THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
Matt. 16:18 introduces in the gospel history the subject of the church. Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This text implies that the church as an institution was not yet founded, and it also clearly implies that Christ himself was to be the founder and builder of his church.
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and when he sent forth his twelve apostles he commanded them to preach and say, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus himself taught the doctrines of the kingdom, but in the words of our text there is implied deeper ideas of the kingdom of God yet to be revealed in all their fulness of meaning.
[Sidenote: The body of Christ]
We should divest our minds, temporarily at least, of preconceived ideas of formal church organization and earnestly seek to understand the real signification of that church of which Christ was himself personally the founder. A few texts make this point clear: “And hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and given him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1: 22, 23). The church, then, is the body of Christ. Of this body Jesus himself is the head. “And he is the head of the body, the church ... that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). “For his body’s sake, which is the church” (verse 24). Christ is head of but one body. “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4). In these texts the body and the church are used interchangeably, referring to one and the same thing. The body of which Christ is the head is the church that he built, “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20: 28).
[Sidenote: The atonement its procuring cause]
It is therefore to Calvary that we must look for the specific act by virtue of which Christ personally became the founder of his church. There it was “purchased with his own blood.” There we find the application of those sublime words of the Savior, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men UNTO ME” (John 12: 32). By virtue of that act, God “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” Yea, by virtue of that act, “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,... and that every tongue should confess” (Phil. 2:9-11).