“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Matthew 16:18.
A message preached in Penticton Free Presbyterian Church,
March 25th, 2018 by Rev Ivan Foster.
Stream or download The Church – an unchanging institution
(These notes contain references to some matters that the preacher was unable to deal with. They are included for the benefit of the reader.)
We live in a world which seeks change. It is as restless as the sea. “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” Isaiah 57:20-21.
The change it seeks is always for the worst. It is a downward rather than an upward movement it seeks. The changes men initiate in the religious sphere show this. Please read Romans 1:21-32. Jeremiah speaks of the change sought by men. “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. . . . . For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. . . . . Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way? thou also shalt be ashamed of Egypt, as thou wast ashamed of Assyria,” Jeremiah 2:11, 13 and 36.
The author of such change and restlessness is the devil. He is a restless spirit. He is discontent with his lot. “And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it,” Job 1:7. Such restlessness should not mark the Church of Christ. While others zig-zag and tack from side to side to catch every new breeze of change the true believers hold to a steady course. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 15:58. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive,” Ephesians 4:14.“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” Philippians 4:11. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness,” 1 Timothy 6:6-11. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5.
The believer imbibes this steadfastness from his Saviour. Christ is the Unchanging One. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” Hebrews 13:8.
All who have come to Him find rest. They are delivered from restlessness.
The old hymn puts it well: I’ve ceased from my wanderings and going astray, Since Jesus came into my heart.
The child of God is under an injunction not to deviate from the path revealed in God’s word. From generation to generation it is the same.
“Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess,” Deuteronomy 5:32-33. “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest,” “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them,” Joshua 1:6; 23:6-7. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil,” Proverbs 4:23-27. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” Luke 9:62.
As the Lord changes not so there ought not to be any change in the faith and practice of His people. “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” Malachi 3:6.
Consider, then why the Church of Christ is unchanging.
I. THE UNCHANGING CHRIST IS THE OWNER OF THE CHURCH
‘My church’. As His property it will reflect His desires and principles. He is owner by:
1. Inheritance. The Church is the inheritance of the Lord. Christ is heir of all things. “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds,” Hebrews 1:2. Part of His inheritance is the Church. It has been given to Him. “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word,” John 17:6.
2. Purchase. The Church was mortgaged because of sin. A great debt lay upon every member. Christ at Calvary paid that debt. We are doubly His. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts 20:28. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 6:19.
3. Conquest. Every member of the Church was under the thraldom of Satan. We were his slaves and bondsmen. Christ conquered Satan and set us free. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” Galatians 5:1. “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John 3:8. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” Colossians 2:13-15.
This threefold right of ownership of the Church surely means that it will reflect His wishes and image. It is His to fashion as He desires.
II. THE UNCHANGING CHRIST IS THE BUILDER OF THE CHURCH
“I will build my church,” Matthew 16:18. “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house,” Hebrews 3:3.
Is not His likeness to be seen in His handiwork? “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world,” Psalm 19:1-4.
1. He quarries the material. “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged,” Isaiah 51:1. The word hewn means to quarry.
2. He fashions the material. That truth is illustrated for us in the building of both the Tabernacle and the Temple. “And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee in the mount,” Exodus 26:30. “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. Take heed now; for the LORD hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it. Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, and the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the LORD, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD,” 1 Chronicles 28:9-13.
As it was with these two wonderful edifices so it is with the saints. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself,” Philippians 3:21. “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” Colossians 3:10. “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy,” 1 Peter 1:14-16.
So it is that the Lord sanctifies His people so that they bear His image.
3. He positions the material. As the furnishings in the tabernacle and the temple were arranged at the Lord’s bidding so He builds the living stones of His church to suit His purpose. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 2:5. As stones in a building serve different purposes and are shaped accordingly, so it is with His people. They have different roles to perform in the will of God. Thus we have the Lord appointing men to serve in various offices in the Church. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ,” Ephesians 4:11-15.
III. THE UNCHANGING CHRIST GUARDS THE CHURCH
“The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He protects it. He makes her invincible. What was promised to Israel is likewise promised to the Church generally. “And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them,” Deuteronomy 7:24. “There shall no man be able to stand before you: forthe LORD your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as he hath said unto you.” Deuteronomy 7:24,11:25. “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” Joshua 1:5.
Here is why the Church has never been destroyed when its destruction appeared certain and why it will ultimately triumph over all its enemies.
1. He guards the church from every attempt to mar or destroy her. His eye is ever open upon the Church. “That thine eyes may be open upon this house day and night, upon the place whereof thou hast said that thou wouldest put thy name there; to hearken unto the prayer which thy servant prayeth toward this place,” 2 Chronicles 6:20. “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” Psalm 121:4. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil,” 1 Peter 3:12. “Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp. And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down. And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice. Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber,” 2 Kings 6:8-12.
2. He guards the church by a number of means:
[a] Intercession. “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are,” John 17:11. Constantly, the Lord Jesus speaks to His Father about each one of us. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them,” Hebrews 7:25.
[b] Exhortation. The preaching of the Word of God is the ‘rod of God’ by which he shepherds and guides us. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you,” John 15:3. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth,” John 17:17. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,” 1 Peter 1:22.
[c] Effusion.“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. . . . . And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all,” Acts 4:31, 33.
[d] Intervention. “And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from hishands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. . . . . . And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied,” Acts 12:7-9, 23-24. All such interventions in the experience of the Church have been but foretastes of that grand and glorious and final intervention: the return of our Saviour. Therein will be a delivering of us from all our enemies and a translating of us into the joy of our Lord.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin isthe law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.
3. His guarding of the church will prove to be gloriously successful. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen,” Jude 1:24-25. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed arethey which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God,” Revelation 19:7-9.
Thus the church throughout the ages is preserved in the image of Him who purchased her by His own blood. The saints of all the ages partake of a common blessing and bear a common image. As it was with Moses: — “And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him,” Exodus 34:29, so it was with Stephen. “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel,” Acts 6:15..
The glory of God has been seen in the lives and on the countenances of His people throughout the ages as He works His grace in them. “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there isliberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
May more of His grace and glory be evident in our lives to His honour and praise.