HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.–Matthew 16:18
Jesus Used the Term Church Only Twice
Only on two occasions did our Lord use the word Church, here and in the eighteenth chapter, where He says, “Tell it to the church.” In the rest of the New Testament, the word occurs with frequency, sometimes of the universal church, and sometimes of the local church. But to the lips of our Lord Himself it rises only twice. It has been argued that He never used it and that it really is due to the evangelist, writing at a later date, when the word had passed into the common speech. But that our Lord actually used it seems to me entirely likely, and that for two considerations. In the first place, you have it in the Greek Old Testament, and with that version, our Lord was quite familiar; and in the second place, He only used it in the closing period of His ministry. Hitherto He had spoken of the Kingdom–that was the word which was always on His lips. Now, as the end approached, was it not natural that He should talk of the instrument for bringing in the Kingdom? For that is what the Church is, not merely a spiritual fellowship, but God’s great instrument for bringing in the Kingdom which is righteousness and joy and peace. How has the Kingdom come in Britain? How is it coming in India and Africa? Everywhere it is coming through the Church. Men say they have no use for the Church, and yet they profess to reverence our Lord, for whom it was the instrument of heaven.
Christ’s Confidence in the Future
What first arrests us in the words which I have chosen is the profound confidence of Jesus in the future. We must remember that the words were spoken when the shadow of the end was on His path. In a little while, He would be crucified. His very disciples would forsake Him. Men would say He was a noble visionary, but now His beautiful visions were extinguished. And just then, when everything was darkest, our Lord looked down the echoing aisles of time, and said with a serene and perfect confidence, “I will build my church.” The same confidence you meet again as He sits at the Supper with His own. There He was on the verge of His betrayal. Yet there He never for one moment doubted that through the ages, till He came again, He would be remembered by adoring hearts. Sometimes you hear men say that they tremble for the ark of God. Let them not forget the fate of him who was the first to tremble for the ark of God. When once the heart has heard the Lord’s assertion, “I will build my church, “such solicitude is irreligious.
He Will Build His Church through Human Instrumentality
Of course, when our Lord says, “I will build,” that does not mean His hands will do the building. One recalls the dictum of the ancients, quod facit per alium, facit per se (“He who acts through another does the act himself.”). We read in the Gospel of St. John that Jesus tarried with them and baptized (John 3:22). Yet in the next chapter we are told that Jesus did not baptize, but His disciples (John 4:2). He baptized (it is the word of Scripture), and yet He did it not with His own hands; He did it by the hands of His disciples. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). Does not that mean that though the Lord be the builder, the masons must be busy all the time? So when Jesus says, “I will build my church,” He means that He is going to build it by the toiling hands and consecrated lives of sinful men and women like ourselves. “Young man,” said the old minister to Carey, “if God wants to convert the heathen He can do it without you.” But that old minister was wrong. It is through those who dedicate their lives, as Carey did, through those who toil and pray and give, that the ages see the fulfilment of the words, “I will build my church.”
Assurance That the Church Is Going to Be Completed
In these words, lastly, we have our great assurance that the building is going to be completed. That is why the Lord says, “I will build.” We know the story of one who thought to build a tower and had his vision of that tower completed. But long before the cornerstone was in place, that visionary’s resources were exhausted. But the resources of Jesus Christ are inexhaustible–all power hath been committed unto Him–and His church is going to be built. It must be a depressing thing to be a mason when the contractor is on the verge of bankruptcy. How can a labourer toil with all his heart if tomorrow the work may be suspended? But the joy of service in the Church of Christ, a joy that ought to thrill through every toiler, is that no such dark dubiety as that can hang like a chilling cloud over his toil. Our Master-builder has resources infinite. His power is co-extensive with His vision. We have His Word that the building will be crowned and His Word will never pass away. In such sure confidence, itself a spring of gladness, the humblest worker plucks up heart again when the arm is weary and the sky is grey.