Thy Kingdom Come: A Blumhardt Reader 1a

Part One

Leonhard Ragaz (1868-1945) was a highly respected Swiss professor and theologian, one of the early contributors to dialectical theology, and a leader of the religious-socialism movement in Switzerland.

In 1922, he published a book of 321 pages, Der Kampf um das Reich Gottes in Blumhardt, Vater und Sohn--und Weiter! The first 43 pages are an introduction to the Blumhardts and their thought (none of which we will use). The remainder is a presentation of their "message," the outline and headings of which become directly the outline and headings of our Part One, here following. Under each of these headings, Ragaz opened with his own description of and comment upon the Blumhardts' position (none of which we will use). Then he collected quotations and excerpts of the Blumhardts' own words on the topic. Although retaining all of Ragaz's headings, we have selected, to translate and present here, roughly half of the Blumhardt material Ragaz used.

Using Ragaz as compiler and editor, as it were, has given us inestimable advantages.

  1. Ragaz presents a comprehensive and ordered (although not "systematic," which, regarding the Blumhardts, would be a wrongheaded impossibility) view of their thought which any amount of random reading in their talks and sermons could never provide.
  2. Ragaz had access to the totality of the Blumhardt corpus in a way unsurpassed by anyone and unequalled by any contemporary, non-German scholars.
  3. Ragaz knew the Blumhardts and their thought well enough and himself had sufficient theological expertise to make this an authoritative and dependable presentation of their "theology."
  4. Ragaz was wise enough not to try to force their thought into the customary categories and outlines of theology but to let the outline grow out of the Blumhardtian materials themselves. And finally,
  5. Ragaz was a skilled enough editor that his selections do not read like a collection of "selections" but almost as though the Blumhardts had set out to write a presentation of their thought as a whole. In short, the Blumhardts nowhere expressed themselves as fully and as clearly as they do here with the help of Ragaz.

The translation of the Blumhardt material here presented (via Ragaz) is mine. However, I could not have managed it alone. A rough, first draft translation for part of the material was provided by members of the Bruderhof (The Society of Brothers) who had been at work before I ever entered the picture. A second part was done recently by Professor William Willoughby, my colleague at the University of la Verne. And a third part was done some years ago by Lonna Whipple, then a La Verne College German major who had done her junior-year-abroad at Marburg University. To these people I tender my gratitude for their help. However, at the same time it must be said that, with their drafts beside me, I nevertheless worked directly from the Blumhardt’s German (as given by Ragaz, of course). Thus, although they were most helpful, the translation is mine, and I must take full responsibility for it.

Ragaz made no effort to identify sources for any of the Blumhardt quotations he used; so we can be of no help regarding the items of Part One. -- V.E.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS FOR EARTH

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There must be a new reality which is of the truth. It not to be a new doctrine or law, not a new arrangement. The new truth to which we must listen is that which came in the person of the Son of Man himself, namely, that God is now creating a new reality on earth, a reality to come first among men but finally over all creation, so that the earth and the heavens are renewed. God is creating something new. A new history is starting. A new world is coming to earth.


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Evil shall be defeated for all generations, and the good shall come into its rightful rule. That was the goal of the people of Israel, and for hundreds of years it was steadily pursued. The cause originally was an earthly one, not, as we Christians think, a heavenly one. It was the heavenly coming to reality upon earth; and to that extent it was earthly. It was earthly because it was a concern that the situation on earth become good and righteous, that God's name be hallowed on earth, that his kingdom come on earth and his will be done right here on earth. The earth is to manifest eternal life. We want to shine so brightly that heaven itself will become jealous of us.


CFB

Where in all the scriptures does God comfort man with a hereafter? The earth shall be filled with the glory of God. According to the Bible, that is the meaning of all the promises. Jesus, come in the flesh, what is his will? Of course, nothing other than the honor of his Father on earth. In his own person, through his advent, he put a seed into the earth. He would be the light of men; and those who were his he called "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth." His purpose is the raising up of the earth and the generations of man out of the curse of sin and death toward the revelation of eternal life and glory.

Why else did he heal the sick and wake the dead? Why did he exalt the poor and hungry? Surely not in order to tell them that they would be blessed, after death, but because the kingdom of God was near. Of course, God has a way out for those who, unfortunately, must suffer death; he gives them a refuge in the beyond. But shall this necessary comfort now be made the main thing? Shall the kingdom of God be denied for earth and perpetuated only in the kingdom of death, simply because God wants also to dry the tears of the dead? It is to discard the whole meaning of the Bible if one argues, "We have nothing to expect on earth; it must be abandoned as the home of man."

Truly, within the human structures of sin, we have no lasting home; we must seek what is coming. But what is it, then, that is coming? The revealing of an earth cleansed of sin and death. This is the homeland we seek. There is no other to be sought, because we do not have, and there cannot come to be, anything other than what God intended for us in the creation.


CFB P>No proper servant remains with his master solely for the wages involved. If he realizes that he is of no use, he would rather leave and be poor. And no proper maid will stay just because of the pay. She wants to be of service. If there is nothing more to do, she is unhappy; even if she is paid, she no longer exists as a maid does. And man, in the midst of creation, has the feeling that he is here for a purpose--not just for himself but for something else, something greater, something which has been lost.

Nevertheless, today people sit in the churches thinking mostly about themselves. Everyone sighs over himself, looks for something in himself and for himself--and doesn't himself know what it is. One would like to call out to them all: "People, forget yourselves! Think of God's cause. Start to do something for it. Don't be sorry for yourself; or at least be sorry that you have nothing to do but worry about your own petty concerns."

Our greatest lack is that we are of no use to the Lord; no wonder, then, that we go to ruin in spite of all our culture. Any person degenerates, even in a physical sense, if he is not acting as part of a body that has a higher purpose. But those who, in love and enthusiasm, work for something greater than themselves prosper, even regarding their physical well being. And the race declines in its very life-values, both physical and spiritual, if, as people, there is nothing we are producing for the life of the earth, for creation, for God.


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To believe in God is easy; but to believe that the world will become different--to do that one must be faithful unto death.


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You know, the angels can't do much with "the blessed," because they seek only their own comfort in eternity and are no longer good for anything. One seats them in a comfortable chair and says, "There you are now; stay put." But when the kingdom of God is being fulfilled and many are pressing to enter, then there is really work and life among the angels. For the kingdom of God stands in a direct relationship to the earth; it lives with the earth.


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Nothing will be revealed in the hereafter that is not already grounded here. God's goal is the here and now. It is here that the inheritance is to be received; and it comes as a work of creation, not of philosophy or theology.


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Christians should take an objective view of the times. Instead, they want to experience everything subjectively within themselves and enjoy inner beatitude. Yet, these feelings have no permanency, and so they become disappointed. But when a person has his eye on a better future for mankind, then he gains a festival of the heart. A great confidence gives us strength for difficult times.


CFB

According to our customary false way of thinking, the kingdom of God must give way to our happiness. With many people the words of the Savior already have been altered to read: "Seek first your own blessedness, and all those things shall be added unto you." This is something very deceptive, although I know that for me to say so will rub many people the wrong way. They love themselves; and if only they know that they are safe, they don't much care about the rest of the world--or at most, only so much as to say to others, "See to it that you also get yourself saved, and then I will be happy!" With this little error, my friends, our fellowship with the Father is destroyed. We are like children always coming to our parents demanding candy, pop, and ice cream instead of being concerned about the wishes of our parents, honoring them with fidelity and hard work, in which case our food would come as a matter of course.


CFB

The goal of all God's effort is that finally he will be a God whom we will be able to see on earth, a God who will make the earth his footstool, where Jesus will be Lord over all men and where they, in him, once more will be integrated into God's creation.

THE LIVING GOD


CFB

What do I care about a God of the sort whose being must be demonstrated? The dear Lord came from heaven and spoke; had he not done so, even the philosophers could not have found him. Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling--why, they would all still be heathen if he had not spoken his word on Mt. Sinai. I almost burst sometimes when our modern culture sets classical learning over the Bible. Why, everybody would still be ignorant were it not for the Bible and its God who there speaks upon earth.


CFB

God lets us meet him in Christ; and in the days of the apostles when there was talk of faith, of being true until death, everyone who belonged to the body of Christ knew what course his faithfulness would take. Something came over these people, something to which none of them had given thought and which none of them would have been able to explain. Suddenly they found themselves part of a history that proceeded of itself and in which such wonderful powers were discovered that the inevitable impression was: "These powers are stronger than the whole world."

In this situation people had a perfectly dear picture of what God is. There was no need to look up to heaven; the occurrences took place on earth; they were bound up with naming the name of Jesus.

In that regard, we ought not to be ashamed frankly and openly to call our Christ "God," because, with only mental pictures of God, nothing gets started. Our Christ has become Yahweh; he stands upon earth and calls to us, "I am." And we need not make a big ceremony of it but simply fall before him, knowing in him the living God, the Father in heaven. Then, once we've met him, we feel ourselves on solid ground which does not quake but from which the mountains of God's sovereignty burst forth to overwhelm us, as, in the final cataclysm, they shall overwhelm the whole world.


CFB

It may be that there is one error that poisons most of our thinking about God's kingdom. Prevailing very widely, this is the understanding that, in order for God's kingdom to come, it is sufficient that we finally and firmly establish and systematize the doctrine. This error works as a poison in that, from this perspective, certain doctrines and conventions soon become almost more important than God himself.

It has become dear to me that no single, dogmatic, fixed, and systematized doctrine will decide the issue of the kingdom: this only the living God himself will do.


CFB

As long as you believe sheerly as routine, things are not right. One cannot come drowsing into the kingdom of God. The cause must proceed with clarity and zest; the way must ever be made afresh by God. And therein is true grace demonstrated--that God hurries forth as the God who acts.

I tell you I cannot hold out for a single day unless from somewhere, either in myself or from afar, I have a report or am able to see that "Praise be, God is hurrying forward!" ... Thus we all should become enlightened in spirit so that we become clear about world events, so that we do not fall into religious confusion and other foolishness, so that we know what time it is, so that we have an inner sense about how to comport ourselves. "Shall I hurry? Shall I wait? Shall I do this? Shall I leave that?" In short, we need light.


FROM CREATION THROUGH DETERIORATION TO RESTORATION

CFB

We are encompassed by a creation; and one piece of it is this ground under our feet. We go forth upon it; we live from it; we have a certain power over it; we are employed with it and yet it nowhere comes completely right.

If one observes the morals, customs, viewpoints, and lives of all the world's peoples, he is amazed that, alongside the glorious appearance of nature's truth, mankind goes as if deranged. As the Chinese who bind a girl's feet are not satisfied until she is so crippled she can't walk, so do all the nations and peoples, be they Christian or heathen, right in the midst of the organism of truth which is creation, manage to make habitual falsifiers of themselves.


CFB

You must bear in mind, my friends, that we humans, even the best of us, are poor comrades to the great whole of creation. Something in us is twisted. Now, all of us were created in the image of God, an important part or--to put it pictorially--an important wheel in the great gearworks of creation. But on this wheel the cogs are all crooked and chipped; and the axle is bent. The human part doesn't work right; and the whole creation suffers in consequence. This is sin. Things don't run right with us men. There is much that is awry with every person in the world.


CFB

Is this creation to which our bodily life belongs simply to be east aside? Or does there lie within it the embryo of eternity? There are many who see God's creation as of little value and its very loveliness as a sorry thing one would like to leave as soon as possible--preferably with a good kick! I am sad about that.


CFB

God did not create mere spirits for this corporeal world but bodies--which he has called his "image." Only through tattering travail can such a body come to be. And every person sees and experiences for himself that death is a judgment that makes him anxious even when he wants to be strong and convince himself that he can die tranquilly and be a spirit.


CFB

Men often attribute everything that happens in the world to God; but this is to do him an injustice. There are also works of man and of the devil. These do harm, whereas the works of God always do good--indeed, it is by this they are known. We are the ones responsible for so much that goes awry in the world. So lay off of my God, and don't say, "He's doing it!"


JESUS CHRIST

CFB

Jesus, who is the glory of God on earth, wants to help us become the same thing. In this man, God again shines forth. It is for a purpose, then, that he is here; he acts as God in the creation, among men. This is his work; consequently, he has eternal life and does not perish even though nailed upon the cross. Nothing, no possible situation, even the most disadvantageous you could conceive, can overcome this man, because he is here to accomplish something.

From him shines forth the Father of creation. And the creation feels that once more it has been given hope, as it were, because this man understands what needs to be done so that the things of God might again be brought into order and the ruined, wasted earth again be restored to him. I tell you, such is the Savior's first order of business. The Savior is, first of all, "for" God and only then "for" you. Bit by bit, man has turned things around and made the case appear as though the Savior had come only for us. Thus people use Jesus to flatter themselves; but this eventually can bring things to a pretty pass. I tell you, therefore, the Savior doesn't care about us--he doesn't even care about people as a whole if they will not help him.

Without further ado he can put us all aside. Already he has begun to cut the threads; and--who knows how things will go? It may happen that even the Christians will be left entirely on their own and have nothing more of a Savior.


CFB

He is the glory of God upon earth and the glory of man in heaven. Just as God was blotted out on earth, so also was man blotted out in heaven. Now Jesus comes as the one he is; and God lives upon the earth. Then Jesus is again with the Father in heaven; and humanity lives there in him. Now before God there gleams something of the humanity that was dead--it is the glory of mankind in heaven before God through Jesus.


CFB

This is the man Jesus Christ; he is fixed in the creation where his true nature is grounded. As the creation is a work of God, so Jesus the Son is a work of God in the whole of creation. He is far above all angels and all powers of God that drive the world. The highest messengers of God, the life elements and life powers, serve him. He is in the creation, and it must go as he goes. One must understand this tremendous magnitude of Jesus Christ in order to believe that he still is able to help us men.


CFB

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." That is true; nevertheless, it remains night as long as men are unaware of the fact and as long as Jesus is not known universally. We are in the night. That people have believed it to be day simply because Jesus was born, died, and rose again is the greatest error of Christendom. With that error we have been in the darkest night for nineteen hundred years, thinking that everything was complete and good.

But we must undertake great exertions if we are to be apostles of Jesus Christ. Our dead world must first be given light. Then it will be day. All people, all consciousness in heaven, on earth, and under the earth must know that Jesus bears all things and that he, as the glory of the sovereign God, as Son, rules the things of this world. Then it will be day; and then redemption will rush over all heights and into all depths.


CFB

One person we know through whom things moved as they should; he is called Jesus Christ. And thus it is that light has again been given to creation. Then why do you wonder at the fact that Jesus has bread for four or five thousand people? It amazes us; but he is simply a true man again, and that is why the powers of the world are subservient to him. Or why are you surprised that when he touches a sick person healing takes place? He is a true man. Things go as they should through him, under the oversight of God. He is the image of God, the Son of God. This makes him a blessing and constitutes a power that also makes others blessed if only they come within his reach. Even people who in themselves are perverted and godless, if only they press to him, are touched by something of his true spirit so that something comes true in them as well.


CFB

As long as it depends upon the perceptions merely of the eyes of reason, that understanding which is represented by research into the advent of Christ shall stand opposed to Christ's life in the will of God. So many people write "lives of Jesus" and seek to establish grounds for "the historical appearance of Christ"; and then they despair over the fact that we have such scant records in this regard. Neither the Gospel accounts nor the works of other authors of the time serve to satisfy the lust for the confirmation of this human history of Jesus. The apostles and prophets don't even bother to give us the year of Christ's birth. Neither are they concerned to prove to the world the historicity of his singular life, the facts about his birth and the resurrection following his death on the cross. For the truth does not lie in the rationally verifiable history but in a life--a life which, out of an unpretentious and derided history, breaks forth as the life of God, while history according to the flesh is left behind as a useless shell.

The man whom you seek is not here (Mk. 16:6), but the God-man remains and brings to people life and light. In this and that there may be contradictions in the reports godly people have handed down from those who knew Christ in the beginning, in what must be taken as outward history. It is little wonder if, where all sorts of people worked together in great enthusiasm, imperfect things got mixed in with the perfect; it is ever so with us humans. Also, after the Lord Jesus had given it into the care of the people, his history would have been passed along and elaborated. Yet, against this the Apostle Paul says, "I no longer know Jesus after the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). He does not intend to say that Jesus had not lived historically but that the outward history has fallen away and the outward history of God remains.

When the Spirit of God moves in a person who is seeking proof of God, that spirit makes his appearance in the life of men actually upon earth and does not allow himself to be shunted into secondary matters. For the spirit knows that the very crux of all truth lies in the kingdom of God--there rather than in the history of man according to the flesh, which shall disappear. A true history of man's life is in process of fulfillment, bound up with God, even though presently developing under the husks of an unfulfilled relationship. The Spirit knows that this life history is not that of tradition or historical research but of God himself entering the scene. Thus, after the history of mankind has been lost, the life of mankind still will be known, because, from beginning to end, it has been represented in the life of God himself.


CFB

Humanity indeed has its history. We can learn it--and we also can learn much from it. But this is not the history that truly brings joy to our hearts. The joy of human history is not so great that we would not gladly give it up. But there is also a history made up of experiences which are not confined to man himself but which are informed by something of the divine. That which is human must be touched by the divine.

When we read of the singular experiences of men of God from Abraham to Jesus and the apostles--let us admit it openly--they make us angry. What wouldn't people give if they could take Jesus without having to take in the bargain other events that are, humanly speaking, unexplainable? And to top it all off, in the resurrection Christ is raised to heaven. How unsettling this report is to all those who would like to make this dear man the founder of their religion--if only he had not said things or had things said about him that must make cultured people unculturedly ashamed.

How can those who still have faith in science imagine that a man dies and is buried and then later comes back and now lives beyond death? It is as if death were something one could just strip off, something one could come through without losing his physical existence but--quite the contrary--with the physical body transfigured. Yet all the experiences of the people of God point in this direction; and it is in these experiences, and not in the doctrines that follow from them, that the seeds of God's kingdom are found. The doctrines do not lead to experiences, but experience leads to doctrine; and for better or for worse, it is back to experience we must go if we would see the kingdom of God.


CFB

When Jesus came into our company, it was day....

The whole history of humanity pivots, one might say, upon the works of Jesus. All that has come to pass since--the good and the evil, the bright and the dark--everything turns upon these works of Jesus which are directed toward the future of humanity.

It is something like the first beginning, about which, respecting our earth, it is so beautifully and significantly said: "'Let there be light'; and there was light." From that moment on, there was nothing that could stop it. The earth had light, and from that light came everything else--all life, all aspects of life, all the perfecting of life. Everything, down to the deepest depths of the earth, even the coal mines, comes into being through the light. But what a development it all went through! There was much stirring of dust and mire, much destruction, much horror, much abomination--a fearful development--until finally there came out of the earth that which we enjoy today.

In like manner, a kind of light is given in Jesus. It is directed particularly toward man and, to begin with, toward only relatively few men. But whether shining upon many or few, the power of the Spirit's light calls people out to strive for a high purpose and not be satisfied with baseness. This light has appeared and even now shines forth. This light of the Spirit which has been implanted in humanity produces the greatest development, has the greatest power of revolution and advance for mankind, right up to the present day. A great deal of dust has been raised, the hideousness of man has been uncovered, because sin and brutality and vulgarity had to have their day. The history of Christendom following the coming of the light is a horror to behold and study. But what of that?...

It is so obvious in human history: there comes a time when something is born; and then things stand still and nobody follows up. There have been developments, and beginnings have been made, which we have failed to recognize. No one can comprehend the mere three years of Jesus' ministry as being the occasion of the greatest revolution ever to occur in human society. The rise of empires and nations' wars, battles, and victories--these are no "events," no "creations." In comparison to the high calling that is mankind's, all the empires of earth fade to nothing--as do all differences of race and language, all enmity, all hostility and arrogance between man and man. In the light of the creation that has come to us in Jesus Christ, all these things dissolve; nothing of them remains to be found. But that which does remain, which truly is of value for us--that has the permanence of eternity.


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It must yet come to pass that we will not simply hold fast to an ancient confession of faith but out of a new experience be able to call to one another: "He is risen indeed! He lives among us! He takes the reins in hand and leads his people, leads them all the way to his death, that, in the death of the flesh, his resurrection and his life might be exalted in mankind to the eternal praise and glory of God."

For this cause is Jesus Christ risen from the dead: so that in him it can be seen that God will bring forth even our lives out of death and will take everything into his own hands once more. Therefore, we should die with Christ so that we also can be awakened and so that whatever should live will then be able to live fully and beautifully and gloriously.


CFB

The Lord Jesus stands humanly very near to us; I do not know my best friend as well as I know the Savior, I can't get inside my best friend; it is possible that there is within him that which is not quite trustworthy. But as far away as the Savior is from us, we still are so well acquainted with him through the scriptures that he is, as it were, transparent to us. With the writings of a Cicero it is not so; though a person read Cicero as he will, he does not thereby see into his heart. Likewise with a Plato, a Socrates, a Virgil, all the noblest spirits--however beautifully they have written, they still do not become our friends. But the Savior comes in such a way that each person can be his friend. One has only to make his acquaintance; then everything comes of itself.


REDEMPTION