“Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west:
I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
Even everyone that is called by my name for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.”
How often this expression in Scripture is addressed to the people of God! At least sixty-six times it appears on the pages of Holy Writ, and eleven times in the prophecy of Isaiah alone. Addressed to the people of God who find themselves in fearful circumstances, while in the providence of God they are required to taste His chastening rod. Or, as is so often the case,while they grope in the darkness, doubts come over their souls that their God will not be able to realize His covenant promises to them, or somehow their seed shall perish in the way.
To such is this comforting word addressed in the text!
The fearful are envisioned as captives in Babylon. They despair of their Redeemer’s redemptive love, and they are unable to believe that He will realize His covenant promise to be their God and the God of their seed after them—a seed which is now scattered over the face of the earth.
Fear not: for I am with thee!
I am with thee, Jacob-Israel!
Be not afraid! Be not afraid of thyself, for I am with thee. Be not afraid concerning thy seed, for I will bring them. There shall, indeed, be one people, and I shall forever be their God!
That it is Jacob-Israel that is so addressed is plain from the context. “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by my name: thou art mine.”
A peculiar people!
Named after their natural and spiritual forbearer—Jacob; one of the fathers with Abraham and Isaac, with whom God had established His covenant.
Jacob—that God-fearing child of Isaac, who, in distinction from his brother Esau, was to be heir of the patriarchal blessing, but who was weak and sinful, not willing to wait until God would give it to him. Who sought the blessing in his own strength, and therefore deceived his father, and stole from his brother, incurring his wrath. And who therefore was led through hard and devious ways until he met the Lord at the Jabbok.
Israel—that name that was given to him after he had wrestled with God and had overcome. With weeping and supplication he had wrestled all night, and with a new name he was rewarded, for he had power with God and had overcome. That was the significance of his name, Israel.
And the people that is now fearful, and should not fear, is named after their natural and spiritual forbear, because like him they partake of the same natural and spiritual traits.
God’s chosen people!
So the Lord had designated them in the context. “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend.” And again, “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou Jesurun, whom I have chosen.”
Because of this election, the Lord had reprobated Egypt and gave Egypt to destruction, in order that He might deliver with a mighty hand His beloved. Because of this sovereign choice, Ethiopia and the Sabeans are destroyed by the mighty forces of Sennacherib instead of Jerusalem. “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”
A redeemed people!
“For I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.”
Redeemed, of course, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ! The Son of God in the flesh atones for their sin on the cross. In the blood of that cross they are cleansed from all their guilty stains. And by the power of His substitutionary sacrifice they are justified and sanctified, and delivered from sin and death. Adopted as His sons and daughters into the family of God, and heirs of eternal life.
O, make no mistake! They are not the Jews only, as many would maintain. Though, to be sure, for a while the covenant line ran through the Jewish nation. The Jews, as such, were never the people of God. But of both Jew and Gentile, of all nations, tribes, and tongues is this people constituted. By nature no different than all the peoples of the world. Laden with sin and guilt. Dead in trespasses and sins. Totally depraved. With no intrinsic value in themselves. Yet chosen of God; redeemed out of the world. Given to Christ to be redeemed by Him. Over whom God is pleased to call His Name. His precious Jacob-Israel!
A people realized historically in the generations of the believers. Note how marvelously the Lord identifies the seed with Jacob-Israel. “I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west.” And at the same time the Lord lays claim to that seed as His own. “I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.”
The realization of the Israel of God is not, therefore, a haphazard thing, which it must be if God desired to save all men, but only succeeds in saving a few; which it must be, if the salvation of this people depended on the fickle will of man.
Nay, the realization of this people is a well-planned and definite formation of a chosen people, as they are found in the generations of believers, as they reside in all nations of the world, and from the beginning of time to the end thereof. This is why the Lord Jesus, in His mission mandate did say: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.” And again, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Indeed, the Israel of God that is to be gathered is the sum-total of all the elect, no one else. They are given in eternity to Christ to be redeemed by Him. And they are found historically, from the beginning to the end of time, in the generations of the believers and are their seed. And they are to be found not in one nation, but are scattered over all the earth. In one word, they are the Holy Catholic Church, as we express it in the articles of our Christian faith.
Gathered by God Himself!
Contrary to the modern conception, the Israel of’ God is not gathered by man! You are aware, are you not, of the philosophy of the modern church with its social gospel, which conceives of the church as a society to which members may be added by the moral suasion of her ministry or its members? You have heard, have you not, of so-called fundamentalistic churches which operate under the Arminianistic doctrine that men go out to save souls for Christ? You are aware, aren’t you, that there have arisen so-called Evangelistic Associations which are bent on winning the world for Christ? And you must certainly be aware that even in so-called Reformed circles churches have added to their confessions the doctrine of common: grace with its offer of the gospel and salvation for all men. And how these churches, out of an over abundance of mission zeal, now maintain that unless; you can say to every man, “God loves you,” they cannot do mission work.
All of these conceptions stem from the corrupt view that the gathering of the Israel of God is dependent on man, or at least on man in cooperation with God. Such a conception militates both against Scripture and the Reformed Confessions. Space will not allow us to quote these Confessions and Scriptures upon which the Confessions are based. But pay attention to what the Lord says in our text!
I will bring thy seed from the east!
I will gather thee from the west!
I will say to the north: Give up! And ti the south: Keep not back! Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even everyone that is called by my Name!
Indeed, the gathering of the Israel of God is a wonder-work of grace, which God alone accomplishes through His Son, and by His Spirit and Word! The divine calling whereby the Israel of God is gathered out of the world always takes place through Jesus Christ our Lord. Always God speaks through the Son. That is, the Son of God in the flesh. Who reveals the Father. Who died for our sins. Who was raised from the dead for our justification. Who was exalted at God’s right-hand. Through Whose Word and Spirit God gathers His church out of the corrupt human race. The Son of God in the flesh is the mighty Word of salvation whereby the church is called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, out of the fellowship of the sinful human race into the communion of saints.
To be sure, the Son of God accomplishes this through the. preaching of the Gospel! But do not conclude from this that man after all is responsible for the gathering of the Israel of God. Never are the preachers of the Gospel co-laborers with God or with Christ. The Gospel is not of man, but of Christ. He reveals it. He speaks it. Without His Spirit and Word the preacher of the Gospel is powerless. The preacher is not a colaborer with God, but of God, nothing more.
Christ, indeed, is pleased to speak His Word through human media. It is He Who calls and prepares men to preach His Word. It is He Who sends them whithersoever He pleases. It is He Who speaks through their preaching by His Spirit to gather His church. It is Christ Who must be heard in the preaching or there is no preaching at all. Not the preacher wins souls for Christ, but Christ saves His own souls. Not the preacher calls God’s sons and daughters from far, but God does it through Christ Who calls the weary and heavy laden to rest through the Gospel that is preached. All that the preacher must be concerned about is that he preaches the Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel. God, through the Son, through the preaching of the Gospel calls out: Give up! and, Keep not back! It is He, through Christ, and through the preaching of the gospel that gathers together all who were ordained by Him unto eternal life into the sheepfold of Christ. It is He Who gathers the stones which He is pleased to polish and set into His temple in which He is pleased to dwell everlastingly.
For His own glory!
Such is the divine intention, according to the text. “For I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.”
Not for the glory of man, nor even in the first place for his salvation! O, to be sure, the Israel of God that is gathered shall in the process of gathering be saved and glorified. There can be no question about that. When the salvation of the church shall be complete, she shall appear in glory. This is the fruit of God’s saving grace in her. The crown of glory shall be given to everyone who is saved by grace, as He promised. It is also true that those who are called of God to preach His Word shall receive the reward of the crown of righteousness. Such was also the aspiration and expectation of the great Apostle Paul. But important as the salvation and glory of the church may be; and as desirable as the crown of righteousness may be to the preacher; this is not the first purpose of the gathering of the Israel of God.
That God may be glorified,—that is the first and the final purpose of it all!
“This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise!”
Upon that people God attaches His Name! And that Name is the revelation of the God of their salvation. Not their own name, but the Name of their God is stamped upon them. And God, Who is jealous for His own glory, forms that people in such a way that only His virtues, His praises, shall be revealed in them. Yea, He creates them, for His own glory.
And because God will certainly attain unto His purpose, namely, the gathering in of Jacob-Israel that shall glorify Him; let not the people fear! What a day that shall be when they shall all be assembled before Him! When the preaching of the gospel shall have attained its end, when God through the preaching shall call all His sons and daughters who then shall surround Him as he shall be manifested in the Son in His beauty. And everyone shall express His glory!
(Note: This Meditation is based on a sermon preached on the occasion of Rev. G.C. Lubbers’s installation as Missionary to Jamaica.)