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07 May, 2013

The Church That Christ Builds — Part 3

By J.C. Ryle 

3. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us, "Upon this ROCK will I build My Church." This is the Foundation upon which the Church is built. What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean, when He spoke of this foundation? Did He mean the apostle Peter, to whom He was speaking? I think assuredly not. I can see no reason, if He meant Peter, why He did not say, "Upon you will I build My Church." If He had meant Peter, He would surely have said, "I will build My Church on you," as plainly as He said, "To you will I give the keys." No, it was not the person of the apostle Peter — but the good confession which the apostle had just made! It was not Peter, the erring, unstable man — but the mighty truth which the Father had revealed to Peter. It was the truth concerning Jesus Christ Himself which was the rock. It was Christ's mediatorship, and Christ's Messiahship. It was the blessed truth that Jesus was the promised Savior, the true Surety, the real Intercessor between God and man. This was the rock, and this the foundation, upon which the Church of Christ was to be built.

The foundation of the true Church was laid at a mighty cost. It was necessary that the Son of God should take our nature upon Him, and in that nature live, suffer and die, not for His own sins — but for ours. It was necessary that in that nature Christ should go to the grave, and rise again. It was necessary that in that nature Christ should go up to Heaven, to sit at the right hand of God, having obtained eternal redemption for all His people. No other foundation could have met the necessities of lost, guilty, corrupt, weak, helpless sinners.

That foundation, once obtained, is very strong. It can bear the weight of the sins of all the world. It has borne the weight of all the sins of all the believers who have built on it.
Sins of thought, 
sins of the imagination, 
sins of the heart, 
sins of the head, 
sins which everyone has seen, 
and sins which no man knows, 
sins against God, 
and sins against man, 
sins of all kinds and descriptions
 — that mighty rock can bear the weight of all these sins, and not give way. The mediatorial office of Christ is a remedy sufficient for all the sins of all the world.

To this one foundation, every member of Christ's true Church is joined. In many things, believers are disunited and disagreed. In the matter of their soul's foundation, they are all of one mind. Whether Episcopalians or Presbyterians, Baptists or Methodists — believers all meet at one point. They are all built on the rock. Ask where they get their peace and hope and joyful expectation of good things to come. You will find that all flows from that one mighty source, Christ the Mediator between God and man, and the office that Christ holds as the High Priest and Surety of sinners.

Look to your foundation, if you would know whether or not you are a member of the one true Church. It is a point that may be known to yourself. Your public worship we can see; but we cannot see whether you are personally built upon the rock. Your attendance at the Lord's table we can see; but we cannot see whether you are joined to Christ, and one with Christ, and Christ in you. Take heed that you make no mistake about your own personal salvation. See that your own soul is upon the rock. Without this, all else is nothing. Without this, you will never stand in the day of judgment. Better a thousand times in that day to be found in a cottage "upon the rock" — than in a palace upon the sand!

4. I proceed in the fourth place to speak of the IMPLIED TRIALS of the Church, to which our text refers. There is mention made of "the gates of Hell." By that expression we are meant to understand the power of the prince of Hell, even the devil. (Compare Psalm 9:13; 107:18; Isaiah 38:10).
The history of Christ's true Church has always been one of conflict and war. It has been constantly assailed by a deadly enemy, Satan, the prince of this world. The devil hates the true Church of Christ with an undying hatred. He is ever stirring up opposition against all its members. He is ever urging the children of this world to do his will, and to injure and harass the people of God. If he cannot bruise the head — he will bruise the heel. If he cannot rob believers of Heaven — he will vex them by the way.

Warfare with the powers of Hell has been the experience of the whole body of Christ for six thousand years. It has always been a bush burning — though not consumed; a woman fleeing into the wilderness — but not swallowed up (Ex. 3:2; Revelation 12:6, 16). The visible Churches have their times of prosperity and seasons of peace — but never has there been a time of peace for the true Church. Its conflict is perpetual. Its battle never ends.

Warfare with the powers of Hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight. What are the lives of all the saints — but records of battles? What were such men as Paul and James and Peter and John and Polycarp and Chrysostom and Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Latimer and Baxter — but soldiers engaged in a constant warfare? Sometimes the persons of the saints have been assailed, and sometimes their property. Sometimes they have been harassed by calumnies and slanders, and sometimes by open persecution. But in one way or another the devil has been continually warring against the Church. The "gates of Hell" have been continually assaulting the people of Christ.

We who preach the gospel can hold out to all who come to Christ "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:4). We can offer boldly to you, in our Master's name, the peace of God which passes all understanding. Mercy, free grace and full salvation are offered to everyone who will come to Christ, and believe on Him. But we promise you no peace with the world, or with the devil. We warn you, on the contrary, that there must be warfare, so long as you are in the body. We would not keep you back, or deter you from Christ's service. But we would have you "count the cost," and fully understand what Christ's service entails (Luke 14:28).