Rev. Kuiper is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
For many of us, our first exposure to the word remnant was in connection with the sewing our mothers and sisters did at home. The pieces of fabric that were left over after the project was finished were called remnants. Today also we see in the papers that fabric stores have remnant sales. The several Hebrew and Greek words translated remnant in our Bibles have the same meaning: a little piece, a small amount left over, the remainder, the residue. This word is used in the Bible in respect to things such as curtains of the tabernacle (Ex. 26:12), meat offerings (Lev. 2:3), and oil (Lev. 4:18); in respect to the wicked, such as the remnant of giants (Deut. 3:11), of Amorites (II Sam. 21), of sodomites (I Kings 22:46), and of the house of Jeroboam (I Kings 14:10). However, the main use of this word in the Scriptures is in connection with the people of God. At every moment of history there is a remnant that is saved.
It is very striking that, on the one hand, the true seed of Abraham is described as more numerous than the stars of the heavens and the sand which is upon the seashore (Gen. 22:17); yet the church is also called a little flock (Luke 12:32), a cottage in a vineyard and a lodge in a garden of cucumbers (Isaiah 1:8); there are many called, but few chosen (Matt. 20:16); there be few that find the narrow way that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). We are to conclude, therefore, that compared to those who go lost, the church of Christ is a small number, a minority of the human race. But the number of the host of the redeemed is nevertheless a number that no man can number!
The truth that there is always a remnant of God’s people on the earth stands very closely related to the truth of the preservation of the saints. The church does not endure because of her strength or goodness, but only because of the preserving mercy of God. At the time of Ahab and Elijah, the prophet of God was convinced that he alone served God, but God instructed him that He reserved unto Himself seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so, writes Paul, at the present time, and at each and every time, there is a remnant (Rom. 11:5). So wicked had Judah become during the time of her last kings that the prophet Isaiah was inspired to write, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (Is. 1:9). When the nation of Judah was led into captivity, the prophet spoke of her return before she was taken to the strange land, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God” (Is. 10:20, 21). When Jerusalem was besieged by Sennacherib the king of Assyria, Hezekiah prayed for the remnant that was left (Is. 37:4), and God answered the king through His prophet, “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion; the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this? (Is. 37:31, 32). The fruit that the remnant brings forth is visible, for it is the keeping of God’s commandments, for which she has the comforting testimony of Jesus Christ, and on account of which the devil-dragon goes to make war with the remnant of the church’s seed (Rev. 12:17).
That there is always a remnant, that this remnant is firmly rooted in Jesus Christ and is busy bringing forth fruit upward to God is due to eternal election. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5). Note that election is of grace. That grace stands out so vividly in all these passages in which the remnant is mentioned. There was no good thing in Israel or in Judah, there is no good thing in the church today, that conditioned election or that deserved preservation. But there is a remnant because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ!
We conclude with the observation that the all-wise God can be glorified the higher and the more through the salvation of a very small remnant of the human race, a remnant of Israel even, than by the salvation of a great majority of mankind or the totality of mankind. That the church is small, a minority, a remnant, is not due to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but derives from the eternal decree of predestination, the fountain source of all our salvation.