As well might we present the work of creation as being the product of the cooperation between God and man, as to give any credit to man for the marvelous 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 its members, and which you may either join or refuse to join. Nor is it a school of philosophy, the disciples and adherents of which imbibe and follow the teachings of a great thinker. It cannot be compared to a mighty religious movement, such as Mohammedanism, or Confucianism, initiated by some influential personality or religious fanatic, who died long ago, but whose followers are still inspired by his precepts and example. The Church is something far different. It is the living body of the living Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, Who died and rose again, Who is exalted into the highest heavens, clothed with all authority and power in heaven and on earth, and Who now gathers unto Himself His Church, and builds the house of God. The Church therefore does not come into existence by the work of men that join the Church or organize it; it is not even the product of preachers that persuade men to become church-members; it is not the result of the combined efforts of God and man; it is the wonderwork of grace, which God alone accomplishes through Jesus Christ our Lord by His Spirit and Word.
Hence, the Church is gathered out of and separated from the whole human race as the congregation of saints, through the divine calling. The Greek word used in Scripture to denote the Church is ekklesia, the gathering of those that are called out. And throughout, the Holy Scriptures teach us that the Church comes into being through the calling of God, by His Spirit and Word. Concerning the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, the prophet declares: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.”. Through Isaiah, the Lord proclaims: “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.” And again: “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.” . Picturing Judah as a child born of heathen parents, cast out into the open field, and cared for by none, the Word of God through Ezekiel 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.” .
In the New Testament this divine calling of the Church is always emphasized. In the epistles of Paul the congregation of believers is addressed as the communion of those that are called to be saints.; . Inseparably uniting the Church of the old and new dispensation, the apostle Paul writes: “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.” . To the church of Corinth the apostle writes: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of his son Jesus Christ our Lord.” . He marvels that the Galatians are so soon removed from him that called them into the grace of Christ, ; and he writes to the Thessalonians that God called them by the gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, . The church is gathered out of the world through the divine calling: “Wherefore, come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” . And again, the Word of God calls; “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” . For “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.” . And Christ must gather all His sheep, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles; and when He does, “they shall hear his voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” . In all these passages Scripture plainly teaches that it is through the divine calling that the Church is gathered out of the whole human race.
This calling is of God, through Christ, by Sis Spirit and Word, and through the preaching of the Gospel.
It is of God, and, therefore, it is a powerful calling, efficacious, accomplishing that which it speaks and unto which it is sent forth. Man’s word is vain and powerless, even though it proclaims the gospel, it may be ever so persuasive and forceful, but it can never bring one soul out of darkness into the light; it is incapable to add even one member to the body of Christ. He calls the things that are not as if they were, and He quickens the dead. When He speaks: “Let there be light,” there is light. When He addresses the Church as she is in her blood, and says “Live,” she lives. By His Word, the guilty are justified, the polluted are made holy, the darkness is transformed into the light, the dead are raised; the holy catholic Church is gathered out of the corrupt, damnable, and dead human race.
This divine calling, whereby the Church is gathered out of the world, is realized through Jesus Christ our Lord. Always God speaks through His Son. The worlds are formed by the divine Word of God. However, in that Word of God as it comes to us through creation and providence, there is no hope, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven over all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Through that Word the holy catholic Church could never be called out of the world. And people who, in self-willed piety and religiousness, pretend that they prefer to listen to the Word of God in nature, rather than seek the preaching of the gospel through the Church, can do so only in their folly, and to their own damnation. For it is not in nature that the Word of God unto salvation is heard. God calls His Church through Christ. And 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. We may, therefore, also express it thus: the Son of God in the flesh, our exalted Lord Jesus Christ, speaks the Word of the divine calling, whereby the Church is gathered out of the world. When He speaks to you, you hear the voice of Jesus, calling and gathering the sheep the Father gave Him. His is the mighty Word of the God of your salvation, whereby you are called out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of the natural fellowship of the guilty and sinful human race into the fellowship of His body, the communion of saints. And this Word you hear, when Christ Himself speaks to you efficaciously by His Spirit.
This is what the Catechism means when it instructs us that the Son of God by His Spirit and Word gathers unto Himself a Church chosen unto everlasting life.
However, this divine calling reaches us through the preaching of the gospel. Do not for a moment imagine that here, at last, the gathering of the Church becomes the work of man. For, first of all, the gospel is not ours but Christ’s. It is His Word. He revealed it. In fact, He is the gospel. And it is always He that speaks it. Nor does this change when He causes that gospel to be proclaimed unto us, and delivers its contents to His people in the Holy Scriptures: without His own Spirit and Word the Bible could never have been. And again, the work of gathering His Church does not become dependent on man, when the Lord commissions and calls prophets, apostles and evangelists to proclaim His Word; or when He instituted His Church, and gives unto her pastors and teachers, that through them the Church may preach the gospel unto all nations. For without Him there could be no preaching. It is He that calls and prepares the preachers; it is He that sends them whithersoever He will; and it is He that speaks through their preaching by His Spirit to gather His Church. Hence, even though it be through the instrumentality of the preaching of the gospel, the Church is always gathered, not by men, but by Christ, the Son of God, through His Spirit and Word.
This divine calling is heard throughout the ages, and the Church is gathered from the beginning even unto the end of the world.
We dare not object to this that before the fullness of time Christ was not yet, and that, therefore, He could not gather His Church from the human race during the old dispensation. For although in time Christ had not yet been revealed, in God’s eternal counsel the Son of God had been anointed the Head of His Church before the foundation of the world. And in the days of the old dispensation He functioned and revealed Himself, and sent forth His Word by His Spirit, as the Christ that was to come. It was through Christ that God sent forth the Word of the gospel in Paradise, immediately after the fall, and began to gather His Church in our first parents. It was through Christ that Enoch proclaimed the day of the Lord, and that Noah became a preacher of righteousness. And was it not through Christ that Abraham was called out of Ur and Haran? And do not the Scriptures teach us that God, purposing to justify the heathen through faith, ‘’preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed?”. Did not Abraham long to see His day? Did he not, together with all the Old Testament saints, die in faith, “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off?” . Was it not through Christ that God called His Son out of Egypt, and was not Christ leading His Church all through the desert, so that He was the spiritual rock that followed them, and out of which Israel drank? Is not Christ the end of the law, revealed in all the shadows of the old dispensation? And did not all the prophets speak by the Spirit of Christ that was in them? Does He not Himself declare that all through the old dispensation He was gathering Jerusalem’s children as a hen gathereth her chicks?
And in the fullness of time He came, and the gospel was realized in His incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation into glory. Still He speaks by His Spirit and Word. He commissioned His apostles, and in them the Church, to preach the gospel to every creature, and gave them the promise that He would be with them even unto the end of the world. He, the exalted Lord, through His Spirit and Word, still speaks through the preaching of the gospel, and gathers His Church from every nation and tongue and tribe, and will do so until the last one of His brethren shall have come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God.
To this we must add that in this world Christ gathers His Church in the line of continued generations. When He establishes His Church in the world, He does not gather certain individuals arbitrarily and at random, but He calls the families, and continues His Church in their generations. Thus it was in the old dispensation. He gathered His Church in the line of Adam, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, according to the Word of His promise: “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”. And the same truth is proclaimed by Peter in the dawn of the new dispensation: “For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” .
The result is that on earth the Church is the gathering of believers and their children, baptized in the name of the triune God. And it is incumbent upon the Church in each generation to preserve the truth of the gospel, and to deliver it to the next: the children of the Church must be instructed in the fear of the Lord. The result is, too, that the Church on earth, is never pure, for they are not all Israel that are of Israel. The carnal seed ever springs up among the spiritual seed of the Church to corrupt it. It is from this carnal seed that the false church develops and the final great apostasy will arise, that will be precursory to the ultimate revelation of the man of sin, the son of perdition, the Antichrist. Hence, the Church is always called to watch and pray, and put on the whole armor of God, that she may be able to stand in the evil day. Doing this she may be of good cheer, for she is founded upon the rock which is Christ, and the gates of hell cannot overwhelm her. The Son of God, who gathers His Church, also defends her by His great power, and will surely preserve her even unto the end.
This Church, the Catechism instructs us, is gathered from the beginning even unto the end of the world.
Ever since God visited our fallen parents in Paradise, and Himself revealed the gospel unto them in the Protevangel: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”; even unto the days of the final manifestation of the man of sin, the Church is called, by the Spirit and Word of the Son of God, out of the whole human race, even though, for a period, she is found almost exclusively in the nation of Israel.
In fact, from a higher viewpoint, we may even say that the formation of the Church goes back to creation, and that the temptation by Satan and the fall of Adam and Eve are subservient to the purpose of God to bring the Christ into the world, and to gather unto Himself a Church chosen unto everlasting life.
This confession, that the Church is gathered from the beginning to the end of the world, stands opposed to the view of those, who present the Church as an interim, as the body of Christ in distinction from the kingdom-people of Israel, that is gathered from the day of Pentecost until the fullness of the Gentiles shall have been gathered in.
In view of what was said on this point in the chapter “The Meaning of Pentecost,” and considering that more must be said on this important question in our discussion of infant baptism, we need not dwell at length on it now.
Only one observation we wish to make here.
It is this, that those who insist that Israel is a separate people, and that the promises made to them in the Old Testament must be understood as having reference to that nation alone, and not to the Church, refuse to read the Old Testament in the light of the New, and to interpret the Bible in its own light.
When we teach that Israel is the Church, and that the latter is the true and only Israel of God, we do not expose ourselves to the indictment of false allegorization or spiritualization of Scripture, but we simply adopt the Bible’s own method of interpretation.
The truth of this might be demonstrated from many passages of Holy Writ. But let it be sufficient, in this connection, to refer to just one that quite proves the point. I have in mindin comparison with . In the former passage we read: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel.” When this passage is read in its own light, it simply speaks of the old covenant people, more particularly of the ten tribes. To them, because of their apostasy from Jehovah, it was said: “Ye are not my people.” But they shall be restored, and they shall be called the sons of the living God. United they shall be with Judah under one head. And the glory of their restoration shall be great.
But a clear commentary upon this Old Testament passage we have in. There we read: “Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he hath said 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 shall they be called the children of the living God.