R. Govett on the rest in Heb. 3, 4
This post presents chapter 3 of Robert Govett’s book, “Entrance into the Kingdom, or Reward According to Works,” [Charles J. Thynne, London 1922. https://archive.org/details/entranceintoking00gove. CHAPTER 3, pp. 39-68.]
THE TWO RESTS Heb. III, IV.
In these chapters Jesus is compared with Moses, and His superiority to that eminent servant of God is proved. Both were appointed of God; both faithful. But Jesus is superior in nature to Moses; His dispensation is far loftier; and His position in it as much higher, as a son in his own house is above a servant in another’s. Then follows our position as believers.
“Whose house are we, if we hold fast to the end the confidence, and the bold profession of hope.”
Moses was conductor and superintendent of a part of the people of God. We are now constituting the spiritual house of God. For there are two houses of God, together making up the one “people of God.” While the apostle is about to apply the words of Psalm xcv to us, he still marks the difference of our calling under the gospel from theirs under the law. We are “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” They were partakers of the earthly. It is, however, because we belong to the one people of God, and that people consists of the earthly and of the heavenly divisions, that the psalm applies. We take our place, under condition of holding firmly unto the end of the time appointed by God, the objects of faith. The apostle notices two points required of God; internal confidence in the hope set before us, and external profession of the same to others: see Rom. x, 8-10.
The word “hope” is to be joined, I believe, to both words: it is the “confidence” of “hope,” and “the bold profession” of “hope.” It was not enough to begin to profess the Christian hope. It must be retained to the end, even “to the end of the age.” Till then Jesus watches over His church. “Lo, I am with you all the days unto the end of the age”: Matt, xxviii, 20.
He that looks back after putting his hand to the plough, is not fit for the kingdom of God: Luke ix, 62.
We are now like Israel in Moses’ day at the foot of Sinai. Moses went up into the cloud, after giving them the conditions of the old covenant, and was hidden from their sight for forty days, till at length they gave up the hope of his return, and instantly fell into idolatry, breaking the chief stipulation of the old covenant.
The Christian hope is like Israel’s at that time. Jesus having cemented the new covenant with His own blood, has gone up on high to the presence of God, with a promise, like Moses, to return. But He has been so long away, that the glad hope and the profession of the hope of His return are nearly gone. However, that expectation which first characterized the Christian, is still to be held, still to be professed.
“Wherefore, (as saith the Holy Spirit — ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation, during the day of the temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Therefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, — They are always erring in heart, but they know not my ways. So I sware in my wrath. They shall not enter into my rest.’)”
The apostle enforces the duty of holding fast, by the citation of a portion of the xcvth Psalm. He speaks of it as uttered by the Holy Ghost, to give the greater solemnity to the words. It was written indeed by David, but it was inspired of God. The reach and application of the sentiment expressed was beyond David’s comprehension; but not beyond His, who searches the deep things of God.
The passage contains a call to listen, and not to be like the fathers, whose sins and consequent punishment are then recounted.
They tempted God. The tempting God means the trying experiments with Him; putting Him to the proof by some difficulty presented, which it is supposed He cannot or will not solve. So Jesus was tempted, when the difficulty about paying tribute, which they thought unanswerable, was put to Him. Thus they tempted the Lord at Rephidim, when they thought He could not give them water to drink. The place took afterwards the name of Massah, (“Temptation”) from the tempting of God which there took place: Ex. xvii, 7.
His many miracles drew not forth their hearts to love, to fear, or to obey, though repeated for forty years. Their errors were not mistakes of the understanding, but rebellion of the heart. It was perpetual transgression there, though it did not always exhibit itself to the eye of man. Though they were brought so close to God, and had such experience of His character, manifested in startling acts of judgment and of mercy, they understood not His ways. At length then their former offences, for a time passed by, are at Kadesh reckoned up against them, and the oath of God, that they should not enter the land, went forth. That oath, once uttered, all hope of change on God’s part was precluded, and they did not even attempt to obtain the reversal of it.
12. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
This verse stands connected with verse 7, the intermediate quotation being a parenthesis. “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, &c.) take heed.”
Strong as the words of the passage are, they are an address to BELIEVERS. This the apostle would have us clearly perceive. “Lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief .” “Exhort one another lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” “Let us therefore fear, lest any of you should seem to come short.”
“Take heed, brethren.” You are, like Israel, redeemed out of Egypt. You, as they were, have been delivered by the blood of the Lamb. You have made profession of faith in Jesus. Faith dwells in you. But beware! The old man is not wholly rooted out. Unbelief in part exists, though it may lie hid. It needs to be kept under. And all unbelief leads our hearts away from the God of life, and from His words of life.
If there be unbelief in the heart, it will somehow or other manifest itself in the conduct, in departure from God. Christ is here called, as I suppose, “the living God.” He is seen to be “the Resurrection and Life,” by His rising from the dead. The revolters from Moses sought to make another captain, and to go back to Egypt. But to leave the apostle of our calling now, is to revolt from the Prince of Life.
13. “But exhort one another each day, while it is called ‘to-day,’ lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
We are here instructed to use means against the danger of falling away. The means are continual exhortation: the stirring up one another to reverence and obey God’s word. Means are nothing without God; but God works by blessing means.
As the voice of temptation is often repeated, so is the voice of exhortation to be frequently repeated also. As Caleb and Joshua lifted up their voices against the evil spies, and the unbelieving people, so should we seek to engage the Lord’s people to desire His promises, and to tread in the steps of obedience that lead to their attainment. Exhortation is but for a time. It is to be exerted “while it is called to-day.” The time of temptation and the season when the means of resisting it are needed, will soon be over.
“While it is called to-day.” It is the privilege of God to appoint “times and seasons.” “Are there not twelve hours in the day? “He measures out its length. God’s words imply things. When He testifies the end of this age, when He proclaims that the new day is come, He will also change the features of the time. The darkness of this present evil age will depart, and the glory of the day which the Lord hath made, and in which His people shall rejoice, will set in. “While it is called to-day,” Satan is the prince of the world, the flesh is dying and corrupt, and the stream of the world runs counter to the Spirit of God. But faith sees “the day approaching” which will change all this cloud and storm into glory and joy.
Those who do not listen to the word of the Lord, and to the right exhortation, grow hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. The most lowly reverence and prompt obedience become a sinner listening to the Word of God. Yet many resist its calls, on some one point or other. And with each resistance of truth, hardness grows on the soul. The spirit deadens to the apprehension of the promises, and grows careless at the threats of God. Sin deceives even the believer whenever it gains an entrance. It is a creeping cancer slowly spreading. It is a winter frost, by degrees hardening the pool, till it can bear unbroken the laden waggon.
14. “For we have become associates of the Christ, if we hold firmly to the end the beginning of our full conviction.” (faith.)
The authorized version gives the commencing words a different rendering, but one not easy of comprehension. The apostle, I suppose, had in his eye his former quotation of the xlvth Psalm, in which the same word occurs. “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne God, is for ever and ever, a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou lovedst righteousness and hatedst iniquity, wherefore, God, thy God anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (1, 8, 9.) Paul therefore refers back to this. The xivth Psalm gives us the advent of the Messiah in the glory of His kingdom. He is God–“Thy throne God” He is man–“Above thy fellows.” God has no fellow-men. We are there shown the height of glory reserved as the prize of our heavenly calling. It is to be “associates” or “fellows” “of the Messiah” in His kingdom. The tribes of Israel are to be Messiah’s subjects, we His household and joint heirs. Faith has put us in the way of realizing that height of glory. It will be ours, if we hold fast to the end our confident expectation of the kingdom of Messiah and His glory. For those who diligently seek Him, God has great rewards in store. But believers who harden themselves against His word, though they may finally enter eternal Hfe, will be cut off from that scene of bliss.
The verse before us much resembles verse 6 above. There we were declared to be Messiah’s house, if we continued steadfast. Both promises are conditional. We are now engaged, not about the question of eternal life, which is a free gift; but about the kingdom, which is a reward according to works, and may be lost by disobedience.
The present verse seems chiefly connected, not with the verse immediately preceding it, but with the twelfth. “Take heed, lest by unbelief you depart from the living God. For your position in the Kingdom of Glory will be that of Messiah’s associates, if you hold fast.”
Let a sense, then, of the lofty dignity prepared for the victor, keep us from disobedience!
15. “While it is said, ‘To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.'”
As long as God calls to us to listen, so long we must obey. As long as He pleases to extend the day of trial to ourselves and others, so long we are to second His call by cheering on our fellows to obtain the prize, against whatever foes arise to rob us of the crown. “Hold fast that which thou hast; that none take thy crown.” “Look to yourselves, that we lose not the things that we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.”
16. “For who, after having heard, provoked? Why, was it not all that came out of Egypt by Moses?
17. And with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?
18. And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to those that disobeyed?”
These verses should be read as questions throughout; as the sense requires, and as, I believe, all modern critics are agreed.
The apostle is commenting on the words of the psalm quoted above. Israel heard God’s voice at Sinai, yet hardened their hearts. The mount of thunder should have impressed the fear of Jehovah on their souls for ever. But, in a little while, all dread was gone. In that little word — “Who?” lies the force of the whole passage. Who provoked? Yes, that is the question! In the answer to it lies the power of the application to ourselves. It was not the Jebusite, or the Amorite, but the redeemed by blood that did so.
Was Israel provoking, and perverse, perpetually? Now rises the cry — “We are dying of hunger!” Now — “We perish by thirst!” Now — “Give us flesh to eat!” Now — “Make us gods to go before us!” Yes, it was stubborn and aggravating indeed; but the Church of Christ has been no better.
The Holy Spirit would press on our attention the wide spread of sin. All the congregation, save Caleb and Joshua, were convicted of trespass, and cut off in the wilderness. Here lies the remedy for a subtle plea of unbelief. Sin deceives us with the thought, that if ofienders be very numerous, if all the Christians around us are guilty of disobedience, we may march on with them undismayed. So thought Israel. They were confident in numbers. The whole assembly rose against Caleb and Joshua. But Jehovah hesitated not, because the trespassers were a multitude. He smote by units or by thousands, according to the numbers of the sinners.
They provoked God. Learn, then, that God has feelings as truly as man. The breach of His commands, the refusal to credit Him, rouse His displeasure, in the case of the saint as truly as in the case of the sinner. Believer, grieve not the Holy Spirit! Provoke not the living God!
When a believer marries an unbeliever, contrary to His command, is not God provoked? When a saint seeks to be rich in this world, contrary to the Lord’s precept, is he not likely to be cut off from the kingdom?
17. But the Lord was not only provoked. He manifested His displeasure by corresponding actions. Though ransomed out of Egypt, yet they became carcasses in the wilderness. The people of God died under His frown of anger. He shewed them mercies, but they requited Him with sins, till He would endure it no longer. Space for repentance was no longer given. They fell, without obtaining the hope set before them.
18. 19, At length the oath of God, never to be retracted, was launched against them. They were excluded, on grounds not peculiar to them, but capable of applying as truly to God’s people now. They should not enter, because of unbelief, and its product, disobedience. It was partial unbelief. They believed in the first miracles of Moses. They believed, as was manifested in marking their doors with the blood of the Lamb. They had faith, so far as to cross the Red Sea, when commanded: Heb. xi, 28, 29. But partial unbelief led to frequent acts of disobedience, till the door of promise was shut against them altogether. This, therefore completes the application of the passage to the saints of the Church of Christ. How necessary for us to try every doctrine that we hear by Scripture, lest we habitually receive the false, and deny the true!
Unbelief, in its fullness, shuts out from eternal life: Acts xiii, 46. But partial unbelief, and its accompanying evil conduct, may at length exclude from the rest of God.
IV. I. “Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left of entering into his rest any of you should think he has come too late for it.”
The promise of rest indirectly made in the Psalm, is still in force. The word “left” means the opposite to being “fulfilled.”
Believers are to fear, lest this promise should be unfulfilled towards themselves. “Any one of you should think he has come too late for it.” The apostle is not treating of the failure of the Gentiles as a body, but of loss to the individual Christian. The promise, which before referred to them, is now transmitted to you and your time. As they lost its efficacy for themselves, so may you. Be diligent then, that this sad result be not yours.
“A promise.” The same great object of hope and of earnest effort, is assumed, not only throughout this epistle, but throughout the New Testament: Eph. iv, 4. In this epistle it is called by various names, “the good news,” “the promise,” “the rest,” “the sabbatism,” “the kingdom.”
If we translate as in the received version, “seem to come short of it,” there is involved, I believe, a reference to the taking and the leaving spoken of by our Lord. The day is coming, when Jesus will suddenly take to himself the watchful saint, leaving behind the careless one.
But the Greek word translated “to come short,” means also to come too late. The allusion is to a race, or to a feast. The unready virgins came, but at length too late for the supper, and they are shut out: Matt. xxv.
Here again, the same strong exhortation of the Spirit presses on us. It is addressed to saints. It warns them not to be secure; but to remember, that God will decide whether we shall enter His rest or not, according to our conduct. The disobedient saint will lose the future reality, as surely as Israel lost the past type. For we have to do with the same God, who after having made them His people, and sustained them by mercies, justly demanded of them a life of obedience. The entrance to the rest is still open, and dependent on our behaviour. If the Lord’s oath of exclusion embrace us as well as them, we shall certainly be shut out of that future scene of reward.
2. “For to us has good news been brought as well as to them; but the word of the report profited them not, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
The Greek word is here taken in its future general sense of “good news.” The glad tidings of the rest belongs as truly to us as to them. Here its application to us is directly asserted. The promise, not having received its accomplishment in Moses’ day, knocks at our doors now for admittance.
The good news is the good news of Messiah’s millennial kingdom. That was the strain taken up by Jesus and by His servant John, as soon as the new dispensation commenced. “And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people”: Matt, iv, 23; ix, 35. “And this gospel OF THE KINGDOM shall be preached in all the habitable earth for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”: Matt, xxiv, 14.
Our translation, by rendering the next expression — “the word preached” — has caused the general reader to lose the allusion intended by the apostle. There is, I doubt not, a reference to the history of Israel just before they were excluded by oath. God promised them by Moses, “a land flowing with milk and honey”: Exod. iii, 8, 17. At first, on seeing the miracles of their leader, they believed. But, as they drew near the land, doubt crept in. They desired that some might be sent to search the country. Their request was complied with. Twelve spies were commissioned to enter it. At their return they brought back the report. “And they told him and said, we came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.” But “the word of the report did not profit them.” “They despised the pleasant land; they believed not his word, but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord. Therefore he lifted up his hand against them, [he swore] to overthrow them in the wilderness”: Psa. cvi, 24-26.
As God spoke of His rest as future. He was still engaged in work: but not that of creation, spoken of in Gen. ii.
The promise, then, was not fulfilled to them; not through any failure of power, or of truth in God; but owing to their own fault. The report was not “mixed with faith in them that heard it.” The food was good, but it was not digested. No food sustains the body that is not mixed with gastric juice. God’s power to fulfil His word was seen in bringing in the younger portion of the congregation under Joshua.
No report will profit, unless we believe it. None will grow rich by the gold in Australia, unless he believes that it is to be had there, and acts upon it.
“For we who have believed are entering into the rest, as he said, — ‘So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest:’ although the works from the foundation of the world were finished. 4. For he spake in a certain place concerning the seventh day thus, ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ 5. And in this place again, ‘They shall not enter into my rest.'”
The argument which follows is designed to afford an answer to the question — “What is the rest intended?” Paul shews that it is a future one. This idea, however, is quite obscured in our translation, by the rendering “do enter,” and the omission of the article before “rest.”
We, as believers, are, like Israel, moving on toward the rest.
1. It should be rendered — “The works from the foundation of the world had taken place.” The order of the Greek shows this — “We are entering into the rest,” for it is future, though Scripture speaks of one past.
Each day brings us nearer to the time and the place of the future rest. As unbelief excluded from the rest, so faith sets us on our way towards it. It is to us, as believers, that the race for the prize is set open. No unbeliever can enter in. He who has not the kingdom within, can never see the kingdom without.
By “the rest” is meant, that proclaimed in the psalm above cited. To make this clear, the verse that speaks of rest is then quoted afresh.
But the assertion of the futurity of the rest promised in the psalm, is instantly checked by the admission of a fast rest. “Although the works from the foundation of the world were finished.” That is, I grant, that the Scripture speaks elsewhere of God’s work being completed; and, as the consequence, of His rest having been taken, as soon as creation was finished. Finished work implies rest; and the Scripture uses the very term “rest” of God’s position on the seventh day. But it also as clearly affirms a future rest in the psalm I have quoted. “They shall not cuter into my rest.” — It was a new work of God that then was going on, from which He purposed to rest, and into which others were to have entrance; with God enjoying the rest.
It is necessary then, in order to understand this passage, to admit two rests of God: a fast one, fulfilled on the seventh day: a future one, supposed in the xcvth Psalm. The abruptness of the argument, however, renders it difficult to trace its course.
Two senses may be given to the words, “my rest.” The expression may mean —
1. “The rest which I enjoy” (Subjective.)
2. “The rest which I provide.” (Objective.)
Now the passages quoted are types of each of these two senses, (1.) That from Genesis — “And God rested on the seventh day ” — speaks of the rest which He Himself enjoyed. (2.) But the future rest of the Psalm, from which unbelievers are to be excluded, is as clearly, the rest which God has provided; to be enjoyed by others as well as partaken of by Himself. In this sense, the words “my supper” are taken in the parable of our Lord: Luke xiv, 24. In this sense, too, it agrees with the remarkable expression in Romans, which is the key to the Epistle — “the righteousness of God.” In the same sense Moses uses it of the promise to Israel: “Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you”: Deut. xii, 9.
Now “the rest of God” applies to us in both these senses. Each has its spiritual antitype. There is a past rest of God, into which we have already entered by faith; just because there is a past work of God in which He is now resting. For Jesus, during His life, wrought out a righteousness for us, and endured the curse of the law in death. That work of His was complete in resurrection. In that completed work the whole Godhead already rests, with a greater complacency than in the finished work of the seventh day. “When God speaks of His rest, of course He means not the long-finished works, and the long-past rest of creation and the seventh day: yet the future rest is like it, as the like expression shows.”
The first rest of God in creation was broken by unrighteousness entering. Then came in the sentence of death, and the work was blighted and marred. In order to its recovery, then, there is a twofold work, and a twofold rest. Righteousness was first to be wrought, to undo the sin brought in. That has been completed; and God rests in the work thus far accomplished. But the sentence of travail and death, as the issue of unrighteousness, abides still: and that has yet to be removed, ere the full rest of God can come in. This is the future rest of the psalm to which we are invited; God rejoicing in His works anew. Of that the seventh day was a type. And the Lord’s day is the day of present rest, on which we celebrate the work of Christ completed.
God rested on the seventh day from all His works. The works then of which the psalm makes mention — “They proved me and saw my works,” are of another class, than those of the creation. Sin destroyed God’s former rest in creation. He began then to work anew, to bring in a better rest. But the disobedient perceived not the ways of the Lord, and sympathized neither in His work, nor in His rest. Wherefore the Lord was angry with “that generation.” But does “that generation” mean only those who died in the wilderness? By no means. As the day abides in which God is showing His ways, and displaying His works; and as the rest still is held out, so the generation abides still. Jesus assures us, that it will not be purged out, till the awful judgments of the day of the Lord sweep it from the face of the earth. “Verily I say unto you, this generation will not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled”: Matt, xxiv, 34. Let not us then be found amidst the unintelligent and disobedient generation!
6. “Since, then, it remaineth that some should enter into it and they to whom the glad tidings were first proclaimed entered not in through disobedience, he again limiteth a certain day.”
The Israelites, to whom the promise of God’s rest was first announced, lost it through disobedience. But God’s word cannot return to him in vain. Some, therefore, must enter. As they who were disobedient were excluded, the class which is to enter, is hinted at as the opposite to the unruly and disobedient.
7. “Saying by David, ‘To-day,’ after so long a time, as it has been before said ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ 8. For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not speak of another day after these things.”
This is a carrying out of the proof, that the rest meant by the Holy Spirit has not been fulfilled. It is true, that on the death of Moses, Joshua led in the spared ones of Israel into the land. It is true that God is said to have given him rest. “And He gave them rest round about, according to all that He sware unto their fathers”: Josh. xxi, 44. “And now the Lord hath given rest unto your brethren, as He promised them”: Josh, xxii, 4. Yet still that rest was not the one intended by God in the psalm. For if it had been enjoyed, it would not so long after have been spoken of as an object still to be striven for.
So again it is true, that God is said to have given to David and to Solomon “rest.” (1) To David — “And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies “: 2 Sam. vii, 1. (2) To Solomon (“the Peaceful “) it was peculiarly promised. “Behold a son shall be born to thee (David) who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about”: 1 Chron. xxii, 9.
But, as God spoke by David of the rest as still future, it is evident, that even David’s day of prosperity, and Israel’s enjoyment of political rest in the promised, land under himself and his son, was not the rest designed, of God. God is not said to have rested.
Four hundred years after Joshua had led Israel into the land, the day of temptation and of God’s call to listen lest the rest should be lost, was still running on. Even in David’s time, the call to hearken “to-day” was still in force. If Joshua’s rest of thirty or forty years were the one indicated, the promise would not have been spoken of in David’s reign as unfulfilled.
“Another day.” The six days of creation were natural days: so was the seventh. But “the day of temptation” in the wilderness was forty years. Hence “day” is taken in a new sense. God’s calling the period from Joshua or from Moses till the present time by the name of “to-day,” gives a further extension to the term. The day of rest, which is to follow on this, will also be an extended day. ” Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The present day of labour, of suffering to the saints, and of trial to the world, has its limit already defined in the mind of God. The day of rest, which is to follow it, has its limit also. God’s rest is to be the period of a “day.” If Joshua’s had been the day of rest, he would not have spoken of “another day.” The next verse takes up and expands this idea.
9. “There remaineth therefore the keeping of a sabbath-rest for the people of God.”
This is the issue of the argument. The rest promised in the xcvth Psalm is yet unfulfilled. It is to be the object of the Christian’s desire and pursuit.
To-day is the day of labour, of sorrow from the world, and of God’s trial of His people. To-morrow then is the day of rest and of reward. Hold out through the hours of ” to-day,” and a long to-morrow will make you amends.
The word used to describe “the rest ” is changed. The apostle coins a word to express the “sabbath-rest” that is to come.
Thus it is intimated to us, that though God’s rest on the seventh day from the work of creation was not the rest intended in the psalm, it was yet a type of it. The millennial rest will be, as the apostle seems to hint, in the seventh thousand year of the world’s history. Then the work of the six previous days will cease, and God will rejoice with His people. As a foreshadowing of God’s plan in regard to this, the law signalized the seventh day, the seventh week, the seventh month, the seventh year, and the seven times seventh year, by ordinances prefiguring the sabbath yet to be kept. In harmony with this, the apostle has twice named “the seventh day,” as the period of God’s creation-rest.
And though the rest to which Joshua introduced the remnant of Israel was not the true rest of God, yet it was a type of it. So was the glorious day of the kingdom under Solomon, the Son of David, “the man of rest.” All lend their aid to typify the future sabbatism. The coming rest will embrace creation, as did that of the first seventh day . It will especially embrace Israel, and the land of promise. It will be the result of a victory over the foes of God, as was Joshua’s rest.
This period of joy is awaiting “the people of God.” But that people, as the epistle testifies, is twofold; those of the earthly calling, and those of the heavenly. In ch. xi, the worthies of the old Testament are set before us as the children of faith, justified thereby, and so possessors of the rest provided by God in the righteousness of another. They are seen also as the obedient ones, and therefore ready to enter with us into the promised rest, whenever the time of God’s appointment shall have come. The same good tidings have been laid before both; the same sabbath repose is prepared for both.
But this view confirms the conclusion, that the sabbath-rest here spoken of is the millennial. We are directed in the present passage to strive for the rest of God. And Paul tells us, that his earnest effort was directed to obtain part in the resurrection from among the dead; that is, the millennial first resurrection. Peter again urges on the saints, to use all diligence, that so the abundant entrance into the Kingdom of Christ might be granted them: 2 Pet. i, 5-10. Here striving for entrance into the rest spoken of by Paul in the Hebrews answers to Peter’s striving to obtain the entrance into the Kingdom. Now as the Holy Ghost assures us, that we are “called in one hope of our calling,” the two expressions are but different views of the same thing. And Paul’s striving for the select resurrection as “the prize of our high calling,” on the same principle proves the same conclusion. Finally, Jesus urges His hearers to take heed, lest they should be shut out from the kingdom of God, in which the patriarchs and the believing of the Gentiles would be united, while unbelievers and the disobedient would be cast out.
lo. “For he that entered into his rest, he also hath rested from his own works as God did from his.”
This is, I believe, spoken primarily of Christ. The former verse exhibited the sabbath as it stands related to the future rest of God. But this verse notices that a present sabbath or rest is already enjoyed by the believer. This rest is entered upon by faith at once. Hence, as the faith of all whom the apostle was addressing had already begun, the entrance into it is spoken of as past. “He that has entered into his rest.”
Every believer rightly instructed has already, in this sense, entered into God’s rest. He has ceased from all attempts to obtain righteousness by his own works. He beholds that great object completely fulfilled for him in the righteousness of God, which Jesus finished. He contemplates that work with peace and complacency, as God did His works of creation when they came from His hand perfect. “His own works,” he sees, even the very best are “dead works,” of which he has need to repent, and from which his conscience must be cleansed, ere he can truly serve the living God: Heb. vi, 1; ix, 14. But he is now to be diligent, in the power of the life of God, to do the works of God. The hope of the future rest of God can only be laid on the foundation of the completed righteousness of God.
The law could not give true rest, for it could not give righteousness. The rest of the Old Testament “Jesus” (i.e. Joshua), must needs be imperfect: for it was founded on his own and Israel’s obedience. But the New Testament “Jesus” is leading His people into rest, on the ground of a perfect righteousness.
Israel rejects the rest offered in the righteousness of Christ. It sought, and seeks still, to maintain its own righteousness. And hence the children of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness, while believing Gentiles will come from the east and west, and sit down in the kingdom of God. For without a better righteousness than the Pharisees, there shall be no permission to enter the future kingdom of God.
II. “Let us therefore earnestly endeavour to enter into that other rest, lest any fall after the same example of disobedience.”
The two rests are contrasted in this verse, and in the preceding. The one is already enjoyed; the other is to be the object of our earnest effort to attain. The first is requisite in order to labour for the second. Those possessed of the rest in God’s righteousness are to press towards the future rest, as the very design of God in calling them to the first.
A beautiful comment on these verses is furnished by Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, chap, iii, which has been already considered. There he first describes his confidence as a Jew in his own merits and works; but afterwards his rejection of them all, in favour of the righteousness which is obtained from God by faith. But then, he adds, that he set out with eager effort to attain, if possible, an entrance into the second rest of the kingdom, at the resurrection of the just.
Thus the Christian’s position is a paradox. He is resting and he is labouring. He is resting, while it is called to-day, from all toil to procure himself a righteousness. It is his already by faith. He is resting in this; for God is resting in it also. His present rest of soul is Jesus’ promise; “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”: Matt, xi, 28.
But he is working also, “while it is called to-day,” for the future rest; for God is working too, to bring in a new and complete rest. And God is calling him, as the racer, to run for the crown; as the wrestler, to strive for the prize.
He is to rest from toil to-morrow; then to find the peace of God without, which now he enjoys only within. Of Messiah’s day to come it is said, “his rest shall be glory”: Isa. xi. But now it is written, “In the world ye shall have tribulation”: John xvi, 33. “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God”: Acts xiv.
12. “For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and reaching even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow, and judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13. Nor is there any creature hid before it, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him, to whom our account (is to be given.”)
Thus does the Holy Spirit meet and rebuke that low and unbelieving view which the human mind naturally takes of the Word of God. It is ever apt to think: ‘Such and such portions are obsolete, they can have no manner of bearing upon us!’
In the present instance we are ready to suppose that the psalm refers only to events long past, in which we have no concern. But Paul vindicates the Word of God. No: its reach extends far beyond the day of Moses, of Joshua, or David, It is not dead and out of date. No: it applies with full force still to us of the present day. The word of the living God is an image of Himself. It is living too.
It is mighty in its promises to the believer, transforming, purifying him. It is mighty also to cut and wound by its threats, where resisted and despised.
As God beholds the heart, so His word, a mirror of His intelligence, arraigns the thoughts of man; no less than his deeds. “They always err in heart.” “Harden not your hearts.”
Some of the Hebrews might be even now pondering the step of apostasy. Here is a salutary warning. Such a thought was known to God, rebuked by His word even now, and to be punished hereafter, unless repented of.
Thus the question of the rest of God ends with an appeal to His word, as the basis of our account before God as our Judge. May we solemnly weigh its appeal!