God’s Work and the Means He Uses to Perform It
“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)
Every believer recognizes and rejoices in the fact that “Salvation is of the Lord.” It is God’s work and God’s work alone. It is in no way dependent upon, conditioned upon, or determined by anything in man or done by man. We contribute nothing to the salvation of our souls; and we contribute nothing to the salvation of others. It is entirely God’s work. — “Salvation is of the Lord!” That cannot be stated too strongly, too often, or too fully. — None “can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). And “none can keep alive his own soul” (Psalm 22:29). Salvation is God’s work (John 1:12-13; Romans 9:16).
Every believer understands that salvation is God’s work alone, but many fail to realize that, in his infinite sovereignty, the God of heaven condescends to use saved sinners to save lost sinners, to use the preaching of the gospel as the instrument by which he saves his elect, though this is clearly taught in Holy Scripture (Romans 1:14-17; 10:13-17; 1 Peter 1:23-25). — “It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
We have a beautiful, clear, instructive picture of God’s use of human instrumentality in the salvation of his elect in the Book of Exodus. I keep repeating this because I want you to always read the Book of Exodus in this light, as a picture of God’s saving operations of grace toward and upon his elect. Let me show you another aspect of the picture.
“Now shalt thou see what I will do.” — The Lord God had a people in Egypt. They were the people of his choice and his covenant. They were enslaved in Egypt and horribly oppressed by Pharaoh. Yet, they were his people. God’s purpose in sending Moses down into Egypt was that he might bring his people out of Egypt and make them a separate people to himself, that he might bring them into a land that flowed with milk and honey, that they might inherit that land and possess it as perpetual witnesses of his great goodness.
That which the Lord God did for Israel in bringing them out of the cursed land of Ham is precisely what he is doing today throughout the whole world by the preaching of the gospel. By the preaching of the gospel, God the Holy Spirit gathers out from among the nations a people chosen and predestinated by God the Father and redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ to be his peculiar heritage. He fetches them out from among the fallen sons of Adam and makes them his own peculiar people by the distinct experience of his grace.
It is written, “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). God’s chosen shall be brought to heaven as a place specially prepared specifically for them from eternity, and a place for which they are prepared in time by the mighty operations of his grace. As Jehovah himself has declared, “They shall be mine in that day when I make up my jewels” (Malachi 3:17).
Just as the Lord God sent Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt, though the deliverance was his work alone, so he sends his servants to deliver his elect from sin and death by the preaching of the gospel, though the deliverance is his work alone.
First, I want you to see and see clearly that the salvation of God’s elect is by his voice alone. It was not Moses’ voice that brought Israel out of Egypt, but God’s (Exodus 4:22-23).
“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn” (Exodus 4:22-23).
And it is not the voice of the gospel preacher that brings dead sinners to life and faith in Christ, but the voice of God alone (John 5:25; 6:63; 10:16, 27; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). It is the power of God’s voice that brings his people out of Egypt. Here are three specific things uttered by God himself, by which he brought Israel out of Egypt, three mighty words of grace, by which God saves his elect.
1. He said to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”
It is written, “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” The Lord God claims his inalienable right to his people, and asserts his unfailing interest in their welfare, saying, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” Though they were slaves in Egypt, he said, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” Though they were up to their necks in mud, making bricks, he said, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” Though they were terribly degraded, so degraded that they could not even dream of deliverance, even when the day of deliverance dawned upon them, and could not believe “for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage,” the Lord God said, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”
They had no thought of liberty. They were sunk into the base idolatry of the Egyptians. They did not even know God by his great name, —”Jehovah.” Yet, the Lord said of those poor, wretched, hopeless people, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” They were his all the while; and he owned them as his own. Though they forsook him, he never relinquished them. — “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”
So it is with God’s elect in this world. Though lost and ruined by the sin and fall of our father Adam, though dead in trespasses and in sins, up to our necks in mud, though we all went “astray from the womb speaking lies,” though we did not know him and did not want to know him, though we hated him and rebelled against him, and were by nature “children of wrath even as others,” the Lord God said of his chosen, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”
Blessed be his name forever, our Savior was not, even then, ashamed to call us his brethren. Even then, our Father was not ashamed to own us as his sons and daughters, his firstborn. He proclaims his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sin. He loved us when we were cast out from our mothers’ wombs, lying in our blood, unwashed, naked, and filthy. When no eye pitied us in the day of our nativity, and we were cast out in the open field, he passed by in the time of love and said unto us, “Live.” Oh, wondrous grace!
Does God own his people as his people even before they know him? Of course he does! If he did not, we would never have come to know him. We love him now, because he first loved us. And had he not known us and loved us before we knew him, we could never know and love him.
When the Lord God said, “Israel is my son,” he was speaking in reference to the covenant he had made with Abraham 400 years before any of those now in Egypt had been born. Yes, the Lord knows his people, and shows favor to them, not because of any personal merit, worth, or work by which they recommend themselves to him. — We have none. There was no superiority in our nature, no brightness in our minds, no beauty in our character that was pleasing in his sight.
The only title any sinner can have to God’s grace is that ancient covenant ordered in all things and sure, which he made not with Abraham, but with our Lord Jesus Christ, who stands from everlasting as our covenant Head and Surety. This is the great fountain from which the wells of salvation are continually filled with the living waters of grace.
“We'll sing the vast unmeasured grace
Which from the days of old,
Did all the chosen sons embrace
As sheep within the fold.
The basis of eternal love
Shall mercy’s frame sustain;
Earth, hell, or sin the same to move,
Shall all conspire in vain.
Sing, O ye sinners bought with blood,
Hail the great Three in One;
Tell how secure the covenant stood
Ere time its race begun.
Ne'er had ye felt the guilt of sin,
Nor the sweets of pardoning love,
Unless your worthless names had been,
Enrolled to life above.
Oh what a sweet, exulting song
Shall rend the vaulted skies,
When, shouting grace, the blood-washed throng
Shall see the Top Stone rise!”
— John Kent
This is the reason why God called Israel his son. Israel was made his son by an ancient covenant; and so were we. Some are so ignorant that they deny this blessed fact of Divine Revelation. I have often read, and have often heard men say, “God never calls anyone his son until he believes. We become the sons of God by believing in Christ.” But that is not true. It is true that we come to know that we are the sons of God by faith in Christ, his Spirit bearing “witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). But we were made the sons of God in eternal grace. We were born again in time and caused to trust Christ in time, because we were the children of God from eternity. — “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
It is because his people are really his sons before they know anything at all about it, that in due time God sends the Spirit of his Son to give them the nature of his Son, that they may enjoy the adoption of children and say, “Abba, Father.” Our faith in Christ does not make us God’s children. Our faith in Christ is the fruit of us being his children from eternity. Faith in Christ does not give us birth. It is the result of our heavenly birth. But the Lord God owned us as his own before the worlds were made. He loved us as “his son, even his firstborn” with a love that cannot be measured and cannot be altered from everlasting.
He said to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son. You, Pharaoh, may call him your slave, but he is my child. He was mine before he was yours. Israel is my son. You say, ‘No, he is my slave.’ I say, though he has fallen under your yoke, I maintain my right to him as my firstborn. He is a prince, and to that estate he shall be raised.”
The long and short of that is this: — The Lord God has a claim upon his elect as his own sons and daughters, the claim of the firstborn, — a claim that all the claims of law and all the chains of sin and death and hell can never undo. Though we basely submitted to the claims of the wicked one, and made a covenant with death, and a league with hell, Jehovah’s claim stood firm. He said, “Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:18).
The Lord Jesus will not allow those he has made to be his own in everlasting love, and ransomed by the price of his precious blood poured out upon the cursed tree to remain the slaves of sin and Satan. They are his. His Father gave them to him. They are his. He bought them. They are his. Their names are written on his hands and on his heart. They are his. He will not leave even one of them in bondage to the adversary. By owning us as his people, the Lord God exerts a positive claim upon us, a claim that makes all other claims null and void!
2. With the bare assertion of his absolute right he demands our unconditional freedom. — “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, let my son go” (Exodus 4:22).
What a great word from our God that is! What a blessed edict of absolute sovereignty! As God said, “Light be, and there was light.” So, too, these short words are launched with sovereign force — “Let my son go!” Let us apply those words to ourselves. That is the reason they are written, that we may see and understand that our salvation is accomplished by the irresistible, sovereign edict of our God. The law held us under its curse; but God said; “Let my son go!” Satan, the god of this world, claimed us as his subjects; but God said, “Let my son go!” Death held us in its cold grip; but God said, “Let my son go!” Hell grasped us in its clutches; but God said, “Let my son go!”
In due time our Redeemer appeared. The Lord Jesus Christ came, identified himself with his enslaved brethren, bore all our curse, paid all our debt, fulfilled the law; and now, on the ground of simple justice, he demands for us full and perfect liberty and life everlasting. He who was made sin for us, and being made sin put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, says to his own holy law, “Let my son go.” And the Lord God declares, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zechariah 9:11).
The law, Satan, death, hell, and sin release the ransomed sons of God by the voice of God our Savior! When he speaks, the chains that held us captive are snapped like dried twigs, and ransomed sinners go free! When he commands life, the dead come forth in life (John 11:43-44).
Fast bound in our prison, as Peter was in Acts 12, deliverance seemed impossible. The iron gates, one after the other, shut us in the innermost ward of our dungeon prison. But at midnight, as we slept in senseless darkness and carelessness, the Angel of the Lord smote us on the side. Around us there shined a great light. And Christ, the Angel of covenant mercy, led us through gate after gate with such ease that the iron gates seemed to open of their own accord, and we found ourselves free. At first, we could not believe it. It was as though we had seen a vision. But the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free filled our hearts with laughter. — “The Lord has done great things for me, whereof I am glad.”
That same omnipotent voice will continue to echo as long as we are in this world, “Let my son go!” When troubles crush us down, tender omnipotence says, “Let my son go!” When sin trips us and we fall into the snare of the devil, omnipotent grace says, “Let my son go!” When the law would accuse and condemn us, irresistible love says, “Let my son go!” When our own consciences scream accusations against us, infinite goodness says, “Let my son go!” When at last our bodies are laid in the grave, the day will soon come, when our glorious, sovereign God and Savior shall appear and say, “Let my son go!”
There shall not a bone of a believer be left in the grave. As it was said of old, “not a hoof shall be left behind,” so nothing that belongs to the redeemed man shall be left in the grave either. Our Savior’s word to the Father is, “Of all that thou hast given me I have lost nothing.” And nothing shall be lost! The voice of God claims us as his own, and demands our freedom.
3. And that same omnipotent voice, the eternal, unalterable voice of the Almighty, is that which causes us to know and worship him by faith in Christ. — “Let my son go, that he may serve me” (Exodus 4:23).
We are no sooner set free from serving Pharaoh than we begin to serve Jehovah. “Let my son go, that he may serve me.” How did Israel serve God? It was in the loftiest capacity possible. Israel became Jehovah’s priest. It was in Israel that the sacrifice was offered. In Israel the incense was burned. From Israel, psalms of praise went up to heaven. Israel stood before the Lord in that high position of sacred privilege.
So it is with us. As soon as a sinner is brought out of bondage into liberty, he brings the sacrifice of Christ to God by faith, and presents himself a living sacrifice to God with his Savior. His thanksgivings, his broken and contrite heart, his praises, even his every effort to honor his God are perpetual oblations and offerings of a sweet smelling savor acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Israel was to be God’s servant, serving him by faith. For forty years they walked through the wilderness, living on the word, promise, and power of God. Without sowing or reaping, they were fed day by day. Without any wells, they were refreshed with water out of the Rock. They had no tailors among them. Yet, they were perfectly clothed. They had no cobblers in their camp. Yet, they were well-shod. Their camp was well shaded by day, and well lit by night.
Israel in the wilderness had the blessed experience of having nothing and yet possessing all things. With no fertile fields or fruitful trees, Israel was made to live upon the fat of the earth, and to ride upon the high places of the earth. She had all things and she abounded. The Lord was her Shepherd, and she did not want.
Is it not so with you? Believing Christ is the work of God in us. It is the greatest work a man can do, the work by which we serve him. Israel alone ate the passover. No one else had the sacrifice of God. Israel alone had a sabbath rest. God gave that blessed rest (typifying our rest of faith in Christ our Sabbath) to no other people. Israel alone walked with God. Israel alone lived upon Manna that fell from heaven. Israel alone drank from the Rock. Israel was brought up out of Egypt by the voice of God. And so it is today. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.”
A Man’s Voice
Second, the Scriptures show us that God’s voice spoke Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt by a man’s voice. — “Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Let my son go” (Exodus 4:17). Why do you suppose the Lord did not say it himself? Why did he send Moses to say it? God made the work all the more glorious and all the more glorifying to him by using a man to do it. And in the salvation of his elect, in calling chosen, redeemed sinners from death to life in Christ by his Spirit, God has chosen to make his wondrous work of grace all the more glorifying to himself by using men to preach the word of life to them (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
Why doesn’t God speak to every sinner directly and save his chosen without the use of men? Certainly, he could do so. But when he condescends to take us poor mortals, who have tasted his grace, he uses weak things to confound the mighty and foolish things to confound the wise, making his wonders of grace all the more admirable.
All the works of God redound to his glory; but when the instruments he uses appear to be totally inadequate to do the work he performs by them, our reverence is excited, while our reason is awed, and we marvel at the power we cannot understand. It was by Moses alone that God brought Israel out of Egypt. It was by Moses alone that God led and instructed Israel. Every time they imagined that God spoke to them by another, they got into trouble. When they thought God spoke to them by Aaron, they found themselves dancing naked around a golden calf, while pretending to worship Jehovah! When many of them looked upon Korah as God’s prophet, the Lord killed them and their self-appointed prophet!
So it is today. God saves his people, instructs them, guides them, edifies them, and feeds them by his Spirit by the preaching of the gospel. He puts the treasure of his grace in earthen vessels of flesh to make the treasure shine more gloriously (Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Once Moses was convinced that he was sent of God, sent to carry God’s Word to men, he was fearless before Pharaoh, Egypt, and Israel. Insignificant as he was in and of himself, the very fact that God sent him to speak for him silenced his fears. Being sent of God, he was absolutely assured of success. — “Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6:1). With that sweet assurance, Moses steadily kept at his work, until he saw God’s salvation accomplished. He persevered with diligence in the work God sent him to perform until his work was done. In the end, he led the people of God out of Egypt and through Red Sea, triumphing over Pharaoh and Egypt.
Yet, third, the work was all God’s. Without the power of God, Moses’ voice would have been utterly meaningless. His work would have been complete vanity. It was not Moses, but God who plagued Pharaoh, filled the land of Egypt with lice, flies, frogs, and locusts. So it is with the preaching of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).
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