"UPON this Rock will I build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." What was the Rock of which Our Lord was speaking?
St. Peter had just said to Him, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus turned to him and said, "Peter, your name means a rock. Well on that Rock, the rock of your confession of Me as your God, I am going to build My Church, against which the gates of Hell can never prevail unto the ages of the ages." If we would be of His Church, it is demanded of us that there be acknowledgment that He is our God. We must believe that. Then, if we believe, and if we are sorry for the sin and weakness in our life, Christ has asked us to be baptized, to have water applied to us with a prayer which He appointed. He has assured us that when any person is so baptized, He will reach out from the invisible Heaven and touch that person, cleansing him from sin and accepting him for His own child by adoption, entering into solemn league and covenant with him, giving him a birth into a new kind of life. In baptism we are made members of Christ,--as close to Him as hands and feet,--children of God, and actual inheritors, here and now, if we continue near Him, of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Church, founded on dedication of lives to Him, to His service, to imitating Him, to trying to love and serve Him, is the body, the corporate unity, of His friends. You are a member of it, if so be you have been baptized. It may be He touched you with His blessing when you were a tiny baby. It may be you were not made His until you were old enough to remember it. If you are baptized you are a member of His Blessed Company, and entitled, if you do your part, to all the joys of comradeship laid up for those who love Him.
Think for a while of the Church of which you are a member. Not St. Blank's parish. That is not the Church to which you belong. That is only a tiny segment of it. Not the diocese of this or that. That is but a small fragment of it. Not merely the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. That is not all. Not merely the so-called Anglican communion. It includes every person who, believing Jesus God, has been baptized into comradeship with Him. In it are all the Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Baptists and Disciples and most old time Congregationalists and the United Brethren and many other sorts. Some sorts of Protestants have abandoned belief in the central fact that Jesus is God. The Unitarians have done so. So have the Christian Scientists. So have many Congregationalists. They are not members of the Christian brotherhood at all. Jesus is not their God. But all the rest of these Protestant brethren belong to your Church. They may in various ways have abandoned parts, precious parts, of the good things which Christ founded for His people, but Jesus is still their God. They are baptized into Him. And then in your Church are all the Greek and Russian Orthodox believers and all the Roman Catholics too. You belong to a Church with mil]ions of members living on this earth this moment.
Sometimes you and I get to thinking, as we look over our own little congregations, that we are somewhat in the position of Elijah of old. 'We feel like crying as he did, "We indeed have been very zealous for the Lord; but the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, slain Thy prophets; and we, even we only, are left." Make no mistake. The gates of hell have not prevailed against the Church, nor will they. Of course the great majority even of the Occidental world is still pagan. The great majority of our country, for all practical purposes, is pagan. Do not let that worry you. That has always been so. Christ never told us that the Church could be a means of saving everybody. It can never include or help much the wilfully selfish many. Only a fool judges the Church, or any congregation, by the number of people in it. The kind of people, the sincerity of them, the sacrifices of them, the humility of them, their faithfulness to Christ their God,--all these things are what count. There is, to be sure, tremendous work before the Church, to bear witness for Jesus and His philosophy and His helpfulness in these terrible days. There is that; but we must not give way to panic. We belong to a Church of powerful strength, a Church which has Christ's own promise that as long as it remains true to its belief in Him as God and tries to follow Him as God, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. It has faults, certainly, for its members are but fallible human beings. It is split into segments, true; but the sins of self-will, self-seeking, pride, and stubbornness which once tore the Church are being repented of. Catholics and Protestants are praying every year at certain seasons for reunion. Courtesy and sympathy are growing among us. And the Episcopal Church, through its Commission on Faith and Order, is even now carrying on its plan whereby, in a few years, under God, all Christians, Catholic and Protestant, may meet together in one great ecumenical, world-wide conference, and discuss how we may again be one body with one another and one body with Jesus our common Master.
Consider then the great world-wide Church of living souls on earth to which you belong. But do not stop there. That too is only a part of the Church. In Jesus there is no such thing as death. The Christians of the past have not perished. In their present state of life, they also are living members of Christ's Church. Their efforts for the Church of Jesus are even more efficacious than ours, for they know more and can work better. Try to visualize, by an effort of your imagination, these fellow-Churchmen of the past on earth and of the present now in Christ's reality.
Open our eyes, O Lord, that we may see the company of Thy saints! They are not present in any one place, but we, limited here in human bodies, must imagine them so if we would make them real to ourselves.
Behold blessed Mary, the Mother of Jesus, most beautiful of all the saints, most wonderful of all women. See her gracious face, lined with the sorrows of that life wherein a sword of grief entered into the very soul of her, the sword of longing mother love. Here is Peter, too, the headstrong, stubborn fisherman, first to acknowledge Jesus as God. See Paul, his diseased body dominated by his mighty spirit, his tired face radiant with faith and hope and love. There is John the Evangelist, youngest of all the twelve, bent now with an hundred years of earthly life, looking on us, even as he did with his half-blind eyes, those eyes which had seen visions on Patmos Isle, on his congregation in Ephesus. He draws the sign of the Cross over us in blessing and says, "Little children, a new commandment I give unto you. Let us love one another." Look on sainted Polycarp, he who from the fire of his martyrdom cried, "Eighty and six years have I served Rim; and shall I deny Him now?" Behold Ambrose, who hesitated not to expel even an emperor from Christ's communion because he lived a life of tyranny. Look on Augustine, who, in days more distressing than ours, wrote of the inevitable triumph of God's love and justice, even while the barbarians were toppling over civilization all about him; and Monica his mother, she who prayed so faithfully all the years her son lived in pride and riot and vice, until her prayer was heard and he was found by Jesus.
And who are these, this band of heroes, men, women, tiny children, singing such praises to Christ? These are they who sang long years ago, while deep in undertone rose the hoarse cry of the mobs in the amphitheatre above and around them, "To the lions with these Christians!" They sang to Jesus, though the beasts rushed out. Look, too, at Prisca and Aquila and the virgin martyrs with them, they who submitted to torture, maiming, rape, murder, rather than deny Him who had loved them unto the death of the Cross.
And now we see them coming in such great throngs that we can scarce recognize them at all. There is gaunt John the Goldenmouthed of Constantinople, the fearless challenger of wicked and exploiting respectability. There is Bernard, who saved France when anarchy reigned. There is Benedict, whose monks kept learning alive when the earlier barbarians straffed the world. See Augustine and his monks, who, landing in England with their crucifix before them, won our motherland for Christ away from gods of cruelty and hate. Boniface and Willibrord,--they carried the Gospel into the great Teutonic forests to the northward, those dread and Druid-haunted halls. There is Anselm and that greater Archbishop, Thomas of Canterbury, who stood for religion in England against the command of haughty kings. There are Laud and King Charles the Martyr, who stood for religion in England against the equally haughty and unrighteous commands of mobs of commoners. St. Francis, lover of the poor, and St. Clara, his co-worker. Frederick Maurice and Charles Kingsley and Ludlow, Pusey and Newman and Keble, Samuel and John Wesley, are but a few of Englishmen we see.
Of heroic mission heroes there are Jackson Kemper, Bishop Whipple from the Indians of Minnesota, Livingston from Africa, Williams from the South Seas, Selwyn from Australia, Francis Xavier from China, Savonarola and John Ball and Wycliffe and William Morris and Spalding of Utah, and others like them who have dreamed of heavenly brotherhood on earth. And all the million martyrs of Armenia. Yes, and your loved ones, and my loved ones, whom we knew on this earth, for whom in love we pray now that they are what men call dead. And round these whom we have recognized a great multitude which no man can number, souls of whom the world was not worthy, who cease not day or night to praise Him whom they have loved and served, lived for and died for on this earth. "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude" says St. John, "and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." With angels, and archangels, this, the company of Heaven, cries, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord, Most High."
How full of hope, encouragement, strength, is the vision of God's Church in all its greatness. We feebly struggle, yes; but they in glory shine. Is life hard for us? It was for them. Are we persecuted for righteousness sake Happy are we, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before us. And now they are helping. We lift our hearts to them and cry,
"O all ye blessed ones,
Ye who fought as we must fight,
Ye who were tempted even as we are tempted,
Ye who suffered and endured all things, for Him,
As ye circle about the throne of Jesus the glorified,
While ye sing His praises with love in your hearts,
While ye, His servants, do serve Him,
Forget us not, your brethren.
Remember us who in your footsteps now are treading.
Pray for us, myriad saints,
Pray for us, even now,
And in the hour of death."