THE DOCTRINE OF THE REMNANT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-02-75 8:15 a.m.
And bless you who have tuned in the radio to share with us this early morning service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Doctrine of the Remnant. Having presented two messages by way of introduction to this vast mountain peak of a prophecy called Isaiah, we enter now into the actual exposition of the prophecy itself. And the text is Isaiah 1:9: “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.” The Doctrine of the Remnant: “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant,” the Septuagint Greek translation of that text, and the word “remnant” is sperma: seed, sperm, seed. “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant,” just a seed, “we would have been utterly destroyed, completely annihilated; we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9].
This doctrine of the remnant, the small band of faithful ones, is found throughout the whole prophecy of Isaiah. For example, in chapter 10 he says:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and the escaped of Jacob. . . shall stay upon the Holy One of Israel. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the Mighty God. For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea and are destroyed, yet a remnant of them shall return.
I turn the page and read again in chapter 11: “It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people” [Isaiah 11:11]. And the last verse in chapter 11, “And there shall be an highway for the remnant of His people, which shall be left” [Isaiah 11:16].
I turn again to chapter 37:
And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard the awesome threat of complete destruction by the king of Assyria and Rabshakeh his emissary, that he said unto Isaiah the prophet, saying, Wherefore, lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.
[Isaiah 37:1, 4]
And in the same chapter 37, verses 31 and 32:
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 heart of the Lord of hosts shall perform it.
Turn again now to chapter 46 in Isaiah, verse 3: “Hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel… even to your old age… and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” [Isaiah 46:3-4].
And that doctrine of the remnant is carried throughout the whole Word of God. For example, in chapter 9 of the Book of Romans, beginning at verse 27, the apostle Paul writes, “Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel” [Romans 9:27], then he quotes the passage I read a moment ago, Isaiah 10:22: “Though the number of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. For He will finish the work, cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth [Romans 9:27-28]. And as Isaiah said before,” and then he quotes my text, Isaiah 1:9, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth, hosts, except the Lord of hosts Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and we had been like unto Gomorrah” [Romans 9:29]. When I turn to the Book of the Revelation, the Revelation, Revelation 12:17: “And 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.” It isn’t just an incidental remark or a casual reference to the remnant, the faithful small sperma, band, seed, that God has in the earth. It is a great doctrine espoused, presented by the prophet Isaiah and thereafter kept before the people of the Lord.
Now, we must read the context of the text. Isaiah, as he begins his prophecy, is a messenger of stern rebuke and judgment against the sins of the people. And laying before them their sins, he speaks of the inevitable judgment that follows. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken” [Isaiah 1:2]. 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 Israel doth not know, and My people doth not consider.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone backward.
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye revolt more and more until the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, nor bound up, nor mollified with ointment.
Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
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.
Isaiah is like all of the prophets: he is a prophet of destruction, and rebuke, and visitation, and captivity. The people have turned away from the Lord, and always in sin and unrighteousness there is inevitable judgment. It is God that has welded those two together, an unbreakable chain link: sin and judgment, sin and death, sin and visitation from heaven. Isaiah, like all the prophets, is a prophet of judgment. But there is something in Isaiah, like the other prophets also: the word is not one of infinite and unrelieved despair; but there are silver linings and there are golden dawns. And in the Book of Isaiah there are two of them that run throughout the prophecy: one is the doctrine of the remnant, even though the whole world lie in ruin and destruction, there is in it a seed, a remnant, an election that shall be saved. And God will purge and purify and renovate that remnant; and it will become the foundation of a new order and a new society. And the second golden thread that runs through the prophecy is the coming King and kingdom. Isaiah innumerable number of times with suddenness will leap from despair to hope, from destruction to construction, from earth to heaven, from the awesomeness of the judgment of God upon sin to the glorious order of righteousness brought, created, built, founded, established by His own omnipotent hand. He will leap from the actual and the present to the ideal and the coming glorious future. So it is with his doctrine of the remnant: there is in this world always an election, a seed, a sperma, a remnant; and with that remnant, purged and purified, God shall establish a new order, a new world, a new culture, and a new society [Isaiah 62:1-12].
There are several things that are very apparent about that doctrine of the remnant, the elect of God in the earth. Number one is this: as long as they are present the world cannot be destroyed. The hope and salvation of the preservation and deliverance of the world lies in that small and holy band. As it is written in the story of Lot, in Sodom and Gomorrah, in Genesis, “The angels come and say, Flee” [Genesis 19:15-17]; and when Lot tarried the angel of destruction said, “I can do nothing until thou be brought thither” [Genesis 19:22]. As long as the remnant is here, the great destruction of God in tribulation cannot fall. It is only in the rapture of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], the taking away of God’s people, that the judgment ever falls [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. You see that again in the great apocalyptic discourse of our Savior in Matthew chapter 24. The Lord says, “Except those days should be shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” [Matthew 24:22]. It is the elect of God, the seed of God, the remnant of God that preserves this world. Our hope of salvation is in them.
It is a strange thing how God chooses to do His work with the small minority, with the small remnant. I cannot understand it. Why doesn’t God work with the great mass? Why doesn’t God work with the vast majority? I don’t know. All I know is that God chooses to do His work and to perform His will with the small minority, the small remnant. Look at it. In the story of Gideon, in the Book of Judges, the Midianites have invaded and consumed the land like a plague of locusts; they are like the sands of the sea in number, and God calls Gideon to deliver His people. And out of all of the thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands of Israel, there are only thirty-two thousand who come to the banner of this leader God hath chosen. And the Lord looks upon the thirty-two thousand and says to Gideon, “It is too many, it is too many.” Too many before that vast throng of the army of the Midianites? “It is too many,” says God, and God says to Gideon, “Tell all the faint-hearted to go home,” and twenty-two thousand leave, and Gideon is left with an army of ten thousand [Judges 7:2-3]. And the Lord looks upon it and says, “Gideon, it is too many.” Too many? “Too many.” And the Lord says to Gideon, “Take the army,” just ten thousand, “down to the stream, and let them drink.” Thirsting, let them drink. And the men who just lapped the water up with their hands and kept their eye on the enemy as they walked along the stream, lapped it up with their hands, not bowing down and sticking their heads in the water, but just lapped it up with their hands, watching the enemy, God said to Gideon, “These are they.” And when Gideon counted them, out of ten thousand there were only three hundred left [Judges 7:4-7]. That is God! He does His work and His will, He accomplishes His purposes in the earth through a small minority; the remnant, the sperma, the seed, the little faithful and holy band.
God seems to do that always. There are twelve tribes in Israel; ten of them are taken away [1 Kings 11:32-32; 2 Kings 17:1-18], there are two tribes left. The two tribes are taken away [2 Kings 25:21], and a small remnant, a small band finally returns with Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest to begin God’s work all over again [Ezra 3:8]. The Lord Jesus in His ministry had hosts at Capernaum [John 6:24-59]; they were listening, they were hanging on every word. And by the time the Lord was done, the hosts had left [John 6:66], and the Lord turned to the twelve apostles and said, “Will ye also go away?” [John 6:67]. Only twelve out of the vast throng that followed Him, surrounded Him, heard Him, listened to Him, ate of the loaves and the fishes [John 6:1-14]; but that remnant is always there, it never fails. In the days when the earth was filled with violence [Genesis 6:11-13], and God destroyed it with a flood [Genesis 7:17-23]; but Noah found grace in His sight [Genesis 6:8]. In the day when the world was filled with idolatry, there was Abraham, the son of Terah [Genesis 11:31 – 12:4]. In the days of the great apostasy, there was Elijah the servant of the Lord [1 Kings 18:19-39]. In the days of the carrying away into the Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 25:21], there was Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and Nehemiah, and Ezra, and the faithful little band [Ezra 3:8]. And in the days when the Lord was crucified and Israel had slain her own Son [Matthew 27:27-50], there was a little faithful band of one hundred twenty [Acts 1:12-15]. It never fails; always that little remnant is left.
In the days of ecclesiastical darkness, there is Martin Luther, “Here I stand, so help me God. I can do none other.” In the days of state oppression, there is the little band of Pilgrims, a little faithful remnant. And how shall it be at the end of the world? At the great consummation of the age, how will it be? Will the world be filled with Christians? Will the whole great, vast multitude of governments and nationalities and tongues and tribes, will they all be ready to await the coming of the Lord? How will it be? In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the [eighth] verse, it says, “When the Son of Man cometh, will there be faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]. Will there? “When the Son of Man cometh, will there be faith in the earth?” Will there be anyone who believes in the Lord, waits for the Lord, trusts in the Lord? “When the Son of Man cometh, will there be faith in the earth?” Somehow we have the impression that when the rapture takes place and God takes His people out of the earth before the awesome tribulation [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], we have the impression that there will be millions and millions and millions who are raptured. Are you quite sure about that? In the days of the flood how many numbered the remnant? Noah, Noah’s wife, Noah’s three sons, their three wives; there were eight [Genesis 7:13-23]. In the days of the great idolatry, how many were there? One: Abraham [Genesis 12:1-4; Nehemiah 9:7-8; Hebrews 11:8]. In the days of the Babylonian captivity, how many were there? Forty and two thousand, the remnant that returned [Ezra 2:64]. In the days of the ministry of Christ, how many were there? One hundred twenty [Acts 1:15]. And in the days of the great consummation of the age, when Christ shall come, how many will there be? [Luke 18:8].
Someone painted a picture and gave it to me. They took it out to the house, the parsonage, and hung it on the wall. I looked at it, and I said, “Take it down. Take it down.” The picture was magnificently done. It was a picture of the city of Dallas, and all through the city there was awesome destruction. There were railroad trains going off the track, there were buses leaving the road, there were car accidents, there was destruction everywhere, as the people were raptured up into heaven; and the engineer that wasn’t saved drove his train through the station and off, and the bus driver was taken away, he being a Christian, and the bus went by the side of the road, and the whole city was full of destruction. I said, “Take it off. Take it off.” One of my members had this and gave it to me: it’s a little thing that you stick on your windshield—you take the back off and stick it on the windshield—and it reads: “If you hear a trumpet blast, grab the wheel: the driver of this car is saved.” Does God intimate a visitation like that? How many in the Flood? One and his family, eight in all [Genesis 7:13-23]. I don’t know. It’s hid from my eyes. I’m just saying to you that it may be that at the end of the age a small remnant, a small remnant: “Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been as Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9].
A newspaper reporter called me and said—I was speaking at an evangelistic conference in another state—“What is this that has come to my ears, that you say that the Christian faith is beginning to die out in the earth? What is this that you say?” I said, “Do you have a pencil?” He said, “Yes.” Well, I said, “Take your pencil and write down just these statistics, and make a graph of it, and see what is happening. One hundred eighty-five years ago, twenty-five percent of the world’s population was evangelical Christian. Today it is less than eight percent. In 1980, it will be less than four percent. In the year 2000, it will be less than two percent. And in the twenty-first century, beyond the day 2000, if the graph keeps going down as it has been in these days past and years past, the Christian faith will be almost an infinitesimal minority in the earth.” I’m not saying that of me; I’m just pointing out what is happening in the world today. “Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” [Isaiah 1:9].
What is the attitude of the prophet Isaiah as he delivers these awesome messages from heaven? “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith the Lord. Yea, speak ye comfortingly, encouragingly, optimistically to Jerusalem” [Isaiah 40:1-2]. The purpose of the prophecy is to encourage the people, this doctrine of the remnant. His firstborn son Isaiah names Shearjashub, Shearjashub, that is, “a remnant shall be saved, a remnant shall return” [Isaiah 7:3]. And when God told him to go up and to confront Ahaz who was bringing in the devastating power of Assyria, God said, “And take with you your firstborn son, Shearjashub” [Isaiah 7:3]. Out of the darkness shall the sun shine. “And they that sit in the valley of the shadow of death and hopeless and despair, upon them shall the light come” [Isaiah 9:2]—the remnant for encouragement in Isaiah [Isaiah 1:9, 7:3], the remnant for encouragement in the teaching of Jesus [Matthew 13:8, 23].
The seeds sown—some of it fell by the wayside, the fowls picked it up; some of it fell on stony ground, and it died for lack of depth in soil; some of it fell in the thorns that choked it; but always the remnant, the holy band, the faithful called: some of it fell on good ground [Matthew 13:1-9]. This is the teaching of the apostle Paul:
Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elijah? How when he made intercession to God for Israel, he said, Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, they have 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 unto 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; there is a seed, according to the election of grace.
One of the great tremendous doctrines of the apostle Paul was the doctrine of the remnant, the doctrine of the election. However history turns, and however dark the day and the night, always there is God’s faithful remnant [Isaiah 1:9].
Somebody said to Spurgeon, “Sir, how is it that you can preach, and make appeal, and extend invitation, and do your work when you believe that there are those who will not accept no matter what you say and no matter what you do?” And Spurgeon replied, “Nay, my brother, it is the opposite: when I preach and deliver the message of God, and when I make appeal, there may be those who will not respond; they will not repent, they will not believe, they will not accept; but I have the assurance in the election of God there are always some who will. There are always some who will accept, who will believe, who will respond.” God’s faithful remnant; never without it, never in all of the vast darkness of the world, except always God has His faithful remnant [Acts 13:48].
And that is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of 1 Peter, there are some who are called by the Holy Spirit [1 Peter 1:15]. In the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, there are some who are sealed by the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 1:13]. God has spoken to them, God has called them, God has opened their hearts to the message of heaven, and they respond with their lives; that holy and heavenly remnant [Isaiah 1:9].
If I had another hour—and I wish I had it—if I had another hour, we would look at us, and look at that faithful remnant who joyfully, gladly, triumphantly, gloriously dedicate their lives to the Lord. In just the moment that remains to me, take for example our coming before the Lord with a gift. Here is a man on the outside of the faith, on the outside of Christ, on the outside of the church, here is a man, and he says, “Look at those people there, taking what they have and offering it unto God, giving it unto God. Look at me, how free and unencumbered I am. Look at me. Everything I have I can spend on myself. Everything I get I can keep, and I can do with what I have exactly as I please. I am free. And look at my affluence and abundance: everything I have is mine, and I can keep it for myself.”
But that remnant, that little band: “What I have belongs to God, and I must dedicate it to Him,” and he finds joy and strength and gladness in doing it. It’s like a man who has everything himself, and he falls in love, and he marries a girl. Why, you say to that fellow, “You must have lost your mind. If you’ll stay by yourself, everything is yours. Now you’re proposing to share it with somebody else.”
“Fellow,” he says, “you don’t know how happy I am to share it; for she has become the love of my heart.” And here is a couple, and they have everything for just them—it is theirs, unencumbered—and they pray, “God, Lord, give us a little baby boy or a little baby girl, as God shall choose, and, dear God, if you will answer the prayer, we’ll raise the little child in the love and nurture of Jesus.” And all of the things that are attendant in the birth of a little baby—the cost, the sacrifice, the time, all the way through college, the years and the years—why, man, why, couple, you’ve lost your mind! Keep everything for yourself! “No, we thank God for the gift of the little bundle. God answered prayer, and it’s a joy to share what we have with our precious little baby God has placed in our arms.” You see, it’s another world, it’s another heart, it’s another life, and it’s the finest, riches, noblest, most glorious life in the world: the life of the faithful remnant.
As Nathan Hale said when he was executed for being a spy in 1776, he said, “I regret that I have but one life to give to my country.” I regret I have but one life to give to our blessed Lord. I wish I had a thousand to lay at His dear feet: the doctrine of the remnant.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, to put his life in the fellowship of this dear church, as the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming down that aisle: “Here I am, pastor, and here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.