This catholicity of the church, according to which she embraces all the nations of the earth, is realized in the fullness of time. For God sent His Son into the world, made of a woman, our Lord Jesus Christ. And though Christ be of the Jews, He and His work are not limited to the Jews; but He is the Lord that is rich over all that call upon Him. Romans 10:12. He is the end of the law, its fulfillment and at the same time its termination. He is for righteousness to every one that believeth. Through Him the sacrifices of bulls and goats, through which the Jews obtained forgiveness of sins, were abolished, to be replaced by the true sacrifice of reconciliation offered on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and bringing remission of sins to all that call upon Him, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. The earthly temple in Jerusalem, that center of Jewish worship, is rebuilt by His .death and resurrection and by the outpouring of His Spirit upon all flesh. Jerusalem is now above, and is the mother of us all. The church of all nations is the temple of the living God, where believers are a royal priesthood, with Christ as their High Priest, offering up spiritual sacrifices of praise unto the God of their salvation. Mount Zion is no longer a local hill in the land of Canaan, nor is the throne of David a mere symbol of national glory and sovereignty. Both have been realized and universalized in our exalted Lord, Whom God has set at his own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principalities and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Eph. 1:20-23. In the new dispensation the mountain of the Lord’s house is indeed exalted above the mountains, and all nations flow unto it, to worship Jehovah their God. The old dispensational olive tree has become strictly catholic, and branches from Jews and Gentiles are grafted into it, until the fullness of both shall have entered in. Romans 11. In the new dispensation believers of every nation have “come unto Mount Sion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” Hebrews 12:22, 23.
We must never say, therefore, that the church was born on the day of Pentecost. On the contrary, from the beginning she was in the world. But when the Spirit of the exalted Lord is poured out upon all flesh, the shadows flee away, and reality is come. And the church then breaks through the limits of her national boundaries to become strictly catholic. She is now universal, not indeed in the sense that all men are saved in the church: for in her universality she is strictly limited by sovereign election. But she is universal in the sense that “whosoever believeth in Christ,” whether he be Jew or Gentile, “shall be saved.” In that sense the church has a catholic Lord, Who is rich over all that call upon Him, and a catholic Spirit, Who dwells in all the nations of the earth unto their salvation. She preaches a catholic gospel: for she is sent forth to preach the gospel to all nations of the world, and to baptize them with a catholic baptism into the catholic death of her catholic Lord. She professes an holy catholic faith, the faith of that catholic gospel, and bows down in catholic worship before the God of her salvation, the worship of the living God in Spirit and in truth. She has a catholic calling, the calling to be holy, even as the Lord her God is holy. And she offers up neither Jewish nor Greek, neither American nor German prayers and thanksgiving, but the catholic prayer for the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of His kingdom, the universal accomplishment of His will on earth as it is in heaven. Such is the meaning of the confession concerning the catholic church of Christ.
Still the catholicity of the church is not fully realized. In the world it does not become fully manifest. Often the church is tempted to deny her catholicity when the world would press her into the service of national interests, as indeed is often done. But essentially the church is catholic, and she looks forward to a universal hope, the kingdom of heaven in the new creation. For in that kingdom the catholicity of the church will be fully realized, and the great multitude which no man can number, of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues, which the Seer of Patmos saw, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 7:9. In the new heaven and the new earth, and the heavenly Jerusalem in which the tabernacle of God shall be with men, in the light of which the nations of them which are saved shall walk and into which the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor forever, the catholicity of the church shall be completely realized. In that catholic hope the church prays with the fervent longing of the bride for her bridegroom, “Thy kingdom come.”
The church, one and catholic in the Lord Jesus Christ, confesses that she is holy. This holiness is without doubt the chief, the most characteristic, virtue of the church. It is this virtue of the church that is at the same time her limitation and her catholicity. It is this spiritual virtue that determines her distinctive position and calling in the world, as well as her conflict with the world. It is her limitation, for in virtue of this holiness she is incapable of receiving into her communion whatever and whoever, is unholy or profane. For there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Rev. 21:27. And: “Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Rev. 22:15. It is therefore the calling of the church to fight a true, spiritual warfare, and to be the church militant in opposition to all that is unholy and profane.
We must constantly bear in mind that when we speak of the holiness of the church, we are speaking of her as an object of faith and as the true, spiritual body of Christ, the fellowship of which Christ is the head and that has all its life in and from Christ. The confession that the church is holy is not based, therefore, on experience, on actual observation of what we see of the church as she appears on earth. Were we to derive our knowledge of the church from actual experience, it would not be difficult to arrive at the very opposite conclusion and to insist that she is not holy, but very unholy indeed. For there is much carnality in the church. And that carnality becomes manifest in many ways. But the confession that the church is holy is based on and derived from God’s own revelation as we have it in the Scriptures. The Word of God teaches us, and therefore the believers confess, an holy catholic church, the communion of saints. Moses is instructed by Jehovah to address the people of Israel, that is, the church in the wilderness, as follows: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” And every part of the Mosaic institution was designed to remind the nation that they were a people holy unto the Lord. And the same truth is emphasized with respect to the church of the new dispensation. “Know ye not,” the apostle Paul writes to the church of Corinth, “that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” II Cor. 3:17. God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as He has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. Eph. 1:3, 4. The church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom all the building groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. Eph. 2:21. And God reconciled us, in order that He might present us “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” Col. 1:22. Believers are addressed as “elect of God, holy and beloved,” Col. 3:12. And exactly as such, they must put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. Col. 3:12, 13, 14. Again, they are mentioned as “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” I Thess. 5:17; Heb. 3:1. Besides, they are admonished: “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.” I Peter 1:15, 16. Believers are said to be lively stones that “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5. And they are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,” in order that they might “show forth the praises of him that called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I Peter 2:9.
Besides, it is well known that the apostle Paul in his epistles uniformly addresses the church as the communion of saints: “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints,” he writes inRomans 1:7. And again: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” I Cor. 1:2. Or again: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” II Cor. 1:1. The church, even as she appears in the world, no matter how much sin and pollution may disfigure her and mar her appearance, is still the communion of saints. Strongly the Scriptures, therefore, emphasize the holiness of the church.
Now the question is: what is meant by this holiness bf the church? What is its source? In what sense is the church holy? And what follows from this virtue with respect to the calling of the church in the world?
We must remember that the holiness of the church rests only in God. Holiness is pre-eminently, if not exclusively, an attribute, or virtue, of God. And the holiness of the church is rooted in and based upon the holiness of God. God is the Holy One, according to Scripture. And the holiness of God certainly means that He is the implication of all goodness. God is good. He is infinitely good. He is righteous, just; He is gracious and merciful; He is the implication of all knowledge and wisdom and power. He is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. And therefore, because God is good, yea, because God is the only good, He is eternally consecrated to Himself. He loves Himself. He wills Himself. He seeks Himself in all things. He seeks always His own glory, not only in Himself, but also in all created things in heaven and on earth. But the creature, for that very reason, may never be consecrated to itself. The holiness of the creature, the holiness of the church, is that virtue of the church according to which it is consecrated, not to itself, but to God alone. The holiness of the church means that it seeks and desires God as the only good, and that it finds its delight in praising Him and showing forth His glory.