Zeph. 3:17; Matt. 11:16-30; Heb. 4:1-3, 9-11.
John Alfred Trench.
Article 8 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
It is a wonderful thing that we should be able to speak of rest on our way through such a world. But there is something more wonderful still in the first passage before us (Zeph. 3:17), that God should speak of finding rest for Himself in the thoughts and ways of His love as to us. Yet so it is. It is not merely that God has been seeking rest for us in the revelation He has given us of Himself in the gospel. He had been satisfying Himself. He saves, but it is to "rejoice over thee with joy." And this is the great leading thought of that parable of His heart in Luke 15. He was reserved, we cannot but feel, in the Pharisee's house (Luke 14); but now in the company of sinners He throws off all reserve, and reveals that it is the perfect blessed joy of God, not only to receive and eat with such, as the Pharisee said, but deliberately to seek that He might have them to receive, and that to eat with Him. Nor will He rest until the poor convicted prodigal, now kissed, embraced, and clothed with the best robe, sits at His table — "and they began to be merry." "He will joy over thee with singing." He rests in His love. It satisfies Himself, or, as the beautiful word of the original expresses it (see margin), "He will be silent in his love" — silent because He has no more to do, no more to reveal of what He has done, and of the place into which He has brought us before Him. He has us out before His gaze in the perfection of Christ and is satisfied. What amazing blessedness for us! But the first-fruit of it is for Him. And this gives us the source of all rest for us; it is found in the rest there is for God, in the thoughts of His love, and in their accomplishment. Primarily, the passage belongs to the yet future of Israel, but much more fully to us.
But if He rests in His love (in Matt. 11), He brings us to rest in it. But mark the way it is introduced, for it is this that gives it its full character. (Read ver. 16-24) The Lord Jesus had been through this world and found no one — no thing to rest in. He had proved it thoroughly. Did He feel His rejection by the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done? He felt it keenly, as no other heart could. There was nothing but sorrow and trial in His circumstances, but He had a secret of rest: "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." He knew the Father. They were the Father's ways with Him, The trial that pressed upon Him was the ordering of infinite wisdom, and of a Father's love. He takes it from His Father's hand. He answered the rejection of the cities with — "I thank thee, O Father … even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." Thus was He tested; and proved perfect in confidence and in obedience, He sees clearly as with an eye ever single, to discern the place given Him of the Father. The deeper glory of His person comes before Him, and the work He had come to do in connection with it: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him." Rejected when presented as Messiah to Israel, He reveals the Father to whomsoever He wills.
But now comes the anxious question, To whom does He will to reveal Him? "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Are there troubled hearts who have found nothing to satisfy, no source of rest in this poor world? He bids us come to Him that He may reveal the Father to us, and thus bring us into the secret of His own perfect rest, so that where He laid His head, who had nowhere to lay it in this world, we can lay ours now, even on the bosom of a Father's love.
The immediate connection of the verses is to be maintained, for this gives both the aspects of rest. He speaks of their full character and preciousness. This first rest is not rest of conscience merely in the forgiveness of sins, as it is commonly taken, by not observing the deep connection of thought in the passage; though surely this must be first and may be included in it. But it is nothing short of the revelation of the Father to our souls.
Forgiveness of sins will not carry us far for rest in going through such a world. The heart wants relationship, nothing but divine relationships will satisfy it, and this is what He brings us into. It is an entirely distinct thing and found such practically in souls. It is not all at once, when born of God, with most of us, that we enter into the knowledge of the Father, and yet in 1 John 2: the babes in the family of God are addressed because they know the Father. Thus it is the privilege of all. When we come to Jesus He would have us know that it is to the Father we have come: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9) What blessed rest it is! Blessed Lord, Thou hast made good Thy word to us: we did labour and were heavy laden, and Thou hast drawn us to Thyself, and revealed to us the Father, and it is rest. Our hearts delight to own it.
This brings us to the source of all the trial that comes whatever may be the character of it. A Father's love has put us into it, whatever may seem directly or indirectly to have brought it on. How remote the trial in His case might have seemed from the Father's dealings with Him; but it is faith's title to take nothing any lower down than from a Father's known love. Then there will be something more present and real to the heart than the circumstances of the trial, namely, the One who puts us into them and the certainty of His wisdom and love in doing so — "I thank thee, O Father … even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."
But this leads us simply and naturally to the next character of rest, and this too was illustrated in the path of the Lord Jesus. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls." It is the rest we enter into by submission and obedience to the Father's will. For what was the yoke of Jesus that He bids us take upon us? It was what we have just seen in Him — that perfect obedience that submitted itself in everything to the Father's will. It is wonderfully brought before us in the words of Isaiah 50:3-6. He who was Jehovah (ver. 3) has taken in grace the path of the learner (as the last word of verse 4 ought to be). "He learned obedience by the things which he suffered." (Heb. 5:8) "Morning by morning he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learner." Thus He can say, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary." What a word in season it was to each of us, beloved brethren, when He called us to Himself to reveal to us the Father! How deeply it enhances its preciousness that He spoke it out of the experience that He had gained in His own path in the world we have to go through. Now He calls us to learn from Him, to take His yoke upon us. He, ever meek and lowly, bowed implicitly to the Father's hand in all that came upon Him. This is the one necessary condition for our enjoyment of maintained rest of soul. His rest was perfect in His path through circumstances of unparalleled trial, because His submission was perfect; and He would have us know the same perfect rest in whatever we may have to pass through, making proof that "his yoke is easy and his burden light."
To have no will of our own is the only perfect liberty. It is the working of will in the trial that gives it its bitterness; God has to set Himself against any working of it in us, to smash it, for our blessing. Our wilfulness has increased the trial, but at last the will is broken, and we surrender to God. The instant we take God's part thus against ourselves, in submitting ourselves absolutely to Him, the sting is gone out of the trial. We are brought into the path of Christ, and there is the full comfort of the sympathy of Him who knew no will of His own. We could not have or expect to have His sympathy in wilfulness. We have been sanctified to the obedience of Christ. It is often a long and painful process in us to reduce us to it, but when once we are brought to submit to His yoke, the sense of crushing and bitterness is gone. It was the knowledge of the Father that He brought us into first, and the title we have thus to take all from His heart, that makes it possible and easy now to submit ourselves under His hand — "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."
One more character of rest remains. It is that presented to us in Hebrews 4. The various characters of rest we have been looking at are present. This is future — "There remaineth a rest to the people of God." (Ver. 9) We are on our way to it. Believers enter into it (ver. 3), but what gives it its character is that it is "His rest." It is the rest of God; and it is thus developed — "He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his." (Ver. 10) It is not the rest a soul enters into now by believing the gospel. It remaineth to the people of God. It is rest at the end of the path, when the work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope, are over. The works from which God rested were not bad works. He saw that they were "very good." He rested when His work was done, and into His rest the people of God will enter when their works are done. Not the works of vainly seeking to establish our own righteousness, but the work and toil and energy of faith that is needed now for every step of the path of our heavenly calling. There is a sphere of rest God has; it is His own rest, where these will have place no longer.
They little knew the heart of God, who sought to bind the Lord Jesus to rest in a scene where a man was afflicted with disease for thirty-eight years. (John 5) When all was yet as fair as He made it, "He rested the seventh day from all his work which he had made;" but when sin came in with its attendant train of misery and death, all this was broken up, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" — till that wonderful work was accomplished, on the ground of which we might be introduced out of all the unrest here, into the rest of God. The rest of God is a scene suited to the heart of God for the blessing of His own, where no trace of sin or its consequences can ever be found, where no tear or breath of trial shall ever come. The danger is lest any of us should seem to come short of it, that is, by thinking of finding rest anywhere short of that of the counsels of God for us — the rest of God that remaineth for us.
The path of faith has now to be made good, step by step, with girded loin and earnest diligence of heart, through a scene every principle of which rises up to oppose us. When we are come to the rest of God, we may ungird the loin and let the heart go out upon everything. All there will only be the reflection of His glory and beauty. In the rest of God, "they rest from their labours"; but now we have to labour (or "use diligence") to enter into that rest. And we have the word of God to be our most powerful and needed guard to detect for us, as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, all that would slacken our pace in pressing on through everything here, to reach the blessed scene that opens before our hearts — the bright vista of an eternal rest, the rest of God. Where God shall stand, as it were, on the threshold of a new heaven and a new earth, to wipe away all tears and every trace of the sorrow that came in by sin in the old creation. But it was in this ruined world and by the very ruin, that we have been brought to know Him who has revealed to us the Father; and where the trials and exercises of our way through it are made to yield fruit so rich in blessing for our souls. Learning then from the meek and lowly One who has trodden the path before us, laying our heads on the bosom of the Father's love, may we submit ourselves absolutely to Him, till the scene of His ways with us, closes for us in that of His rest and glory for ever.