10. How this kingly authority of Christ works on earth through the instrumentality of human persons.
In order to be able to exercise this kingly authority over His church, Christ had to ascend to heaven. On earth He bore the form of a servant; for the first time in heaven He was clothed with royal majesty; and He revealed that majesty not according to His human nature, but in that human nature through the power of His godhead which enables Him “by His grace, majesty and Spirit” to be present at all times in all places in His church. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” i.e., the church in her smallest conceivable dimension, “there am I in the midst of you.” “See, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” “It is for your benefit that I go away.”
Let no one say that Christ reigns in a proper sense only in the heavenly church as king, and in the earthly church only in a metaphorical sense. All such expressions deny and oppose His godhead. Christ is indeed present in His church on earth; present in the proper sense of the word. Where He Himself is not present, there a robed man can be standing and talking, but there is no ministry of the Word. There water can be sprinkled and bread broken, but there is no sacrament. There with closed eyes one can mutter and one can sing at the top of his voice, but there is neither prayer nor song of praise. And, finally, just as there can be pompous gentlemen sitting on green pillows, yet there is not necessarily a consistory or council or synod which possesses power in His name.¹
Only the presence of Christ in His church makes holy things real. Without that presence of Christ they are empty forms, idle shams stripped of all essence and usefulness.
This presence of Christ is “not with external observation, but is within you.” Thus it does not rest in the institutions or ceremonies, but exclusively in the people. This is not to be understood to mean that the presence of Christ is manifested only in those brought into the church. There are many elect who are not yet brought in, and also in these is the presence of the Lord. Yes, even in the chaff which is still mixed with the corn, the breath of His lips blows. It may be with a savor of death unto death, not for the purpose of resurrection but for destruction; or still stronger, what must never be lost from sight is the fact that the presence of Christ may jump over sometimes two or three generations, then to make to shoot out again His elect from an apparently lost branch.
This presence of Christ in His church, although continuously inhereing in the persons and not in the institutions, is nevertheless bound to those institutions. First, under and through those institutions, the sense of the communion of the church comes to consciousness, and through the act of obedience to the King, that glorious consciousness is exalted to greater clarity. Hence, under the real administration of word and sacraments, there is the awareness of the otherwise unknown presence of the Lord, the knowledge that He, the Lord, is in their midst, and a delightful consciousness which is then only enjoyed in so far as it is the presence of Christ Himself Who speaks through the minister and Who Himself baptizes, Himself distributes bread and wine, leads us in prayer so that we repeat prayer after Him, gives to us so that we may give alms, and sings His song of praise before the Father in the sound of our own voice. “I,” the Messiah said, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, oh Lord, thou knowest.” Psalm 40:9 “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation.” Psalm 22:25 “The good pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10²
However, in no way does it follow from this that there is in the exercise of Jesus’ royal rule over His church no instrumental use of human persons in the institution. Such use there certainly is, in so far as the church on earth is visible, shows itself externally, and reveals itself in perceptible forms. Then the royal rule of Christ must extend to that visible, external, and perceptible form; but this is unthinkable without the instrumental use of human persons. Only, two undeniable facts must be maintained. In the first place, this instrumental use of human persons is not and cannot be unless the action of the present Christ is in it and with it. And, in the second place, the use never is nor can be anything else than instrumental. Christ is and remains in everything the only and irresistible worker, and the human person is never anything else than an instrument whom the King uses for His own royal majesty.
This instrumental use of human persons is distinguished according to whether the purpose is to bring the church in the world to fuller manifestation, or to maintain in that world church itself the rule of King Jesus. The first intended use, continuing up to the demise of the apostolate, bore a continuous fruit through which the instrumental use of the apostles and prophets had, among many others, this consequence, that an abiding, committed-to-the-written-Scriptures Word of God came into being. This Word is the abiding Word of the King of the church to which, in the fullest sense the expression of the proverb writer applies: “Where the word of the king is, there is power.” Thus, if it should please the Lord in His anger against the sins of His people or for the trying of their faith to make cease for a time the public ministry of the Word and to bend His church under the cross of persecution, yet the King is never silent. He speaks and continues to speak each morning and each evening in each church, in each household, to every heart among His chosen people by His abiding Word preserved in Scripture.
Therefore, among all instrumental uses of human persons, the service of prophets and apostles stands on the foreground. Now yet, even as for 18 centuries,these apostles and prophets, who through all ages served their purpose, are instruments through whom King Jesus addresses His church and speaks in His church and to His elect all the day and all the night.
But alongside of this extraordinary use of prophets and apostles stands, irrevocably bound to the fruit of their work, the ordinary instrumental use of persons in the fixed and ordinary office of the church. The purpose, scope, calling of this office is to verify the Word of God, the Word of the King, and to accomplish and realize it with irresistible power.
The emphasis falls strongly on that addition. The office has the power of keys. There is no office without the institution of the King and the laying on of His royal authority. Without this authority there might be a relationship, a human activity, a commission, but the office is missing. The office is the organ or help for sovereign power. A king on earth would actually have to do everything himself. But he cannot. For that purpose he lacks the one thousand arms with which the Indians portray their gods. And therefore he sets up offices and clothes persons with these offices, who, as the arms of his power, carry out the task at his command, for him, and to his honor. That official labor is either a work which is directed towards the king or proceeds from the king. It is directed to the king when information must be obtained for the purpose of enlightening the king; and it goes out from the king when it serves to gain obedience to his command. It is directed to the king when custom and tribute is brought to the treasury of the king, and it proceeds from him when the favor of the king returns upon his people. It also goes to the king when the homage of his people arises before him, and, on the other hand, it proceeds from him when he grants his gifts to his subjects.
It is in this same sense that also our Lord and King, our Messiah and Immanuel, has set up an office for the visible manifestation of His church on earth as bearer of His royal authority and as the revelation of His royal majesty.
¹ We have here a nice illustration of Kuyper’s expressive Dutch. For those who can still read and appreciate the Dutch we include the original here. “en waar hij niet zelf present is, daar moge een getabberd mensch staan te redeneeren, maar daar is geen bediening des Woords; daar moge water gesprenkeld en brood gebroken worden, maar daar is geen sacrament; daar moge met gesloten oogen gepreveld en luidkeels gezongen worden, maar daar is zoomin gebed als lofzang; en eindeilijk evenzoo daar mogen kerkelijke heeren op groene kussens zetelen, maar daar is geen kerkeraad noch concilie noch synode machthebbende in zijn naam.”
² If the people of God were always conscious of the truth of what Kuyper here expresses, how much richer our worship would be.