A Continuing Principle
Listed beneath the entry for ‘Remnant’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, is a definition that reads: ‘The remainder of a number of persons. Chiefly, and now only, of a small number.’ Another definition reads: ‘A small remaining number of persons,’ and is followed by a reference to the ‘1611 Bible’, quoting from (Isaiah 10:22), “For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return.”
The Promise of Deliverance
The principle revealed in this passage, (Isaiah 10:20–27), is an encouraging one as we look at the decline of the professing church today. Briefly, the passage speaks of, and to, a remnant people who find themselves swept into God’s chastisement of the whole nation on account of widespread and long-standing sin. In this instance, the rod of correction is ‘the Assyrian’, (verse 24): later, of course, it was to be the Babylonians.
The Lord exhorts the remnant in verse 24, ‘be not afraid of the Assyrian’, promising them in verses 25 and 26, that the judgement will soon be past, and that God’s anger will then be directed towards the oppressor, ‘his yoke’ of bondage being ‘destroyed’ ‘from off [the] neck’ of God’s people by the power of the Holy Ghost — see verse 27.
A Final Separation
This same principle continues into the New Testament. The ‘judgement’ which has already begun ‘at the house of God — (I Peter 4:17) — is one that is felt by ALL who profess to be a part of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, including the remnant. Saints who are currently walking in holiness and righteousness before God must still experience something of the spiritual captivity that surrounds them on account of a massive decline in biblical standards in the visible church as a whole.
I believe we need to encourage ourselves in the understanding, that God never allows His remnant people to sink, so to speak, with the ‘ship’ of widespread apostasy; there is always a rescue operation before the final separation. It is through such a people that the Lord makes His appeal to those who have regressed into sin and compromise. But that season of mercy will come to an end, and ultimate separation is inevitable.
Noah preached for an estimated 120 years into the wickedness of a world that knew all about God, but that chose to reject Him. There came a point when ‘the LORD said to Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.’ (Genesis 7:1). That same call cannot, surely, be very far away! But until it comes, we must, like Noah, take our stand for righteousness ‘in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation’ (Philippians 2:15).
Our Hope Today
In (John 12: 37 – 43), the apostle seals the link in continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Quoting from the prophecy of Isaiah, he reflects in verse 41, ‘These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.’ John is referring here to (Isaiah 6) where clearly the prophet receives a glorious vision of the pre-incarnate Christ.
To read the whole chapter is to discover that COMMISSION (verses 8-10), is preceded by CLEANSING (verses 6 and 7), which in turn is preceded by CONFESSION (verse 5), grounded in CONVICTION that is born of a CONFRONTATION with the holiness of God (verses 3 and 4). The Lord does not entrust His precious and exacting work to dirty vessels; dirty vessels are reserved for the devil’s dirty work!
Verses 9-12 reveal to us that before such a commission can be given, unswerving obedience on the part of the prophet must first be secured. The ‘carnally minded’ would never volunteer for the call that Isaiah here receives from our Lord’s lips: and the prophet’s very natural request in verse 11 — ‘Lord, how long?’ — is not to be construed as a flinching from the task set before him. The Lord, in this case, is very gracious to unfold the fullest possible picture of conditions into which Isaiah must minister, assured, as He is, of the prophet’s commitment to his calling.
Unlike his mighty predecessor, Noah, Isaiah is not predicting a final judgement. The 70 years of captivity in Babylon are to come to an end, and a remnant are predestinated to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild both city and temple in accordance with God’s divinely-revealed pattern.
In verse 13 of this chapter, the Lord underlines an unchanging principle that fills us with fresh hope that we might yet witness a measure of revival before we are summoned to ‘meet the Lord in the air’, (I Thessalonians 4:17). Within the general captivity we are told there is ‘a tenth’, a remnant, who will be brought out at the appointed time to be ‘labourers together with God’ — (I Corinthians 3:9) — in the restoration programme. The word ‘eaten’ in this verse is not indicative of destruction, but rather of acceptance. The opposite, namely rejection, is vividly pictured for us in (Revelation 3:16), where the Lord Jesus avows to the backslidden ‘church of the Laodiceans’, ‘I will spue thee out of my mouth.’
The ‘teil’ and the ‘oak’ are to all intents and purposes the same tree. As winter draws on, and deadness and barrenness are everywhere to be seen, ‘the substance’ — the means of renewed life — lies hidden within the unpromising appearance of that tree, ready to break forth again the following spring.
The spiritual application is wonderfully clear: ‘the holy seed’, ‘the tenth’, the remnant, the ‘small remaining number of persons’ in tune with the Lord and led by His Spirit, are to be the means of renewed life before the Lord Jesus catches us up to Himself. Oh, that praying saints everywhere would begin to sense that spring is in the air!
A Cry for our Time
Another glimpse of this same hope is afforded is us in the 64th chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy. The prophet’s heartfelt cry in verses 1–4 is followed in the later part of the chapter by the depictions of the dire consequences of the nation’s departure from the ways of God, verses 10–12. Applications from this chapter to our present state of religious affairs are numerous. Isaiah’s impassioned cry in the opening verses is very much a cry for our time.
In verse 5 of this chapter the hope already established is revealed. In the midst of apostasy, its resultant desolation, and the inevitable captivity that came to pass during the ministry of Jeremiah, there remains a people with whom the Lord will meet.
They are presented to us as a joyful people who walk in right paths, and in obedience to the Lord. However, they must walk with the greater part of the nation through the same valley of God’s chastisement to begin with, after all, ‘thou are wroth; for we have sinned’, says the prophet. But in company with Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Esther and doubtless many others, they remain faithful to the Lord. His purpose in ‘continuance’ embraces them, and has been entrusted to them: and through them will come again the age-old appeal of saving grace to a future generation. As the prophet confirms, ‘and will be saved.’
A People in Continuance
When John the Baptist ‘came. . . preaching in the wilderness of Judaea’ (Matthew 3:1) ‘And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, (verse 2), he was, in effect, already a fisher of men. His net was the unadorned and divinely-inspired utterance of Almighty God; his intended catch, the remnant.
‘The voice of one crying the in the wilderness’ (verse 4), his call was for a wholesale return to the straight paths of the Lord. ‘Multitudes’ went out to him’ (verse 5); but by the close of the gospel narratives, evidently only a relatively small number, a remnant, continued in the faith they had found beneath the muddy waters of the river Jordan.
Of these, and many others who had been touched by the ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself, even fewer ultimately assembled in ‘an upper room’ in Jerusalem, ‘where abode’ the remaining 11 disciples of Jesus, (Acts 2:13). They were joined by other believers, ‘about an hundred and twenty’ in total (verse 15), to wait upon God in prayer, and in expectation of ‘the promise of the Father,’ namely, ‘Holy Ghost’ (Acts 1:4 and 5). Surrounding them were conditions of severe apostasy: and the very ‘yoke’ of the Roman Empire, destined to function as God’s instrument of judgement in 70 AD, when the city of Jerusalem was again largely destroyed.