Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 17: The King
It is especially difficult for Swiss people to believe that we must and do have a king. The word Liberty was sung to us even in the cradle. It is a beautiful word, and we rightly exalt it. But this honor of liberty is only one half of the truth, liberty is not the first, but the second word. The first word is obedience. God created man in His own image -- which means that we are created for liberty. But we have overlooked the first word: God created man. Therefore God is master. As long as men keep that firmly in mind, that God is Lord, they may and should strive for liberty; but when they have forgotten the primary truth their liberty becomes license and arrogance. What is true of the child is true also of adults. We become free only through obedience. A child who has never been obliged to follow, remains a weak creature all his life, the football of his moods, a slave of his desires and passions. A man who holds aloft only the one word Liberty without knowing first and foremost that God is the Lord, whom man must unquestioningly obey, is and remains a child, a spoiled, poor, silly child. The most important word in our language is the one so often thoughtlessly and profanely used -- Lord God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is the undergirding of a sound house. Where the foundation is weak or decayed the house is constantly threatened with collapse. How much more important is this solid base than a good coat of paint on the weather boarding outside.
God, the Creator of all things, your Creator and mine, desires to rule, to be king. But He does not propose to be a tyrant. He could do with us what He would; He could so make us that we were unable to do wrong, like a machine that performs what it was made to do and nothing else.
God, however, does not want that! He does not want us to be machines, He does not want us to be compelled to do His will, but that we might do it of our own free will. And that means obedience, for only he who freely does the will of God, of his own accord, really obeys; all other obedience is pretense for it does not come from the heart. God wants us to obey Him with all our heart, in reverence and love. Such a king He desires to be. For this cause He has sent us Jesus Christ, for this reason He has given us the Gospel. The Gospel is the message of the "Kingdom" of God, -- more correctly the "reign" of God.
Who is God, where is God? God is in heaven, people say, and that is far away. God is invisible, unknown -- and so obedience is difficult. No doubt the great house of God, the world in which we live is full of traces of the Lord who built it and to whom it belongs, but He himself, the King, we do not meet in His house. And we want to meet Him, not His works only but -- Him, His very self. The Prophets of the Old Testament brought indeed messages of this royal Lord, like heralds whom the king sends to proclaim his will. And they were permitted to say something more. They pro- claimed that He Himself was coming soon and would no longer be distant, but would dwell with His people. He comes, He comes, He Himself! So could they speak because they saw Him coming, He in whom the invisible God was visible, the distant and inconceivable one was near and conceivable, yet they never saw Him upon earth. But like the servant who announces the king's coming, they draw back the curtain and say, this is He -- so John the Baptist, the last Prophet, proclaimed at the coming of the Lord, The Lord! Here He is -- He Himself.
That is our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence the kingdom of God begins with him, the time of the reign of God. "He came unto his own." The will of God, the mystery of God, the heart of God, the hidden counsels of God are revealed in Jesus Christ. God comes as a man to the sons of men for only so could men understand Him. God in heaven -- is something so distant, pale and indefinite that He scarcely concerns us at all. God in heaven causes us no concern. But the conception of God on earth is something serious for it brings the will of God near and unavoidable, as clear and perceptible as the will of a man we meet. The Jews felt indeed this crisis and that is why they wanted to have nothing to do with him. They killed him. It transpired exactly as the Lord prophesied in his Parable of the Vineyard (Matt. 21). The husbandmen themselves crave Lordship, so they murder the messengers who come to collect the rent; they murder the Lord's son who comes to restore the property to his Father.
So, too, do we. We want to be our own Lords. "He came unto his own and his own received him not." Jesus Christ is come but we will not have him for our king, we want to remain "free." But that simply means we want to remain slaves of evil, for if Christ does not reign in us, some one else does. Evil desire, greed, covetousness, thirst for honor, thirst for power, egotism. One can believe that these things comprise freedom. In reality they are slavery, and this can be demonstrated by the results -- unhappiness and the creation of unhappiness. Men thus enslaved become in-human, evil, and society becomes a strife of man against man. There is neither peace within nor with other men, for God has ordained that man shall be forever peaceless, joyless, in bondage, except in obedience to the Creator. "But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Thank God the story of the husbandmen need not be repeated. It can happen that a man accepts Jesus as his king. Just that is faith. Faith does not consist in self-made opinions about the Bible and God, nor in accepting the opinions of other people. Faith means to accept Jesus as King and obey him. That is the oldest creed of the Christian Church -- Jesus, the Lord! This confession, of course, may be a mere phrase, a surface opinion. But then it is a lie. For "My Lord" means him whom I obey. Faith is obedience, and the Christian life, is, so to speak, military service: marching under the command of Jesus, the Lord. But quite different from the army, too! The command is the will of him who allowed himself to be killed on a cross, that we might learn the meaning of obedience, of sacrifice in service to one's neighbor.