A ship was once wrecked on an island in the South Pacific The sailors who had survived the buffeting of the waves were now seized with a dread lest the island should prove to be inhabited by cannibals. They sent one of their companions before them into the interior of the island to explore. He made his way to the top of a hill, took a look at the valley in front of him, and then, turning, waved to his companions and said, "Come on, boys; here's a church!" That is so all over the world and all through the ages. Where there is a church there are no cannibals.
Gideon had reduced his army to three hundred, as the Lord instructed him; but, when he gazed from the slopes of Gilead upon the hosts of the Midianites encamped in the valley below, he still felt some misgivings about the forthcoming battle. So God said to him, Go down into the camp of the enemy, and "thou shalt hear what they say." (Judges 7:11.) With his ear close to the tent of the Midianites, Gideon heard one tell to his fellow his dream of the barley loaf which tumbled down the hill and knocked over the tent, and his interpretation of it: "This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon ... for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host." When Gideon heard that, he worshiped and returned to his army, to whom he said, "Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian!"
"Thou shalt hear what they say!" We hear what they say to us—what they say in criticism of the Church, in hostility or derision or bitterness, but not what they say among themselves, in their own camp. Would that we might lie quietly by the tents of this world and hear what they think and say! Could we but hear what they think and say of some noble and guileless Christian character; could we but hear their anxious misgivings for the tomorrow of a life without God; could we but see their blank despair as they stand by the grave of one they have loved; could we but hear the restless tossing of their remorse; could we but hear their secret verdict about the ultimate victory of the Kingdom of God— like Gideon, we should worship and return to our posts full of joy and confidence; for we should then know how true it is that the sword of the Lord is also the sword of the Church.
As Timothy went to and fro at Ephesus on his pastoral rounds, looking after his church, in which there were not many noble and not many great, he saw the sun reflected from the glorious temple of Diana. The sight reminded him that he was the minister of a grander temple, the temple of Christian truth; for the Church of the Living God is the pillar and the ground of the truth.
When the seventh angel sounded, there were great voices heard in heaven. The temple of God was opened to the accompaniment of voices, lightning, thundering, great hail, and earthquake. Then appeared a great wonder—a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. This woman clothed in incomparable glory—the sun, the moon, and the stars—has generally been taken to represent the Church of Christ. Wherever the Church appears in the Scriptures, she appears in majesty and glory. The magnificent description of the Church in Revelation is in keeping with that in the Song of Solomon (6:10): "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." But greater than the glory of the sun and the moon and the stars is the glory with which the Apostle Paul clothes the Church when he calls it "the body of Christ" (Rom. 7:4).
Writing for the Ladies' Home Journal an article called "Shall We Do Away with the Church?" Theodore Roosevelt said certain things of permanent import to the nation:
"In the pioneer days of the West, we found it an unfailing rule that after a community had existed for a certain length of time, either a church was built or else the community began to go downhill.
"I doubt whether the frank protest of nothing but amusement has really brought as much happiness as if it had been alloyed with and supplemented by some minimum meeting of obligation toward others. Therefore, on Sunday go to church. Yes—I know all the excuses; I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees or by a running brook or in one's own house just as well as in a church, but I also know that as a matter of cold fact, the average man does not worship or thus dedicate himself. If he stays away from church he does not spend his time in good works or in lofty meditation. . . . He may not hear a good sermon at church, but unless he is very unfortunate he will hear a sermon by a good man.
"Besides, even if he does not hear a good sermon, the probabilities are that he will listen to and take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible, and if he is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss which he had better make all possible haste to correct. He will meet and nod to or speak to good, quiet neighbors. If he doesn't think about himself too much, he will benefit himself very much, especially as he begins to think chiefly of others."
In a vision John Bunyan saw a man throwing water on a flame, and yet the flame continued to burn. He wondered how it could burn on—until he saw that there was one behind the door pouring oil on the flame!
Going through the countries of the old world and standing silently and retrospectively beneath the roofs of the venerable fanes, one feels that the Church is an old, old institution. Yet what a world still lives and sins and dies without the walls of the cathedral! Passing out of the glorious cathedral of Toledo, I saw the throngs hurrying to secure their yellow tickets for the unspeakable brutalities of the bull ring. Still only a step from the cathedral to the bull ring, from the Christian to the barbarian! And in our own lands and cities, how closely the world presses upon the Church! But sursum corda! The important thing is not the present or past effect and influence of the Church, but the fact that in it are lodged the eternal principles. These principles must conquer. Christ must reign from the river unto the ends of the earth.
When he called the Church of the Living God a pillar, Paul was thinking not of a building but rather of the institution—the family of God, the company of Christain believers. Yet he drew his metaphor about the pillar and ground of the truth from a building, one of the greatest and most beautiful buildings the world has ever seen, the temple of Diana. Paul and Timothy had seen it often. This temple was four times as large as the Parthenon at Athens and constructed on the same general plan. It was adorned with paintings and sculptures of Praxiteles, Apollos, and Phidias.
The roof was covered with white marble tiles, and to sailors on approaching ships the temple gleamed in the distance with the brilliancy of a star. But the chief glory of the temple was the 120 jasper columns which upheld the roof. How magnificent those columns were, one who has visited the Mosque of St. Sofia will be able to judge, for eight ol them now help to hold up that great dome, having been transported thither by the Emperor Justinian after the destruction of Ephesus by the Goths in A.A. 260.
As these great pillars upheld the marble roof of Diana's temple, so the Church, declares Paul, is a mighty pillar which holds up in this world the truth, and by the truth he means the truth that is above ail other truth, which takes in and embraces all truth—the truth of redemption through Christ, the everlasting gospel.