Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Many years, in fact centuries, before the words of this text were penned, the inspired psalmist wrote inPsalm 87 which in versified form we sing in Psalter #238,
Zion, founded on the mountains,
God, thy maker, loves thee well:
He has chosen thee, most precious,
He delights in thee to dwell;
God’s own city, who can all thy glory tell?
This same theme we find running through the entire epistle to the Ephesians. Already in the first verses Paul describes the glory of the church with the well-known “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” The keynote in Christ runs through the entire epistle as it shows forth the glory of God as it is reflected by us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The apostle sees the church as God’s elect, holy, catholic church. He sees her being gathered from the beginning of time right up to the present moment. And he sees how we are used by God in the ingathering of the saints unto the completion of God’s house in the day of Christ Jesus.
The church is likened unto a house whose foundation is the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. This house, fitly framed together, is the dwelling place of God. Each member of the church is a separate stone, each in its place, all of them together making a perfect unity, the church, the house of God.
With this figure of speech Paul is undoubtedly referring to the temple of the old dispensation which was the center of Israel’s shadow worship. Canaan was the promised land which flowed with milk and honey, a picture of heaven. In the center of this land was the city of Jerusalem, which had at its heart the temple where God dwelt behind the veil in the Most Holy Place. There was also the altar of burnt offering in the temple, which reminded the people that they were a sinful people. The stench of the burning flesh and blood pointed to how abominable were their sins to God. But that blood at the same time symbolized the blood of atonement that took away their sins. Christ was represented in the priest as well as in the sacrifice. Through Him they had access to God. It was all a picture of the covenant as they experienced fellowship and communion with the living God. There they experienced the bond of faith that united them in the Lord, even as they looked in hope for the better things to come.
With this picture in mind the apostle Paul speaks of a building that is under construction. Gradually it takes shape as each stone is put in its place, each one fitting with the other stones, to reveal the complete and perfect unity in Christ.
Such a building calls for a plan. When we build a house we do so using a blueprint which gives in detail the size and shape, the materials used, and all things in the finest detail. That is a vague picture of God’s sovereign and eternal predestination of His church. Eternally He has before Him the glorious house as it will be realized in its perfection in the new creation. Indeed, in Christ He has His church chosen unto everlasting life. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the eternal cause and purpose of all God’s works. Unto that Christ He gave a certain people to show forth the praises of His name.
That people consists of a definite number of elect, no more and no less, each one chosen according to talent and character to have his own place in the church of God. Christ is the Head; we are the body. He is the cornerstone; we are the stones. According to the infinite wisdom of God each one fits into its own place. No one else could fit in that place. Without each place filled, the temple would not be complete. Its harmony, beauty, and unity would be ruined and God would not attain His glory.
What applies to the building applies equally to the scaffolding, for God also determines the reprobate to perish in their sins. They must serve their purpose toward the construction of God’s temple. In this present life ii is often hard to distinguish them from the elect, but God knows His own. Soon the scaffolding will be taken away and the building will stand in all its splendor, praising God its maker.
The church of God answers perfectly to these plans. Here we must not regard the things that we see but look with the eye of faith upon the things that we do not see. In faith we confess “an holy, catholic church.” Often this idea is ridiculed and scorned. An outward unity is sought so that numerically the church may be strong and influential in the midst of the world. Her antithetical position over against the world is denied and compromise is sought. She busies herself with social and political affairs rather than spiritual. In all of this she becomes the great harlot who rides the red beast, cooperating with the Antichrist. The true church becomes the laughingstock of the world, her members becoming more and more strangers upon the earth, seeking with increasing longing her heavenly perfection.
Fellow saints in Jesus Christ, in spite of what one sees with his physical eyes, that church of Christ is holy. She has been redeemed and sanctified in Christ, heir of the life to come. She is the family of God, His sons and daughters, the bride of Christ. Always she is addressed as “saints in Christ Jesus,” even when her members are deeply conscious of their daily sins and measureless guilt.
And she is one. Her generations extend from paradise to the end of history, being gathered from all nations, tongues, and tribes. Outwardly she appears very diverse, but she is one in Christ, with one faith, one hope, one baptism, and one Lord, united unto one God. Therefore she confesses and experiences the communion of the saints as her members are drawn together through the common bond of faith.
This building of which we have been speaking is a temple. It is the house of God, for God dwells there. The light of God radiates throughout, and glory shines in every part. How beautiful is this habitation of God, where there is blessed fellowship and communion.
The foundation of this house of God has as its cornerstone none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we have a figure borrowed from Psalm 118:22, 23. In their building of Solomon’s temple, the builders had to deal with one large and cumbersome stone which did not fit in the plans and always seemed in the way — until they learned that it was the cornerstone. This was the prophecy which was realized when Annas, Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, and all the people condemned Jesus to the accursed death of the cross. They found no place for Christ in their idea of the church.
Cornerstones today are merely symbolic and are not really important as far as the structure of a building is concerned. However, at the time of the building of the temple a cornerstone had a very important place. The whole building, with all its stones, leaned toward that one stone, so that it gave stability, unity, and even beauty to the entire building. How much more so the Lord Jesus Christ with respect to the church. As the chosen one of God He is the Rock upon which we are founded. As our complete redemption He is the bread of life, the water of life, the way, the truth, and the life.
The rest of the foundation consists of the apostles and the prophets. They were not this foundation as persons, but in their office as bearers of the Word of God. God filled them with the Spirit of Christ so that Christ spoke through them. Those words are recorded infallibly for us in the Holy Scriptures, the foundation of the church. They reveal to us Christ, the Rock, the Cornerstone, upon which the church rests and from which it has all its existence.
The sad state of affairs today is that many deny the infallibility of these Scriptures. They want no objective Word because they want no objective truth. As a result, God becomes whatever they think He is. So also then is Christ treated. Faith becomes merely a matter of personal feeling. Therefore, the power of the Word is denied. When the power of the Word is denied, then the church does not mean anything either. The preaching of that Word is thought to be dry, meaningless, and dead. No wonder it is replaced by plays, discussions, movies, and the like, all of which are considered far more effective than the preaching.
As the church of Jesus Christ we must maintain that the church is built upon the apostles and prophets, the sound Word of God. It is the only sound foundation; another foundation there is not. The preaching, no matter how ridiculed, must be maintained as the only divinely given means of grace. Christ refuses to work through any other means.
As to the actual construction of this temple of God we have now, no doubt, come to the conclusion that God, and not man, does the work. Man likes to take things into his own hands, seek his own means to gather the church, or take the credit for what is termed “winning souls for Christ.” Our fathers in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q & A 54) had the correct idea when they answered the question, “What believest thou concerning the ‘holy catholic church’ of Christ? 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 for ever shall remain, a living member thereof.”
Indeed, the Lord our God builds His church through the Lord Jesus Christ, who knows His sheep and calls them by name. They in turn hear His voice and follow Him. Powerfully and efficaciously He gathers by His Word and Spirit. To God be all the honor and the glory, “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). That is what is happening right now. Each of us is being chipped, ground, and polished for his own place in the temple of God. When we are ready, when God has finished with this work, then heaven cannot wait. We will then be translated out of the church militant into our own places in the church triumphant. What glory that shall be, finally to be in that perfected tabernacle of God where He shall dwell with us in Christ eternally in covenant fellowship and communion.