He Must Reign
“For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” — 1 Cor. xv. 25.
April 18th, 1875
“HE must reign.” There was another “must” which his disciples wore very slow to learn. Very much of our Lord’s teaching to his apostles was concerning the necessity that he must suffer. That doctrine seemed so strange to them that, at first, they could scarcely catch the idea. When they perceived that Christ really meant it; they could not bear the thought of it. One of them even began to rebuke his Lord, but he sharply stopped him. The notion that Christ must suffer could not be drilled into the apostles; their very spirits seemed to revolt against it. And do you wonder? If you had lived with that dear and blessed Lord, and had seen the perfection of his character, the liberality of his gifts, and the tenderness of his heart, and if you had known, as they did, in a measure, the glory of his nature and the marvel of his person, could you have endured the thought that he must be despitefully used, and spit upon, and nailed like a felon to a gibbet? No, even Christ himself might have found it difficult to get that thought into your mind. It was such a cruel “must” — that he must die. Why, even after he had died, and all the prophecies concerning his death had been fulfilled, it was still a bewilderment to his disciples. The two, who walked to Emmaus with Christ, were in a maze concerning it, and he had to say to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”
That first “must” cost the people of God much before they learned it, but we know right well that the price of pardon for us was Christ’s suffering and death. We understand that there was no other way of access for us but by the atonement, — no other method by which the lost inheritance could come back except by that ransom price which was found in the pierced heart of Christ. And now there is another “must” which, I think, is almost as difficult for us to learn. The shadow of the cross has fallen upon us, and we live so much in its shade that it is not easy for us to catch the gleam of that necessity which comes from his throne: He must reign.” The cross, too, is on our shoulder. It is not merely that we live under the shadow of the cross, but the burden of the cross has to be cheerfully endured from day to clay; as we bear it, it is not easy for us to feel that “he must reign.” O brethren, when you preach, but no man gives heed to your message, — when you teach, but the children yield not their hearts to your Lord, — when you sojourn in Mesech, and dwell in the tents of Kedar, and meet with hard and cold hearts in every place, that thaw not even beneath the sunbeams of the love of Jesus, you are very apt to say that it does not appear that “he must reign.” The long rebellion against Jehovah still continues; the dread revolt against the majesty of heaven seems as if it would never end, and we sometimes fear that the treason will last on to all eternity. It appears impossible that the Crucified Christ shall yet be the universal Conqueror, that the man of Nazareth will yet mount his white horse, and lead his conquering armies to the last charge and to the final victory; and yet, as surely as it was true that he must suffer, so surely “he must reign;” and it becomes us to open our hearts to this predestinated necessity ordained of the Most High. Jesus must reign; his defeat is not to be thought of for a moment. Delay there may be, but the victory must come: “he must reign.” Let heaven ring with the anticipation of it: “he must reign.” Let earth resound with the prophecy of it: “he must reign.” Let hell’s darkest cavern hear the tidings of that imperative necessity: “he must reign.” And let each Christian feel revived and quickened by the joyful sound, he who had to die, must surely reign. The second necessity shall be as certainly fulfilled as was the first: “he must reign.” Let me try to ring that bell, or to sound that trumpet.
I. There is, first, A FACT WHICH IS A SORT OF PRELUDE OR ACCOMPANIMENT TO THE NECESSITY IN ITS GREATER FULFILMENT.
The fact is, that he does, now reign; that is in our text. It says, “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Jesus is reigning even now in heaven. There, no shame can approach him, and no scorn can even be whispered at his feet. He reigns there with undisputed sway; it would not be possible for me fully to depict the royal state in which Emmanuel sits enthroned above, but I would like your faith to endeavour to realize it. You may even venture to call in your sanctified imagination to aid you to sketch the scene where he reigns in glory. There is no province of the celestial domain which does not own his sway, and not one individual of all the happy tribes that dwell in glory but is glad to call him King. The holy angels, whom, he hath made to be as flames of fire, delight to do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word. All the various orders of cherubim and seraphim yield him their loyal homage, and all the angels and principalities and powers in the heavenly places own him as their Lord for ever. His redeemed occupy the most honourable place in heaven; nearest to the throne you will find the four and twenty elders, the representatives of the Church; and them, in an outer ring, stand the angels worshipping and adoring; and all the redeemed spirits — as well they may since they owe their glory to his blood, — call Jesus their Lord and King. He is no servant there; he washes no disciples’ feet there; he goes not thence to Pilate’s Hall to be judged. Absolute and supreme is he. — King of kings, for they are all kings whom he has redeemed; — and Lord of lords, for they are all lordly ones over whom he reigns, and he occupies the highest seat amidst the splendours of the celestial realm.
But do not imagine that Christ’s reign is limited to those gates of pearl and streets of shining gold. Far from it, for Jesus reigns to-day on earth. It did my ears and heart good, just now, to hear you sing “Crown him Lord of all.” I dared not hope that every heart here was really crowning him, but I did believe that there were thousands who, in their inmost souls, were wishing him all honour and glory, and delightedly confessing their allegiance to him. O Jesus, thou hast still on earth myriads whose highest joy is found in thy name, and who find their heaven on earth as they think of thee. In thy Church, thou art still Lord and Master; and if there be churches that revolt against thee, and play the harlot, thou hast thy chaste spouse shill, and thou reignest over her in undisputed sovereignty.
Nor is Christ’s kingdom, limited to the Church in heaven and the Church on earth, for he reigns to-day over all things. “All power,” said he, “is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Providence is at the disposal of the Nazarene. Let those doubt it who will, we believe that every event which transpires — political, national, social, domestic, — is overruled by him for the accomplishment of the grand designs of mercy which he has for his own elect. Just as Joseph reigned in Egypt, and all bad to come to him for food in the time of famine, so does Jesus reign in the courts of earth for the good of his people. His cause must prosper, for he is always at the helm; yea, even where confusion seems to rule, he is everywhere King, putting a bit into the mouth, of the tempest, and riding upon the wings of the wind. Just as the seas owned his presence when he was here incarnate, so do they own his presence now; and just as the earth then felt his tread, so doth she feel it now; but it is no more the weary tramp of the Son of man, but the majestic footfall of the Son of God. He ruleth everywhere. “The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.”
He reigns, too, even in hell itself. The devils bite their iron bonds in grim despair because he reigns. They tried to make this earth their own, but now they know the prowess, the strong arm, and the valiant heart of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Highest; and they must do his bidding. “Hitherto shall ye come, but no further,” is his command to the spirits grim and fierce, and they are compelled to submit to him, however anxious they are to do still more mischief to the sons of men. Yes, Jesus reigns from the bottomless gulf to the heights of heaven. Far off, where the sun now gilds the Western hills, and yonder, in the East, where we shall watch for his return to-morrow morning, over all those regions Jesus reigns, —
“Far as the eagle’s prion
Or dove’s light wing can soar.”
He reigns to-day, and let his people proclaim it without fear, “The Lord is King.” The fact that he is new reigning cheers our hearts.
“Rejoice, the Lord is King,
Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore:
Lift up the heart, lift up the voice,
Rejoice aloud, ye saints, rejoice.”
II. But, to come still more closely to our text, we ring this bell again, and call your attention to THE NECESSITY FOR CHRIST’S REIGN: “He must reign.” It is not merely that he shall, he can, or he may; but he must, — “he must reign.” Let us see why he must.
Well, first and weakest argument of all, yet one that has much force in it, all his servants say that he shall reign. Weak as the twelve apostles were, and the immediate followers of Christ, they said that “he must reign,” and they meant it, and they lived to make it true, and almost all the nations on the earth heard of Jesus within a century after he had been taken up to heaven. Then came the kings of the earth, and set themselves against him, and they said that he should not reign; but the martyrs came, and yielded up their lives with joy, each one singing “he must reign.” While the amphitheatres ran with blood, other champions came into the ring, each one uttering the watchword, “he must reign.” The kings of the earth mocked at the saints of God. “What do these feeble Jews?” said they, just as Pharaoh might have said, “The locusts, what can they do?” But the locusts might have answered, “We are each one of us weak, but there are myriads of us, and we will come up, and cover your land, and we will eat every green thing that is left in the land;” and they did so. It was very much the same with the persecuted saints of God; each individual believer was weak, but they came by tens, by hundreds, by thousands, they came in countless shoals till the kings threw away their swords and quenched their fires in sheer despair; and they agreed that, nominally at least, Christ should reign, for his disciples would have it so.
And now, to-day, it becomes us not to speak vauntingly; but, if persecuting times should ever come again, many of those who say the least about it would be among the first to go boldly to be burned at the stake, or to submit their bodies to the torture of the rack, for love of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Mutius Scaevola put his right hand into the fire to bum, he told the king that there were a thousand youths who had sworn that they would put him to death rather than that their country should fall into his hands, and the tyrant trembled; and there are thousands of Christians now, who only need the dire necessity again to rise, and they would come forward with cheerfulness to yield their lives for their Lord, declaring that “he must reign ” whatever might become of them. We must never let his standard fall, or even tremble in the day of battle. Forward, ye sons of heroes, in the name of him who bled and died for you! Never let there be any question in your mind whether “he must reign” or no. The sun may cease to shine, and the moon forget her nightly marches, but Jesus must reign. It must be so, for his people declare it.
I said, however, that this was the weakest of reasons, and there are many far stronger ones. “He must reign,” for he is Jehovah’s Heir, — the “Heir of all things.” Kings cannot always ensure the putting of their crowns upon the heads of their sons. When they die, perhaps a rebellion breaks out, and overthrows the dynasty; but what power can overturn the Divine dynasty, and rob the Heir of God of his dominions?
“He must reign,” for by nature he is a King. He was born a King; you might have seen something of sovereignty in his eyes when he first opened them upon earth’s light. The wise men from the East brought gifts which showed that they recognized the royalty of the newborn babe of Bethlehem. Every characteristic of the life of Christ is royal. He is no tyrant king. He is the people’s King, but a true King in every part of his being. There is nothing mean, or low, or selfish, about him. Every motion of his hand is princely, as he feeds the multitudes, or heals their sicknesses; and every glance of his eye is kingly, as he weeps over man’s sin and fall, or as he rebukes man’s transgression,
“He must reign,” for he deserves that honour. You cannot see him voluntarily yielding up his soul unto death in order that he might redeem his people by his blood, — you cannot hear his cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — without feeling that, if there be justice in the courts of heaven, the death of Christ upon the cross cannot be the end of him. That terrible shame must be rewarded; and how can it be rewarded except by the brightest crown that can possibly be conceived, or by something brighter even than that? Reign he must, for he was so good, so generous, so self-sacrificing, so oblivious of himself in death. We should lose our faith in the Deity if we could lose faith in the reign of Christ as the reward of all that he suffered upon the cross.
Besides, “he must reign,” for who is to stop him? In the olden days, many tided to do so, but he defeated them all. The prince of darkness came to him in the wilderness, and offered him a paltry bauble in the place of his true crown, but the tempter was repulsed by the sentence, “It is written.” The prince of darkness came again and again, but he found nothing in Christ upon which he could lay his hand; and, ere long, Christ will have the great adversary beneath his foot, and finally bruise his head. All the evil forces upon the face of the earth cannot stand against Christ; for if, upon the accursed tree, he defeated them in Iris weakness, he will surely conquer them in the time of his strength. He trod them under his foot when he died; how much more completely shall he vanquish them now that he is risen again! He scattered them, like chaff before the wind, with his dying breath; how much more shall he do it now in the fulness of his resurrection life! Rejoice, O Christians, in the fact that there is nothing that can stand against Jesus!
“He must reign,” for the best of all reasons, — the Father hath decreed it. “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” God wills if, and that stands for us as a sufficient reason; and God is working it. Omnipotence is on the side of Christ. We see him not yet at the head of his heavenly armies; but he is there, and he is even now going forth conquering and to conquer, and everything that happens is working out the decree that Christ must be King of kings, and Lord of loads.
III. Not only does Christ reign, and must Christ reign, but THERE IS A PROGRESS ABOUT HIS KINGDOM. It is growing; it becomes more and more visible among the sons of men. I am not going into prophecies; I leave them for wiser persons than I am. I am more at home in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John than in the deeps of Revelation; but this one thing I do know from the Word of the Lord, that, first of all, “he must reign” lovingly over all his elect. Soane of them are hard to bring in, but they must come sooner or later. Christ himself said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring.” Some of them, are with us now; they have long resisted mercy’s call, but they will have to yield. Sovereign grace has determined it, so yield they must. The Lord says, “Compel them to come in,” and come in they must, for “he must reign.” He will not suffer one of the sheep he bought with his blood to be lost on the mountains, or one single soul that he ransomed from the enemy to abide for ever in captivity. “He must reign” over them, and he will; and the day shall come when he shall pass all his sheep, one by one, under the hand of him that telleth them, and they will all be there, all with the blood mark upon them as they come through the gate, and the tale of the flock shall be complete, not one shall be devoured of the wolf. The Shepherd ‘shall say to his Father, in that day, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them! is lost.”
It also seems to me to be clear, from the Scriptures, that, in future ages, Jesus Christ will reign over all nations. I do not believe that the great drama of the world’s history will end till truth is triumphant. I read, concerning the Messiah, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto, the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.” The North shall give up, and the South shall no longer keep back, but they shall bring his sons from afar, and his daughters from the ends of the earth. I cannot help expecting a period when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Happy day! Oh, that it might soon arrive! Push on with mercy’s work, O missionaries and evangelists! Toil on, preachers and teachers, for “he must reign. Ours is no a losing cause; Jesus must yet subdue the nations, and be acknowledged by them as Lord and God.
I know also that he must one day reign over all mankind, whether by their willing consent, or in spite of their opposition, for to him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
“He shall reign from pole to pole,
With illimitable sway.”
And over and above that, I look for a time when Jesus Christ will reign upon this earth over all nature; when, all his enemies being subdued, the new Jerusalem shall come down out of heaven upon the earth, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Read the Revelation, and you will find that much which we generally apply to heaven is really a description of what is to take place upon this earth. I hope it is not mere poetic fancy that leads me to believe that the mists, which now swathe this planet, and make her dim in comparison with her sister stars, will one day all be swept away, and she shall shine out as bright as in that pristine morning when the sons of God shouted for joy at the sight of the new creation. I think it is no fiction to believe that the day shall come when restored manhood, in connection with the personal reign of Christ, shall have dominion over all the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, and when it shall not be a metaphor, but a realized fact that “the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them;” — when whispers of blasphemy shall not merely be drowned in thunders of adoration, but shall not even be known; — when the last ta.int and trace of sin shall have disappeared, and the earth shall shine as if she had never been defiled, and the days of her mourning shall be for ever ended; and “Glory, glory, glory,” shall be the song from sunrise to sunset, and the night watches shall be kept with music of praise, and angels shall go to and fro, between the throne above and the throne below, and the new heavens and the new earth shall be seen, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
“Hallelujah! — hark! the sound,
From the centre to the skies,
Wakes above, beneath, around,
All creation’s harmonies:
See Jehovah’s banner furl’d,
Sheathed his sword!
He speaks, — ’tis done,
And the kingdoms of this world
Are the kingdoms of his Son.”
Then comes the grand climax, when he shall “put all enemies under his feet;” — not annihilate them, not exterminate them, not convert them, but put them under his feet. There shall still be a devil, but he shall be a devil under Christ’s feet. Lost spirits there shall still be, but the great Conqueror shall hold them down beneath his almighty heel. Death shall be destroyed: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” We shall remember that men died; we shall ourselves remember that we passed beneath the power of death; but all the bitterness of death, will be past so far as we are concerned. Through. Christ’s death, eternal life has become ours. Oh, what a prospect opens up before me! My time flies so nimbly, as it always does when I have such a subject as this, so I must forbear to speak of it as I fain would; but let your faith project itself into the glorious future of which I have been reminding you. It may be much nearer than you have imagined. If you listen intently, you may hear the chariot wheels of the coming King. Be ye ready to greet him whenever he comes; it may be that, to-night, ere the clock has’ sounded out the midnight hour, the cry may be heard in heaven and earth, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh;” and starting from your beds, you will have to meet him. Will you be ready to hail him joyfully, as your long-expected King, or will you have to meet him dolefully, and to be trodden beneath his feet? “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.”
So I close with this question, — let each one take it to heart as best he may; and may the Spirit of God send it home! — How do I stand in relation to the great event thus predestinated? What is my connection with the triumph of Christ? Am I one of his enemies? Suppose a gnat should be able to plunge itself into’ the inconceivably fierce heat that bums from; the orb of day, its instant destruction must follow; and it must be so with you also if you are opposed to Christ. Thou potsherd of earth, strive with other potsherds like thyself. For thee to strive with Jesus, is for a potsherd to strive against a rod of iron which will break it in pieces. There is no hope of success for thee; so give up the hopeless enterprise. Thine utter insignificance will make thine opposition to be contemptible in that day when the intelligences of the universe shall judge things aright.
What then? Had we not better yield — I will not say because we must, but because we ought? For, in this case, Christ’s might is on the side of right, and it is no disgrace to a man to yield to might when it is allied with right. “I yield to Christ,” saith one. How far do you yield? Do you yield so far as to be saved by him? “Yes,” say you. Do you yield so far as to be forgiven by him? “Yes,” say you. Do you yield so far as to become his disciples? “Yes,” say you. But do you yield that he should reign over you, — that you should do as he bids you, and not do what he forbids? Shall he be King over you? If you want to have him on any other terms than these, you cannot have him at all, for “he must reign.”
“Yet know (nor of the terms complain,)
Where Jesus comes, he comes to reign;
To reign, and with no partial sway:
Thoughts must be slain that disobey.”
Will you have him to reign thus over you? This is the all-important point. Alas! many say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” Be not you so senseless as this, but yield to Jesus Christ, and let him be your Lord and King. If you will not do so, I must again remind you of the dread alternative. You must either let him reign over you, or else you will have to lie beneath his feet. Have you ever reckoned what will be the weight of the rejected love of God incarnate, who died for sinners, and yet is rejected by myriads despite his unspeakable love? Take your pens, and calculate that weight if you can; — omnipotence indignant that eternal love was slighted, — omniscience aroused to anger by the fact that divine compassion, such as could never have been dreamt of, was trampled underfoot by impudent sons of men. In the name of the God who made the heavens and the earth, and who made each one of you, I entreat you to yield to that Christ who is your rightful King. As sinners, yield yourselves by trusting in him; as men, yield yourselves to obey his commands. In the name of him who will come with sound of trumpet, and with angel guards attending him, swift to judge, and stem to punish, I implore you to bow before him now. As though I felt death’s cold hand upon me, and heard a voice saying to me, “Speak out now, man, for the last time, and obey your King’s command,” so speak I in the name of him who will make earth and heaven reel beneath his awful presence when he comes to judge the quick and the dead. In the name of him who will shut the gates of mercy on all those who reject his gospel, I do not merely ask you, or beseech you, but I command you, in his name, to repent and be converted. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” O God, own this message, for it is thine own truth! Prove it to be so, for Jesus’ sake! Amen.