And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
This famous sentence, which is emblazoned in great letters of gold round the interior of the dome of St. Peter's at Rome, has been a centre of controversy in the Church for generations. It would be beside our present need to discuss the history of that controversy. Leaving out of account the angry arguments of polemical theology, let us see what positive truth our Lord is here teaching us; for too often the jewel of truth is lost by both parties in a quarrel while they are contending as to who has a right to the possession of it.
I. ST. PETER'S CONFESSION IS THE ROCK ON WHICH THE CHURCH IS BUILT. Accepting this idea as the most probable outcome of a fair exegesis of the passage, let us see what its real significance is.
1. The Church is built on Christ. He is its Author, its original Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and its chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). When we abandon faith in Christ we forsake the grounds of our faith.
2. The Messiahship and Divinity of Christ are essential to the stability of the Church. These two facts were the contents of St. Peter's confession. The Church cannot rest on vague sentiments concerning Christ. Exact philosophical definitions may not be attainable; the history of theology shows that the effort to form them nearly wrecked the Church. But the great central truths themselves are essential.
3. The confession of these truths is requisite in order that the Church may be firmly planted. It looks as though our Lord spoke of the confession as being itself the foundation. We must have faith in Christ before we can profit by him, and we must have courage to confess him if we would possess a robust Christian life.
II. THE CHURCH ON THIS ROCK WILL BE SECURE.
1. It is built by Christ. Therefore the superstructure will be sound as well as the foundation. Our Lord is ever at work on his Church. He can do nothing with those who will neither believe him nor confess him. But wherever he finds the faith and confession, he himself builds up the strong structure of a Christian character.
2. It is assailed by evil. The powers of hell attack the Church because she is their enemy; therefore the question of a sure foundation is of vital importance. The floods are sure to come and try the house.
3. It cannot be overthrown. This is a positive prediction of Christ's, and it ought to dispel our fear and confirm our faith. Of all he has predicted nothing has failed. He promised that the grain of mustard seed should become a great tree; and his promise has come true. His assurance that nothing shall overthrow the Church built on the true confession of faith in him has proved to be correct for nearly twenty centuries.
4. Its security is shared by those who confess the faith it embodies. St. Peter's name is justified by his rock like confession. The Christian character is confirmed by a loyal faith and a bold confession. The spirit of St. Peter's confession is typical of the Christian heroism that can withstand all attacks of doubt or opposition. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.