Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
That God saves only a very small remnant of mankind is one of the greatest of all mysteries of God’s work of salvation. This truth is proven throughout the history of the world. It contradicts all human reason. It debases all human pride. Man himself would say that God must save the majority of the human race. Most, after all, according to the opinion of man, are good enough that they deserve to be saved. Liberal and apostate Christianity insists that the majority of mankind will indeed be saved. Some even openly teach that in the end God will save all men without exception. Others have modified this opinion somewhat. They say that God will save everyone except perhaps the grossly wicked , such as Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer, and such like terribly wicked men. Some have said that God will finally save all men except those who openly reject Christ in their lives. The heathen who “never had a chance to hear the gospel” will be saved. Even professing Christians who live an ungodly life will be saved, as long as they did not openly reject Christ in their lives. According to this latter opinion there are very few men who actually do this in their lives.
But the Bible teaches otherwise. Even during the times when there were many Christians on the earth, perhaps millions, in comparison to the rest of the world, the world of unbelief and ungodliness, Christians were still but a small fraction of the population of the world. The Bible is very plain that God will judge with eternal destruction the wicked and ungodly who do not repent. Romans 1 teaches that even the heathen to whom the gospel was never preached will perish everlastingly. They shall be judged because, knowing God, they glorified Him not as God neither were they thankful. They are in this without excuse, because God revealed Himself also to these heathen. “That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1: 19 and 20).
The majority of the human race will be eternally lost. This is a fearful reality. Millions and millions of men throughout the history of the world will be eternally lost. From man’s point of view, the reason why so many shall be lost is the devastating fall of man into sin, man’s willing disobedience to God and his foolish and wicked alliance with the devil. How much did Adam and Eve understand of this? What a horrible event the fall was, and how terrible are its consequences in the history of the human race.
Man strenuously objects to this teaching of Scripture. According to him, God is obligated to save most, if not all, of mankind. God is unjust, they say, He is a cruel monster if He casts the majority of the human race into the eternal destruction of hell. But those who say such things know not the awful power of sin and the perfect justice of God in condemning the sin of man. Those who speak this way know little of what it means that God is infinitely and absolutely and perfectly holy, and that He maintains His own holiness and glory over against all the wickedness of man. God is just in condemning the world. To the objector to these great truths of God the Word of God says, “Who art thou that repliest against God?” God is under no obligation to save anyone. If God were only just, then He would cast all mankind, without even one single exception, into destruction. If God would have done this, there could not in the end have been a single objection to it from wicked man. “… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).
As someone once said, the amazing thing is not that God saves relatively few in comparison to the millions of men that will live and die on the earth, but the amazing thing is that God saves any at all. The only reason why He saves those whom He has chosen is because of the wonder of His sovereign grace and mercy. The love of God in saving even the remnant is so great that man will never be able to comprehend what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love which passes all understanding. The glory of God’s love is not revealed in the multitude of men that God saves. Rather it is revealed in that God saves men by His sovereign grace and mercy who are in themselves so desperately wicked. Centrally, the greatness of the grace and mercy of God is seen in that He gave His only begotten Son to the death of the cross, to such depth of humiliation, agony, and sorrow, in order that He might save unworthy sinners.
Let us trace the truth of the salvation of the remnant briefly through the history that is recorded in the Scriptures. The first astounding example of this is the history of the flood. By the time God sent the judgment of the flood on the earth (1500 years after creation) there were by conservative calculations, using the genealogies recorded in the Bible, already more than a million inhabitants on the earth. God destroyed the entire world with the flood. He saved only Noah and His family, eight souls altogether.
Consider a second astounding example. God in sovereign grace chose His people Israel, one nation out of all the nations of the earth at the time. Concerning Israel, Moses says : “For the Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers…” (Deut. 7:7). This Word of God was spoken to Israel in connection with the calling that she should be a holy and peculiar people unto the Lord, a special people above all people that are on the face of the earth. Furthermore, there is mention of the absolute sovereignty of God’s love in choosing Israel to be His people.
In the wilderness the people of Israel rebelled against the Lord, they murmured and complained against the Lord. Concerning this the inspired apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians that “with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (I Cor. 10: 5). This is written for our warning example.
In the history of Israel it happened that the nation was divided. Because of the sin of Solomon, ten tribes were taken away from the house of David. The ten tribes soon became hopelessly apostate. But God kept His promise to David. He preserved the tribe of Judah, that David might always have a light in Israel. It was only because of the sovereign mercy of God and His faithfulness to His covenant that that one tribe was preserved.
Before the Babylonian captivity, Isaiah speaks the word of God concerning even Judah. God loathed the sacrifices and offerings and the feast days of the multitudes in Judah even though they were zealously offered. They were an abomination to Him because of the wickedness of Judah at the time. And God said, “And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 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. 1:18).
The theme of the salvation of the remnant is very prominent in the prophecy of Isaiah. I learned this again through preparing a series of sermons on this wonderful prophecy. Isaiah prophesied concerning the dreadful judgments that were about to come upon Judah and Israel. However, He also repeatedly comforts the remnant in Zion that the Lord will preserve them and restore them again after the captivity and finally save them in Christ in the last day. The prophecy of Isaiah speaks also very graphically and fearfully of the judgments of the Lord that would come on all the nations of the heathen around Israel. Yet, in almost all of those prophecies, even those of the destruction of the heathen nations, there are contained beautiful promises of God’s purpose to save the remnant. This remnant shall be brought to Zion and shall by the grace of God be made partakers of the glorious blessings of salvation that God will give to Zion through the Redeemer He will raise up in her midst.
When the promise of God was finally fulfilled in the fullness of time, God sent His Son into the world. He was born the King of the Jews. He came to His own and His own received Him not. The vast majority of the Jews rejected the Messiah whom God sent to them. The apostle Paul in his preaching-journeys experienced great sorrow concerning this. He longed for his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh to such an extent that he wished himself accursed of Christ for his brethren’s sake. But Paul found his comfort in the truth that God would save the remnant. “I say then, hath God cast away His people? God forbid. For I am also an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:1-4).
Our Lord Jesus referred to this truth of the salvation of the remnant when He declared concerning those entering into the kingdom, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13, 14).
In His own ministry Jesus experienced this truth of God’s working. He preached once to a multitude of five thousand men, besides also women and children. By the time Jesus finished preaching, the entire multitude left Him, as incredible as this may seem. Only His disciples were left, and Jesus said to them, “Will ye also go away?” In this situation Jesus declared the sovereign word of God. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:37-39).
Jesus prophesied that in the last days, in the days shortly before His return, there will be few on earth that will still be faithful to Him. Many will say, “Here is Christ, and there is Christ.” Many will depart from the faith. Before the return of Christ, there will be a great apostasy in the church world. Paul speaks of this also in II Thessalonians 2. This will be one of the great signs of the days very shortly before the return of the Lord. There will not be mass conversions to Christ in which the whole world will turn to the Lord, as some imagine. Rather there will be great departure from the faith. In the last days many shall be deceived, so much so that the question shall be asked, “Will faith yet be found on the earth?” We believe that we are presently living in these last days of great apostasy.
What is the reaction of God’s people to the truth that God saves only the remnant? Their reaction must first of all be that of fear and trembling and great amazement and deep humility. Certainly this truth does not give God’s people reason to boast and pride themselves that they alone are the people of God in the world. It is not because God’s people in themselves are better than the ungodly world. There is nothing that distinguishes us from the majority of the world that shall perish under the just wrath of God, except the grace of God’s election and His sovereign love to us in Christ Jesus.
The Canons of Dordt say this about God’s purpose of election. “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, ‘For known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world,’ Acts 15:18. ‘Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will,’ Ephesians 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect…” (Canons I/6).
Until the end of the world the gospel must be faithfully preached in all the nations of the world for the gathering of the remnant of God’s people. A small remnant shall be gathered out of every nation before the nations are destroyed. The church of God, God’s people in their individual lives, must ever be zealous in the preaching of the gospel. Their desires and fervent prayers are for the salvation of the remnant of God’s people. The church joys and glories in God’s wonderful grace in saving His church, while in justice judging and destroying the wicked world. And indeed God will save the remnant of His people. Not one of them shall be lost. That is the comfort of the Word of God for the church of all ages.
The truth that God saves the remnant will give God’s people the proper biblical perspective on the position of the church in the world. The church in the world will almost always be small. She will never be made up of the majority of mankind. She is despised because of her smallness. God’s people must not be ashamed of belonging to a small church. Concerning this truth Jesus says: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Though the church is small in the eyes of the world, she is glorious in the sight of God. God does not despise the smallness of the church. He is pleased to show His infinite glory in her. He saves her by His almighty power. The world’s nations and organizations of this world will be destroyed. All their greatness and glory will soon be gone. God will cause His church to inherit the everlasting glory of the new heavens and earth.
The modern-day church often tries so hard to change the fact that the church is small. She devises methods by which she might increase her numbers. Rather than faithfully preach the gospel, she adopts methods of the world. She holds rallies and draws masses of people by offering entertainment of every sort. She no longer tells people that they are sinners in need of the salvation that is found alone in Christ Jesus. The apostate church of our day is throwing out the great truths of God’s Word, for fear that they will offend men when they are preached. We must do all in our power to avoid turning men off to religion, even if it means compromising the truth of God’s Word and denying the glory of God. Holiness and serious obedience to the law of God are forgotten. The term “Christian” has lost all of its meaning because virtually everyone imagines himself to be “Christian” no matter how he lives. The so-called church is filled with more and more ungodly people, and consequently she is becoming more and more corrupt. It can hardly be distinguished from the ungodly world because it agrees with the world’s evil philosophy and lives the world’s corrupt and immoral life-style.
This will continue until this apostate church appears as the great whore mentioned in the book of Revelation. The apostate church preaches a “feel good about yourself” religion. She promises carnal things to those who will join the church: health, wealth, and prosperity. By all means she will increase her numbers, in order that she might have power and glory in the world and boast before men. Many are deceived by the large followings of the great movements of our day, as though the very largeness and sensationalism of these movements prove that they are of God. Few there are in the world of Christendom who examine what great movements of our day really teach and what it means to be members of these mega-organizations. Anyone who criticizes these movements is immediately condemned for being judgmental and unloving and many other things. If so many people are following something it cannot be wrong. This reasoning sounds so good but it is so contrary to the Scriptures. In fact, when we examine the Scriptures, we find that, repeatedly, the majority were wrong, in spite of all their pretense of glory and greatness. One thing for sure, when tested by the truth of God’s Word, many of these mass movements are not the true church of Jesus Christ, no matter what they may claim.
As the end approaches, it becomes more and more urgent for the Christian that he be able to distinguish the true church of Christ from the apostate church. In most instances this true church will be small. But we must not be ashamed of being a member of her. The calling of the Lord is to remain faithful to the Word of God even though this offends carnal members of the church and often causes the church to lose members. We must be zealous and uncompromising in our love for the truth of God. We must stand together with all those who love this truth of Christ Jesus in sincerity. But we must also be ready to separate from the multitudes who are apostate, and we must not be deceived by outward sensationalism and large following.
Though the church in any given time and nation is but a small remnant, she will still appear finally in glory as a host that no man can number, gathered from the beginning to the end of the world and out of all the nations of the world. May the Lord help us to remain faithful to Him.