For us, gentlemen, to-day, it is difficult to reconcile, nay, it is scarcely possible to bridge over, such an opposition as is involved, on the one side in a dramatic picture of God’s kingdom existing in the future, and on the other in the announcement that “it is in the midst of you,” a still and mighty power in the hearts of men. But to understand why it was that with other historical traditions and other forms of culture no opposition was felt to exist between these views, nay, that both were able to exist side by side, we must reflect, we must steep ourselves in the history of the past. I imagine that a few hundred years hence there will be found to exist in the intellectual ideas which we shall have left behind us much that is contradictory; people will wonder how we put up with it. They will find much hard and dry husk in what we took for the kernel; they will be unable to understand how we could be so shortsighted, and fail to get a sound grasp of what was essential and separate it from the rest. Some day the knife will be applied and pieces will be cut away where as yet we do not feel the slightest inclination to distinguish. Let us hope that then we may find fair judges, who will measure our ideas not by what we have unwittingly taken over from tradition and are neither able nor called upon to correct, but by what was born of our very own, by the changes and improvements which we have effected in what was handed down to us or was commonly prevalent in our day.
Truly the historian’s task of distinguishing between what is traditional and what is peculiar, between kernel and husk, in Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God is a difficult and responsible one. How far may we go? We do not want to rob this message of its innate character and colour, we do not want to change it into a pale scheme of ethics. On the other hand, we do not want to lose sight of its peculiar character and strength, as we should do were we to side with those who resolve it into the general ideas prevailing at the time. The very way in which Jesus distinguished between the traditional elements —he left out none in which there was a spark of moral force, and he accepted none which encouraged the selfish expectations of his nation—this very discrimination teaches us that it was from a deeper knowledge that he spoke and taught. But we possess testimonies of a much more striking kind. If anyone wants to know what the kingdom of God and the coming of it meant in Jesus’ message, he must read and study his parables. He will then see what it is that is meant. The kingdom of God comes by coming to the individual, by entering into his soul and laying hold of it. True, the kingdom of God is the rule of God; but it is the rule of the holy God in the hearts of individuals; it is God himself in his power. From this point of view everything that is dramatic in the external and historical sense has vanished; and gone, too, are all the external hopes for the future. Take whatever parable you will, the parable of the sower, of the pearl of great price, of the treasure buried in the field—the word of God, God himself, is the kingdom. It is not a question of angels and devils, thrones and principalities, but of God and the soul, the soul and its God.