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Israel's failure through unbelief to enter into rest; the rest yet to come; believers enter into it
Hebrews 4. The apostle goes on to apply this part of Israel's history to those whom he was addressing, laying stress on two points: 1st, That Israel had failed of entering into rest through unbelief; 2nd, That the rest was yet to come, and that believers (those who were not seeking rest here, but who accepted the wilderness for the time being) should enter into it.
He begins by saying, "Let us fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any should seem to come short of it," not attain to it. For we have been the objects of the proclamation of glad tidings, as they were in times past. But the word addressed to them remained fruitless, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it: for we which have believed do enter into rest. The rest itself is yet to come, and it is believers who enter into it. For a rest of God there is, and there are some who enter into it: inasmuch as it is written, "They," that is, those (pointing out a certain class who are to be excluded) "shall not enter into my rest."
God's rest in the first creation; some were to enter into it, but Israel did not because of unbelief
God had wrought in creation, and then rested from His works when He had finished them. Thus, from the foundation of the world, He has shown that He had a rest, as in the passage already quoted, "If they shall enter into my rest"; but this, showing that the entering in was yet in question, showed that into God's rest in the first creation man had not entered. Two things then are evident — some were to enter in, and the Israel to whom it was first proposed did not enter in because of their unbelief. Therefore He again fixes a day, saying, in David, long after the entrance into Canaan, "To-day — as it is written — to-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
The rest of God was not the rest of entering into Canaan, but is yet to come, assured by God's word
Here a natural objection occurs to which the passage gives a complete answer, without speaking of the objection itself. The Israelites had indeed fallen in the wilderness, but Joshua had brought the people into Canaan which the unbelievers never reached; the Jews were there, so that they did enter into the rest as to which the others failed. The answer is evident. It was long after this that God said by David, "I sware in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest." If Joshua had given rest to Israel, David could not afterwards have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. It is yet to come; but it is assured by the word of God — a truth, the bearing of which is immediately seen with regard to the connection of the believing Jews with the nation, in the midst of which they were tempted to seek a rest that, for the moment, faith did not afford them, and being enfeebled saw but dimly before it. To have God's rest one must persevere in faith. Present apparent rest was not the true rest. God's rest was still to be waited for. Faith alone acknowledged this, and sought for none in the wilderness, trusting to the promise. God still said "Today." The state of the people was worse than the rest that Joshua gave them; which, as their own Psalms prove, was no rest at all.
What the exhortation to enter that rest shows
As to the order of the verses, the exhortation in verse 11 depends on the whole course of what precedes, the argument having been completed by the testimony of David coming after Joshua. After the creation God indeed rested; but He said after that, "If they shall enter into my rest." So that men had not entered into that rest. Joshua entered into the land; but the word by David, coming long after, proves that the rest of God was not yet attained. Nevertheless this same testimony, which forbade the entrance into rest because of unbelief, showed that some are to enter in: otherwise there was no need of declaring the exclusion of others for an especial cause, nor warning men that they might escape what hindered their entering in. No parenthesis is needed.
Now, as long as any one had not ceased from his works, he had not entered into rest; he who has entered into it has ceased from work, even as God ceased from His own works when He entered into His rest. "Let us therefore use diligence" is the exhortation of the faithful witness of God, "that we may enter into that rest" — the rest of God — in order that we may not fall after the same example of unbelief.
The rest of God; the christian's future rest from all his works; the blessed rest that remains
We should especially observe here, that it is the rest of God which is spoken of. This enables us to understand the happiness and perfection of the rest. God must rest in that which satisfies His heart. This was the case even in creation — all was very good. And now it must be in a perfect blessing that perfect love can be satisfied with, with regard to us, who will possess a heavenly portion in the blessing which we shall have in His own presence, in perfect holiness and perfect light. Accordingly all the toilsome work of faith, the exercise of faith in the wilderness, the warfare (although there are many joys), the good works practised there, labour of every kind will cease. It is not only that we shall be delivered from the power of indwelling sin; all the efforts and all the troubles of the new man will cease. We are already set free from the law of sin; then our spiritual exercise for God will cease. We shall rest from our works — not evil ones. We have already rested from our works with regard to justification, and therefore in that sense we have now rest in our consciences; but that is not the subject here — it is the Christian's rest from all his works. God rested from His works — assuredly good ones — and so shall we also then with Him.
We are now in the wilderness; we also wrestle with wicked spirits in heavenly places. A blessed rest remains for us, in which our hearts will repose in the presence of God, where nothing will trouble the perfection of our rest, where God will rest in the perfection of the blessing He has bestowed on His people.
The believer not to expect that rest here; an earthly rest for the earthly people and a heavenly one for the partakers of the heavenly calling
The great thought of the passage is, that there remains a rest (that is to say, that the believer is not to expect it here) without saying where it is. And it does not speak in detail of the character of the rest, because it leaves the door open to an earthly rest for the earthly people on the ground of the promises, although to christian partakers of the heavenly calling God's rest is evidently a heavenly one.
The instrument God uses to judge unbelief, the word of God; its power, character, work, effect and consequences
The apostle then sets before us the instrument which God employs to judge the unbelief and all the workings of the heart which tend, as we have seen, to lead the believer into departure from the position of faith, and to hide God from him by inducing him to satisfy his flesh and to seek for rest in the wilderness.
To the believer who is upright in heart this judgment is of
great value, as that which enables him to discern all that has a
tendency to hinder his progress or make him slacken his steps. It
is the word of God, which — being the revelation of God, the
expression of what He is, and of all that surrounds Him, and of
what His will is in all the circumstances that surround us — judges everything in the heart which is not of Him. It is more
penetrating than a two-edged sword. Living and energetic, it
separates all that is most intimately linked together in our hearts
and minds. Whenever nature — the "soul" and its feelings — mingles with that which is spiritual, it brings the edge of the
sword of the living truth of God between the two, and judges the
hidden movements of the heart respecting them. It discerns all the
thoughts and intentions of the heart. But it has another character,
coming from God (being, as it were, His eye upon the conscience),
it brings us into His presence; and all that it forces us to
discover, it sets in our conscience before the eye of God
Himself. Nothing is hidden, all is naked and manifested to the eye
of Him with whom we have to do.*
Such is the true help, the mighty instrument of God to judge everything in us that would hinder us from pursuing our course through the wilderness with joy, and with a buoyant heart strengthened by faith and confidence in Him. Precious instrument of a faithful God, solemn and serious in its operation; but of priceless and infinite blessing in its effects, in its consequences.
It is an instrument which, in its operations, does not allow "the desires of the flesh and of the mind" liberty to act; which does not permit the heart to deceive itself; but which procures us strength, and places us without any consciousness of evil in the presence of God, to pursue our course with joy and spiritual energy. Here the exhortation, founded on the power of the word, concludes.
Another succour — the priesthood; the Great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of David
But there is another succour, one of a different character, to aid us in our passage through the wilderness; and that is priesthood — a subject which the epistle here begins and carries on through several chapters.
We have a High Priest who has passed through the heavens — as Aaron through the successive parts of the tabernacle — Jesus, the Son of God.
The ability of Jesus to sympathise with weakness and difficulties; now beyond the reach of pain and trail He can provide, care, and sympathise in it
He has, in all things, been tempted like ourselves, sin apart; so that He can sympathise with our infirmities. The word brings to light the intents of the heart, judges the will, and all that has not God for its object and its source. Then, as far as weakness is concerned, we have His sympathy. Christ of course had no evil desires: He was tempted in every way, apart from sin. Sin had no part in it at all. But I do not wish for sympathy with the sin that is in me; I detest it, I wish it to be mortified — judged unsparingly. This the word does. For my weakness and my difficulties I seek sympathy; and I find it in the priesthood of Jesus. It is not necessary, in order to sympathise with me, that a person should feel at the same moment that which I am feeling — rather the contrary. If I am suffering pain, I am not in a condition to think as much of another's pain. But in order to sympathise with him I must have a nature capable of appreciating his pain.
Thus it is with Jesus, when exercising His priesthood. He is in every sense beyond the reach of pain and trial, but He is man; and not only has He the human nature which in time suffered grief, but He experienced the trials a saint has to go through more fully than any of ourselves; and His heart, free and full of love, can entirely sympathise with us, according to His experience of ill, and according to the glorious liberty which He now has, to provide and care for it. This encourages us to hold fast our profession in spite of the difficulties that beset our path; for Jesus concerns Himself about them, according to His own knowledge and experience of what they are, and according to the power of His grace.
The throne of grace: what we find there
Therefore, our High Priest being there, we can go with all boldness to the throne of grace, to find mercy and the grace suited to us in all times of need: mercy, because we are weak and wavering; needful grace, because we are engaged in a warfare which God owns.
Observe, it is not that we go to the High Priest. It is often done, and God may have compassion; but it is a proof that we do not fully understand grace. The Priest, the Lord Jesus, occupies Himself about us — sympathises with us, on the one hand; and on the other, we go directly to the throne of grace.
The purpose of the exhortation to go boldly to the throne of grace
The Spirit does not here speak positively of falls; we find that in 1 John 2. There also it is in connection with communion with His Father, here with access to God. His purpose here is to strengthen us, to encourage us to persevere in the way, conscious of the sympathies which we possess in heaven, and that the throne is always open to us.
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