When they were but a few men in number; yes, very few, and strangers in it.
If we look back to the beginnings of all great enterprises and movements amongst men, this is what might have been said of them all. There was a time when those who were associated with them "were but a few." So was it after the Deluge (1 Peter 3:20; cf. also Nehemiah 2:12). And see the beginnings of the Christian Church. Small like a grain of mustard seed. Now we are prone to be much discouraged when we see only a few caring for the things of God; and we are much elated when we see crowds of people, multitudes, uniting themselves with the professing Church. We may be wrong in both cases. Certainly we are when the fact of mere fewness casts us down. Let such despondents remember -
I. THAT IT IS QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY, THAT IS TO BE CONSIDERED. A living dog is better than a dead lion. Bigness is not strength. See the composition of the Bible. What great space is given to a little insignificant people, and the stories of their ancestors - a people who inhabited a mere shred and corner of the world, and who were just nothing at all compared with the vast empires that stretched themselves out on all sides of them! But it was because in this little handful of people the Divine life had its home, and that in them, under God, the kingdom of God on earth depended, that, therefore, their history is all-important, and a special providence watched over them. And do not we know, in our experiences, the blessed force which a few, and even less than a few, thorough and wholly consecrated Christians exert, compared with what a crowd of the common sort ever accomplish?
II. FEWNESS MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO GOD. (Cf. 2 Chronicles 14:11; 1 Corinthians 1:27, 28.) How many were the men who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6)?
III. THE REALIZATION OF OUR OWN WEAKNESS, WHICH COMES TO US WHEN THERE ARE BUT A FEW, IS ONE OF THE CONDITIONS OF GOD'S WORKING. Our Lord had to make Peter feel what a poor creature he was before he could be used as an apostle; and hence came Peter's fall.
IV. A FEW BECOME A HOST IF GOD LEAD. We may be but a row of ciphers; but if God stand at our head, then they are no longer mere ciphers. And this is not a mere figure of speech, but an actual fact demonstrated over and over again (cf. the vision, 2 Kings 6:17).
V. HIS SPECIAL PROMISES ARE FOR THE FEW. "Where two or three are gathered," etc. (Matthew 18:20). And that promise has constantly been fulfilled.
VI. THE FEW ARE HIS ESPECIAL CARE. (See vers. 12-15.) And in the history of missions, the little handful who have gone to this country and that, though persecuted, and their ranks thinned by disease and death, yet have they been strengthened to hold on until they have won the battle God sent them to wage. What may not one God filled soul do? Read the history of Gideon to show this. And a company of them. If, then, "where there were but a few," there was no failure in the purpose and promise of God, let us rest assured that in like circumstances now there will be no failure. And let us stir ourselves up to lay hold on God. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.