The Language Of A “Twofold Kingdom” Has Deep Roots In Reformed Orthodoxy

Once more: it was John Calvin (1509–64) who distinguished between the two spheres on God’s kingdom: the temporal and the eternal, the secular and the sacred. Please see Institutes 3.19.15. This is not a new or novel distinction. Even if we want to speak of two kingdoms, there are plenty of Reformed writers who have done that. William Perkins, one of the leading Reformed theologians of the late 16th and early 17th century, who exercised enormous influence upon the Westminster Assembly, wrote, “…every Christian is a member of two Kingdoms; of Christ’s Kingdom of grace and of that particular state where he dwells. By reason of this dual membership, he has has a twofold calling: temporal and spiritual.” George Gillespie, one of the most important of the Scottish Reformed theologians of the 17th century wrote, “The distinction of the twofold Kingdom of Christ, a universal Kingdom, whereby he reigns over all things as God: and a special economical Kingdom, whereby he is King to the Church only, and rules and governs it, is that which being rightly understood, overturns, overturns, overturns the Erastian principles.” Andrew Melville, a significant seventeenth-century Scottish Reformed theologian wrote to James VI, “I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus the King of the church, whose subject James the sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.” Francis Turretin distinguished between Christ’s general reign over all things and his special, saving reign over the church: “But before all things we must distinguish the twofold kingdom, belonging to Christ: one natural or essential; the other mediatorial and economical. Christ possesses the former over all creatures with glory and majesty equal to that of the Father and Holy Spirit. The latter (according to the economy of grace) he administers in a peculiar manner as God-man (theanthrōpos). The former extends equally over all creatures; the latter is terminated specially on the church” (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (14.16.2), ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans.  George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 486). The English Reformed writer, John Flavel wrote, “So that Christ hath a twofold kingdom, the one spiritual and internal, by which he subdues and rules the hearts of his people; the other providential and external, whereby he guides, rules, and orders all things in the world, in a blessed subordination to their eternal salvation. I am to speak from this text of his spiritual and internal kingdom” (John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, vol. 1 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 199). We find the same language in the eighteenth-century Scottish Reformed theologian, Thomas Boston, in his explanation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Christ hath a twofold kingdom; namely, an essential kingdom, as he is God; and a mediatory kingdom, as he is our Redeemer. His essential kingdom is the whole creation: Col. 1:15, 16, “Who (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature: for by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him.” His mediatory kingdom is the church: Col. 1:11, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” Zech. 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee.” Now, it is his mediatory kingdom that his kingly office relates to” (Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 61).

This only a brief survey. Please, if you have regard for the truth, for history, for the way the Reformed actually spoke in the classical period—I understand if you disagree with the way the Reformed spoke—please stop saying that this way of speaking is novel.


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One comment

  1. I just finished Carl Trueman’s book, Rise And Triumph. The very last chapter made the twofold kingdom very clear in my mind, and I don’t recall Trueman ever specifically mentioning the TK anywhere in the book. But in our time, it’s unavoidably obvious.

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