Sermon preached by President Edward J. Worley
at the Service of Convocation
Sixty-fourth Annual Convention
June 26, 2015
Text: Ephesians 2:20
My dearly beloved, grace, mercy and peace from God our heavenly Father, Jesus Christ our Redeemer and the Holy Ghost our Sanctifier, fellow-redeemed sinners, ransomed from the guilt, punishment and slavery of sin in our dear Savior’s holy and precious, innocent blood:
Since man fell into sin, he has had a real problem with being content with what God provides for body and soul. Even the Lord’s own apostles demanded more! Remember this famous exchange between Philip and the Lord the night the Savior was betrayed? “Philip saith unto Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself; but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works’” (John 14:8-10). The Lord directs Philip to His Word! But the sinful flesh seeks more! The Apostle Paul spoke to this problem when he said: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:22-23). The attitude of an unbeliever is outright rejection of God’s Word: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). But because of their sinful flesh believers are often discontent with what God has provided in His Word and want more: “Give us more and then we will be satisfied!” Over against this sinful discontent, a serious problem ever since Eve fell for what Satan claimed to be more, i.e., God’s hidden agenda, we have the clear, true doctrine set forth in our text regarding God’s Holy Word,
The Only and All-Sufficient Foundation.
Our text suggests three questions for our consideration and answers them according to the following outline:
- By whom is the Christian Church built?
- By God alone …
- …yet through means
- How does God build the Christian Church?
- Upon the only and all-sufficient foundation…
- His Word, the Apostles and Prophets
- What is the chief doctrine by which the Christian Church stands or falls?
- Justification for Jesus Christ’s sake…
- who is the One and Only Cornerstone
Let us pray: Dear Lord Jesus, grant us true confidence in Thy Word that we may be and remain true disciples. Instruct us anew regarding the sufficiency of Thy Word, especially in regard to our eternal salvation. In Thy saving Name we pray. Amen.
Here is our text with the context: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God, 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” (vv. 19-22).
Just prior to our text the Holy Ghost proclaims through Paul the marvelous reconciling work of Christ, especially focusing in on what this means for Gentiles: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (vv. 11-13). We are now united under Christ, both Jew and Gentile: “For He is our peace, who hath made both one and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (vv. 14-16). We were brought to this saving knowledge of Christ by the means God ordained, the preaching of His Word of Peace, the Gospel: “[He] came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (vv. 17-18). Then, in our text, the Spirit of God through Paul calls the true believers among the Gentiles the Church of God with such powerful terms as “fellowcitizens with the saints” and “of the household of God!”
It is this Church, the Communion of Saints, all believers and only believers, that is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (v. 20a).
Our first question is simple and already answered by the context: By whom is the Christian Church built? Obviously, our gracious God is the builder, as the entire preceding context shows! The text says earlier: “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (vv. 1-10). God does it all — graciously, in Christ and for His sake! Sinners, blind, dead, enemies of God in Satan’s bondage, are gifted with salvation by God, for Christ’s sake, through God-wrought faith alone. 100% by grace, 100% as God’s gift!
Did not Christ say: “I will build My Church?” Yes, He did (Matthew 16:16)! Does the Scripture emphatically tell us this general principle that God is the only reliable builder? Yes! Yes it does! “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1a).
And God also clearly reveals the answer to our second question, how He builds His Church, namely, through His Word! Saving faith makes a person a member of His Church, and faith is wrought by God through the Gospel: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Our text brings out how God builds by declaring that the Church is built “upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” Scripture declares the Word of God, the Old and New Testament Scriptures, to be the only and the all-sufficient foundation of the Church for doctrine and for practice!
Dr. J. T. Mueller speaks to the point:
The divine perfection, or sufficiency, of Holy Scripture is that property by which it teaches everything that is necessary for salvation. Gerhard defines this property of Scripture as follows (II, 286): “The Scriptures fully and perfectly instruct us concerning all things necessary for salvation.” The Scripture proof for this doctrine is clearly set forth in 2 Tim. 3, 15—17; John 17, 20; 1 John 1, 3.4. Since Holy Scripture is sufficient, or perfect, it requires no supplementation either through traditions (papists) or new revelations (enthusiasts) or doctrinal progress or development (modern rationalistic theologians). The way of salvation taught in the Bible is absolutely complete, Matt. 28, 20; Mark 16, 15. 16. Gerhard, arguing against the Romanists, rightly says: “Laying aside tradition, we adhere to Scripture alone.”
When considering the divine sufficiency of Holy Scripture, we must carefully observe the following points: —
- Holy Scripture does not contain everything which men may know; for with regard to matters of earthly concern it offers very little instruction (the Bible is not a “text-book of science”). Earthly affairs are treated in Scripture only in so far as they pertain to the divine counsel of salvation (the creation of the world, etc.).
- Holy Scripture does not reveal all divine things which man might desire to know; for also in the spiritual sphere its proper scope is the saving of sinners, 2 Tim. 3, 16—18; 1 Cor. 13, 12; Rom. 11, 33.
- Nevertheless, Holy Scripture contains all things “necessary to be known for the Christian faith and life and, therefore, for the attainment of eternal salvation” (Quenstedt). All those who deny this truth reject the Schriftprinzip, or the basic Christian doctrine that Holy Scripture is the only source and norm of faith.
(Mueller, John Theodore, Christian Dogmatics, St. Louis: CPH, 1955, p. 137).
When people vainly seek supplements God tells everyone: “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The principle is clear: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The Savior emphatically directs: “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
And this brings us to our final question: What is the chief doctrine upon which the Christian Church stands or falls (if that doctrine is rejected or denied!)? Our text declares: “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” The word denotes the most important, the indispensable, the integral and essential stone in a masonry structure. The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, set on the extreme corner of the foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. Scripture declares: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). Christ, the Son of the Living God, “the Savior of all men, and specially of those that believe” (I Timothy 4:10), is the solid rock foundation stone!
The word also denotes the capstone or topmost stone in a masonry vault and the keystone in an arch! Jesus Christ Himself is that indispensable stone, the central cohesive source of support and stability! If the capstone or keystone is removed, there is nothing to prevent the complete collapse of the whole structure. Consider the additional proof passages regarding Christ, in His Person and Work, as the “chief cornerstone.” “Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.’ Unto you therefore which believe He is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense even to them which stumble at the Word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed” (I Peter 2:6-8). Everything depends on Christ! In God-wrought faith we shall never be confounded or ashamed, for our salvation is assured! The testimony of “the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” penned word for precious word by inspiration of God, is unshakable. Our precious Savior gave the precious sacrifice: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” (I Peter 1:18-21; Isaiah 28:16). The Apostle Peter quotes the Prophet Isaiah! The prophets and apostles preach Christ: “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). The Lord said in Matthew 21: “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (v. 42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; cf. Psalm 118:22-23). We are all familiar with Acts 4:12. Just prior to that verse we read: “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner” (vv. 10-11), and then “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (v. 12). The Apostle tells us the heart of the matter: Salvation alone in Christ! This is why Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone! He is the Savior, the only Savior of all mankind! His person and work brings forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight, if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven, whereof I, Paul, am made a minister” (Colossians 1:19-23). The Psalmist declares: “I will praise Thee, for Thou hast heard me and art become my Salvation. The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:21-23). The Church is founded on Christ, the one and only Head, the Savior. His person and work are the key subjects of our preaching. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (I Corinthians 2:1-5).
The doctrine of justification or forgiveness — forgiveness based on Christ’s work alone, a gracious gift from God — is the chief doctrine of the Church. God no longer charges sins to a sinner but, for Christ’s sake alone, declares him righteous. This universal, objective justification is received by the individual through God-wrought faith in the Gospel, another gracious action of God. Upon this vital, saving teaching the Christian Church stands. If this doctrine is denied or somehow falsified in the hearts and minds of men, there is no hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Only this doctrine enables us to recognize Christianity as the only true religion, enables us to distinguish the Christian religion as God’s own, over against all man-made, false religions, the work-righteous fantasies of men and devils (Galatians 5:4-5; Micah 7:18-20). The doctrine of justification by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, through faith alone, is the God-given doctrine which gives enduring comfort to penitent sinners (Acts 16:30, 31, 34; Matthew 9:2) and ascribes all glory to God for our redemption, forgiveness and salvation: “From Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).
Beloved, Satan, the world and your own sinful flesh want you to reject the very Cornerstone of God’s own choosing, the elect, precious Savior sent from heaven. The “sand-substitutes” so many vainly build upon are evident today, both gross and refined. Men still seek signs. Men still follow after so-called wisdom. Vain philosophy and so-called science has flooded the outward church like a tsunami, resulting in delusion, uncertainty and unbelief.
By the grace of God, we have, preserved by His faithful promise and providence (Matthew 24:35), all we need in Christ, through “the Word of His grace” (Acts 20:32), His precious Gospel, for faith and life. We are exhorted to hold fast to the foundation God has laid: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The Savior promises: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). “The gates of hell shall not prevail against [Christ’s Church]” (Matthew 16:18)! “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us! For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
God ever grant us to believe all His good promises unto salvation — not a word of which has failed nor can fail (I Kings 8:56; Joshua 21:45) — in Christ our Cornerstone. Amen