God's House and God's Rest
Hebrews 3 — 4:10.
"There remaineth a rest for the people of God."
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus, who is faithful to him that hath appointed him, as Moses also was in all his house. For he hath been counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by as much as he who hath built it hath more honor than the house; for every house is built by some one, but he that hath built all things is God. And Moses, indeed, was faithful in all his house, as a ministering servant, for a testimony of the things to be spoken afterwards; but Christ as a Son over his house; whose house are we, if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of our hope firm unto the end."
You notice that the apostle addresses the professing Hebrews as "holy brethren." This would link with what has just preceded, in the second chapter, where our Lord declared Himself not ashamed to call us brethren. It is not merely that the saints are the apostle's brethren, though the expression is in that form. As a matter of fact, as we have seen, the apostle is left out of sight but he addresses those whom Christ has also owned as brethren. This is also suggested by the term "holy." It is a divine relationship which is to abide, a holiness or sanctification which has been secured by the work of Christ. We also see that in the chapter just preceding "He that sanctifieth" (or maketh holy) "and they who are sanctified, are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren; "so that the sanctification, that separation unto God by the work of Christ, which necessitates also that work of the Spirit in practically producing a moral likeness to Christ, is connected with our position as brethren, those whom the Lord is not ashamed so to own. What a precious thought that is. And now, having settled it for the saints, the apostle at once makes use of it in order to press upon them their privilege and their responsibility as well. He goes on further yet.
They are participants, he had said in the chapter just before, as children, of flesh and blood Christ also Himself became a partaker of the same. He became a sinless partaker in our humanity. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." For what purpose? In order that we might become partakers of His position, the place which by infinite grace He has by His death won for us. We are partakers of the heavenly calling.
Notice, too, what is implied in this wondrous expression, "the heavenly calling." The apostle is addressing Hebrew Christians, those whose thoughts had naturally centered about the earth. The Hebrews were always looking toward the promises of God in connection with the earthly inheritance. From the beginning of their existence as a nation in the land of Egypt, indeed before that, when God had declared His purpose to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it was to give them an earthly inheritance in the land. Canaan was to be their portion, and so throughout their entire history the measure of their blessing was their enjoyment of the inheritance which God had given them in the land. But here is an added thought, or rather I should say, quite a contrasted thought. It is not "partakers of the earthly calling;" it is not those who have hopes centered about Jerusalem and the land, "the glory of all lands," as the prophet declared, but it is something higher and better.
And how good it is in the Spirit of God, if He is compelled to show to these saints that they had no further claim upon an earthly inheritance, that their hopes and expectations regarding the kingdom of Israel, and for Israel, were to be yet for a long time in abeyance, and that they themselves actually were to have no part in it, — how blessed, I say, for the Spirit of God to direct their hearts, their hopes and expectations to that which was their enduring inheritance, which abides forever.
And mark another thing in direct connection with this. What is it that makes their inheritance a heavenly one? Is the description of that glorious inheritance reserved in heaven spread out before us here, or anywhere in this epistle? It is not. But that which makes their inheritance a heavenly one is that Christ Himself has gone there. Christ, the One who is going to bring many sons to glory, has entered into His inheritance; that is what marks it as the inheritance of His people. They are partakers of the heavenly calling, therefore, not merely because earthly hopes have been removed. The removal of earthly hopes might make one a cynic, but will never make him a pilgrim, if that is all. Blot out every earthly hope here, take away all expectation of a portion, of an inheritance here, and give a man nothing in its place and you will see one who is soured, disappointed, misanthropic; you will not see a true hearted pilgrim with his hopes and expectations elsewhere.
Ah, to make a pilgrim, one who is looking forward to an inheritance, you must have his heart where the inheritance is; and, if we are truly pilgrims, it is because we have something more than the knowledge of an inheritance yonder; it is because we know Him who glorifies that inheritance, even Christ Himself. Now that is exactly what the apostle is saying here. He addresses them in these affecting words, as we have been seeing. He reminds them of their relationship, of their sanctification. He reminds them of the inheritance that is before them, and then he simply puts Jesus before them. "Consider," he says, "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus." It is not here His official title, as is suggested in the ordinary text. It is just the person of Jesus, as you find frequently through this epistle. Consider Him. And that word "consider" does not mean, take a glance, but dwell upon, be occupied fully with Him — in His person, in His character and in His work.
That is what is suggested also in the words that follow: "Who was faithful," or "who is faithful" as it really is. We are not looking back at the past faithfulness of Christ, when He was living His perfect life as a man here, but the One "who is faithful to Him that appointed Him as also Moses was faithful in all His house."
I believe that this is a gathering up of all that we have had in the first two chapters. There we had presented to us the One by whom God had spoken. These two expressions here would suggest, I might say, all that has gone before. It is, "Consider the Apostle and the High Priest of our confession." An apostle is a messenger. An angel also is a messenger, but there is this difference between an angel and an apostle. An angel is a heavenly, a spiritual being and that alone; he is a ministering spirit, sent forth to minister for those who shall inherit salvation. An apostle comes with representative authority. He comes as an ambassador. We see the apostles connected with the establishing of Christianity, and we see them men who not only came with a message from God, but with authority from Him. They came as the dispensers, if I may use that expression, of God's order and God's will, for His people here upon earth. "The apostle" is in that way an official title, and so as to our blessed Lord. He is the Apostle whom God has sent forth.
As has been frequently observed, you have no mention, of any other apostle in this epistle. It is because Christ eclipses all other apostles. They cannot be mentioned where He is the Apostle. Doubtless, too, Paul as apostle to the Gentiles, reserved his title when addressing Hebrews. Christ comes forth, then, as we saw in the first chapter, as the One who is speaking now "in these last days." God had previously spoken by prophets, "in many parts and in many ways." He had been making known His will fragmentarily and at various times, but now "in these last days," He has sent His Apostle into the world. He has "spoken unto us in His Son." What infinite fulness there must be in that representation of God which is entrusted to His Son! What an ambassadorship indeed when no angel can be entrusted with it, but when it is put into the hands of Him who is the brightness of His Father's glory and "the express image of His Person," the One who has made all things and upholds all things!
In that way He is the Apostle or Messenger of God but more than that, He is the High Priest of our confession and we have seen what that suggests: the making reconciliation or propitiation for sins by the sacrifice of Himself entering into the very sanctuary of God, as we shall see later on in our epistle, and thus maintaining fully God's glory in connection with a sinful and failing people. Furthermore, we saw that as a merciful Priest He has a heart of sympathy with His beloved people. Thus He is both Apostle and Priest.
Now Moses represents, in a certain sense, the apostleship of Christ, just as Aaron represents His priesthood. Moses was God's messenger, God's ambassador, His apostle, we might say, to go from His presence where God had revealed Himself in the burning bush, back into Egypt, with the message and the demand for Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and with provision to effect it all. He is the apostle who establishes Israel as a nation. Aaron in like manner was the priest who maintained relationship between the people and God, through the sacrifices, and by the ordered observances prescribed by God. But these were only types and shadows. Moses and Aaron were but servants. Here we have the blessed reality of it; and what responsibility and privilege it is for us to consider well and dwell upon, to study the character of the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus!
Now he goes on to speak of His faithfulness, — faithful in every relationship into which He has entered. And here the Spirit of God compares Him with that most faithful servant, Moses. There is divine wisdom in speaking of Moses to the Hebrew Christians. The Hebrews looked up to Moses, of 'course, as the great leader of their nation. In the ninth chapter of John, when our Lord had opened the eyes of the blind man, the Pharisees and leaders asked him how he had had his eyes opened; he told them of Jesus; and when they repeated their question, he said: Will ye become His disciples?" Then they reviled him and said: "We are Moses' disciples." That is what the Jews were; they were professed followers of Moses, the great law-giver, the one to whom they looked, in whom they trusted; the one also, as our Lord reminds them, whose words will judge them if they do not follow them.
So here, the Spirit of God takes the founder and leader of the Jewish nation, the one who had ordered it all under God, and He compares with him the true Apostle and High Priest of the Christian's confession. If the apostle can show that the one on whom the Christian's eye is to be fixed is infinitely greater than Moses, he at once has loosened the hold which the earth, the carnal worship and ritualism of Judaism would have upon Hebrew Christians. He loosens that hold by substituting better and greater things than what they already had. He does that, not by speaking of some failures of Moses, as that which shut Moses out of the land of Canaan, or in slaying the Egyptian and hiding his body in the sand, and fleeing when he found that the matter was known. No: but having set this great law-giver and leader, this faithful servant of God in every connection before these Christians, he says: The One whom you have to be occupied with is infinitely greater than this most faithful man.
He compares our Lord thus with Moses, as he will later with other worthies. Moses was faithful in God's house, but here is One who has more honor than the house, because He who builds the house has more honor than the house itself. The house of God, as we know, for Israel in the wilderness, was the tabernacle, and that house was set with bounds and barriers about it that none could approach except those who entered by way of the sacrifice, and who were qualified, as priests, to draw near to God. But in connection with the house of God in which Moses was a servant, there is something that has greater honor than the house; that is the One who dwells in it, or as He puts it here, He who builds the house has more honor than the house itself. Every house, He says, is builded by some one, but He that built all things is God. Do you follow the reasoning there, dear brethren? How striking it is! He began by speaking of Moses, a faithful man in God's house, and he passes on to tell us of One who is greater far than that, not merely greater than the servant in the house, but the Builder of the house, and greater than it. Then he says, as every house is built by some one, who built this great habitation of God which extends to the remotest bounds of space and includes the smallest and the greatest objects? Who built all things? God, surely. But what have we read in our epistle: "By whom also, He made the worlds." "For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him." Who is that? The very One of whom we are speaking.
What glories are set before us! We are brought face to face with God in this. We were speaking of the Apostle and High Priest of our confession — faithful to the One who had appointed Him to those relationships; yes, truly, but the One who made the whole house in which He has condescended in grace to serve how much greater than Moses, and greater than the house! He is the Maker, the Upholder of it; He is Master and Lord of all! If He is the Lord and Creator of it all, is not He infinitely above every one in all creation? It is the truth of the first chapter which is re-emphasized for us in this point of view.
Now He goes back to Moses. He is not going to rob that great leader of one single ray of the glory that is rightly his, his only through divine grace. Moses, he says, was faithful; but he was a servant in this house. We may regard the Tabernacle as a figure of the whole creation, where the outer court would answer to this world, and the inner sanctuary to heaven itself. But narrowing it down to the tabernacle in Israel, Moses was only a servant who could come in and out with unshod feet, tread softly, simply doing the will of God as a happy servant, carrying out his Master's commands in relation to that house which was a type of the future blessings in Christ.
But what about the One of whom we speak, the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He a servant in the house of God? We have seen Him as the Maker of the whole universe. Ah, it is Christ as Son over God's house, and He, not as a servant, but as Son must be infinitely above the most faithful servant, as Moses was.
Now, by a rapid and striking contrast, the apostle goes on to apply this in a distinctly personal way. He has presented the Son before us as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. We have had a look at Moses and have seen the infinite superiority of Christ to him. We have seen One faithful as the Son over God's house, and now the apostle says, Do you know what that house is? We might have said, We have understood that it was the whole creation of God, and we have understood that the tabernacle was the expression of that in relationship to Israel. Ah, says the apostle, we, believers, are that house. "Whose house are we." Speaking of the tabernacle itself, you remember how in one sense it was a type of all who are in Christ; the boards resting upon silver sockets formed the habitation of God. Those boards, resting upon that which spoke of redemption, were a type of all believers resting upon Christ. More than that, when we come to the New Testament, we find that, by the Spirit, God has made His dwelling place amongst His people. In Ephesians we are told that we are "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." We are a habitation of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets; and every believer is a part of that divine habitation.
When we come to the epistle of Peter, we find the same precious truth though in a different connection: "To whom coming as unto a living Stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." There we have a spiritual house, composed of living members; and that is just what the Spirit of God would remind these Hebrew Christians of. They were not merely partakers of the heavenly calling; they were a spiritual house, if truly and really the people of God, already indwelt and occupied by that blessed Guest, the Holy Spirit, who Himself is the earnest of the fact that God's dwelling place will be with redeemed men forever. Thus even here the people of God are looked upon as His abode, His house — a foretaste, for faith, of that eternal rest of God which will occupy us a little later. God comes down to rest among us here; soon He will take us up to rest with Him there.
And now comes what may seem to be a jarring note entering into this perfect view of grace. There has been no thought, up to this time, of any condition connected with it. I might say, in passing, there is never any condition connected with perfect grace, with what God is doing. Whenever Scripture speaks of the finished work of Christ, the eternal purpose of God, the effectual work of the Holy Spirit in the soul, it never speaks of a condition: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," — not, if we hold fast, but we are justified. In John 3:16, we are told that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life, and there is no condition attached whatever; and so it is wherever pure grace is the theme.
But what do we have here in Hebrews? A mass of professing Christians taken out of Judaism, with Jewish hopes still lingering in their hearts and with strong temptation and a subtle tendency to go back to those weak and beggarly elements. They were being tempted to relinquish all the blessed realities which had been spread before them in the gospel of Christ. Now what does the Spirit do? Does He mean to shake the confidence of the weakest believer in Jesus? Assuredly not; but to establish it on a firmer basis than ever. Does He mean to turn the eye within to see if we are really in the faith, as so many have wrongly taken that passage in 2 Cor. 13? Not for a moment. It is, "Consider Him," look off to Him. It is not in this connection, "Consider your ways." That is why he tells you to hold fast. And for the true believer it is surely not a very hard thing to hold fast our confidence. Later on he says, "Cast not away your confidence." It is not a hard thing to hold confidence in such a precious Saviour. How worthy He is of all our confidence!
What then is the object of the Spirit of God? Ah, it is to shake them loose from every false confidence, to stir up the conscience of any who are being tempted and to make them careful to make their calling and election sure; to make them cling fast to Christ; to see that they are not merely in name, but in fact, "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." I suppose it has been true of us all that there was a time when we shrank from all scriptures that spoke of conditions. Well can many of us remember when we looked with fear and trembling upon this chapter, or at the sixth chapter, or the closing portion of the tenth chapter. We would lose all the comfort given to us in the intervening scriptures, which unfold the work of Christ and the grace of God.
And surely, if a single thing depends upon our faithfulness, well may we tremble. If our salvation depends in any measure upon our own faithfulness, then we are lost indeed. But the object of these exhortations is to stir up the nest like the eagle stirring up her young, casting them out of the nest and seeing whether or not they are going to use their God-given wings and fly, or whether they are going to sink to the earth. So here the Spirit of God would stir up this nest of Hebrew Christians, to see whether they are in danger of sinking down to a mere carnal Judaism and turning from Christ, or whether they have the eye fixed by God Himself upon the Apostle and High Priest of their confession. It is only false professors who are driven away by warning.
"Wherefore, even as saith the Holy Spirit: Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness; where your fathers tempted me by proving me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was wroth with this generation, and said, They always err in heart, and they have not known my ways; so I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God; but exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, that none of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
Speaking still to Hebrew Christians, the Spirit of God uses naturally Old Testament similes. He continues the history of Israel just where He left it. He had been speaking of Moses, faithful in all God's house, and now He speaks of the wilderness experience of Israel according to the flesh. What was it? In Exodus — in the main we see what God does. We see His provision for shelter from wrath in the passover; how He shakes loose that proud persecutor Pharaoh and makes him let the people go. We see Him opening the way through the Red Sea and bringing them on eagle's wings to Himself. All that is God's work. And then we see Him spreading His tabernacle, with all its ministry, and the glory, which speaks of better things. We have it all well done and perfect.
But follow Israel's history, in the wilderness, and what is the testimony of God as to them? Again and again they provoked God, they tried Him, they murmured even in the land of Egypt; before they had got to the Red Sea they asked Moses: "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" Whenever they were brought into a position which shut them up to God, the unbelief of their hearts came out. We find that whenever the natural man is shut up to God, his unbelief appears. That is what the Spirit of God dwells upon. He takes this wilderness history and turns to the book of Psalms, as He has done over and over again, to gather from that book, very significantly, God's testimony as to His people. It is very suggestive; the first part of this ninety-fifth psalm, from which this is taken, is occupied entirely with praise: "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it: and His hand formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand."
Notice, up to that point, there is not a single jarring note. And why? The eye and the heart are directed toward the mighty God, their Saviour and their Creator, "the Rock of our salvation." As they think of Him and are occupied with Him, they can only exhort one another to make a joyful noise. Where God is all in all, where Christ is before the soul, and fills the heart, there is only room for praise. We would be a praising people as we go through the wilderness, if Christ Himself filled and occupied the heart. This is God's purpose for us; He would ever have His people praising Him. He gave them the key-note through Moses and Miriam on the shores of the Red Sea: "Sing unto the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously." That song of praise need never have died down, nor have given place to murmuring, or fear, or disobedience, had their eye been fixed upon Him. He had sounded the key-note for them, and they could have gone through the wilderness with a pilgrim song on their lips and the pilgrim joy in their hearts; and we might also do the same, did the heart but cling to the Lord, "the Rock of our salvation."
You will notice the transition when the psalm speaks of the Shepherd, and they the sheep of His hand. It is simple and happy work to praise, when we are occupied with the Shepherd; but when we turn to the sheep, there is need of exhortation. And so it is: "Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness." You see the thought, then, that so long as God in His love and grace fills the soul there can only be praise? but when the eye turns from God to man, there is need of exhortation not to harden the heart, not to be careless or forgetful, as Israel was in the day of provocation in the wilderness. In other words, if we are to enter into our rest, we must go on. It is not enough for a man to say, "I was converted ten years ago." How is it today? Are the things of God of continued interest, or is the heart absorbed in the things of the world? Why talk of a conversion of ten years ago, if it has no present effect on the life? There is no sadder spectacle than a heart that is hardened by grace neglected or despised — people who boast in what God has done for them in the past, and whose present shows no power of divine life. God keep us, dear friends, from a hardened heart, from despising the pure grace of His love. If we rejoice in His love it will always make us tender, and obedient. "The Holy Ghost" — mark, he does not even say David — "the Holy Ghost saith, Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart."
That is the substance, briefly, of what we have in this portion. In the twelfth and thirteenth verses, the apostle applies this to the Hebrew Christians: "Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." He is not warning against falling into some outward sin. Sin, as occasionally mentioned in this epistle, is not immorality, not overt acts of wickedness, but the radical sin that produces all other sin. It is that evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Unbelief is the source from which flows every form of sin. So in speaking to professors, what he warns them against is turning away from the living God and giving up Christ. This is the sin into which they are in danger of falling. He says, Take heed, if you want your praises to continue, if you want to go through this wilderness journey with joy in your soul, that you do not depart from the living God; but rather exhort one another daily while it is called today. "Today," is whilst the Spirit invites, and continues to this present time. It is always "today" until we enter the bright "tomorrow" that is before us; and "while it is called today" we are to exhort one another lest any of us should "be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
And notice that expression "hardened." Sin is a thing that hardens — the heart and conscience becoming callous, less sensitive. In the joy of first love, Christ fills the heart, and any thought of giving Him up is torture to the soul. Oh, who with the joy of first love in his heart would think for a moment of turning from Christ to anything else? But the sin of unbelief hardens. If you turn away from Christ, if you allow the world to come in, or, as these Jewish Christians were allowing, persecutions on one side, and the desire to be identified with Judaism on the other, to come in between the soul and Christ — if these things come into the soul, the heart becomes hardened. The sin of unbelief is a deceitful thing. It detaches one imperceptibly from the object of faith, and, before you are aware of it, the result is grievous dishonor to Christ. If he is a true beliver, like Peter, thank God, he will be brought to repentance. If he finds that he has failed, out of the very ashes of failure and unbelief, God will bring in brightness again. The very overwhelming flood that God permits to come upon us, the crushing sense of humiliation and sorrow because of our failure, will be the occasion used of the Spirit of God to bring out again that faith which was losing its brightness. The very sorrow of our experience will be His means of restoring us to Himself. But as the apostle is speaking of profession, true and false as well, he shows the effect of sin upon the heart to make them careless and coldhearted; then to allow something else than Christ to have a place, until Christ loses value in the eye of the heart and they go back again to that Judaism, — to shadow instead of the substance; it becomes an idol now, in that it displaces Christ: they give up Christ. That is the deceitfulness of sin; and we, as true believers, need to exhort one another, not against doing this or that or the other thing merely, but to exhort one another daily to hold fast to Christ.
"For we are become fellows of Christ, if indeed we hold the beginning of our assurance steadfast to the end; in that it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who was it who, when they heard, provoked? Nay, did not they all that came out of Egypt by Moses? And with whom was he wroth forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you might seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had the good news presented to us, even as they also; but the word of the report did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it."
We are made "companions," associates with Christ who has gone on before and is leading many sons to glory. We are made associates of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end. The thought here is not that suggested by the usual version. We are not speaking here of our blessings in Christ exactly, but of our place with Him.
The next is really a question. The apostle was asking who were those who provoked God in the wilderness, and answers, "Was it not all that came out of Egypt with Moses? But with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with them who had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?" The whole nation who had been delivered failed when their faith was tested. They had a gospel preached to them. It was that the land of Canaan was to be theirs, a land flowing with milk and honey. They had been brought out into the wilderness, but what do you find? Their carcasses fell in the wilderness. They provoked God by their murmurings. The great provocation was, when the spies came back from the land with the fruits of it in their hands in testimony that it was a good land as God had declared it, and the people turned back to Egypt again in their hearts. They refused to enter into the pleasant land, they despised it because of the great power of the enemy that was there; they murmured, they wept, but they refused to enter into the land; and all that race, (with two significant exceptions) all the men who were brought out of Egypt, save Caleb and Joshua, died in the wilderness.
Of course, it does not raise the question whether or not they were really lost, as to their soul's salvation, but it takes them as figures of those who never enter into God's rest. God swore in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest. They are figures of those who make a profession in this day, who have a gospel preached to them, not about Canaan, but about a heavenly calling and a place in Christ, but who refuse that gospel and turn back from Christ, their appointed Leader, as Israel did from Moses their appointed leader, and in spite of all that had been done for them, fell in the wilderness. They are like those who for a time endure and then give up Christ, the stony ground hearers of the parable, and turn back again to a carnal religion. Thus they fail to enter in because of unbelief.
That is the root of it all. The word did not profit the nation of Israel because it was not mixed with faith in those that heard it. And what is it that profits now? A pure gospel may be preached — the grace of God in all attractiveness may be declared — one might so speak of Christ that we would think it would surely draw the heart and mind to Him; but more is necessary. It has to be mixed with faith in those that hear. Unless there is true faith, unless faith lays hold upon the Word, it becomes of no effect. One may make an outward profession, but that will be nothing if there is not a living, divine, genuine faith that is mingled with the Word. And so he exhorts them here and stirs them up as to their danger; if they are mere professors, they, like Israel of old may fall short of God's rest because of unbelief. Ah, there is only one thing that can keep men out of God's rest: it is unbelief. A man may say he is too great a sinner, and therefore he cannot be saved. He may say he is unworthy, and therefore he dare not trust God; but there is only one thing that can keep one out of God's rest: it is the sin of unbelief.
The most unworthy that ever breathed can have a title free and full to enter into the glory of God if they only believe, if they only receive the gospel that is preached to them. Profession will never carry a man to heaven, into that rest of God; but, if there be true faith, a laying hold of God's grace in Christ by faith, there is a clear, sure and certain title to glory.
Now let us read the next part that speaks of this glorious rest which God has secured:
"For we enter into the rest, we who have believed; as he hath saith, As I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he hath spoken in a certain place of the seventh day thus, And God rested on the seventh day from all his works; and here again, They shall not enter into my rest. Seeing, therefore, it remaineth that some enter into it, and those who first received the good news did not enter in on account of disobedience, again he determineth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time, (according as it was said before) Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had brought them into rest, he would not afterwards have spoken of another day. There remaineth, therefore, a sabbath-rest for the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, hath also himself rested from his works, as God did from his own."
"For if Joshua" (not "Jesus," it is simply the Greek form of the word) "if Joshua had given them rest," (that is, when he brought them into the land of Canaan) "then would he not have spoken of another day."
Here again the whole condition of blessing, so far as we are concerned, is faith. We who believe will enter into rest. The subject in this part is the future rest of God. The apostle says that in a certain sense God's rest had been from the time of creation: "One spake of the seventh day on this wise, God rested from His labors." God ended His work and then He rested. In that sense, the sabbath of God began. But as a matter of fact we read, when our blessed Lord was here upon earth: "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." God's rest, so far as this world was concerned, was marred by sin, for He can never rest in the presence of sin. As one has beautifully said: "Holiness cannot rest where sin is. Love cannot rest where sorrow is." "Ye have made Me to serve with your sins," He says. Men make God labor with their sins. There can be no rest for God save as He would immediately judge the ungodly. If He is going on with man in any way, He must resume a toil compared with which the work of creation was nothing. God ended that work of creation and rested; but the toil He entered upon as soon as sin came into this world through our first parents, went on and on increasingly, and goes on to this very day. As we may say, God is laboring, — He labored all through the Old Testament; He sent His beloved Son into the world who continued that labor; He sent the Holy Spirit here at Pentecost, and now the Spirit of God is laboring. It is a scene of divine toil, when God is seeking to induce men by His toil to cease from their sin and to bring them into His rest.
He goes on further to David's time. Joshua had brought them into the land of Canaan; he says if Joshua had given the people rest, there would have been the accomplishment of God's purpose. But away on in David's time, who was king of Israel, the people still had not rest. Trace their history through, they have never had true and genuine rest. What is the result of it? "There remaineth, therefore, a rest," (a keeping of sabbath) "for the people of God." What is that rest? It is not the rest that comes through believing in Jesus. When our Lord said: "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," that is the foretaste of this rest, in the soul. But the keeping of sabbath for the people of God, that remains where Christ is, that is the final rest; and he that enters into that rest not only ceases from his work for salvation, but he ceases from all work. He ceases from toil, in the sense of it being toil; for though activity and service will continue through eternity, it will never mar the sabbatic stillness of that blessed place where there is no sin and therefore no toil in that sense of the word.
How significant it is that God imposed toil upon man when sin came into the world! It was in the sweat of his brow that man was to earn his bread. At first he was put there to dress and to keep the garden, but the bitterness of service and toil was not there. So in that heavenly Paradise, the rest of God into which we enter, there will be service, there will be ministry throughout eternity; but no weariness, no toil, no witness of the presence of sin.
That rest remains. How are we going to enter into it? "We who believe do enter into rest." Is that what is before us? Is that the living, blessed reality that is before us now — the rest of God? The rest where sin never can come and which it never can mar?
Oh, we know what it is to have rest in believing in Jesus here; we know something, too, of what it is to have rest in bearing His light and easy yoke; but why do we groan? "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." Why these sighs and groans?
We will not get the full thought of this rest until we see that it is primarily God's, and not ours. A perfect Being can only rest where all is in accord with His nature. Thus even the first creation was completed and all pronounced "very good" before God rested. So in the new creation. All must answer to the divine thought. Sin must be eternally banished; evil in all its forms obliterated. The results of sin too — the sufferings, sorrows, woes of life, and death "the last enemy," must be done away. All, too, must have the stamp of permanence, in contrast with the "change and decay" which prevail now.
All the perfections of God's being can then survey with delight His wide creation — the heavens nevermore to be disturbed in their harmony, or stained with the pollution of Satan's presence; the heavenly city the Bride, and the Lamb its light and glory; the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness — all will be the object of God's supreme satisfaction. Again will those words "very good" be spoken, and God Himself will cease from His labors.
The work of Christ is the eternal basis of this rest. There the righteousness of God was glorified and every attribute of the divine nature. That is why, after completing His work, our Lord sat down. He rests, waiting till His enemies are put beneath His feet. The final rest is the outcome of that accomplished work, and in spirit we can enjoy it now, though surrounded by so much that mars our outward rest.
But, dear brethren, we are made for God's rest, and until we enter into the sabbath of our God, we will be a weary people. We are in the wilderness; the brightest scenes of earth — nay I will not dishonor Christian life by speaking of earth's brightness — the joys of communion, the joys of fellowship one with another, are not these foretastes broken into or disturbed by the malice of the enemy? Is not the divided state of the people of God at present, and the unrest we all deplore, a witness that we are in the wilderness and have not entered into the rest of God? We are waiting for that rest, we are looking forward to that. Let us exhort one another that we do not settle down in our souls to any rest short of that eternal rest of God which He has prepared for us. "There remaineth, therefore, a rest for the people of God."
"Rest, Lord, in serving Thee,
As none have served below;
Oh, through that blest eternity
What tides of praise shall flow!"