The Word of God upon which I base my remarks this evening may be found in II Timothy 2:19: “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 text begins with the word nevertheless. This is a word of comfort and assurance for Timothy, the youthful pastor at Ephesus, and for the faithful church there. It is also a word of comfort for the faithful church throughout the ages. It is a word of comfort for us tonight.
The apostle Paul was prisoner in Rome when he wrote to his spiritual son to encourage him in the work of the ministry. Circumstances in Ephesus were very difficult. There were doctrinal departures, the profane and vain babblings of false teachers, and increasing ungodliness. Two false teachers denied the resurrection, overthrowing the faith of some. These led some out of the church, causing schism in the church. One can well understand that this made Timothy’s work very difficult. The young pastor might very well have been inclined to despair, to give up. To him the inspired apostle comes with this word: nevertheless. Though all these terrible things are happening in the church, Timothy must be assured, the foundation of God standeth sure having this seal. God’s church cannot be destroyed.
Our situation is similar and even worse. Apostasy abounds, even in Reformed circles, both in doctrine and in life or practice. Our churches and seminary are tiny and of no account. What can we do? Will we survive? We must hear tonight God’s great “nevertheless.” Hearing the word in faith we shall be able to persevere in the work with confidence and joy.
I call your attention to God’s sure foundation. Notice with me, in the first place, what it is. In the second place, its seal. And in the third place, our calling.
The text speaks of “the sure foundation of God.” There are many views as to the meaning of this concept. The most common are these: 1) the foundation is eternal election, 2) the foundation is Christ Himself, 3) the foundation is the church. The first cannot be correct since the apostle mentions election as part of the seal of the foundation. The third cannot be correct because the apostle speaks of the church as a house in verse 20. Christ is the sure foundation of God. This is the teaching of Scripture. In I Corinthians 3:ll we read: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And Ephesians 2:20 teaches: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” In both of these passages Scripture speaks of the church as a building or temple built upon the foundation. That foundation is Christ, the revelation of God Who is the God of our salvation. Christ, by Whom and for Whom God made all things, Christ crucified is the foundation of the church. Through His shed blood and in His resurrection from the dead the church has been redeemed from sin and death. That Christ is the foundation of God means that the Word of God is God’s sure foundation. Christ is the Word made flesh. Through the Holy Spirit God reveals Himself in Christ in His infallible Word. That’s the foundation of God, Christ as revealed in His inspired, infallible Word. Upon that foundation the church is built. In this context the church as manifest in the world, the church institute is meant. The church as manifest in the office of believer and the office of minister, elder, deacon. That church must be built upon the one, sure foundation of God, Jesus Christ, the Scriptures.
The text emphasizes the foundation’s strength. Notice it is a sure foundation: firm, solid, strong, immovable foundation. And that foundation stands sure, i.e., it is firmly fixed, indestructible. And the foundation is that because it is the sure foundation of God. Only God can lay an immovable foundation. No man is able to do this. What a beautiful truth! God conceived of that foundation in His eternal counsel in Jesus Christ. God laid that foundation in time and history. From creation on, through the types and shadows of the Old Testament, God revealed the sure foundation. In the fullness of time, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sure foundation was laid. All we await is the final realization of all things in the new creation.
That foundation has a seal. That seal is that by which anything is confirmed, proved, authenticated. The seal which God placed upon the foundation is a mark of ownership. The foundation belongs to God; and we know that because it has God’s seal. The seal also certifies or guarantees the genuine character of the foundation. The question is how can we be sure we are building upon the sure foundation of God. That’s a real question. Many claim to be building upon the sure foundation of God. How can we be certain? Look at the seal! That’s the proof, the sure guarantee.
The seal is twofold. “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” This is sovereign, eternal election. From all eternity the Lord knows them that are His, before the foundation of the world He chose them in Christ. In His love and mercy God gave them to Christ, the Good Shepherd. Christ laid down His life for them and took it again. These God preserved by His grace and Holy Spirit unto everlasting life and glory.
This truth also implies reprobation. God does not know them that are not His. These God causes to serve His purpose in Christ and these God condemns in the way of their own sin to everlasting destruction. This means that to deny the truth of sovereign predestination is to deny the seal of God’s sure foundation. This is precisely what Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Liberalism in all their forms do.
But there’s another aspect to this seal: “and, let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” To name the name of Christ is to confess Christ to be our Savior and Lord. It is to stand away from all unrighteousness, all of that which is contrary to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. It is to hate and flee all sin; to put off the old man and to put on the new. It is to trust in Christ and love Him with all our hearts.
These two aspects belong to the one seal. Sanctification is the fruit of election. One cannot have election without sanctification, and one cannot have sanctification without election. Election is not a cold, abstract piece of dogma. Election always implies a calling, a responsibility if you will. That calling is: name the name of Christ in the way of departing from iniquity. That is the seal. The Lord knows them that are His and by His Word and Spirit He works in their hearts so that they name the name of Christ and depart from iniquity. By that double seal we know that the foundation of God stands sure.
What then is our calling? Obviously we must build on God’s sure foundation. The churches need ministers of the Word who are skilled and able to visit the sick with the Word of God and reassure them of God’s love and care for them. The churches need ministers to comfort those that sorrow in the hope of the victory of the resurrection, to care for the anxious and despairing, the lonely and troubled among God’s people, to guide those who have difficulties in their marriages or with their children. The churches need ministers. Ministers are needed to help those in need and to correct and admonish the wayward. The churches need pastors who reflect the compassion, sympathy, and love of the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. And the seminary must train students for this work.
But above all else the churches need preachers! Men who are mighty in the Scriptures and filled with the knowledge of God’s Word are needed. Men who will go to the pulpit not with their own vain and profane babblings, but with God’s Word are needed. The church needs men skilled at expounding and proclaiming the Word of God, men who dare to wield the sword of the Spirit and courageously proclaim the truth against every form of the lie. Only in this way will the church be built on God’s sure foundation.
Therefore to the professors God says: build on the sure foundation. We who teach must bow in humble obedience before the infallible Word of God. The only proper response to the Word in all of our study and teaching is: “I believe.” To assume the stance of the higher critic is to deny and reject the sure foundation of God. We must teach the truth of Scripture in every course of study. We must let the truth be seen over against all heresies and false doctrine. And God’s seal of His sure foundation must be reflected in us. In our lives we must name the name of Christ and stand away from all unrighteousness. In that way those whom we teach will see in us that we are known of God. If we speak any other word we will lead the church away from the foundation, for our words, the words of mere men, are never more than vain, profane babblings.
To the students God says: listen, learn the truth of the Word of God brought by your professors. And not only listen but receive that instruction with an obedient and a believing heart. Only men of faith, men convicted of the truth of God’s Word, only these can build on the sure foundation of God. Study, study hard that you may become a workman approved of God, one who knows how to divide the Word of truth aright. In that way you need never be ashamed. In this work God’s church may be encouraged. Viewing the ecclesiastical scene one might well be inclined to despair. Many in the Reformed tradition are no longer building on God’s sure foundation. They deny the truths of creation, the fall, the flood, the miracles, the inspiration of Scripture, and even the virgin birth of our Lord. And all of these denials amount to a denial of the sovereign God of truth. They reject both aspects of God’s seal. By rejecting reprobation and teaching universalism they deny election: the Lord knows them that are His. By allowing all kinds of corruption (drama, dance, homosexuality) they embrace all kinds of iniquity rather than depart from it. Besides, our churches are small and they struggle. What do they amount to? For the first time in thirty years they decreased rather than increased in total members. There are problems too in the churches. What’s the use? Shall we despair?
Never. Listen again to the first word of the text, “nevertheless.” That is God’s great “nevertheless.” The foundation of God stands sure and immovable with its seal: election and sanctification. No heretic ever did or ever will destroy the church built on God’s sure foundation. No devil either. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against God’s church. We can do our work with joy and confidence. Building on the sure foundation of God we shall never be moved. It is God’s foundation, God’s Christ, God’s Word, God’s church. And God is GOD.