“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
The future appeared dark for the church of God at the time of the writing of this last epistle of the apostle, Paul. Paul is nearing the end of his life—see. He is in prison at Rome. As a veteran soldier who knows the reality of life he is concerned about Timothy, the first and youthful minister of the church at Ephesus. Clouds of persecution, the lie, apostasy are gathering overhead. And Paul warns Timothy against these evils—see . However, “the foundation of God standeth sure.”
The same thought also occurs in the immediate context of our text which we chose for this article. We read of apostasy, of increase unto more ungodliness. Hymenaeus and Philetus are mentioned. They taught heresies. Their word, we read, will eat as doth a canker, and they overthrow the faith of some. However, Timothy must continue to speak and preach the truth. Whatever they may teach and whatever may be the result of their teaching, one thing is certain: the foundation of God standeth sure. The work of man must collapse. God’s work shall stand. Upon this foundation we must build. Unto that end the apostle, In order that we may recognize it, also calls our attention in this text to its seal.
A foundation presupposes a building. It is important, unto a correct understanding of the text, that we understand the building implied here. According to some, the building presupposed refers to the church of God, the elect body of Christ. Aware of the distinction which exists between a building and its foundation, they opine that the building refers to the church of God as glorified in heaven and that the foundation in this text refers to the church of God upon earth. This conception, it is alleged, is supported by the context. Hymenaeus and Philetus, we read, overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless, according to the apostle, faith is overthrown, departed from us because they never were of us; God’s church stands forever. This presentation, however, is erroneous. Firstly, we are not aware of any passage in Holy Writ where the word “foundation” ever refers to believers—see, , . Secondly, this conception is also in error as far as its reference to the building is concerned. The church on earth and the church in heaven are not two but one. And this entire church of God is built upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides, a foundation and its building are never identical—they are rendered identical in this presentation.
The building implied by the apostle in this text does refer to the church of God. First of all, the general teaching of Holy Writ demands this explanation. The church is often compared to a building—see, , . Moreover, also the text that follows, verse 20, speaks of a great house. One can therefore not escape the conclusion that the implied building in verse 19 must refer to the church of God. However, it is also evident from the context that this building cannot refer to the believers and their seed. Fact is, the great house of verse 20 contains various vessels. And it is evident from verse 21 that these vessels must not be confused with the house. They are the members of the church and live in that house. Consequently, the building presupposed in this text cannot refer to the body of Christ, but must refer to the house, the sphere wherein and through which the body of Christ reveals itself—the church of God from the viewpoint of its visible form. Paul refers to the sphere through which the church reveals itself, is built up and identified, strengthened, separates itself from the world, dwells alone in the midst of the world. The church of God reveals itself as institute and organism in the midst of the world. The organism of the church refers to our confession of faith, our life of love and faith and hope, our struggle in the world, our suffering for the sake of Christ, etc. The institute of the church refers to the church as she reveals herself through her offices. This institute includes the preaching of the Word, catechetical instruction, administration of the sacraments, exercise of Christian discipline. The house implied in the text refers, therefore, to the visible manifestation of the church of God as she reveals herself through her organism and institute.
One need not doubt the meaning of the foundation in this text. It does not refer to God’s counsel of election. Election is one of the seals mentioned in this verse. But Paul mentions also another seal. And these seals must not be identified with the foundation. This foundation mentioned here and often in Holy Writ, is the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, whereof Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.
It is interesting to understand the idea of a foundation. A foundation must not only support the building. It also determines the building. One would not erect a square building upon a round foundation. The lines of a building, its form, and its beauty were considered when the foundation was laid, so that the building itself is determined by the foundation. This is certainly spiritually true. The organism and institute of a church are surely determined by the foundation upon which it rests. The preaching, catechetical instruction, confession, sacraments, discipline, growth, strength, conscious power to fight are all determined by the foundation upon which any church of God stands. An Arminian foundation will have for its result an Arminian “house”. A church that stands up to the foundation of the lie will be characterized by that lie in all her walk and confession.
This foundation is the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The apostles are the foundation, not physically but apostolically. They were inspired by God to lay the foundation of the church, namely, the truth. Of this truth, Holy Writ, Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, the pivot, around which all things revolve. All the lines of Holy Writ run into and out of the Christ.
God’s foundation standeth sure. Human work must perish. Paul speaks of God’s foundation. The opposite of a foundation of God is a foundation of man. A foundation of man is that laid by man. It is man’s work. It arises within the brain of man. We must bear in mind that there are but two kinds of foundation, of God or of man. All heresy, every distortion of the truth is the product of man and revolves about man. Modernism, Arminianism, Pelagianism, “Three Points” are all human inventions, human in origin and human in purpose and scope. And, as we have already stated, a church’s foundation determines its confession and walk.
Such human foundations must perish. Man’s work can never endure. This is generally true of anything which man does. The perishable character of the work of man reveals itself everywhere. Everything is subject to change and decay. This is also true with respect to every distortion of the truth. Already in this life the Church of God, throughout the ages, has condemned Arminianism, Pelagianism, etc. And eternity will forever silence every deviation from the Word of God. God is God alone and His Word will surely stand forever. The lie shall be forever revealed as the lie and woe unto him who has built upon it.
God’s foundation standeth sure. We read of the foundation of God because God is the author, the builder of it. God is the builder already in His eternal counsel. He is the heavenly architect. Eternally the Lord willed the foundation whereof Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. Eternally He willed to save His own, in the way of sin and death, through faith in Christ, unto the eternal praise of His adorable Name. And the Lord is also the exclusive builder of this foundation in time. He laid it, centrally, in Jesus Christ. For Christ is, first of all, God Himself in the likeness of sinful flesh. Besides, it was God wqho nailed Christ to the accursed tree, sustained Him in all the fearful depths of His amazing agony. It was God who raised Christ from the dead and glorified Him at His own right hand of divine power. And God also laid this foundation because He inspired holy men and moved them to write His own word. Eternally the Lord willed the Scriptures as a glorious whole, willed the writers of the Scriptures, prepared them for their task, and finally inspired them so that they wrote the perfect and complete will of God with respect to our salvation.
This foundation, because it is of God, standeth sure. It stands firm throughout the ages. Many heretics have attempted to destroy the truth of God. They have only destroyed themselves. The truth of God has withstood every attack. And eternity shall reveal the firmness of this foundation. The truth of the Word of God shall forever be revealed as the truth and shall stand forever.
It is of the utmost importance that we ask ourselves the question: in which house do we dwell? It is not true that all visible manifestations which bear the name of Church are built upon this one and only foundation. This question is a serious question. We need the one, only true bread. God’s Word alone can satisfy me. Human philosophy or a mixture of the Divine and the human must weaken and ultimately, as far as the organical development of the church is concerned, destroy all spiritual life. My spiritual life is indeed dependent upon the food I eat. I must therefore live in that “house” which is built upon the one and only foundation. And I am able to recognize the “house” that is built upon the one and only foundation. And I am able to recognize the “house” that is built upon that foundation. For the text tells us that this foundation has a two-fold seal. This two-fold seal of the foundation will reveal itself in the building. If the foundation determines the building I can recognize the foundation from the building. Hemce; I must dwell in that “house” where this word is preached: “The Lord knoweth them that are His ; let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity”.
“The Lord knoweth His own.” This is election, sovereign election, God does not know as we do. We know the things only after they exist. But God’s knowledge is creative, precedes the existence of things. The Lord therefore knoweth His own with an everlasting knowledge of love. He knew us not because we were His, but we are His because He knew us. This sovereign election of the Lord is one of the seals. God grant that this seal may ever characterize our churches. From it we must never depart.
“Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” This is the second seal. To name the name of Christ means that we name Him, that our soul names Him in all His grace and salvation. To name His Name implies that we personally confess Him. Everyone that names this Name must depart from iniquity. We must notice that the apostle here does not speak of two seals, a Divine and a human seal. We read: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having (not these seals) this seal”. Paul speaks here of one seal. But this one seal has two sides. And these two aspects of the one seal are inseparably connected. When the Lord knoweth His own with an everlasting love, from before the foundation of the world, He calls them out of darkness into His marvelous light. The two are inseparable. And the implication of the apostle is indeed that we must conduct ourselves as the party of the living God and that we, as that party of the living God, are anchored in that eternal God Himself. This is the seal of the true foundation of God. Upon this truth we must stand and build. If upon this foundation we stand we shall never be ashamed.