politics or science which is not decided in the Bible” (ibid., emphasis mine)–a statement that indicates that some of these questions, in fact, are so decided. But, in general, Hodge speaks in absolute terms, so that the church can exist under “all” forms of government; it should not interfere with “any”; it lets alone “all that belongs peculiarly to civil rulers” (605, emphasis mine). The  authority of the visible church does not undermine or overthrow the authority of the magistrate. At the same time, there are things with which the church is concerned that lie beyond the competency and jurisdiction of the civil power–Hodge is clear that he does not believe that the state can govern the church or her worship in any respect.

The invisible church underwrites and in some sense supersedes the visible bodies that declare its shape to the world. This characteristic of testifying to the invisible seems to drive for Hodge the visible church’s overall non-involvement in “secular” matters. But it has other corollaries as well. It is not limited to one visible organization: “[a]s all Christians are included in the kingdom of Christ, it is the duty of all to recognize each other as belonging to one great commonwealth, and as subjects of the same sovereign” (ibid.). Next, it is temporary: as an “external organization” (ibid.), it will cease when its ends are accomplished at the eschaton (though Hodge also says that its current form will be “merged into a higher form”).

Finally, all power of this visible body is only ministerial, and in organizing itself church officers will have to exercise discretion:

How far the Church has discretionary power in matters of detail is a disputed point. By some all such discretion is denied. They maintain that everything concerning the organization, officers, and modes of action of the Church is as minutely laid down in the New Testament as the curtains, tassels, and implements of the tabernacle are detailed in the Old Testament. Others hold that while certain principles on this subject are laid down in Scripture, considerable latitude is allowed as to the means and manner in which the Church may carry them out in the exercise of her functions. This latter view has always been practically adopted….So all churches in every age and wherever they have existed, have felt at liberty to modify their organization and modes of action so as to suit them to their peculiar circumstances. All such modifications are matters of indifference. They cannot be made to bind the conscience, nor can they be rendered conditions of Christian or ecclesiastical fellowship. (606)

Since Christ is its king, the only thing required for admission to this body, for Hodge, is a credible profession of faith in him, and one cannot demand anything more. To set the bar for “Church communion” any higher than this is a “usurpation of an authority which belongs to [Christ] alone” (607). All Christians are brothers, and so we do not have the right to limit our fellowship “to those brethren with whom the individual chooses to associate himself” (608).

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.