Bishop J C Ryle
“Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!” Matthew 16:18
Do we belong to the Church which is built upon a rock? Are we members of the only Church in which our souls can be saved? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. I ask the attention of all who read this message, while I try to show the one true, holy, catholic Church, and to guide men’s feet into the only safe fold. What is this Church? What is it like? What are its marks? Where is it to be found? On all these points, I have something to say. I am going to unfold the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, which stand at the head of this page. He declares, “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!”
Let us consider this in more detail:
1. We have, firstly, a BUILDING mentioned in the text. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of “My Church.”
Now what is this Church? Few inquiries can be made of more importance than this. For lack of due attention to this subject, the errors that have crept into the world are neither few nor small.
The Church of our text is no material building. It is no temple made with hands of wood or brick or stone or marble. It is a company of men and women. It is no particular visible Church on earth. It is not the Eastern Church or the Western Church. It is not the Church of England or the Church of Scotland. Above all, it certainly is not the Church of Rome. The Church of our text is one that makes far less show than any visible Church in the eyes of man — but is of far more importance in the eyes of God.
The Church of our text is made up of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, of all who are really holy and converted people. It comprises . . .
all who have repented of sin,
all who fled to Christ by faith,
all who been made new creatures in Him,
all of God’s elect,
all who have received God’s grace,
all who have been washed in Christ’s blood,
all who have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness,
all who have been born again and sanctified by Christ’s Spirit.
All such, of every name and rank and nation and people and tongue, compose the Church of our text.
This is the body of Christ.
This is the flock of Christ.
This is the bride.
This is the Lamb’s wife.
This is the Church on the Rock.
The members of this Church do not all worship God in the same way, or use the same form of government. Some of them are governed by bishops, and some of them by elders. Some of them use a prayer book when they meet for public worship, and some of them use none.
But the members of this Church all come to one throne of grace.
They all worship with one heart.
They are all led by one Spirit.
They are all really and truly holy.
They can all say, “Alleluia,” and they can all reply, “Amen.”
This is that Church, to which all visible Churches on earth are servants and handmaidens. Whether they are Episcopalian, Independent, or Presbyterian, they all serve the interests of the one true Church. They are the scaffolding behind which the great building is carried on. They are the husk, under which the living kernel grows. They have their various degrees of usefulness. The best and worthiest of them is that which trains up most members for Christ’s true Church. But no visible Church has any right to say, “We are the only true Church. We are the men, and wisdom shall die with us.” No visible Church should ever dare to say, “We shall stand forever. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against me.”
This is that Church to which belong the Lord’s gracious promises of preservation, continuance, protection and final glory. “Whatever,” says Hooker, “we read in Scripture, concerning the endless love and saving mercy, which God shows towards His Churches — the only proper subject thereof is this Church, which we properly term the mystical body of Christ.” Small and despised as the true Church may be in this world, it is precious and honourable in the sight of God. The temple of Solomon in all its glory was mean and contemptible, in comparison with that Church which is built upon a rock.
I trust the things I have just been saying will sink down into the minds of all who read this message. See that you hold sound doctrine upon the subject of “the Church.” A mistake here may lead on to dangerous and soul-ruining errors. The Church which is made up of true believers, is the Church for which we, who are ministers, are specially ordained to preach. The Church which comprises all who repent and believe the gospel, is the Church to which we desire you to belong. Our work is not done, and our hearts are not satisfied, until you are made a new creature, and are a member of the one true Church. Outside of the Church which is “built on the rock” there can be No Salvation.