People of God by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gayest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gayest them me; and they have kept thy word (John 17:6).
In our last study we saw that nothing is more important and reassuring in a world like this than to be sure that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for us and interceding on our behalf. But now we must go on to the next step. We have seen that Christians are people who are not of the world. There is a great division in mankind: there are those who belong to the world and those who do not. The second group have been placed in a special position. They have been segregated from everybody else, and the great question that arises at once is what has happened to them and why? Why should they be the special object of our Lord’s solicitude and care? Why this fundamental division in mankind? What is it about Christian people that puts them into a separate position?
That is one of the most profound and fundamental questions that a human being can ever consider. The fact is beyond dispute, as we saw in our last study, but let me put it still more directly. As we think of the great mass of people in the world today who are leading worldly lives, what is it that makes us different? Why are we not like them? In saying that, I am not speaking like a Pharisee, for as I have already pointed out, a Christian must know that he is different. If he does not know that, then he is not a Christian at all, because the term itself describes certain people. It is not that the Christian says in a superior way, `I thank God that I am not like that other man.’ We shall see, however, that we do use those same words, not as the Pharisee used them but in a very different manner.
Why, then, are Christian people not of the world? It is because they are God’s people. `I have manifested thy name’—to whom?—`unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me.’ That is the answer. That is the first, and indeed the ultimate explanation, the one which includes all the others. We hope later to show how exactly this was done, and how we are put into that position, but the fundamental answer to the question is that we are there and that we are what we are because we are God’s people.
Here we come again to one of those foundational doctrines of the Bible and of the Christian faith and it is one of the most glorious of all the doctrines. It is a point which is constantly neglected in our day, and we neglect it to the great impoverishment of our souls and Christian experience. This is something which is central to the whole biblical view of life, and especially of salvation. The importance of the doctrine can be seen at a glance in this very chapter. Whenever our Lord repeats a thing we can be quite sure that he regards it as absolutely vital. We are familiar with the fact that whenever he introduces a statement by saying, `Verily, verily’ we ought to pay unusual attention to it, so, if he repeats a statement frequently in a short space, we can be equally certain that it is something which we should lay hold of very firmly. Now you notice how he repeats it in this particular section. Here it is in verse 6, but again we have it in verse 9: `I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.’ In verse 10 he says, `All mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them’, and then again in verse 11: `And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are one.’ Finally, in verse 12 he says, `While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gayest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.’
So we have this statement five times in this passage, and we have already met it in verse 2 of the first section: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.’ And we will find it again in the last section, in verse 24: `Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.’ Thus, in the space of these twenty-six verses, our Lord makes that particular statement seven times. In this short prayer he seven times describes the people for whom he is praying, his followers, as those who have been given to him by God.
Nothing, then, ought to establish in our minds the all-importance of this doctrine and teaching more than that, but you will also find that it is something which is taught everywhere in the New Testament. We find it in John 6:37 where our Lord says, `All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’; and again in verse 39 where he says that he will keep all that the Father has given to him and that he will raise them up at the last day. It is exactly the same principle: the ones who will come to him are the ones whom the Father has given him. And further on in chapter 6, in verse 44, we read, `No man cometh to me’—he puts it in a slightly different way—`except the Father … draw him.’ This teaching is given in a very remarkable manner in that sixth chapter of John’s gospel, but indeed, as I said, it is a doctrine which is taught everywhere throughout the New Testament.
It is found, for instance, throughout that mighty first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, but especially in Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus. He prays that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened. He wants them to grasp this truth with their minds and with their understanding because it is so vital. He prays that they may know what is the hope of their calling and then, secondly, what is `the riches of the glory of his inheritance’—God’s inheritance—`in the saints’, which just means this very matter that we are looking at together. I want you to know, he says, and to see yourselves, as God’s inheritance. I want you to grasp this great idea of God’s special segregated people. It is his prayer, above everything else, that these people might know this.
Consider, too, what he wrote to Timothy. Timothy was very troubled and worried about certain things that were happening in some of the churches for which he was responsible, and Paul, in effect, says, `Timothy, you need not be troubled, “The Lord knoweth them that are his.”‘ He knows his own people and that means that he not only knows them but he looks after them, he keeps his eye upon them. Then in Hebrews 2:13 these words are applied to our Lord: `Behold I and the children which God hath given me.’ That is how the Lord Jesus Christ refers to Christians and to the members of his church. Peter also writes on the same theme in his epistle: ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people’ (1 Pet 2:9), which means, a people for God’s special interest and possession. I could go on and give you other quotations from the New Testament, but look them up for yourselves, and you will find that it is a doctrine which keeps on appearing everywhere.
Of course you have it equally strikingly in the Old Testament. Nothing perhaps is more true of the Old Testament than to say that it is, in a sense, just an elaboration of this idea of God’s people, God’s peculiar interest in his own people, the Children of Israel, and his dealings with them. All the nations of the world belong to God, but these are his special people, the people of his choice. For instance, those words which I have just quoted from Peter’s epistle were first of all applied in Exodus 19 to the Children of Israel, just before the giving of the Law when God reminded them that they were his own special people. Indeed, I do not hesitate to assert that we do not understand the Bible in a radical sense unless we grasp this doctrine of God’s people. Paul sums it up in Romans 11 by talking about the `fulness of the Gentiles’:’… until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved’ (vv 25-26) that is, God’s people, Israel, and all God’s special people throughout the ages.
This teaching, therefore, is vital and because of that, because of its prominence in the Scriptures, quite apart from the consolation it gives to us, we must look at it a little more closely. What does it mean? I would suggest to you that it means something like this: God has chosen and marked out and separated a people for himself. There is no question about that. We have seen that it is the biblical teaching from beginning to end. God has put these people there on one side, on their own, in a special position of privilege and of blessing. ‘Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.’ It is ultimately the action of God himself.
Take the argument in Ephesians 1, in which such mighty terms are used. Let me plead with you, when you read a great chapter like that, to forget prejudice and not be so foolish that you stop at certain words in a way which raises the old arguments and enters at once into some ridiculous attempt to understand the mind of the eternal God. It is tragic that we should rob ourselves of these great doctrines and their benefits, and indeed that we should insult God himself and his gracious purpose, by taking up our little positions. Let us read a wonderful chapter like this and just listen to what it says. It tells us that God has done this before the foundation of the world, that before you and I were ever born, before the world was ever created, we were then known to God. He himself has determined these things. When you pause to think about it, it is one of the most staggering things that can ever come to a man’s mind and comprehension, that though man sinned and rebelled, and as a result brought chaos into the universe, this almighty God who made the world and created everything in it, should nevertheless be concerned in this way and should separate certain people unto himself.
Secondly, he has done this solely and entirely of his own grace and love and not because of anything that he saw or found or ever will find in us. He has done this moved by nothing but his own glorious, ineffable nature and character. Oh, I do not understand it, I do not understand it from any aspect, and it is when we begin to try to understand these things that we always get into trouble. Many questions are thrown up at us; for example, `Why did he only choose certain people and not others?’ Or, to put it the other way round, `If my brothers were not chosen, why did he ever choose me?’ I do not understand it either way, and one is as baffling as the other. But let us leave our pigmy understanding to the realm of time and earth, and let us look at the glorious statement, which is that in spite of the fact that we are all born in sin and ‘shapen in iniquity’ (Ps 51:5), in spite of the fact that we are all by nature the children of wrath, though we all by nature hate God and deliberately disobey him and follow our own desires and our own lusts and self-will, and glory in ourselves rather than in him, in spite of the arrogance and pride and rebellion of all men, in spite of all these things, this almighty God has looked upon certain people and has placed his mark upon them. And not only that. He has done something to them and about them, and has taken them from that evil world into which they were born and has set them aside as his own special people.
Then we come to the next step, which is that he desires us as his own particular possession and portion, and ultimately as those who are to share his glory. Look again at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1. It is that they may know what is `the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints’. To talk about God’s inheritance in the saints, the God who made everything and to whom all things belong, and by whom all things are, to talk in this way is the most amazing and daring piece of anthropomorphism that Paul ever produced, and yet he has to put it like that in order to give them an understanding of it. What he means is that these are the people in whom God delights and this is what God is going to enjoy.
Let me give an illustration in order to make this point clear—I think we are entitled to do so in terms of the apostle’s language. Take a child who has many toys and dolls, all of which he likes. Yes, but there is one particular favourite, the doll which is always with him and sleeps with him. The child is fond of them all but that one is something special. And it is the same with us. We all have certain possessions which we prefer to others, there is always something especially dear and of concern and interest to us. That is the idea—that the great Lord of the universe has a special object of interest and affection in his own people, in those whom he has taken and, as Paul puts it in writing to the Galatians, separated out of this evil world and put into a special category and compartment. That is the whole message of the Bible—God preparing for himself a people who are going to be his joy and rejoicing throughout eternity. So that is the beginning of the great truth. A Christian is one who is not of the world because God has chosen him—it all starts with the heart of the Eternal himself.
But let me take it a step further. God who had thus separated and marked a people for himself, then gave them to Christ: `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world’; `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.’ It is always that. This is not merely a manifestation of our Lord’s astounding humility, it is a literal, actual fact. Let us look at it like this. As we saw in our study of the first section of this prayer, a covenant was made between the Father and the Son; that is what the Bible tells us, and that is why I thank God for it—that we can enter into such glorious depths and swim in such oceans of mighty thought. This covenant was to the effect that the Father handed over these people whom he had chosen for himself before the foundation of the world. He handed them to the Son in order that the Son might make of them a people fit for God’s special possession and enjoyment. So when the Son left heaven to come on earth, to be born as a babe in Bethlehem and to do all that he did, he was coming to carry out that plan. He came because God had handed these people to him and the Father had said, in effect, `These people cannot be my people as they are. I have chosen them but they are not yet fit and I cannot truly enjoy them until they are. So I give them to you. Go and save them, go and redeem them, go and sanctify them and make them a people that I can enjoy and in whom I shall have my great joy and pleasure.’
So the Lord Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth in order to do that. That is the whole meaning of the incarnation, of his suffering, and of his being subjected to temptation. It is the whole meaning of his agony in the Garden, his death upon the cross, his resurrection and of everything else that he did. It has all been done for these people of God. The design is to prepare them for the Father in order to make them fit and meet for him. So as we look at the accounts in the gospels and see all that happened to our blessed Lord, we just realize that all that was done for us, for these people amongst whom we find ourselves, as the result of God’s grace. Our Lord is described as the Mediator of the New Covenant; God made a covenant with him. Our Lord took those whom God had given him and he prepared them for God because they are God’s peculiar possession.
And the end will be this, according to 1 Corinthians 15:24-25: `Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.’ When the last enemy shall have been destroyed, when every vestige of sin and evil shall be removed and purged out of the whole cosmos, when the contract has been finally completed, our Lord will have perfected the people and he will hand them back. The kingdom will be handed back to the Father and God shall be all and in all. That is what this teaching about God’s people really means, and that is what it involves.
Let me, finally, draw certain simple, obvious conclusions from this high and exalted doctrine. As I look at these things and meditate upon them, my first conclusion is that our normal, ordinary view of salvation is hopelessly and ridiculously inadequate. Our trouble is that we always start with ourselves instead of starting with God. Instead of going to the Bible and looking at its revelation and discovering there what salvation means, I start with myself and certain things that I want and desire, certain benefits that I always want to enjoy in this life and in this world. I want forgiveness of sins; I want peace of conscience and of mind; I want enjoyment and happiness; I want to be delivered from certain sins; I want guidance; I want this and that; and my whole conception of salvation is reduced to that level.
Do not misunderstand me, the Christian salvation does those things and contains them all, but how pathetic it is that we should start in that way and only look at that. How sad that we should not look at it in this other way and start with God—before the foundation of the world—and see this great and gracious purpose, and view ourselves as a people brought into it. We do not start with ourselves, but with God and the amazing fact that he should have brought us in and made us to be like this. To me the most wonderful thing of all is not that my sins have been forgiven, nor that I may enjoy certain experiences and blessings as a Christian. The thing that should astound me now and that will astound me to all eternity, especially when I get to heaven and glory and really begin to see it truly, is that I am a child of God, one of God’s people.
The psalmist had some insight into this when he said in that graphic phrase of his, `I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness’ (Psalm 84:10). He preferred to be in the vestibule, in the portal, of the house of God than to dwell in the greatest palace of the ungodly—it is the relationship that matters. I would sooner be a slave in God’s house than be a dictator in the world. Moses chose `rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season’ (Hebrew 11:25). He did so because he was interested in the recompense of the reward, and he did not take a short view. Moses said to himself, in effect, `This is the overwhelming thing: that I am one of God’s people. I do not care what I am now, even though I am only a shepherd away on the far side of a mountain with just a little flock. This is better, because I am God’s, than to be accounted great as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.’ Once more, it is the relationship that matters, and it seems to me that the tragedy is that we do not know enough about this relationship. Let us forget our particular blessings and enjoyments and realize that we are children of God, we are among God’s people, the people whom he knew before the foundation of the world.
The second conclusion that I would draw is that we are very guilty of misunderstanding the work of Jesus Christ. I have two points here. Does it come as a surprise to anybody that, according to this doctrine, it is no part of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ to make us God’s people? Have we not always thought that that was his work—that he suffered for us and made us the people of God? But he did not; we were the people of God first and it was God who gave us to him. If that comes as a surprise to us, it is because we read our Bible with prejudiced eyes instead of looking at what it really says. ‘Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.’
My second point is equally important. This is that it is no part of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ to secure God’s love for us. I am very fond of our hymns, but I always try to remember that they are not divinely inspired, indeed some of them are tragically wrong and misleading. So many of them give the impression that our Lord is having to plead with his Father on our behalf, that God, as it were, is opposed to us, that our Lord has to engage his love for us and secure it for us. This doctrine shows us that it is not a part of the purpose of the Lord Jesus Christ to do that. It is because God loved us that he ever gave us to Christ. Christ has died for us not to secure the love of God for us, but because God has marked out his people before the foundation of the world. He hands them to the Son and says, Go and save them, they are mine, I leave them to you, make them fit for me. For, `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son’ John 3:16); `God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19)—not himself to the world. Oh how foolish we are and what an injustice we do to the name of our God and to his glorious love and grace! How frequently, because we neglect this fundamental doctrine, do we go wrong in our doctrine of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ!
But there are other conclusions which we can draw. Think, in the light of all that I have been saying, of the place we occupy in the interest and love of the Father and the Son. I confess that I am almost overwhelmed when I think of this. I so often spend my time, as I am sure many of you do, wondering why it is that I do not experience more of the love of God; why God does not, as it were, love me more and do things for me. What a terrible thing that is! The trouble is that I do not realize his love to me, that is my difficulty. People often come and say, `I feel my love for God is so small’—quite right, I say the same thing myself:
Lord it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint.
That is true, but the best cure is not to try to do things within yourself and work up some love from the depths of your being. The way to love God is to begin to know God’s love to you, and this doctrine is the high road to that love. Before time, before the creation of the world, he set his eye upon you, he set his affection upon you, you were marked, you were already put among his people. And all that has been done, all the person and the work of Christ, all this manifestation of his ineffable love, was done because of God’s love to you. Therefore, realize his interest in you. The God who has loved you to the extent of sending his only begotten Son to endure and to suffer all that for you, loves you with a love which you will never understand, a love which passes knowledge. If we but knew God’s love to us, it would revolutionize our lives.
And then the next conclusion is this: what sort of people ought we to be in the light of all this? Again, we are too troubled about the details of this question of holiness and sanctification—what method must I adopt? What must I do? We have been given lectures and addresses on the mechanism of obtaining this gift or that particular something. I do not see it like that in Scripture. There, I see it put like this—realize who you are. ‘Ye shall be holy’—why?—`for I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:44). You are God’s child, and one of his people. The way of holiness is to realize who you are, and always to remember it and the honour of the family, the honour of your Father, the honour of God. `Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3). That is the argument and if you and I but realized our relationship to God now, and the presence of God with us always, it would very soon solve the problem of holiness and sanctification for us. We would not have to be waiting for particular experiences, we would realize that we are one with God and that we are in that relationship, and because of that, everything else is unthinkable.
And ultimately there is our wonderful security. Our Lord says in John 10:28, `I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’—we will come to that later. And here he is saying, I have kept them and now that I am going out of the world I hand them back, as it were, to you. Oh the eternal security of all who are God’s people and who are known unto him before the foundation of the world!
Beloved friends, let us meditate upon these things; let us not start with self and its little needs, but let us rather lift up our minds and our hearts and contemplate this glorious plan of God into which we have been brought, which we can enjoy, and which is preparing us for that everlasting and eternal glory. Let us pray for ourselves what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, that the eyes of our understanding may be opened and that we may know the riches of the glory of his inheritance in us. (219-230)