Hymn #353 in the Trinity Hymnal is our hymn of the month for June. As we focus on the Lord’s Supper this month, we have selected a hymn that expresses our joy and gratitude at being part of the kingdom of God.
The Psalms often praise God for Israel or for Zion or Jerusalem. Sometimes this is phrased as praising Jerusalem itself; Psalm 50 for example calls Zion the “perfection of beauty” and Psalm 48 says that Zion is the “joy of the whole earth.” In one sense this might be disturbing, since on the surface it might appear that the Psalm is praising men, or the work of men. But Jerusalem was what it was because of the work of God. The Psalmist is not praising the earthly city of itself, or praising the men who built or ruled Jerusalem. Rather, the Psalmist is praising the work of God.
Likewise, a hymn such as #353 or others that praise the church of God must be understood as praising God for His work in the church. We should not sing the praises of some particular denomination or local congregation, though even there we are thankful for God’s blessings to us. But we do praise the work of God. It is therefore the holy, catholic and apostolic church, the temple of God built with living stones, existing in many different denominations and local congregations which we praise. That is the true house of God. We are blessed and thankful to be part of the visible manifestation of the church. But we know that the church in its current form is full of imperfections and beset with sin, and it is that church in its spiritual character and in its eternal perfection for which we long.
As the first verse says, Jesus paid for this church with His own blood. It is a very precious thing, and it is a necessary part of the character of a Christian that he love the bride of Christ. Though we distinguish between the visible and invisible church, it is no good saying that I love the true and invisible church but disregard the visible church, for the only place I will find the invisible church is within the visible church. God’s people will join themselves to God’s church, to the bride of Christ, to put themselves under the rule of the church and the teaching of the Word, and they will not neglect the gathering of the saints.
Therefore, if I claim to love the bride of Christ, the church of God, I will find a local congregation to be part of, so that even through its imperfections and failings I will find God’s beloved people and experience the blessed communion of the saints. The miner knows he has to dig through a lot of worthless rock and dirt to find the gold and gems. In our Christian life, we too must be patient with hypocrisy, disappointment and weakness to find the precious communion of the saints. Hymn #353 well expresses the thankfulness the Christian has to be associated with God’s people, and his earnest desire to work, to pray, to suffer for the good and prosperity of Christ’s church.