And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter: Christ gave him this name, Joh_1:42, when his brother Andrew first brought him to Christ. I did not give thee the name of Cephas, or Peter, for nothing, (for what Cephas signifieth in the Syriac Peter signifieth in the Greek), I called thee Cephas and thou art Peter, a rock. Thou shalt be a rock. This our Lord made good afterward, when he told him, that Satan had desired to winnow him like wheat, but he had prayed that his faith might not fail, Luk_22:32. Thou hast made a confession of faith which is a rock, even such a rock as was mentioned Mat_7:25. And thou thyself art a rock, a steady, firm believer.
And upon this rock I will build my church. Here is a question amongst interpreters, what, or whom, our Saviour here meaneth by this rock.
1. Some think that he meaneth himself, as he saith, Joh_2:19, Destroy this temple (meaning his own body). God is often called a Rock, Deu_32:18Psa_18:2Psa_31:3, and it is certain Christ is the foundation of the church, Isa_28:161Co_3:111Pe_2:6. But this sense seemeth a little hard, that our Saviour, speaking to Peter, and telling him he was a stone, or a rock, should with the same breath pass to himself, and not say, Upon myself, but upon this rock I will build my church.
2. The generality of protestant writers, not without the suffrage of divers of the ancients, say Peter’s confession, which he had made, is the rock here spoken of. And indeed the doctrine contained in his confession is the foundation of the gospel; the whole Christian church is built upon it.
3. Others think, in regard that our Saviour directeth his speech not to all the apostles, but to Peter, and doth not say, Blessed are you, but, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, that here is something promised to Peter in special; but they do not think this is any priority, much less any jurisdiction, more than the rest had, but that Christ would make a more eminent and special use of him, in the building of his church, than of the rest; and they observe, that God did make a more eminent use of Peter in raising his gospel church, both amongst the Jews, Act_2:1-47, and the Gentiles, Act_10:1-48. But yet this soundeth a little harshly, to interpret upon this rock, by this rock. I do therefore rather incline to interpret it in the second sense:
Upon this rock, upon this solid and unmovable foundation of truth, which thou hast publicly made, I will build my church. It is true, Christ is the foundation of the church, and other foundation can no man lay. But though Christ be the foundation in one sense, the apostles are so called in another sense, Eph_2:20Rev_21:14 not the apostles’ persons, but the doctrine which they preached. They, by their doctrine which they preached, (the sum or great point of which was what Peter here professed), laid the foundation of the Christian church, as they were the first preachers of it to the Gentiles. In which sense soever it be taken, it makes nothing for the papists’ superiority or jurisdiction of St. Peter, or his successors. It follows, I will build my church. By church is here plainly meant the whole body of believers, who all agree in this one faith. It is observable, that Christ calls it his church, not Peter’s, and saith, I will build, not, thou shalt build. The working of faith in souls is God’s work. Men are but ministers, by whom others believe. They have but a ministry towards, not a lordship over the church of God.
And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; that is, the power of the devil and all his instruments shall never prevail against it utterly to extinguish it, neither to extinguish true faith in the heart of any particular believer, nor to root the gospel out of the world.
The gates is here put for the persons that sit in the gates. It was their custom to have the rulers to sit in the gates, Rth_4:1,11 2Sa_19:8. Neither doth hell signify here the place of the damned; adhv no where (except in one place, and as to that it is questionable, Luk_16:23) signifies so, but either death, or the graves, or the state of the dead: yet the devil is also understood here, as he that hath the power of death, Heb_2:14. The plain sense is, that our Lord would build the Christian church upon this proposition of truth, that he was the Christ, the Son of God; that Peter should be an eminent instrument in converting men to this faith; and where this faith obtained in the world, he would so far protect it, that though the devil and his instruments should by all means imaginable attempt the extinguishing of it by the total extirpation of it, the professors of it, and might as to particular places prevail; yet they should never so prevail, but to the end of the world he would have a church, a number of people called out by his apostles, and those who should succeed in their ministry, who should uphold this great truth. So as this is a plain promise for the continuance of the gospel church to the end of the world.