Gathering In The Chosen
“Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travails with child together; a great company shall return there. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications I will lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My first-born.”
Jeremiah 31:8, 9
THERE IS a wonderful variety in the acts of God and yet there is a most singular uniformity. So complete is this uniformity that any one deliverance which God works for His people will be found to be, in its main features, just like any other of His deliverances.
Starting–for it is a convenient starting-point–with the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt, there are many points of similarity between that marvel of mercy and the bringing back of the banished tribes from Babylon to their own land. There was a manifestation of the same gracious consideration, of the same Omnipotent power, of the some efficient purpose worked out in all points according to God’s Eternal Covenant. Then, taking another great leap, that return from Babylon is, no doubt, a very fair picture and a very excellent type of the gathering together in their own land of the Jews in the days that are yet to come when they shall say to one another, “Let us go up to the house of our God.” Everybody will admit that it will be as great a wonder to see the Jews, who are now a nation scattered abroad throughout the whole world, once more dwelling together in Palestine, as it was for them to have been brought out of Egypt or delivered out of Babylon in days long past! But taking a still greater leap, this again is a type of the greatest of all deliverances–the deliverance neither of the Jews alone nor of the Gentiles alone, but of the whole chosen company who shall be brought out from all the lands of sin and error into which they have been driven by their first parents' fall and their own actual transgressions! They shall be brought out by the same almighty power, only on a far greater scale, and they shall meet, as in a common focus, in that Jerusalem above which is the home of all the chosen! I want to turn your thoughts toward that glorious future when the vast assembly of the redeemed will “sing the Song of Moses, the servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, You King of saints.”
- And, first, I am going to show you that we have, in the text, DEITY MANIFESTED.
There is a Divine ring about the text as there was in that ancient fiat which startled the darkness and caused it to flee away. “Let there be light, and there was light.” So here the Lord says, “I will bring them and gather them…and they shall come…I will lead them. I will cause them to walk; they shall not stumble.” It is, “I will,” and, “they shall” all the way through! There is no admission of doubt or of the possibility of failure. Jehovah speaks in the Sovereignty of His power and says, “I will do this, and I will do that,” and there is not an, “if,” or a, “perhaps,” or a “maybe” to mar the certainty of the Divine Declarations–“I will” and “they shall.”
Remember, Beloved, that it was so in Egypt. “ Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” Yet, when the Lord smote his first-born with all the first-born throughout the land of Egypt, “he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up and get you forth from among my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord as you have said.” And when the time came for captive Israel to return from Babylon, God had but to speak and the iron bars snapped in sunder and the gates of brass flew open! So also shall it be in the latter days when the Jews are restored to their own land. By some mysterious influence which probably many of them will not be able to understand, they will be irresistibly drawn from all parts of the earth to Emmanuel’s land and, meanwhile, that same Divine Energy is gathering together the chosen unto the great Shiloh, for “unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Invisible bands of love are continually drawing to Christ those for whom He died. The mighty magnet of His atoning Sacrifice is constantly attracting to Him the members of His redeemed family–more in one age than in another, yet always according to the eternal purpose and decree of God–for although He acts mysteriously and silently, yet He always “works all things after the counsel of His own will.”
I do not know any theme upon which one might dilate with greater joy than that of the Omnipotent energy of God as displayed in the salvation of sinners, yet it must always be understood that we proclaim this Truth in complete harmony with the responsibility of man and his absolute free agency. I have always taught you that the Omnipotence of Godover the human heart is never exercised in such a way as to violate the free will of man. It would be a clumsy kind of Omnipotence that molds the will, enlightens the judgment and fashions the heart and mind and character of man according to the Lord’s eternal purpose. Yet, on the other hand, let me beseech you never to let your ideas of the free agency of man prevent you from adoring the Omnipotent Sovereignty of God. We are not to have man’s free will sitting on the throne! Its place is that of a humble servant waiting at Jehovah’s feet. Let the glorious Truth of God that “the Lord reigns” be proclaimed in its fullest sense and let the man who dares to limit the Sovereignty of God answer for it before Him who, with a rod of iron, would dash in pieces the potter’s vessel that presumed to say, “Why have you made me thus?” We believe that when the great drama of human history is complete, it will conform in every jot and tittle to the eternal plan that was in the mind of God long before He spoke the great creative word which called the Heaven and the earth into existence!
In the bringing up of Israel out of Babylon there were a great many questions to be considered. Would the king be willing to let them go? Would they themselves be willing to go? By what process could they be ranged under one leader? How could they be provided for and provisioned for such a long journey? By what means could they be safely conducted through the perils of the wilderness? How could they again be settled in a land which had become barren through the curse of God resting upon it? Yet, when the set time came, all these difficulties vanished! As God was in that plan of bringing His people back from Babylon, the king’s heart was turned as the husbandman turns the channel of irrigation in the midst of the garden! As God was in it, the Jews sighed and longed to return to Jerusalem! As God was in it, they went back, not like trembling doves flying from a pursuing hawks but like a bannered host returning from the conquest loaded with spoil!
Just so is it with the sinner and the salvation of his soul–there are many questions that he may want to ask. How can prejudice be subdued? How can ignorance be overcome? How can the stubborn will be controlled? How is it possible for the Ethiopian to change his skin and the leopard his spots? But, when God comes forth to save, it is as though a man walked through cobwebs and brushed them away from him on either side, or as though a giant stalked through a host of pigmies and made them fly to right or left–
“When He makes bare His arm,
What shall His work withstand?”
When He puts forth the fullness of His strength to effect His Divine Purpose, who shall say to Him, “What are You doing?” Therefore, you ministers of God, be bold, for you serve the Lord God Omnipotent! You servants of Christ in every sphere, be brave, for you have not espoused a losing cause! Everyone of you, though you may be but little in the army of the Lord, yet are–
“Strong in the Lord of Hosts,
And in His mighty power”–
for His Kingdom cannot be overthrown, it must spread until it fills the whole earth! And God, even our own God, must be exalted and the praises of His holy name and of His glorious work must go on ringing down the ages forever and ever!
II. Now turning to the second point, we see in the text DIFFICULTIES REMOVED.
Difficulties would naturally be suggested by unbelieving minds. It would be said, in the first place, that the peoplethem from the coasts of the earth.“ There may be at the present time, some of the Lord’s chosen far away in Greenland, Labrador, and other lands of snow and ice. There were some, in the olden times, when the Moravian Brethren went forth at God’s command to bring to Christ those who belonged to Him in "the north country.” There were also others in the far-away islands of the south–cannibals given up to the wildest passions–but Christ had bought them with His precious blood and a sacred instinct compelled John Williams and many other martyrs and missionaries to go forth to the Apostolic task of turning savages into saints! It may be that God has many of His chosen ones at the present moment in the center of Africa–and if it is so, they shall not die before the Gospel has been made known to them and they have been brought to trust in Him who loved them and gave Himself for them! Distance is no distance in the sight of God! He sees all the inhabitants of the globe at a single glance and His gaze is fixed upon the blood-bought sons and daughters of men wherever these may be dwelling! And He will gather them from all the coasts of the earth where their lot has been cast.
And as distance of space is no obstacle to the bestowed of God’s mercy, so neither is the distance that is caused by the greatness of sin. “Now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ.” There may be one among those whom I am now addressing who has gone to the cold “north country” of infidelity, where he stands shivering in the biting winds of doubt and skepticism. Ah, but my Friend, God is able to bring you to Himself even from that dreary region! There may be some who have gone to the uttermost coasts of sin until they have become masters in iniquity, trafficking upon the broad sea of transgression and doing business in the deep waters of infamy and perhaps of blasphemy. Ah, but if you are among these who were given to Christ, God will gather you sooner or later–even if you have sold yourself to the devil, “your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with Hell shall not stand.” If you are, indeed, “bought with a price,” Christ will surely gather you with the rest of His redeemed! By might and main He will make a conquest of you, for, when the Lord determines to bring His people to Himself, neither material distance nor moral distance can prevent Him from doing so!
There was also another difficulty–not only were these people in Babylon far away from Jerusalem, but some ofthem were blind. What did it matter to them where they lived? No landscape, even though it was as grand as that which Moses saw from the top of Pisgah, could have any attraction for them. Even if others go back, shall not the blind be left behind? Of what service are the blind? How shall they behold the beauty of the Lord? But the Lord said that He would bring back the blind with the others from the north country, and from the outcasts of the earth, and we may apply this promise to those who are spiritually blind. How can you get at a man who will not see his own sin and who will not orcannot see the beauty of God’s plan of salvation? How are you to get at those whose eyes are covered with the scales of prejudice? How can you reach the Romanist whose eyes are plastered up with ceremonies and superstitions? How can you convince the work-monger that his own good deeds, of which he thinks so much, are blinding him to the beauties of Christ? How can these blind ones be saved? Ah, Beloved, no eye is too blind for God to pour light into it! And some of us can bear our personal testimony upon this matter. We would never have known the Grace of God in truth if that Grace had not come to us in our blind ignorance and enlightened us! May it be so with some who are here tonight! Is there a very ignorant person here? Well, my dear Friend, do you know that you are a sinner, that you are guilty in the sight of God? Then do you know that Christ Jesus came into the world to save such guilty sinners as you are? If so, and you put your trust in Him, you are already wise unto salvation however little you may know about other matters! Learn the great Truth that Christ died in the place of all who believe in Him and you will no longer be numbered among the spiritually blind!
With those blind people in Babylon there seem to have been some lame folk and an objector might have said, “Surely, if the caravan is to pass through the desert, it would be better to leave these poor limping ones at home! How can they ever be brought to Jerusalem?” But the Lord said, “The blind shall be led, and the lame shall be carried, but they must not be left behind.” Now, there are some who are morally lame. If ever they enter into life, it will be among the crippledand the maimed. They seem as if they could not walk uprightly, there is a limp in their gait. Their knees are weak, they cannot pray as they would. Lame Sinners–are you here tonight? Do you feel as if you cannot get to Christ, and cannot pray, and cannot do anything right? Well, do but cry to Him, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” Turn your eyes to Christ, think of Him as He hung upon the Cross and trust Him to save you, and you shall find that, lame as you are, you shall be brought safely Home! Mr. Ready-to-Halt shall get to Heaven as surely as Mr. Great-Heart himself!
Then there were some others of whom it was said that they could not possibly join the caravan–“ the woman withchild and her that travails with child.” These were certainly unfit to go–they were in such a weak state that they could not take that long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, yet the Lord said, “I will gather them and bring them,” and so He did! Well, there are some like them in our midst tonight, burdened ones who have a load of sin pressing upon them, fainting ones whose souls are in a sacred travail. They would gladly run, but they cannot even stand! And they are all too apt to fall. But, O you who are thus soul-distressed, the blessing is that Jesus Christ will not leave you behind! You shall be brought with the rest of the chosen seed to the heavenly Jerusalem to praise and magnify your great Deliverer forever and ever!
III. Now in the third place, we have in the text not only Deity manifested, and difficulties removed, but we also have DESCRIPTIONS GIVEN.
How shall this great company be brought to the Jerusalem which is above? Listen! There is a mighty host on the march, but I hear no sound of trumpet, no voice of mirth, no song of joy! What do I hear? Weeping, mourning, lamentation–“ They shall come with weeping.” That is the music to which sinners usually set out for the heavenly Canaan–seldom if ever is that start made without tears! It is not the shriek of despair. It is not the groan of disappointment. It is not the yell of rage, and hate. It is the plaintive wail of a soul that says to God, “I have sinned against Heaven and before You, and are no more worthy to be called Your son.” From those who compose that throng you may, every now and then, catch such sorrowful sentences as these, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” “My sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity. I will be sorry for my sins.” This is the kind of music that we hear from those who are setting out for Heaven! Have you, my Friend, ever practiced it? You will never sing in Glory if you have never wept over your sin! I do not merely mean such tears as men and women shed, though these will probably not be absent, but I mean that you will experience that spiritual sorrow which is often too deep for tears. May God the Holy Spirit teach us to weep at the remembrance of our sin, to weep at the foot of the Cross as we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced, and mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son and be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born!
Listen again! Now I hear another note rising from the great caravan, the note of supplication. It is the hour of prayer. They have got beyond weeping into anxiety, desire, petition, request–and I hear many voices crying, “Save Your people who trust in You. Be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause Your face to shine upon us.” In our day, the supplication takes some such form as this, “Reveal Yourself unto us, O Christ, for in You do we put our trust! In Your name have we set up our banners. Come forth, O Lord, as our Helper and Deliverer!” The march is with weeping and supplication–and I believe these two things will attend that caravan right up to the brink of Jordan! The last tear will be dropped in Jordan’s flowing stream, for we shall sorrow no more and repent no more when we stand before the Eternal Throne of God! And the last prayer–at any rate, the last prayer that has any sense of sin in it–shall be breathed on the bank of the river which we cross to enter into Glory!
I must next direct your attention to something in our text about the road the caravan has to traverse–“I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters.” They had to pass through a wilderness in going from Egypt to Canaan, and also in returning from Babylon. And we, also, have to traverse the wilderness of this world in journeying to the better Promised Land above. But as they had water in abundance on their long marches, we, also, have “the rivers of waters” of Divine Grace and Almighty Love. When we first began to seek the Lord, we found that one of the channels in which the precious rivers were flowing was this precious Bible at which we still quench our spiritual thirst. Then, when we trusted in Jesus, and confessed our faith in Him, we found the two ordinances that He instituted–Believers' Baptism and the Lord’s Supper–to be as refreshing to our spirit as cold water is to the thirsty. I trust that you, Beloved, while sitting under the sound of the Word of God, have often been able to drink of the brook by the way. And certainly private prayer and intimate fellowship with God, and, above all, the secret and mysterious indwelling of the Holy Spirit have caused you “to walk by the rivers of waters,” so that although the earth is in itself arid, “a dry and thirsty land where no water is,” you have found that from the foot of the Cross there flows a living stream from which all the chosen may continue to drink until they come to that “pure river of Water of Life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb.”
In the description of the caravan route we are next told that it is “ a straight way.” The path to Heaven is not at alldifficult to find. It would be very difficult to find the way to Heaven by the rites and ceremonies about which some are so particular, but to those who trust in Jesus, the way of salvation is a very simple one, so simple that the wayfaring man, though a fool in other things, need not err therein! If any of you are trying to find your way to Heaven by the road of your own good works, you may well be puzzled, for you are off the right track altogether! But the Believer’s path is straight and plain. He trusts and he is saved! He looks and he lives! He believes God’s Word and he proves that it is true! You know that the way of policy, such as ungodly men often follow in this world, is a very crooked way, and Christians are sometimes tempted to tread that treacherous path. But that is the slimy way into which the devil led our first parents, and nothing but evil can come to those who walk in it! The giving up of the whole heart and soul to Christ is the simple way of being saved–and then yielding complete obedience to Christ is the simple way of living. The Lord’s promise is, “I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way”–not in a crooked, twisting, winding, in-and-out way, but in a straight way–the way of faith in Christ and of unquestioning obedience to His commands.
The description of this straight way concludes thus, “Wherein they shall not stumble.” It is a good thing to have a straight road, but it is a better thing to have also a sure foot! And God, who teaches His people to do right, also gives them Grace to do it. These blind ones and lame ones and weak ones of whom I have been speaking, are upheld by Sovereign Grace in the narrow way in which the Lord is leading them. My eye seems to catch the glorious vision! I see the blind finding their way to the great center of eternal blessedness. I see the lame come running as though they had wings on their feet to speed them onward to the pearly gates above! I see the vast blood-bought throng, from the North, and the South, and the East, and the West, casting away, by Divine Grace, all their burden and their cares! And with the fetters of their sins snapped forever, streaming in crowds to the one blessed center–
“Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest”–
where we ourselves expect, by-and-by, to be! Angels and the redeemed from among men must be continually witnessing the arrival of those who, first chosen by the Father, then redeemed by the Son, then regenerated by the Holy Spirit, have repented of sin and trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ and by Grace have been preserved in their march through the wilderness and brought Home to that blessed city from which they shall go no more out forever! Well may we sing–
“O Paradise eternal!
What bliss to enter you,
And once within your portals,
Secure forever be!
In you no sin nor sorrow,
No pain nor death is known–
But pure glad life, enduring
As Heaven’s benignant throne!
There all around shall love us,
And we return their love
One band of happy spirits,
One family above.”
IV. Now I must close when I have spoken but for a minute upon the last point, which is DIGNITY BESTOWED. “For I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My first-born.”
Those who are brought out of the bondage of sin, as Israel was brought out of Egypt and Babylon, by the almighty power and Grace of God, are acknowledged by Him as His children. John writes concerning Jesus, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave Him power (the right, or privilege) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” This relationship cannot be disputed and cannot be disturbed–and this is the relationship which exists between God and every pardoned sinner! Happy soul! Though once in the family of Satan and an heir of wrath, you are now a child and an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ!
I think there are some here whose mouths are set a-watering for this same blessing and who are longing to be found among the innumerable multitude who shall be gathered in the heavenly Jerusalem at the last! Well, if you truly desire to be the Lord’s, that is a sign and token that the Lord also desires to have you as His child! That is a true declaration in one of our hymns–“No sinner can be beforehand with You."If you really desire to have God as your God, and Christ as your Savior, God desires it, too, and Christ desires it. If you are willing to be saved, do not imagine that Christ is unwilling to save you! If you are coming to Christ, Christ is coming to you. No, He HAS come to you, or you would never want to come to Him! "Only believe.” These are Christ’s words to you now–believe that He is able to save you through the merit of His atoning Sacrifice and through the prevalence of His intercession before His Father’s Throne above. Trust Him! Trust Him to save you now, and then you also shall be among the redeemed of the Lord who shall return and come with singing unto Zion! Everlasting joy shall be upon your head! You shall obtain gladness and joy–and sorrow and mourning shall flee away from you forever!