Chapter 1: THE IDEA OF THE CHURCH(continued)
Finally, there is that part of the church that is in God’s counsel, but is not yet born. It too must be realized and called out of the world. For this the coming of the Lord must wait. And therefore we read in II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” That the word “all” in this particular text has no reference to all men, head for head and soul for soul, is very evident. For if this were the case, the day of the Lord and the realization of the promise could never come, But the reference is to the elect. God is longsuffering over them. That is, He waits with the final glory until all His people shall have been gathered and called out of the world.
Chapter 2: THE GATHERING OF THE CHURCH
As to the gathering of the church, the Heidelberg Catechism has the following to say: “That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof.” According to this interpretation by the Heidelberg Catechism, therefore, the church is gathered by the Son of God through His Spirit and Word, and that too, from the beginning to the end of the world. Only through that gathering by the Son of God the church becomes the assembly of the true believers and their seed in the world.
We believe an holy catholic church, which is the body of Christ, the communion of saints. Conceived in its entirety, this church includes all the redeemed, sanctified, and glorified elect, and as such exists at present only in the counsel of God. That counsel of God has the eternal conception of the church. But this church is gathered in time from the whole human race. It is gathered from every nation, tongue, and tribe, from the beginning of the world to the end. The holy catholic church is gathered always. In every generation the body of Christ is gathered and becomes manifest on earth. And the end of the world cannot come, as we have already said, until the very last of the members of the body of Christ, as God determined and foreknew that body in His divine, eternal plan, has been born and gathered into the communion of saints. The body of Christ must be perfected. It must be completed. The temple of God must be finished. The whole church, according to this divine plan, must be gathered out of the whole human race before the end of time can come, and before the coming, the final coming, of our Lord Jesus Christ can take place. And this completed church consists of the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the Gentiles, gathered into one flock under one Shepherd.
It is evident that the gathering of the church, according to the Catechism and according to all Scripture, is solely the work of God. It is in no sense of the word the work of man. And no so-called preacher or evangelist must leave the impression that it is also, in part at least, the work of man. The gathering of the church is a great marvel. It is the wonder-work of God. It lies beyond our power and our comprehension. This, of course, is also true of de work of creation. But I would be inclined to say that the work of God whereby He gathers His church is a greater marvel than the work of creation. In creation God calls the things that are not as if they were. But in the gathering of the church He builds His house out of material that is entirely unfit. The human race, out of which the church is gathered, is guilty, corrupt, damnable. Nevertheless, the church is the communion of the justified and the eternally righteous. The whole human race lies under the wrath of God; but the church is the object of God’s grace and favor. The human race is defiled and polluted; but the church is holy, undefiled, without spot or wrinkle. The human race stands in enmity against God; but the church is a royal priesthood, consecrated to God, and offering up spiritual sacrifices of praise and glory to the God of her salvation. The human race lies in the midst of death; but the church is the living body of Christ, filled with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Yet, the one is gathered out of the other. It is only through the wonder of grace that God builds His church. The gathering of the church, therefore, is that wonder-work of God whereby He calls light out of darkness, righteousness out of corruption, heaven out of hell. It is the resurrection of the dead.
Thus we can understand how utterly impossible it is that man should have a share in this work of gathering the church. It is absolutely impossible that man should even cooperate with God in building this holy temple. It is ridiculously, but also sinfully, absurd and preposterous to conceive of the church as something that comes into existence by the will and through the effort of man. We must just as well present the work of creation as being the product of cooperation between God and man, as to give any credit to man for the work of gathering the church of Christ out of the whole human race. The church is not a human society that comes into existence by the free will and choice of the members, and which you may join or refuse to join. It is not a school of philosophy, the disciples and adherents of which follow the teacher. It is not to be compared to a religious movement, such as Mohammedanism or Confucianism, initiated by some mighty personality or religious fanatic, who died long ago but whose followers are still inspired by his precepts and example. The church—let it be emphasized once more—is the living body of the living Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, who died and rose again, and Who Himself gathers His church and builds the house of God. The church isthe wonder-work of grace, which God alone accomplishes through Jesus Christ our Lord, by His Spirit and Word.
The church is gathered out of and separated from the entire human race, as the communion of saints, through the divine calling. Throughout the Holy Scriptures we are taught that the church comes into being through the calling of God, by His Spirit, and through His Word. Thus the prophet declares inHosea 11:1: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” in Isaiah 43:1, 5-7, we read: “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine . . . Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name.” And again: “Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee and not cast thee away.” Isaiah 41:9. In Ezekiel 16:6 the prophet declares: “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” This, namely, that the church is called out by a divine calling, is emphasized everywhere in the New Testament. Thus we read in Romans 1:6, 7: “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And in the address to the church of Corinth, I Cor. 1:1, 2, the apostle writes: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” And in the same chapter, verse 9: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Romans 9:24-26 we read: “Even us, whom he hath called not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there they shall be called the children of the living God.” In the epistle to the Galatians 1:6, the apostle writes: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” And although in Ephesians 5:14 the verb “called” is not expressed, yet the implication certainly refers to the efficacious, powerful calling of the Lord when the apostle writes: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give the light.” And in the gospel according to John 5:25, the Lord said to the Jews that persecuted Him: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Also this evidently refers to the efficacious calling unto life. And once more, in John 10:16 the Lord says to the Jews that He will gather all His sheep, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles. And when He does this, “they shall hear his voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” From all this it is evident that Scripture teaches that the church is gathered out of the whole human race through the divine calling.
Now this divine calling of which the Scriptures speak so frequently comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Always God speaks through the Son. Also in creation we hear the voice of the Son of God. However, in the Word of God as it comes to us through creation and providence there is no hope. For, according to Romans 1:18, ff., we read: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” From this it is evident that there is no saving calling in the revelation of God through the things that are made. Through that Word of God in creation the holy catholic church can never be called out of the world. It is only through the Word of God in Christ that God calls His church. Christ is the Son of God in the flesh, who revealed the Father, who died for our sins, who was raised for our justification, who merited for His church all the blessings of salvation, who is exalted at the right hand of God, who has received the promise of the Holy Spirit, and through whose Word and Spirit God gathers His church out of the corrupt human race. The Son of God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, speaks the Word of the divine calling whereby the church is gathered out of the world. It is the mighty word of salvation whereby the church is called out of darkness into light, out of the natural fellowship of the sinful human race into the communion of saints, into the fellowship of the body of Christ. The Son of God by His Spirit and Word gathers His own church out of the whole human race.