The Doctrine of the Remnant
March 2nd, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE DOCTRINE OF THE REMNANT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on radio and on television to this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Doctrine of the Remnant. In the grace and goodness of God, we are preaching through the mighty mountain of the Book Isaiah. The two messages that have been delivered thus far have been concerning the prophet himself and concerning the background of the political life and national government and world situation in which God sent him with a message from heaven.
Today we begin with an exposition of the prophecy itself, and our text is Isaiah chapter 1, verse 9: “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” [Isaiah 1:9]; the very small remnant. The Greek Septuagint translation of the word is sperma, sperm, seed. “Except the Lord . . . had left to us a little seed, a very small remnant, just a little holy band of faithful followers, we would have been utterly annihilated. We would have been completely destroyed. We would have been as Sodom and Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9]. This doctrine of the remnant is found throughout the prophecy of Isaiah.
This morning at the earlier service I took the time to read the references and the presentation of that doctrine in the Book of Isaiah. This morning I shall just cite it.
- We see it in chapter 11, verse 11 and verse 16 [Isaiah 11:11, 16].
- We see it again in Isaiah 37:1-4, when Hezekiah sent word unto Isaiah the prophet saying . . . “lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.”
- We see it again in Isaiah 37:31-32: “…the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah…” and “…out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant… and the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.”
- We see it again in chapter 46: “Hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of… Israel… Even to your old age… even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made; I will bear; I will… deliver you” [Isaiah 46:3-4].
- We find that doctrine throughout the Book: the little faithful band, the holy remnant of God.
- For example, in the Book of Romans, chapter 9 [Romans 9:27], Paul writes: “Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved,” citing Isaiah 10:22.
- And as Isaiah said before, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth, except the Lord of hosts, Sabaoth, hosts, except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah” [Romans 9:29].
- And even in the Revelation, the closing verse of the twelfth chapter: “The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” [Revelation 12:17]; the doctrine of the remnant, the little holy band that is left in a darkened and destroyed world.
The prophet begins his message from the Lord with an announcement of a welded chain link that God has put together and no man can ever break it: that sin is followed by inevitable judgment. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: the Lord has spoken” [Isaiah 1:2]. And what does He say?
I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but… My people doth not consider.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One unto anger.
Why should ye be stricken…? Why do you revolt more and more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint
Look, your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it . . .
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
He is a prophet like all of the rest of the prophets, describing the sins and iniquities of the people and the inevitable judgment and visitation from heaven that always follows. And so severe is that judgment from God that the prophet avows had it not been for God’s intervention, did God not elect and choose out and save and call a little sperma, a little seed, a small remnant, we would have been completely and utterly destroyed [Isaiah 1:9]; that message from the Lord of the judgment upon the sins of the people. And as I read through the prophet Isaiah, my heart trembles for our own America. I see us in every syllable and in every sentence. As the prophet delivers that message from God and its inevitable judgment, there is also in this glorious messenger from heaven, the lifting up of a voice of hope and salvation.
There are two doctrines that run throughout the Book of Isaiah. Those doctrines are like silver linings to dark and ominous clouds. Those doctrines are like the golden rising of the sun in the morning. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon them that sat in the valley of the shadow of death, upon them light has shined” [Matthew 4:16]. Those two doctrines of hope and salvation are, first, this doctrine of the remnant. However the earth may be judged and destroyed, and however the nation may be lost in despair, yet God has in it a faithful remnant. They are purged, they are renovated, and they become the foundation for a new society, and a new culture, and a new government, and a new kingdom; the doctrine of the remnant.
The other glorious doctrine that goes through the great prophet Isaiah is the doctrine of the coming King and the coming kingdom. We shall see that as we proceed through the book, for he presents it in glowing terms, in literature beyond anything mankind has ever known or written or heard or seen. Innumerable numbers of times, with suddenness will the prophet leap from despair to hope, from threat to promise, from earth to heaven, from destruction to salvation. And one of the ways that he does it is in this doctrine of the remnant. We speak therefore several things about it.
Number one: the hope and the salvation of the world lies in that faithful little group, and the world cannot be destroyed as long as they live in our midst. Do you remember the story of the angel visitors into Sodom? And they warn Lot, “Flee for your life.” And when Lot delayed, the angels took hold of him and thrust him out of the city saying, “We can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:16, 22]. As long as righteous Lot was in the city of Sodom, the brimstone and the fire and the judgment could not fall. As long as the remnant is here, the world cannot be destroyed.
Do you remember the twenty-fourth chapter of the apocalyptic discourse of Jesus in Matthew? He said, “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” [Matthew 24:22]. It is the elect that brings reprieve, and hope, and salvation for the world. Do you remember in the seventh chapter of the Revelation, the great mighty word from God is addressed to the four angels who hold the four winds of destruction, saying to them, “Hurt not the earth… until the servants of God are sealed” [Revelation 7:1-3]. It is they that bring hope and salvation to the world.
I cannot understand it, but seemingly it is God’s way through the ages that His work and will are wrought out through the small minority, through the remnant. Why doesn’t God choose the majority, the great mass of the earth? I do not know. It just seems to me, when you study the Holy Scriptures, that God chooses the small remnant in which to do His work and will in the earth.
For example, when the Midianites consumed the land of Israel like locusts, God raised up Gideon, and Gideon called the men of Israel to war against the invading hordes of the Midianites, and only thirty-two thousand responded [Judges 7:1-3]. And when the Lord looked down upon the small army of thirty-two thousand, He said, “It is too large. It is too large against that host of Midianites.” God says, “It is too large.” And the Lord said to Gideon, “Tell all the fainthearted to go home,” and twenty-two thousand men turned their backs and left [Judges 7:3]. And the Lord looked down on the ten thousand that remained and said, “It is too large, too large, against the host of the Midianites that are numbered like the sand of the sea! Too large,” said God. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the ten thousand down, thirsting, take them down to the stream, and those that bow down to drink, leave out. Those that lap up the water with their hands, watching the enemy as they walk, choose.” And Gideon found out of the ten thousand only three hundred [Judges 7:4-7]. That’s God! Somehow He chooses to do His work in the small remnant, in the elect.
There were twelve tribes in Israel. Ten of them are carried away and completely destroyed [2 Kings 17:5-6]. Two of them are left, and those two are carried away into captivity [1 Chronicles 9:1-3]. And finally, a small, little remnant returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest [Ezra 2:1-64], and Nehemiah the governor, [Nehemiah 2:11], and Ezra the scribe [Ezra 7:6-8]—the small remnant. It is the same in the life of our Lord. Hosts gathered around Him in Capernaum [John 6:34], having been fed by the loaves and the fishes from His gracious and omnipotent hands [John 6:5-13]. They listened to every word that He speaks, but when the message is done, they so depart [John 6:24-66], that the Lord says to the twelve: “Will ye also go away?” [John 6:67]. Just twelve, and when His ministry was done, in the upper room, there were in number only one hundred twenty [Acts 1:15]. It seems that God chooses to do His work by the small remnant, just a seed that remains. But, the remnant always is there; they are never completely destroyed. In the elective purpose of God, there remains always that small remnant, always.
In the days of the Flood, in the days when the earth was filled with violence and God judged it by the Flood [Genesis 6:1-7:24], there Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord [Genesis 6:8]. And in the days of universal idolatry, there was Abraham, the father of the faithful [Genesis 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2-3], the friend of God [Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23]. And in the days of the awesome apostasy, there stood up Elijah, the champion of Jehovah [1 Kings 17-18]. And in the days of the carrying away into the Babylonian captivity [Ezra 1:1], there was the little band that returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua [Ezra 2:1]. And so through the ages and the centuries, always there is that faithful remnant.
In the days of ecclesiastical darkness, Martin Luther stood up and said, “Here I stand; so help me God, I can do none other.” And in the days of state oppression, there was the faithful little pilgrim band bringing their church and their faith to the shores of the new America. It never fails. And when we come to the end of the age, when we come to the rapture of the church, when we come to the consummation of the program of God, when we come to the end of time, there will be that faithful remnant. “Except the Lord God had given to us a very small remnant, we would have been as Sodom, and we would have been as Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9].
That small remnant—at the end of the age, how will it be? In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord asks the rhetorical question: “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]. Will there be anyone who believes? Will there be any Christians left? When we think of the rapture of the church at the coming of the Lord, most of us think in terms of millions and millions and millions. But the Lord asks, “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith in the earth?”
In the days of the Flood, how many were there—Noah and his family? Eight! [Genesis 7:13]. In the days of universal idolatry, how many were there? There was one [Genesis 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2-3]. In the days of the great apostasy, how many were there? Seven thousand! [1 Kings 19:18]. In the days of the carrying away into Babylonia, how many were in the remnant? Forty and two thousand! [Ezra 2:64]. When the Lord had done His ministry in the earth, crucified by those who rejected Him [Matthew 27:32-50], how many were left to believe? One hundred twenty! [Acts 1:15]. When the Lord comes, will He find faith in the earth? [Luke 18:8]. How many will be in the rapture when the Lord calls out of the earth His elect? How many?
Somebody painted for us a very effective picture, and it was taken out to the parsonage and placed on the wall. I stood there and looked at it, and I said, “Take it down. Take it down.” It was a picture of the city of Dallas, and in that picture was destruction everywhere. There was a train, and the engineer was gone. There was a bus, and the driver was gone. There were automobiles—the freeways were jammed with destruction. The drivers had gone, and the whole city was thrown into turmoil and despair and death. That was the picture. For the rapture had come and God’s people were taken away, and the trains were loose, and the buses were without drivers, and the cars were in terrible disarray. I said, “Take it down. Take it down. Take it down.”
One of the members of the church gave this to me to put on my car. It has a back sticker that you take off, peel off, and you put it on the car window, and it reads, “If you hear a trumpet blast, grab the wheel. The driver of this car is saved!” So far as I can understand, reading the Word of God, it will be a small remnant when Jesus comes again. “Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom and as Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9], absolutely annihilated and destroyed.
Having spoken at one of our state conventions, a newspaper reporter called me on the phone and said, “What is this I hear that’s come to my ears? Your prediction: that unless there is an intervention from God, the day is fast approaching when Christianity will be practically obliterated from the face of the earth? What is that?”
I said, “Do you have a pencil?” Well, I said, “Let’s make a graph. Write down there one hundred eighty-five years ago twenty-five percent of the world’s population was evangelical Christian. Today it is less than eight percent. By 1980, it will be less than four percent. By the year 2000 it will be less than two percent. Now,” I said, “Do you have your graph? Then project it. Follow it on down. What will it be in the twenty-first century after the year 2000? It will go down to practically nothing.” This is not something the pastor conjures up. This is a statistical fact. “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should be like unto Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9]; the small remnant.
Well, what is this message of Isaiah? In the first chapter delivering that prophecy, because of the sins and iniquities of the people, because of the transgression of the nation, the judgment of God falls, and we would be as Sodom, and as Gomorrah, utterly obliterated were it not that God intervened and left to us a very small remnant [Isaiah 1:9]. What is this message of Isaiah? Number one: it is a word of encouragement:
Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Yea, speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and cry unto her… saying ye have received of the Lord’s hand double for all your sin.”
It is a word of encouragement, the doctrine of the remnant, lest we fall into absolute and utter despair.
The first son of Isaiah, he was instructed by the Lord to name Shear-jashub [Isaiah 7:3], Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall be saved, a remnant shall return.” This is the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ for our encouragement. The seed falls by the wayside, and the birds of the air pick it up. The seed falls on stony ground, and it dies for lack of root. The seed falls in thorns and briers, and they choke it to death. But the doctrine of the remnant: some of it will fall on good ground and bear fruit unto God [Matthew 13:3-8].
In the teaching of the apostle Paul, the same comfort:
Know ye not what the Scripture saith of Elijah…when he said,
Lord, they kill Thy prophets and dig 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… at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
A remnant according to God’s election of grace.
Somebody came to the great Spurgeon, preacher in London. Somebody came to Spurgeon and said, “So you believe that some will not believe, some will not accept, some will not be saved no matter what you do, no matter how much you preach, no matter how you extend the invitation, you believe they will not be saved. What a despairing doctrine,” said this one to the great Spurgeon. “What a despairing doctrine that is.” And Spurgeon said, “Nay. Nay, not so! I know they will not all believe. They will not all repent. They will not all turn. They will not all be saved. But I know that some will listen. Some will hear. Some will open their hearts. Some will repent. Some will turn. Some will believe, and some will be saved.”
This is the comfort God gives His children in the doctrine of the remnant. The world will never come. The world will never turn. The world will never be saved. It will never be saved. There will be in the world darkness and unbelief and rejection, but some will always be saved. God’s remnant will always be elect and called out. This is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
In the first chapter of 1 Peter, the Holy Spirit calls us, and we feel His moving voice in our hearts [1 Peter 1:12, 22]. And in the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, the Holy Spirit seals us [Ephesians 1:13-14]. Our names have been written in heaven before we were born [Luke 10:20], before we were conceived [Revelation 17:8], and God knew us from afar, and God’s grace touched us and spoke to us and led us to turn from our sins and to look in faith and salvation to the blessed Jesus [John 16:7-11]. And this is the glorious, glorious thing that I see through all of the years of my ministry: they are here in this city, in this state, in this nation, in this world by the thousands and by the millions who will not turn, they will not listen, they will not believe, but some do. I’ve never preached anywhere in my life but that God gave me some. The Holy Spirit in His elective grace brings some.
And that doctrine of the remnant can be applied to every area of our lives. With joy, with infinite and unspeakable gladness do we offer our lives and all that we have to our blessed Lord. I wish I had the hours to illustrate it. For just a moment, look. Here is a man. Here is a man, and everything is his. Everything that he makes is his. He possesses it. He worked for it. He owns it. And yet that man, out of love for God, will take what he has and give it to the Lord. And a man on the outside, an unbeliever, a Christ rejecter, can look at that fellow and say, “What idiocy, what foolishness. Why, everything that he has in his hands is his. He can spend it on himself. He can use it for himself. Look at him. And instead, he gives it to the Lord. How foolish can a man be?”
You see, he doesn’t know. He hasn’t felt. He hasn’t been called. It’s like a man who has everything that he has. His! He owns it. He worked for it. He possesses it. It’s all his. And he falls in love with a precious girl, and thereafter he’ll take everything that he has, and divide it with her. “Why, man, what foolishness. Why, if you just stay as you are, everything you have is yours. Keep it!”
“No,” he says. “I have a joy unspeakable, to bring something home and lay it at her dear feet.”
“Look: for you, sweet. For you.”
Or here is a couple, and they have everything for them, no burden beside. Everything they have, they possess, and they can keep. And they get on their knees, and say, “O God, give to us a precious little boy or a precious little girl, and we’ll raise him in the love and nurture of the Lord, all the days of his life.”
“Why, you are foolish. You are unbalanced. Keep everything for yourself. Look: it’s yours!”
“No,” they say. “No. We’re praying God for a little one.” And think of the cost in time and tears and years, all the way through college. “But I’m glad to do it. Praise God, I can do it.”
It is thus with God’s elect. There is a joy unspeakable and full of glory, to bring to God all that we have and everything that we are [1 Peter 1:7-8]. As Nathan Hale said when he was executed in 1776, giving his life for his country, before his execution, he said, “I regret that I have but one life to give to my country.” If I had a thousand lives, all thousands of them I’d love to give to the blessed Jesus. If I had a thousand tongues, with every several tongues, I would like to praise the Lord Jesus. If I could play a thousand instruments, on every instrument I’d love to play to the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus. If I were pastor of ten thousand churches, all ten thousand of them would I try and pray to lead them into the commitment of life, and fortune, and soul, and dream, and hope to the blessed Lord Jesus. To those on the outside—what a foolishness, what an idiocy, but to us who are called, it is the most glorious commitment, the fullest life that is known to the human heart, and in the world to come, it is heaven itself: the doctrine of the remnant!
Dear Lord, blessed, blessed Jesus; I could never frame the sentence to say it, how thankful that I am that You chose me to be one of those elect who name the name of our Lord. Only sorry, Lord, that I haven’t done better and just praying Lord that You will give me strength and grace to serve Thee in days to come more fully and completely than I have sought to serve Thee in days past: the doctrine of the remnant!
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, if the Holy Spirit has made invitation to your heart, “Today I make that decision for God and I’m coming.” A family of you, “My wife and my children, we’re all coming today. Pastor, look, we’re all here.” Or just a couple or just you, if you’re in that topmost balcony on the last seat, there’s time and to spare. Come and welcome. On this lower floor, down the aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” On the first note of that first stanza come, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THE REMNANT
I. Doctrine of the remnant found
A. Prominent in Isaiah
(Isaiah 1:9, 10:20-22, 11:11, 16, 37:1-4, 31-32, 46:3)
B. Taken up by Paul
(Romans 9:27, 29, 11:5)
C. Seen in Revelation (Revelation
II. Isaiah a prophet of judgment
A. Two doctrines of
hope and salvation
1. Doctrine of
2. Doctrine of
the coming King and kingdom
III. Hope and salvation of the world
cannot be destroyed as long as remnant remains (Genesis 19:22, Matthew 24:22,
work and will wrought through small minority
was and will be a remnant
IV. Our encouragement
A. Prayer of Isaiah
B. Teaching of Jesus
C. Teaching of Paul
(Romans 11:2a-5, 7)
D. Teaching of Holy
Spirit (I Peter 1:12-13, Ephesians 1:13)