Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 8, 1958

The Church -- God's Eternal Purpose


There has been considerable loose talk these past few years about the church's having resulted from the Jews' failure to accept Christ as their Messiah. The general idea seems to be that God never contemplated such an institution as that which we know as the "church," but rather envisaged a social order on the level of a political kingdom, established by bloodshed and violence, with Christ as the King, destined to rule over all the earth by the power of material and earthly constraints. He had expected the Jews to spear-head this "new order," but being frustrated in that design by their unexpected rejection of his Son, God was forced back on the contingency of providing some workable institution to keep things going until he could make a second attempt at winning the Jews to accept Christ.

The result was the church. In a sense it was an "accident" — an expedient useful only as a means of holding the line while God was re-grouping his forces and planning another assault. The redemptive work of Jesus Christ was to be predicated upon his acceptance by the nation of the Jews. Any failure on their part to come through would vitiate God's plan, making its execution impossible.

This belittling and disparaging view of the church is the one held today by those of the premillennial persuasion. It is dishonoring to God and debasing to the church. It ignores and flouts the plain statements of Scripture which show that God had purposed from all eternity to work through the church. It stems from a grievous misunderstanding of God's aim or purpose in establishing the church.

Speaking of this design of God in establishing the church, Canon Liddon said:

"But neither would any improvements in man's social life, nor even the regenerate lives of individual Christians, of themselves, have realized our Lord's 'plan' in its completeness. His design was to found a society or church; individual sanctity and social amelioration are only effects radiating from the church. The church herself is the true proof of his success."

(Hampton Lectures, 1866 ,p. 131.)

This view of the church is not popular in our day. It is the generally held conviction of most religious people now, nearly a century after Liddon's day, that "individual sanctity and social amelioration" are in truth the real objectives, and the church is only a means to an end — and a means, furthermore, which may be subject to rather constant change and improvement. Even in Liddon's own day there were those who held such a view. One reviewer of his Lectures declared:

"Our Lord came to carry out the counsel of the Eternal Father and that counsel was, primarily, to establish, through his sacrificial death, an economy of mercy, under which justification and spiritual and eternal life should be realized by all who should penitently turn to him."

To this Canon Liddon replied:

"Undoubtedly. But this 'economy of mercy' included the establishment of a world-embracing church, within which it was to be dispensed. (Col. 1:10-14.) Our Lord founded his Church, not by way of achieving a vast social feat or victory, but with a view to the needs of the human soul, which he came from heaven to save. Nevertheless the church is not related to our Lord's design as an 'inseparable accident.' It is the design itself, viewed on its historical and social side; it is the form which, so far as we know, his redemptive work necessarily took, and which he himself founded as being the imperishable result of his incarnation and death. (Matt. 16:18.)"

It is hazardous and perilous to speculate upon the foreknowledge of God as related to the free-will of man. There are depths here so profound our finite minds cannot comprehend them. We can be safe in saying that any particular thing was "foreknown" and "fore-ordained" and "purposed" of God only when the Bible specifically and definitely says that such was the case. However much we may wonder how it was possible for God to know man would sin, and to provide a remedy for the sin, without, at the same time, making the sin inevitable and unavoidable for man, we cannot escape the conclusion that God did know man would sin; He did plan a remedy for that sin; and He did expect to make known "through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph. 3:10, 11.)

If, as the premillennialists say, the church was not contemplated in God's first plan for the redemption of the race, then God did not intend that the events of Pentecost should take place at all as they did. It was not his plan that his Son should die, but rather that he should be acclaimed by the Jews as their earthly king. And Pentecost would have ushered in the glorious earthly reign of a ruling monarch, occupying a throne in Jerusalem.

In such event, how would it ever have been possible for Joel's prophecy to have been fulfilled? He made a prophecy about the circumstances connected with the church's origin. He was specific, factual, straight-forward in his declarations. There was only one way, and one day, in which that prophecy could ever have been fulfilled. Peter says that it was fulfilled with the events and the day of Pentecost. No other event in all history could have been the fulfillment of that prophecy. It had to concur with other events as to both time and place, as well as with the people involved. The prophecy had to be fulfilled that day or never! Hence, the conclusion is inescapable that the events of that Pentecostal day were contemplated in the mind of God when he prepared his "economy of mercy" for the redemption of the race before the world began.

Since the church was planned from all eternity, we are not to become alarmed or panic-stricken when it appears to us that the forces of evil are about to engulf the church, or the misconceived enthusiasm of extremists are about to turn her into a glorified youth center or Y.M.C.A. Anything so basic in the thinking of God, so completely an expression of his will, so intimately connected with his Son, is not to be overcome so easily by the machinations of man. Its roots go deeper than contemporary politics; its foundation is not some shaky political regime, but rather the veritable fact of God's own existence. The church can no more be overthrown than God can be overthrown; for who can enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first find the strong man? (Matt. 12:29.) The arrogant atheist, the puerile premillennialist, and the wild-eyed social "do-gooder," will alike find themselves confounded in the face of the overwhelming certainty of God's eternal plan. The church, bought by the blood of God's only Son, will make possible the salvation of every human on earth who will in penitence turn to God. It is no accident that this is so. It was planned to be that way by God before the world began.

F. Y. T.