“I will be their God, and they shall be my people”
THE world has always been hostile to the witness of the church of God. Let the church proclaim mans obligations to God let it witness against mans enmity to God let it condemn sin and promote holiness and it will soon hear the equivalent of the old complaint, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6). Today, the church is regarded as subversive when it protests against, for example, multi-faith religion, the errors of Rome, the desecration of the Christian Sabbath, sexual immorality and abortion.
We can expect therefore that those who follow an unscriptural agenda will be opposed to the voice of the church. When our denomination protested against the proposal by the heir to the throne to attend a Roman Catholic mass in 1985, he was moved to write, “I would like to ask by what divine grace you have decided you have the monopoly of truth in this matter.” (The Prince of Wales by Jonathan Dimbleby, p. 429). In the event, his letter was not despatched. More recently we have seen the dismissive attitude of the British and Scottish Governments to the protests by the Christian community against the repeal of Section 28, which prevents the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Also, successive governments have ignored the representations made to them by the church at large to promote the God-appointed family unit in the life of our nation.
We can be assured that although the church will be greatly opposed by the world, it will be preserved and it will prevail. The reason for this certain outcome is simply that God is the God of His church. Because He promises His church in all ages, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,” it cannot fail to exist as long as sun and moon endure. The continuing existence of the church in the world is surely one of the greatest wonders of the world.
After the Fall of man, the church existed in the family of Adam, as was shown by Abels worship of God. The wickedness of some branches of that first family increased as the centuries passed, but the true religion was maintained in the line fathered by Seth. “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:26), that is, as Matthew Poole says, to worship God in a more public and solemn manner, and to keep themselves separate from the world of ungodly men.
Not only the family of Seth but also a whole nation was chosen to be the visible church, when God said to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” (Genesis 17:7). Abrahams descendants, the people of Israel, were those who continued throughout the Old Testament era to constitute the church of God. To them alone God repeated the promise that they would be His people and that He would be their covenant God. “And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer. 24:7), and, “At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:1).
It is true that at certain times the Old Testament church was guilty of seriously backsliding. Although God consequently chastised His people, He did not disannul His covenant with them. Indeed, He confirmed it to them again and again. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33), and, “My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ezek. 37:27).
It is wonderful too that the covenant which God made with His church in Old Testament times He has continued with the New Testament church. It could not be otherwise because His covenant was, and is, the covenant of grace. Although His covenant with the New Testament church is called a “new covenant”, it is not new in essence only in the way it is administered. As Roderick Campbell says in his Israel and the New Covenant, “Judaism and Christianity are successive dispensations of the one true faith.” Our Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way, “This covenant [of grace] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; . . . Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (7:5,6).
As surely then as God promised His church before the advent of Christ, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” so He promises His church today, as it exists among the Gentiles. In Ephesians 3:5,6 the Apostle speaks of the mystery that is now revealed by God to His apostles and prophets: “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” In Galatians 3 he says that Christ was made a curse so “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (verse 14). God has already, to some extent, fulfilled to the Gentile nations this promise: “I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hos. 2:23). That this prophecy does indeed apply to the New Testament church is clear from what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “. . . even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved” (Rom. 9:24-25).
God is constantly showing, by His maintaining of His means of grace in the world, that He will have a people as His own possession, and that they shall have Himself, in Christ and by His Spirit, as their portion. God was saying, as it were, through the rite of circumcision, about His church, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” and today He says likewise through the sacrament of Baptism. As He said through the Passover that He was the God of Israel and that Israel was His inheritance, so He speaks about the spiritual Israel through the Lords Supper. And in this spiritually dark day He continues to say by His Word, about His church, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
What matchless condescension is shown by God in having a people in the world even among the Gentile nations to be His people, and in being their God. William Plumer, in commenting on the Gentiles being brought into the church, wrote, “What a glorious surprise of mercy was the visit of the gospel in the power of the Spirit to Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Samaria, and many other places! . . . Wonderful, Wonderful, WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL grace. The like was never heard in Gods dealings with any but sinners of Adams race.” (Commentary on Romans, p 498).
Truly it is a great privilege to belong to the catholic visible church, which consists of all those throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children. It is a greater privilege to belong to a branch of the visible church which adheres to the Scriptures in its teachings and practice. It is an even greater privilege to belong to the invisible church to those, in whatever part of the visible church they are found, to whom Scripture says, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet 2:10). Thrice happy are those who not only belong to the invisible church but also have their lot cast in a branch of the visible church which adheres closely to the Bible.
God, as the God of His people, will not fail to keep His church, however numerous, vociferous and powerful her enemies may be as they most certainly are in this degenerate age. As He promised the Old Testament Church, so He promises His church today: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD.”
Nor will He fail to make His cause prosper in due time. He will build up His church “even in troublous times” (Daniel 9:25). That which He promised to His church under the Old Covenant, he will fulfil in essence to the church today under the New Covenant: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:25-28).
It is, of course, only He Himself who can do this. “I the LORD build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it” (Ezek. 36:36). While we are warranted to take much encouragement from His promise, “I will do it,” let us not fail to note and to act upon what is written in the next verse, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” It is to be feared that we do not realise how low and exposed to danger the church of God is in our own and other nations. May the spiritual Israel today be discerning the signs of the times, and be pleading with the Lord right earnestly to fulfil His gracious word of promise.