At length he adds, At that time thy people shall be preserved. By this expression the angel points out to us the great importance of the protection of Michael: He promises certain salvation to his elect people, as if he had said, although the Church should be exposed to the greatest dangers, yet with respect to God himself, it should always be safe and victorious in all contests, because Michael should be superior to every enemy. The angel then, in thus exhorting the faithful to bear their cross, shews how free they should be from all doubt as to the event, and the absolute certainty of their victory. Although at first sight this prophecy might inspire us with fear and dismay, yet this comfort ought to be sufficient for us: "We shall be conquerors amidst fire and sword, and amidst many deaths we are sure of life." As perfect safety is here set before us, we ought to feel secure, and to enter with alacrity into every engagement. We are in truth obliged to fight, but Christ has conquered for us, as he says himself, Trust in me, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33.) But the angel restricts what he had said generally by way of correction. Many professed to belong to the people of God, and every one naturally sprung from the stock of Israel boasted of being the, offspring of divine seed. As all wished promiscuously to belong to God's people, the angel restricts his expression by a limiting phrase, all people, says he, who were found written in the book This clause does not mean all Israel after "the flesh," (Romans 9:6-8,) but such as God esteems to be real Israelites according to gratuitous election alone. He here distinguishes between the carnal and spiritual children of Abraham, between the outward Church and that inward and true community which the Almighty approves. Upon what then does the difference depend between those who boast of being Abraham's children, while they are rejected by God, and those who are really and truly his sons? On the mere grace and favor of God. He declares his election when he regenerates his elect by his Holy Spirit, and thus inscribes them with a certain mark, while they prove the reality of this sonship by the whole course of their lives, and confirm their own adoption. Meanwhile we are compelled to go to the fountain at once; God alone by his gratuitous election distinguishes the outward Church, which has nothing but the title, from the true Church, which can never either perish or fall away. Thus we observe in how many passages of Scripture hypocrites are rejected in the midst of their swelling pride, as they have nothing in common with the sons of God but the external symbols of profession.
We ought to notice this restriction, which assures us of the utter uselessness of outward pomp, and of the unprofitable nature of even a high station in the outward Church, unless we are truly among God's people. This is expressed fully in Psalm 15 and 24, while Psalm 73 confirms the same sentiments. How good is God to Israel, especially to the upright in heart! In these passages of the Psalms the cause is not stated to be the secret election of God, but the outward testimony of the conduct; and this although inferior in degree, is not contrary to the first cause which produces it. This has its proper place, but God's election is always superior. The word book refers to that eternal counsel of God, whereby he elected us and adopted us as his sons before the foundation of the world, as we read in the first chapter of Ephesians, (Ephesians 1:4.) In the same sense Ezekiel inveighs against the false prophets who deceived the people of Israel, (Ezekiel 8:9.) My hand, says God, shall be upon those prophets who deceive my people: they shall not therefore be in the secret assembly of my people, nor shall they be found in the roll of the house of Israel. The word signifying to write is used here, -- they shall not be written in the enrollment of the house of Israel. The word book is here used in the same sense and yet we need not adopt the gross idea, that the Almighty has any need of a book. His book is that eternal counsel which predestinates us to himself, and elects us to the hope of eternal salvation. We now understand the full sense of this instruction, as the Church shall remain in safety amidst many deaths, and even in the last stage of despair it shall escape through the mercy and help of God. We must also remember this definition of a church, because many boast of being God's sons, who are complete strangers to him. This leads us to consider the subject of election, as our salvation flows from that fountain. Our calling, which is his outward testimony to it, follows that gratuitous adoption which is hidden within himself; and thus God when regenerating us by his Spirit, inscribes upon us his marks and signs, whence he is able to acknowledge us as his real children. It follows, --