THE SMALL NUMBER OF THE SAVED
- The world assumes that the number will be large because:
- Man excuses himself and his friends. Eli. Saul.
- The world confuses morality with goodness.
- The world confuses honest with truth.
- The number of social criminals is relatively small.
- The Bible teaches that the number will be small.
- The Lord said (Matthew 7:13–14; I Peter 4:18).
- Isaiah compares the number of the righteous to the grapes left in the vineyard after the vintage wine harvest; stalks of grain left after the reapers have passed; and the olives left on the outermost branches of the tree after they have been beaten (Isaiah 17:6; 24:13).
- Every Biblical type expresses the truth that the number accepted is small. Ex–Egyptian Israelites. Eight souls saved in Ark.
- Why is the number small?
- Is it because the Lord has not made provision (I John 2:1–2; Titus 2:11)?
- It is not the Lord's fault. He wants men to be saved (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:3–4; Matthew 11:28–30; 23:37).
- Only a small number will be saved because:
- Friendship with the world (James 4:4).
- “You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury, you have fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter” (James 5:5).
- Amos 6:4–5
- Wanton = (Espatalesate): Voluptuously, delight or pleasure pertaining to sensual gratification. Lewd, lustful, undisciplined.
- Nourished = (Ethrepsate): Gorge, eat greedily, and to satiety. To fill, glut, fatten the heart.
- Fear of social censure. Many do not obey the gospel because they are afraid they will be excluded from their circle of friends, ostracized from the affection of family—whose esteem
love and fellowship they respect and do not wish to lose. Others feel that to obey the gospel would be an indictment against parents and an admission that they are lost.
- Fear of the loss of economic security.
- Indifference caused by an overemphasis of the secular.
- Men say that there is time enough yet:
- All human experience denies this; yet, it is a universal fiction with which we delude and deceive ourselves.
- We promise ourselves that we will obey the gospel or give more time to his service.
- The rich fool (Luke 12:16–21).
- Now is the accepted time (II Corinthians 6:2).
- Sin will harden (Hebrews 3:13).
THE SMALL NUMBER OF THE SAVED
“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha, the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:25–27).
The Bible teaches that relatively few people will be saved. Jesus once said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Many are invited, but only a few choose to accept that invitation. “Then one said to Him, ‘Lord, are there few who will be saved?’ And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able’ ” (Luke 13:23–24).
In relation to the incalculable numbers who have lived and now live upon the earth, the number of the souls that will be saved will be alarmingly small.
THE WORLD ASSUMES THE NUMBER WILL BE LARGE
There are many reasons why the world supposes that the number of the saved ultimately will be large:
Man is prone to excuse himself and his friends for any sin of which they may be guilty. In the first place, it is more difficult for him to see wrongdoing in his own life of the life of a loved one. Although Eli's sons were vile and wicked, “the sons of Belial,” and he knew of their iniquity, yet he doubtless experienced a real struggle within himself to blame and charge them with the terrible sins in which they were involved. The judgment of God was against Eli “because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (I Samuel 3:13).
In the second place, man seeks to justify himself in the sins in which he is implicated and pleads extenuating circumstances. One's own sin are never as serious in one's judgment as the sins of a neighbor or an enemy. We are frequently blinded to our own shortcomings.
King Saul disobeyed the voice of the Lord, and his justification for doing so was twofold—the people took the animals, sheep, and oxen “to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal ... because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (I Samuel 15:21–24).
This was also a shifting of the blame. When he found himself in a critical situation with the disapprobation of God and the stern denunciation of the prophet, rather than accept the remonstrance of Samuel, he endeavored to justify his actions and pass the blame to the people. At the first, he even claimed to have done the will of God: “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (I Samuel 15:13).
The world believes the number of the saved will be large because it confuses morality with goodness. A prevailing belief in Christendom is that a man who is morally good—that is, measures up to a certain established standard—will be saved, although he may have no religious convictions or hold no church affiliations.
If he is highly respected in the community as a good citizen, if he is a good husband and father and provides well for his family, if he is not guilty of infraction of the moral criterion recognized by the people among whom he moves, it is commonly believed that he will be among those redeemed in heaven. But this is not so. Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for all men. No man is, or ever has been, good enough to save himself. While morality and good character is not to be minimized in its importance, mere right conduct will not save one.
Cornelius, the Italian military officer whose history is recorded in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, is an example of this truth. He was “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2).
The servants of Cornelius had this to say about him: “... a just man, one who fears God,and has a good reputation among all the nations of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). It is altogether
likely that one could not find anywhere a better man, morally, than Cornelius. He was devoted and dedicated to his convictions. He was unselfish with his possessions and interested in the welfare of his family and friends. And yet the Lord instructed him to send servants to Joppa to find Peter: “He will tell you what you must do” (Acts 10:6). One's spiritual relationship with God must be right as well as his character.
The world believes that the number of the saved, when we come to the judgment, will be large because it has confused sincerity with truth. It is also a widespread belief that if one is sincere and honest in all that he does and practices in the religious realm, this is sufficient to guarantee his entrance into the home of the soul. Jesus, however, taught that one must know and believe the truth to please God and to be saved when this life is over. “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). In this same conversation, He had said, “You will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
It is possible for one who is altogether honest to believe a lie and be damned (I Kings 13:1-34). Paul referred to those who received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, and to whom, therefore, God would send “... strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thessalonians 2:10–12).
The world believes that the number of the saved will be large because the number of social criminals is relatively small. Men rationalize after this fashion. There are relatively few people who commit crimes against society. The prisons and corrective institutions of this country are not large and heavily populated, when their number is considered in proportion to those outside. And besides this, a large percentage of those who have committed crimes are forgiven and released to go back to their normal way of life. So, the reasoning is, if man in his judgment is merciful and forgiving, surely the Great God whose creatures we are and whose chief attribute is love, will not condemn man to be punished. So, the number of the saved must eventually be very large.
THE BIBLE TEACHES THE NUMBER WILL BE SMALL
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14). Peter inferred that the number would be small when he asked: “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will be the ungodly and the sinner appear” (I Peter 4:18)?
Isaiah compares the number of the righteous to the grapes left in the vineyard after the vintage, or the wine harvest; like the stalks of grain left after the reapers have passed; and like the olives left on the trees after they have been beaten for the harvest. “ ‘Like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bought, for or five in its most fruitful branches,’ says the Lord God of Israel” (Isaiah 17:6; 24:13).
The truth expressed in these pictures is frightening. Almost every Biblical type that relates to this subject expresses the truth that the number finally accepted will be small. Of that almost innumerable host that left Egypt under Moses, only two who were above twenty years of age at the time finally reached the land of promise.
And everyone remembers that there were only eight souls saved from the flood. So, all of man's rationalization and plausible explanations that God is good and merciful and that man is not so bad after all does not change the fact that the Bible very clearly teaches that the number of the saved will be relatively small.
IS GOD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SMALL NUMBER?
Are men lost now,and will they be lost through eternity, because God has not made proper and full provision for their salvation?
Are the terms of His mercy and grace so circumscribed that only a few can enjoy the benefits of his blessings? Is the extent of his riches so restricted that a select and choice group alone can have their needs met? Surely this is not the case. The
apostle John apprises us of this fact to the contrary: “And if anyone sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (I John 2:1–2). And Paul declared, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
God has been charged with being austere, hard, and unfeeling toward man and indifferent toward his eternal destiny. Nothing could be further from the truth. Man's own sin is responsible for this kind of attitude toward His Maker and Redeemer. The truth is that He is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). It is His will to have “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). For He came into this world for the very purpose of seeking and saving the lost.
It was while we were enemies of the Lord that God commended His love toward us in the gift of His Son (Romans 5:6–10). The invitation of Christ to men in His day was: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His invitation to mankind is still extended. “And the Spirit and the bride say,‘Come!’ And let him who thirst come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
WHY WILL THE NUMBER OF THE SAVED BE SMALL?
In answer to this question, it can be said, in the broadest sense, that men will be lost because of sin. They transgress God's law. The contravene His sacred and divine will. They become lawless in their hearts and conduct and thus they are held to be guilty before Him and worthy of condemnation. A great catalogue of sins could be listed and I suppose it could be said that men will be lost on account of committing one or more of them.
FRIENDSHIP TO THE WORLD
Friendship to the world covers a great area in our activities. James asked, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The word friendship used in this verse means love for and devotion to the things of the world. It means to hold something dear and count it beloved. It is the word from which kiss translated many times in the New Testament. When Paul bade the Ephesian elders goodbye at the docks of Miletus, they wept and fell on his neck and kissed him ardently. This is our word for friendship. Having such affection for the world, the things which are evil in the world, will drastically reduce the number of the saved.
In discussing this matter further, James says, “You have lived in pleasure on the earth, and have been wanton; you have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter” (James 5:5, KJV). There are three things that may be considered sinful in this passage.
First, “you have lived in pleasure.” This word pleasure means that you have lived in self-indulgence, delicately, luxuriously, softly, and effeminately. There may not be anything base and immoral about these things, but this sort of living is condemned because it is a desperate striving after things. It is status seeking. It is conformity to a standard of living that is soft and easy and luxurious. It is this standard in America, loved and sought after by so many, that has kept us from preaching the gospel in those faraway and difficult places where we might be deprived of these things we so much cherish. No people on earth live so comfortably as the American people, and these things in their rightful places and properly assessed are not wrong, but to make them the goal of life and “stretch ourselves out after”them for the pleasure and satisfaction they give is sinful.
The second sin mentioned in this verse is that of wantonness. This is an ugly word because it describes very ugly deportment. The manner of life of those who are wanton is delight in sensual gratification. Such people are lustful in their thinking and lewd and undisciplined in their behavior. It has to do with living voluptuously and probably includes this soft and luxurious kind of living at the same time. Some people in Israel in the days of the prophet Amos lived like that. “Who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the middle of the stall; who chant to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink win from bowls,
and anoint yourselves with the best ointments, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:4–6). They were not concerned with the vital and valuable issues of life.
The third sin mentioned in James 5:5 is that they nourished themselves as in a day of slaughter. They gorged themselves, filled and fattened the heart. Greedy and gluttonous they were. Some things are not wrong within themselves, but the degree and intensity with which we engage in them make them wrong. It was not wrong in the days of Noah to eat and drink, to marry and give in marriage, but there was something about these normal functions of life that caused the people in his day to be destroyed (Luke 17:26–27). I think there is no doubt but that it was the place they occupied in their thinking and lives.
The social aspects of life were of supreme importance to them. Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage took precedence over everything else, and consequently they lost their lives in the flood. In the days of Lot, they bought and sold, planted and built, all of which may have been legitimate. When people become engrossed in the business side of life to the neglect and exclusion of things that are more important—to the permanent and spiritual values—it becomes sinful, and, like the people of Lot's day, they will be destroyed. So, this is one kind of friendship to the world that will diminish the number of the saved and make it small when God passes sentence in the final judgment.
FEAR OF SOCIAL CENSURE
I have in mind today another kind of friendship to the world that affects many people whose principles are noble, whose reputations are unsullied, and whose characters, in fact, are above question. Gospel preachers and other teachers in the church have opportunities to preach to many people in many places as they go about the discharge of their Christian duty. I honestly believe that those who hear the gospel on several occasions, for the most part, understand the truth and their obligation to accept it, but many of them never come to Christ in obedience to the gospel. The reason: they are afraid they will be excluded from their circle of friends, lose the affection of their loved ones, be ostracized from there families, and socially be left abandoned. They fear hostile criticism. To avert this
unpleasantness in the form of censure and sometimes vitriolic disparagement, those who know their duty will continue in the course of disobedience. These same people often feel that to obey the gospel would be a indictment against parents and an admission that they are lost, having lived and died in some other religious body.
To find people in this situation, often in the midst of mental struggle and turmoil, is quite common. Several years ago, I taught the gospel of Christ to a young Greek Cypriot, who was visiting in my home in Tanganyika, East Africa. He admitted the truth of every Bible subject we discussed and he avowed belief of those fundamentals with which one must comply to become a Christian. He said to me, “I believe this is the truth; and this is what I want to do, but first I would like to return to my home on Cyprus and discuss these matters with my father and convince him of these things.”
A gospel preacher sees it so often that it was not difficult to detect the fear he had of social ostracism, or perhaps even banishment from his family, for his people were strict members of the Greek Orthodox Church.
FEAR OF THE LOSS OF ECONOMIC SECURITY
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; not about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing” (Matthew 6:25)? If we were able to accurately calculate, I am sure we would find the number large who are deterred from the course they know to be right because they fear the loss of economic security.
Once we taught a Cantonese friend New Testament Christianity. He was a small grocer in Johannesburg. The government of that country enforces a policy of social apartheid, segregation, and prejudice against Africans and Asians and it is very strong among certain Europeans. This made it difficult for him to provide the material things of life sufficient for the comfort of his little family. So, he was engaged on the side in a questionable practice associated with horse racing so that he might give to his wife and children the very day necessities plus some of the material things which give pleasure and enjoyment to life
here. He knew that he could not be a Christian and continue in his present course, for such practices are discreditable and shameful for a child of God. He never accepted Christ.
The superintendent of the public schools I attended as a boy, and from which I graduated, once said to me, after I had begun preaching: “I know you people have the truth. I further know that you have scripture for what you preach and practice.” He liked to take me in his car to some memorial services in the country where I had invitations to speak. As far as I know, he never obeyed the gospel. I think he was discouraged from doing so through fear of the loss of economic security.
There is no doubt that many are prevented from right action on this account. This kind of friendship to the world will seriously curtail the accomplishment of our God–assigned purpose and diminish the number of the saved.
OVEREMPHASIS OF THE SECULAR
Felix “sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self–control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’ Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him” (Acts 24:24–26).
Horace Gregory once wrote:
It is not money, but the power of money
That heats the blood and turns the soul to ashes,
Freezes the heart and changes the life to clay,
Invisible spirit against human spirit.
Anytime there is an over–emphasis of things secular there is a proportionate indifference toward things which are spiritual. When men become absorbed with that which is carnal and earthly, the lose interest in that which is spiritual and heavenly. The man who cares most about the affairs of this life cares least about the affairs and life to come and the man who is worth most to the world in the promotion of its interests is worth least to the church. Immortality is not found in wealth, worldly possessions, positions, or fame.
ILLUSTRATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE
To illustrate this much needed truth, Brother Eldred Echols tells in substance the following colorful story.
In the art gallery of the Campo Santo of Genoa, Italy, one is held spellbound by the marvels wrought in flawless Parma marble by the masters Orengo and Monteverdi—art that is so meticulously perfect one may see the sheen in the satin gown of a lovely lady and the delicate lace about her throat. She seems to be denied nothing but breath. This art is so sensitive it has captured the ethereal innocence of a baby's smile and the patient resignation in the countenance of an aged couple. One may see the sewing in a small boy's scuffed shoe.
But there is one piece of sculpture that stands out above all the rest. It is the figure of a little Italian woman. Her shoulders are stooped with toil and years, her face is lined with weather and care; and in her arms she carries loaves of bread and to her waist are tied strings of chestnuts—all of which proclaim her as a street vendor. On the pedestal upon which she stands is this inscription: “By the work of my hands I have been able to provide for my own, and also to pay for this statue.”
The guide told this interesting story.
The original of this marble replica was a familiar figure on the street corners of Genoa. In spring sunshine, in parching heat of summer, in autumn's frosts, and when winter's icy blasts roared down out of the Alps, this little peasant woman worked and toiled and saved and nursed in her heart a very strange hunger.
The seasons came and went for fifty years and finally it was enough. On the last day, this proud but weary little woman sought out the house of Monteverdi and laid at his feet the savings of a lifetime. She had a very unusual request. She asked to be carved in imperishable marble so that when her body lay down to its last rest, she may look out over the streets of the city she had loved so long. So, now the little stone figure looks out of eyes that cannot see the bright pageant of the bustling thoroughfares and listens with ears that cannot hear the tread of passing feet, and beneath it in eternal stillness lies the dust that was once a human being. Life and immortality are not found in stone. May God help us all to see and accept what is truly valuable both for here and thereafter.
TIME ENOUGH YET
No one really wants to be lost. The way of the Christian is attractive and appealing. We have great admiration for one who is wholly dedicated to Christ. The true child of God is envied because of his happiness and assurance. There is no life like the Christian life, and many people promise themselves that one day they will be Christians. But they tell themselves in the same breath that “there is time enough yet.”
All human experience denies this. It is a universal fiction with which we delude and deceive ourselves. The Rich Fool thought he had many years to enjoy in plenty and pleasure “but God said unto him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you ...’ ” (Luke 12:20). “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). To defer becoming a Christian on the grounds that there is still time enough may diminish the number of the saved by one, and that one could be you.
I am indebted to Eldred Echols for the main points in this lesson.