The Church which Christ builds – J.C. Ryle

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18, NIV)

A building: “My Church”
  • The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of “my Church.”
  • The Church of our text is made up of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, of all who are really holy and converted people.
  • It comprehends all who have repented of sin, and fled to Christ by faith, and been made new creatures in Him.
  • It comprises all God’s elect, all who have received God’s grace, all who have been washed in Christ’s blood, all who have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness, all who have been born again and sanctified by Christ’s Spirit.
  • All such, of every name, and rank, and nation, and people, and tongue, compose the Church of our text.
  • This is the body of Christ. This is the flock of Christ. This is the bride. This is the Lamb’s wife. This is “the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
  • The members of this Church all come to one throne of grace. They all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit. They are all really and truly holy. Whether they are Episcopalian, Independent, or Presbyterian, they all serve the interests of the one true Church.
  • No visible Church should ever dare to say, “We shall stand for ever. The gates of hell shall not prevail against me.”
  • The Church which is made up of true believers is the Church for which we, who are ministers, are specially ordained to preach.
  • The Church which comprises all who repent and believe the Gospel is the Church to which we desire you to belong. Our work is not done, and our hearts are not satisfied until you are made a new creature, and are a member of the one true Church.
  • Outside of the Church which is “built on the rock” there can be NO SALVATION.
The Lord Jesus declares, “I will build my Church”
  • God the Father chooses, God the Son redeems, and God the Holy Ghost sanctifies every member of Christ’s mystical body. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, co-operate for the salvation of every saved soul.
  • There is a peculiar sense in which the help of the Church is laid on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is peculiarly and pre-eminently the Redeemer and Saviour of the Church. Therefore it is that we find Him saying in our text, “I will build – the work of building is my special work.”
    • Christ callsAnd you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:6, NIV)
    • Christ raises from spiritual death and gives new lifeFor just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21, NIV)
    • Christ washes away sins:  … Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6, NIV)
    • Christ gives peacePeace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)
    • Christ gives eternal lifeI give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28, NIV)
    • Christ grants repentanceGod exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. (Acts 5:31, NIV)
    • Christ enablesYet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— (John 1:12, NIV)
    • Christ continues the work of salvation:  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. (John 14:19, NIV)
    • Christ came from the FatherFor God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, (Colossians 1:19, NIV)
    • Christ is the Head of the churchFrom him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16, NIV)
  • The mighty agent by whom the Lord Jesus Christ carries out this work in the members of His Church is the Holy Spirit.
    • He it is who is ever renewing, awakening, convincing, leading to the cross, transforming
    • He is taking out of the world stone after stone, and adding to the mystical building.
  • But the great chief Builder, who has undertaken to execute the work of redemption and bring it to completion, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ who “builds.”
  • Christ uses and ordains:
    • the ministry of the Gospel (and sacraments)
    • the circulation of the Scriptures
    • the friendly rebuke
    • the word spoken in season
    • the drawing influence of afflictions
  • Ministers may preach and writers may write, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone can build. And except He builds, the work stands still.
  • The great Builder makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. He sees the end from the beginning. He works by a perfect, unalterable, and certain plan.
    • He often chooses the most unlikely and roughest stones, and fits them into a most excellent work.
    • He despises none, and rejects none, on account of former sins and past transgressions.
    • He often makes Pharisees and Publicans become pillars of His house.
    • He delights to show mercy. He often takes the most thoughtless and ungodly, and transforms them into polished corners of His spiritual temple.
  • He carries on His work
    • in spite of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
    • in storm, in tempest, through troublous times, silently, quietly, without noise, without stir, without excitement, the building progresses.

Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:13, NIV)

    • For the preserving of the true Church, the laws of nature have oftentimes been suspended.
    • For the good of that Church, all the providential dealings of God in this world are ordered and arranged.
    • For the elect’s sake, wars are brought to an end, and peace is given to a nation.
    • Statesmen, rulers, emperors, kings, presidents, heads of governments, have their schemes and plans, and think them of vast importance, but there is another work going on of infinitely greater moment, for which they are only the “axes and saws” in God’s hand.
  • Christ will never fail. That which He has undertaken He will certainly accomplish.
The foundation upon which the church is built
  • What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He spoke of this foundation? No, it was not the person of the Apostle Peter, but the good confession which the Apostle had just made! It was not Peter, the erring, unstable man, but the mighty truth which the Father had revealed to Peter.
  • It was Christ’s Mediatorship, and Christ’s Messiahship. It was the blessed truth that Jesus was the promised Saviour, the true Surety, the real Intercessor between God and man. This was the rock, and this the foundation, upon which the Church of Christ was to be built.
  • It needed that the Son of God should take our nature upon Him, and in that nature live, suffer, and die, not for His own sins, but for ours. It needed that in that nature Christ should go to the grave, and rise again. It needed that in that nature Christ should go up to heaven, to sit at the right hand of God, having obtained eternal redemption for all His people.
  • It can bear the weight of the sins of all the world. It has borne the weight of all the sins of all the believers who have built on it.
  • To this one foundation every member of Christ’s true Church is joined. Ask where they get their peace, and hope, and joyful expectation of good things to come. You will find that all flows from that one mighty source, Christ the Mediator between God and man, and the office that Christ holds, as the High Priest and Surety of sinners.
  • Take heed that you make no mistake about your own personal salvation. See that your own soul is upon the rock.
The implied Trials of the Church
  • The history of Christ’s true Church has always been one of conflict and war. It has been constantly assailed by a deadly enemy, Satan, the prince of this world. The devil hates the true Church of Christ with an undying hatred.

When the dragon (that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, [Revelation 12:9])saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. (Revelation 12:13,17, NIV)

  • Warfare with the powers of hell has been the experience of the whole body of Christ for six thousand years.
  • Warfare with the powers of hell is the experience of every individual member of the true Church. Each has to fight.
  • Mercy, free grace, and full salvation, are offered to every one who will come to Christ, and believe on Him. But we promise you no peace with the world, or with the devil. We warn you, on the contrary, that there must be warfare so long as you are in the body.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

  • Marvel not at the enmity of the gates of hell. “If you were of the world, the world would love his own.” (John 15:19)  The world hated Christ, and the world will hate true Christians, as long as the earth stands. As the great reformer, Luther, said, “Cain will go on murdering Abel so long as the Church is on earth.
  • Be prepared for the enmity of the gates of hell. Put on the whole armour of God.
  • Be patient under the enmity of the gates of hell. It is all working together for your good. It tends to sanctify. It will keep you awake. It will make you humble. It will drive you nearer to the Lord Jesus Christ. It will wean you from the world. It will help to make you pray more. Above all, it will make you long for heaven.
  • Be not cast down by the enmity of hell. The warfare of the true child of God is as much a mark of grace as the inward peace which he enjoys. No cross, no crown! No conflict, no saving Christianity!

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11, NIV)

Security of the true Church of Christ. There is a glorious promise given by the Builder, “The gates of hell shall not prevail.”
  • He who cannot lie has pledged His word that all the powers of hell shall never overthrow His Church. It shall continue, and stand, in spite of every assault. It shall never be overcome.
  • Empires have risen and fallen in rapid succession. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Tyre, Carthage, Rome, Greece, Venice. – Where are all these now?
  • The broad walls of Babylon have sunk to the ground. The palaces of Nineveh are covered with mounds of dust. The hundred gates of Thebes are only matters of history. Tyre is a place where fishermen hang their nets. Carthage is a desolation.
  • Has the true Church been oppressed in one country? It has fled to another. – Has it been trampled on and oppressed in one soil? It has taken root and flourished in some other climate. – Fire, sword, prisons, fines, penalties, have never been able to destroy its vitality. Its persecutors have died and gone to their own place, but the Word of God has lived, and grown, and multiplied. Weak as this true Church may appear to the eye of man, it is an anvil which has broken many a hammer in times past, and perhaps will break many more before the end.

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye— (Zechariah 2:8, NIV)

  • The promise of our text is true of the whole body of the true Church. Christ will never be without witness in the world. He has had a people in the worst of times.
  • The promise of our text is true of every individual member of the Church. Some of God’s people have been so much cast down and disquieted, that they have despaired of their safety. Can you prevent the planets moving in their respective orbits? Then, and then alone, can you prevent the salvation of any believer, however feeble – the final safety of any living stone in that Church which is built upon the rock, however small or insignificant that stone may appear.
    • The true Church is Christ’s body. Not one bone in that mystical body shall ever be broken. – The true Church is Christ’s bride. Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (John 18:8–9, NIV)
    • The true Church is Christ’s flock. When the lion came and took a lamb out of David’s flock, David arose and delivered the lamb from his mouth. Christ will do the same.
    • The true Church is the wheat of the earth. It may be sifted, winnowed, buffeted, tossed to and fro. But not one grain shall be lost.
    • The true Church is Christ’s army. The Captain of our salvation loses none of His soldiers. His plans are never defeated. His supplies never fail.
  • The devil may cast some of the members of the true Church into prison. He may kill, and burn, and torture, and hang. But after he has killed the body, there is nothing more that he can do. When the French troops took Rome years ago, they found on the walls of a prison cell, under the Inquisition, the words of a prisoner. “Though dead, he yet speaks.” He had written on the walls, very likely after an unjust trial and a still more unjust excommunication, the following striking words: – “Blessed Jesus, they cannot cast me out of Thy true Church.
  • He to whom you commit your soul has all power in heaven and earth, and He will keep you. He will never let you be cast away.
  • Fear not for the Church of Christ when ministers die, and saints are taken away. Christ can ever maintain His own cause. He will raise up better servants and brighter stars. The stars are all in His right hand.
  • To unbelievers
    • Are you joined to the great Foundation? Are you on the rock? Have you received the Holy Ghost? Does the Spirit witness with your spirit, that you are one with Christ, and Christ with you?
    • Come and join yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ in an everlasting covenant not to be forgotten.
    • Come to Him who died for sinners on the cross, and invites all sinners to come to Him by faith and be saved.
    • Come into the lifeboat of the one true Church. “How can I come? My sins are too many. I am too wicked yet. I dare not come.” – Away with the thought! It is a temptation of Satan. Come to Christ as a sinner. Come just as you are.

Not the labors of my hands 

can fulfill thy law’s commands; 

could my zeal no respite know, 

could my tears forever flow, 

all for sin could not atone; 

You must save, and You alone.

(Words by Toplady, Song:  Rock of Ages)

  • You should come as a hungry sinner to be filled – as a poor sinner to be enriched – as a bad, undeserving sinner to be clothed with righteousness. So coming, Christ would receive you.

All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37, NIV)

  • To believers:
    • Strive to live a holy life. Walk worthy of the Church to which you belong.
    • Strive to live a courageous life. Confess Christ before men.
    • Strive to live a joyful life. Live like men who look for that blessed hope – the second coming of Jesus Christ.

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