Friday, September 16, 2016

Messiah the Prince by William Symington

Over the last year or so I've taken to reading some classic devotionals in small bite-sized pieces each day. The latest I finished was a reprint of the 1884 edition of William Symington's Messiah the Prince, Or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ.

Symington, the minister of a small Reformed Presbyterian church in Scotland, like many other members of that small denomination down to the present day, saw himself as an heir of the Covenanters whose war-banner read, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." But what exactly does it mean to be for Christ's Crown? All Christians know that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, where he sits ruling and reigning at the right hand of God the Father, until all things are put under his feet. That much we can all agree on pretty clearly. But it's in the finer details that we tend to get lost. Exactly what does Christ's kingdom consist of? How is it ruled? And perhaps most importantly, what effect does it have on our lives?

The modern Reformed world is pretty strong on what it means for Christ to be Priest. He made atonement for our sins. He was our sacrificial lamb. And he intercedes for us. If not for Christ's priesthood, there's no way we could be cleansed of our sins.

We're less firm on what it means for Christ to be Prophet. Still, we tend to have a pretty good idea that this involves Christ's revelation of his will to us and all things necessary for our faith and edification, via his Word and assisted by his Spirit. If not for Christ's prophetic office, we would never hear, or understand, that Christ's sacrifice was for us.

But we're perhaps shakiest of all on what it means for Christ to be King. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." According to Symington, if it wasn't for Christ's kingship, we would never accept salvation. It takes a king to conquer us, and not just us, but all our enemies too.

Symington's 350-page book is by far the most in-depth discussion of Christ's kingship that I've ever come across--and yet it's little more than a systematic unpacking of the above Shorter Catechism quotation. It answered questions I've had all my life. After all, when Jesus Christ came to earth, his message was the Kingdom of God. But what is the kingdom? When did it begin? Is it the church? Is it the whole world? Is it purely spiritual? Or does it take place on earth? Who are its citizens? How are they ruled? What benefits accrue to them? How does Christ's kingship affect the church? Does Christ's kingship affect the state, and if so, how? And will Christ's kingship ever end?

These are just some of the basic questions answered in this book. I did have my concerns with part of it, especially the parts where Symington argues for the establishment of religion by the state. While I disagree with him, he does make a fairly reasonable case, which gains strength because he's arguing for something a bit different than what we've seen so far in the establishment of religion. Thinking through his arguments pushed me to develop my own views a little further, so that was helpful.

On the other hand, most of this book was absolutely terrific. I particularly appreciated Symington's explanation of the how the kingdom embraces both the saved and the unsaved. Christ's dominion over believers is obviously the minimum requirement, but Symington goes further, showing that in order for Christ to subdue his (and our) enemies, he must also have dominion over unbelievers and indeed, the entire cosmos. The relevant verse explaining how these fit together is Ephesians 1:22, where it's explained that Christ has been made "head over all things to the church"--that is, for the church's good. The Kingdom is far wider than those who recognise its dominion.

But this is just the starting-point. Messiah the Prince goes far beyond an academic recognition of Christ's kingship, pushing the concept home in areas that go far beyond most Christians' comfort zone. But this is all to the good: if Christ is our king, then we can have hope for everything under his rule. This book was a daily shot in the arm, a daily reminder to be confident and have hope. It ought to be prescribed as a tonic. Read it.

Find Messiah the Prince at Amazon or the Book Depository.


Jamie W said...

I might have to start this for my next devotional when my one-year Spurgeon book runs out. This may be odd to ask, but was the reprint well-formatted? I see it's Crown & Covenant, so I should hope so, but you never know.

Suzannah said...

MORNING AND EVENING, perchance? Such a classic!

Yes, this one is terrific! I hope you read it. The edition I read was one of a limited run that occurred back in the 90's, and it was a facsimile of the 1884 edition, so it was fine to read. I did not actually read the Crown & Covenant edition; I just thought it had the best-looking cover available, so I'm afraid I can't speak to the interior :).

Joseph J said...

Would you?

Novelist Runs Into Fiery Home for Laptop:

Jamie W said...

Yes, Morning and Evening is my current devotional. Thanks for the suggestion!

Joseph, wow, that's dedication!

Suzannah said...

Ha, Joseph, NO. And it's not a remotely academic question for me: I live in a bushfire trap that will be very, very nasty if it ever goes up. Which is why I keep my WIPs backed up in the cloud. Can't imagine why this author didn't take the same precaution! (Maybe on account of not being rural Aussie, but still...)


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