But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an, holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:
Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
What a glorious “but” that is, which introduces this portion of Scripture!
For it depicts for us a deliberate contrast; the contrast, namely, between two classes of people. On the one hand, the people of God; a people which is peculiarly distinguished by their election, by their royal priesthood, by their separation from the world, in order that they should shew forth the praises of God. On the other hand, a people distinguished by their disobedience to the Word, and their stumbling over the rock of offence, which rock shall break them to pieces. Concerning the latter the apostle had written in the preceding verses of this chapter. Concerning the former he speaks in the words of our text.
A contrast, if you will, which the Word of God here draws between the objects of election and the objects or reprobation. For God has chosen Sion, which in time past was not a people and had not obtained mercy; but now have obtained mercy, and are the people of God. But the rest He has rejected through the way of their disobedience, and stumbling over the chief corner stone.
Not so were the people of God appointed that they should stumble, that they should be disobedient to the Word, that they should fall over the chief corner stone; but they were chosen to be the people of God, to be a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a people which is God’s peculiar possession, and former for His praise.
Herein, indeed, is described the high nobility of God’s people!
That people is distinguished, first of all, by their birth. Not, you understand, by their natural birth; but by their spiritual birth. Oh, to be sure, the people of God also have a natural birth. In time they are born out of the race of men, all descendants of their first father, Adam. However, there is nothing that distinguishes them from all other people through this natural birth. Rather, with all other people they are alike—all are children of darkness by nature. All are conceived and born under sin and guilt, in corruption. But something wonderful and heavenly and spiritual has come to the people of God, in distinction from all other people—they are born again, from above, and by the Words of God which liveth and abideth forever.
Nor does the nobility of this people of God consist in the fact that historically they became a nation, in distinction from all the nations of the world, namely, the nation called Israel. Oh, indeed, it is true that for a time the people of God could be found peculiarly in that nation, yet we may say without fear of contradiction that Israel as such was never the people of God. Nor because one was a Jew, was he necessarily of the people of God. Nor because one could historically refer to Abraham as his father, was he necessarily of the people of God. This the Scripture makes abundantly clear when it informs us “they are not all Israel which are called Israel.” (Romans 9:6) “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart.” (Romans 2:28, 29) “Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Romans 9:7, 8)
Oh, indeed, it is true that for a time the people of God in the old dispensation were to be found in the nation called Israel. Also it is true that they could refer their ancestry back to Shem, who was the father of the Semitic race; and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, patriarchs in the generations of the covenant, progenitors of the Israelitish nation. And because God’s people and the generations of the covenant were to be found almost entirely in that nation, God often addressed them through Moses and the prophets as His people. “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6a) And again, “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6) And again, “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 thy name; thou art mine. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls; because I give drink to my people, my chosen. This people have I formed for myself: they shall shew forth my praise.” (Isaiah 43:1, 20, 21)
Yet it was not those by natural birth, called Israel, that constituted the people of God; but those who were born of the Spirit of God. Born they were, “by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.” (I Peter 1:23)
A chosen generation!
Notice once more, that the apostle does not speak of this people as mere individuals, but as a generation. The people of God are never looked upon as mere individuals, but as a generation. Though, as we shall see in a moment, election is very personal, and redemption comes to the individual and is a very personal experience, yet God’s people are never looked upon as mere individuals, but always as belonging to others. All belong to one spiritual Father, all address Him as Abba, loving Father; all are covenant seed, and connected to the Seed, which is Christ.
And the generation becomes a nation!
An holy nation!
Typically and historically this was beautifully demonstrated in the nation Israel. There was one people; one King (God), one place of worship—Mount Zion; one land—the land of Canaan. The reality is the Church of Christ as she is gathered in both dispensations, from all peoples, tribes, and tongues. Realized in the generations of the believers and their seed.
A royal priesthood!
Not only are they a priesthood that stands in the service of God, and who consecrate themselves and all that they have unto God in that service; but they also are a royalty. They belong to a royal family. Royalty runs in their spiritual veins. In principle now they reign over all things and bring them into subjection to the rule of Christ, the King; and for ever they shall reign with Him. Herein we see especially their high nobility. An holy nation they are, because God has separated them from the world, sanctified them through the blood of Christ, and has given to them the Spirit whereby they are dedicated unto God.
A peculiar people!
That is, a people for a possession!
They are not their own, but with body and soul, in life and in death, for time and eternity, they are God’s precious possession. Peculiar they are, because they are distinct from all other peoples—yea, from the world.
But how are we to account for this nobility? How did they become so noble and come to such high estate?
The text underscores three causes.
The first mentioned cause of their nobility is their election.
But ye are a chosen generation! And election is that eternal and sovereignly free decree of God whereby He determined upon a certain people, their identity and number, whom He gave to Christ (the Elect) as members of His body; in distinction from others whom He determined should serve the election of grace, and who, through the way of their sin, would be destroyed forever. Indeed, election has to do with a certain number of persons, and is therefore very personal. Yet, as we said before, we should not conceive of election merely as the divine determination of certain individuals, but as an organic whole, who with Christ make up the body of Christ. As God has fashioned the human body, composed of many members, all fitted into their own proper place under the head; so God has also chosen His people in Christ. He is the elect Head, and all of His people constitute His body.
And as God has chosen His people in Christ from eternity, so has He given them unto Christ to be redeemed by Him.
Their redemption is the second cause of their nobility!
When the text speaks of a peculiar people, as the translation has it, it means literally: a people for or unto a possession. God has obtained them for Himself. And if you ask, “How was this done?” then the answer is: they were bought with a price—the price of the blood of the Only Begotten Son of God. This idea is also implied in the last part of the text, where the apostle, referring to a passage in the prophecy of Hosea, Hosea 1 and Hosea 2, quotes from these passages. We quote here only Hosea 2:23: “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” That mercy of God is as eternal as the election; but as it is realized in time in this people, it is that grace of God according to which He wills to bend down to objects in misery, with the fervent desire to make them blessed as He is blessed. And so God finds His people in time. They were no people, they had not obtained mercy, and were therefore miserable and wretched. But He through His Son in the flesh redeemed them and showed unto them His mercy. Thus He makes them His own possession, and peculiarly they are separated from all the peoples of the world.
And as God has chosen them and redeemed them in Christ, so also He has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.
This calling is the third cause of their nobility!
Out of the darkness of natural depravity and death, into the marvelous, wonderful light of His life and fellowship He has efficaciously called them. Outwardly He called them through the Word of the gospel which was preached unto them. Inwardly He called them by bringing that Word into the inner recesses of their hearts. Thus “they heard the voice of Jesus say: come unto Me and rest.” Powerfully and irresistibly He calls them, and they come unto Him. Such is the nature of the calling. When He calls, they come! Out of ignominy and the darkness and shame of their natural plight, into the glorious liberty, life, and nobility of the children of God, He calls them.
Wondrous and mighty calling!
That exalts them to the highest heavens!
And unto what purpose? Unto what end must this high nobility serve?
That ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you!
The praises are the virtues, the excellencies of our God!
The God of our salvation who has chosen us, redeemed us, and called us, is pleased to show unto His people all His perfections. He is full of infinite perfections. And to praise Him is to enumerate, speak out, recount these perfections. That is His praise.
This is in harmony with that which also the prophet Isaiah declared: “This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise.”
This that people do now in principle, even while they walk in this vale of tears. They publish abroad the mercy and grace, the truth and the righteousness, the lovingkindness of their God. And presently, when all this weary night is over, they shall do this in heavenly perfection for ever.
They shall see the glory of God, and bathe in it unto endless ages!
This is the high estate of the people of God!