Hath God cast away His people? Thus the apostle Paul begins the eleventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans. And this indeed is a very important question. And seemingly there are good reasons to raise this question. For, is it not true, when we look round about us that we see the ungodly prosper? And on the other hand, is it not a fact, that the righteous have only a very little of the riches and the abundance of this world? Yea, is it not so that one of God’s dearest children complained, “All the day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning”—and that the wicked “are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men”?
Seemingly it is true that God reversed the order of things. Therefore, the wicked dare say when the righteous are afflicted, “Where is your God in whom thou didst trust?”
Wherefore, this question, “Has God forgotten His people?” is not far-fetched.
When we look at history as God revealed it to us in His Word we notice that the people of Israel were often cast away. Hath He not promised that they were to be His people? And that at the expense of the other nations. And yet, He sent His people into bondage for four hundred years. Generation after generation died in Egypt, and near the end of the bondage they were oppressed more than at any time before. But also after their deliverance, they wandered forty years in that horrible desert, while more than half of them that left Egypt died on the way to the promised land. The apostle in his letter to the Hebrews reminds us of this fact when he writes, “some, when they heard, did provoke the Lord, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness,” never did they enter into the promised rest.
So also, after Israel possessed the land of Canaan God sent them to Babylon and only one tenth returned after the captivity. If the question of God’s preservation is viewed in the light of history, the facts are such that we would rather not answer the question at all. And an answer we must give.
But still another question arises, namely, if God did cast away His people in the past, what security is there for the present and future? He may do so with the church today. And that being the case, who can feel assured concerning his salvation? We may be saved today and cast away tomorrow. And if this is possible, do we not believe in a changeable God, who is after all, like unto us? More yet. Then God is no God, for we cannot depend upon Him in respect to our salvation. This is free will applied to God.
The premillennialist answers the question in this way. He contends that the apostle does not mean to say whether or not God cast away His elect, but whether or not God casts away the Old Testament nation? Shall Israel never return to its former exalted position? And their answer is, God has cast away Israel only for the time being. The church of the new dispensation takes its place temporarily. However, at the end of this dispensation, at the beginning of one thousand years, Israel shall again receive its place and its former glory. Then it shall be at the head of the nations of the world once more. But Scripture does not provide the ground for such a view. If we read the epistle carefully, we will notice that the discussion of the different doctrines do not revolve around this question at all. We do not deny that there may be a conversion of the individual Jew, although even in that case it may be said that only a few (compared with the converts of heathendom) return to the God of Abraham through our Lord Jesus Christ. A return of the nation to its former place is nowhere taught in Scripture. Indeed it is true that the nation is cast away, never to return to an exalted state. Hence, the apostle inserts in this question the answer of God. And the answer to Elias was: “I have preserved the remnant.” And Paul’s own answer is, “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew.” And the fifth verse is conclusive when we read, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace,” an election that cannot possibly mean the election of a nation as such, for no nation is the object of grace.
The question we must answer is, how is it possible that Scripture speaks of a casting away of God’s people? And to understand this, we set out with the statement that Israel and the church are in their historical revelation one. The spiritual and the natural children are one in their historical appearance. They live together and are raised in one family, they belong to one and the same church, they are called the one people of God. So it was from the dawn of history. We find Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau as members of one family. In that respect there is no difference. Moreover, Esau as well as Jacob received the seal and the sign of the covenant. For both were circumcised. And as was the case with the sons of Isaac, so it is also in the broad sense of the word with Israel, the nation. All the children of Israel left Egypt and all were baptized unto Moses. We may safely say all became sojourners and pilgrims in the desert, being loosed from the bonds of Egypt. Every one of them marched to the promised land. And in their wanderings Israel as a whole witnessed the miracles of God, receiving the daily manna — were guided and protected by the pillar of fire in the night, as well as by the pillar of cloud in the day time.
The same is true of the church in the new dispensation. The church visible is called the church of the living God. And every one who belongs to her is to be considered a child of God and treated as such. Hence, every child born in her midst must be baptized, and that without discrimination. And every one of them must be instructed in the truth and must, when coming to years of discretion, confess the name of the Lord. In public worship, the Word and the admonitions, its instruction comes to them all. When the minister preaches that Word, he must preach it to them all and that without distinction, as to the church of the living God. And he may never separate his audience in two or three different parts. And all this is because the people of God are born in the line of successive generations. It is the line of God’s covenant whereby God reveals the body of Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, she is the church of the living God, and no one has the right to change her name.
This one people of one church in Old and New Testaments may seem to be one, but in reality they are two. There is a natural and a spiritual seed. That accounts for the fact that God will sometimes cast away the historical church. For spiritually they are not one, but two different peoples. From the point of view of election the nation Israel could not be called, as a whole, as being the people of God, head for head. Not all was Israel that bore that name. The visible Israel was but a means by which the Lord preserved His elect. Therefore, we have two things that always must be remembered both in the Old and in the New Testament church. First, there was one chosen people of Israel, one nation, named after the Lord in distinction from the nations round about it. And in the second place, that in this nation Israel we must distinguish between the natural and the spiritual. As to the flesh all the children of Abraham were Israelites, but Abraham’s spiritual seed were the elect alone.
The same is true of the church of today. In the broad sense of the word, all those who belong to the church visible are through that very fact set apart in this world and must be a distinct people. All who are baptized must confess the name of the Lord and walk accordingly. But in the visible church we find the spiritual element, the believers as the kernel, and the others are the chaff. And because there are in reality two different kinds of people spiritually, being cast away as a church is possible. True it is, that the real Israel remains God’s people, and they must by the way of reformation separate themselves of the others. And it is not difficult to understand how this casting away comes about. The natural or carnal Israel is often in the majority. The process may be slow, hardly noticeable, but the departure takes effect when the majority in pew and pulpit do not belong to the spiritual seed. Carnal men and carnally minded officebearers are the means to deteriorate the church. Otherwise we could not understand the history of the church, both in the old and in the new dispensation. And when this departure develops, slowly but surely one finds the leaders flirting with the world, the worldly philosophy, its mode of living. Their names become public property and they receive praise of the children of darkness. They like everybody except God’s people. And they turn the truth in such a way that it is no longer the Word of God. And the Spirit of God does not operate in gatherings where such men bring stones instead of the bread of life. Thus it was in the desert, in the days of the judges, at the time of Elias, at the time of the Babylonian captivity. Only a remnant was left that truly could be called the church of God.
And so also we find it in the day when our Lord Jesus Christ was born. The high places were occupied by godless men. The service of Jehovah turned out to be a man-made religion. And man-made religion is a hollow shell without spiritual contents.
And turning our eyes to the Reformation we find that history repeats itself. And Scripture holds before us that so it shall be even unto the great day of judgment. Then the question is in order, hath God cast away His people? Are there no more children of God? Is the spiritual seed gone and taken out of the world? We do well to remember that all this does not happen in a single day. When Israel turned from the ways of the Lord, it was by the way of the old process. And it is sometimes very difficult to detect what is wrong when the church is without strength and God’s people become dormant. Besides, there is always an element that is able to detect what is wrong and who by the way of protest point to the cause or causes of it. But their number is small and the number of the carnal increased. Their voices were drowned in the clamor of the greatest number. Moreover, even amongst them are to be found those, who being undernourished, can no longer hear and detect what is wrong. All kinds of reasons may be added when the question is raised, why did not the people of God remain firm? But taken as a whole, the result is always that there is seemingly no difference between the carnal and the spiritual. And as to history, both carnal and spiritual Israel are sent into captivity. Then He punishes the spiritual bastards and they never care to return to the service of Jehovah, for they belong with the world in which they live. And does not the apostatizing church member become even a greater sinner than the man who never saw the inside of a church?
At the same time, the Lord chastises His children. Thus it was with Israel, both the carnal and the spiritual went into the Babylonian captivity, but for the latter it became a means to sanctification, with the result that it brought them back to the Lord, a true knowledge of sin, and a humble confession of the same. And that return to the Lord is always present when it pleases Him to again reveal Himself in the separation of His people from the rest who are hardened and never return.
It does not mean that the remnant as to their number make such an impression. The remnant kept by His grace are always a small number. Judging from the viewpoint of the world, they might as well not be considered at all. To ignore them is about the best the world will and can do with them. Yet, looking at the apostles’ viewpoint, that is, looking at it from the point of view of reality, it is not a question of number. It never is. And that viewpoint is, God keeps those whom He foreknew. The apostle means to say God knew them from eternity. Of course, he does not mean, that God knew His people in the Arminian sense of the word. Then His knowledge was simply that He knew that His people were willing and desired to be His people. And God, knowing this, chose them upon the basis of their willingness. Such is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. No, God’s knowledge is His love for and over His people, because His love is the basis of His sovereign good pleasure. There is not one little tiny cause in His children why He should or could love them. And because He loved them with an eternal love, with reasons only to be found in Him, He also loves them in time, being the unchangeable God in His being and in all His virtues, so that He will love them forever. Even their unfaithfulness does not change His love. Hence, they may rest assured in Him, at all times and in all things. Though they waver, He remains steadfast in His love, for He knows them. And although their path may be dark and seemingly ends in defeat before the onslaught of the enemy, He remains their loving Father with whom there is no shadow of turning. And once more may it be said, He is that for reasons only found in Himself.
For His Name’s sake alone He foreknew them, that is, for the sake of the revelation of His own glory they are and ever shall be the objects of His love. And even while they are born in sin and misery, He loved them so much that He gave His only begotten Son in order that they may be reconciled with Him and through His blood become heir of the eternal inheritance. The deepest reason and the ultimate cause is found in Him alone. It was His eternal, sovereign good pleasure that they should be His sons and daughters to be made conformed to the image of the Only Begotten. And because they were eternally the objects of His good pleasure, therefore they are never at any moment out of His mind. He cares for them continually. And therefore, He will never cast them away. Surely, for His Name’s sake and for their sanctification they must be chastised, but even then His motive is only love. Thus He rejects the carnal and saves His people.
In the casting away of the carnal it is noteworthy that they never reveal a desire to return. Proof for this statement we find in abundance in Scripture. Especially where it concerns Israel in the captivity. They did not care to return to Canaan. Neither did they care to rebuild the temple and serve Jehovah. They felt and feel themselves to home in the camp and the company of the enemy. And with the enemies they looked for the treasures and pleasures of this world, with the things invisible; with all that fades away and shall forever disappear. And thus it is today. A man once separated from God’s people or His church will, with a few exceptions, never return, and rapidly develops in sin.
But the result, as far as the elect are concerned, is that they, drawn by His grace, again yearn after Him and seek His face. That is the reason why they always remain, that there is always a church of Jesus Christ, a remnant according to election. And again Scripture provides in abundance what serves as proof for what the apostle teaches. We refer to Enoch, Noah, Lot, the remnant in Babylon, Simeon, and a few others, the men and women of the Reformation, and thus it shall be until the end of time. The proof that God shall never cast away His people and that the remnant is always present is conclusive. Paul is fully assured even in his own day of that fact full of comfort.
Because God preserves, keeps, loves, and guides that remnant.
When Elias complained on account of the seemingly hopeless condition, the Lord answers him, “I have kept, preserved unto Myself seven thousand, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” O, if it had been up to the people of God they would have perished; in them there is no power or faithfulness. That is their daily confession and experience. They are surrounded by enemies who are far greater in number and power. It is not so, that the church makes an impression on the world, so that the world is afraid of her. To the contrary, Hebrews 11 paints a different picture of the church against the world. The church from a human point of view cannot prevail against that world. And besides, the battle of the church is not to be fought with the arm of flesh, but is a spiritual battle, the battle of faith. Yes, and even then it is the confession of the church that she is often weak, very weak, and of little faith. The confession and prayer is: “Lord, hold Thou my hand, or I shall perish!”
And yet they remain?
Yes, they do. They are preserved by the Lord. He throws the church in the fire of persecution with the result that the fleshly element succumbs, but He also gives grace to the elect.
Again we find this attested in Scripture. Job, Daniel, the young men in the fiery furnace, Moses and the patriarchs. The scriptures say this with the purpose to teach us to place our trust in Him alone.
And He takes care of His people in such a way that the remnant is always present.
Elias looked at the church visible and concluded all went astray, altars broken, prophets killed, and I am left alone, and they seek my life. No one left to serve the Lord. Elias said, the Lord hath cast away His people.
The Lord’s answer is, there is a complete, perfect number, (7,000, according to the remnant of His covenant).
And so it always shall be. According to the election by grace alone.
The Lord preserves them and therefore, don’t worry. All is well.