corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Hebrews 4

 

 

Verse 3

Hebrews

THE REST OF FAITH

Hebrews 4:3

‘Do enter’ - but on a hundred gravestones you will read ‘He entered into rest’ on such and such a day, as a synonym for ‘He died.’ It is strange that an expression which the writer of this Epistle takes pains to emphasise as referring to a present experience should, by common consent, in popular use, have been taken to mean a future blessing. If nominal Christians had found more frequently that their faith was strong enough to produce its natural effects, they would not have so often misunderstood our writer. He does not say, ‘We, when we die, shall enter into rest,’ but ‘We who have believed do enter.’

It is a bold statement, and the experience of the average Christian seems to contradict it. But if the fruit of faith is repose; and if we who say we have faith are full of unrest, the best thing we can do is not to doubt the saying, but to look a little more closely whether we have fulfilled its conditions. ‘We which have believed do enter into rest.’

I. So, then, the first thing to be noted here is the present rest of faith.

I say ‘faith’ rather than ‘belief,’ because I wish to emphasise the distinction between the Christian notion of faith, and the common notion of belief. The latter is merely the acceptance of a proposition as true; and that is not enough to bring rest to any soul, though it may bring rest to the understanding. It is a great pity, though one does not quite see how it could have been avoided, that so frequently in the New Testament, to popular apprehension, the depth of the meaning. of that one requirement of faith is obscured because it is represented in our version by the word ‘believe,’ which has come to be appropriated to the mere intellectual act. But if you will notice that the writer of this Epistle uses two other words as interchangeable with ‘belief,’ you will understand the depth of his meaning better. Sometimes he speaks of our ‘confidence’ - by which he means precisely the same thing. Sometimes he speaks of our ‘obedience ‘ - by which he means precisely the same thing. So there is an element of voluntary submission implied, and there is an element of outgoing confidence implied in the word. And when he says, ‘We which have believed do enter into rest,’ he does not mean ‘We which acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world, But we who, acknowledging, let our hearts go out to Him in trust, and our wills bow down before Him in obedience and submission. We thereby do enter into rest.’ Carry with you these two thoughts, then - ‘confidence’ and ‘obedience’ - as indispensable elements in the New Testament conception of faith, and then you can understand the great saying of my text.

Trust brings rest, for the trust which grasps Jesus Christ, not only intellectually, but with the reliance of the whole nature upon Him to do for me that which my understanding believes that He will do - that trust brings rest because it sweeps away, as the north wind does the banded clouds on the horizon, all the deepest causes of unrest. These are our perverted relation to God, and the alienation of our hearts from Him. Brother! there is no rest deep as life which does not flow from rejoicing confidence in Christ’s great sacrifice by which the innermost source of conflict and disturbance in our souls has been dealt with. Most of us are contented if there be a superficial appearance of calm, like the sunny vineyard on the slopes of a volcano, whilst-in the heart of it sulphurous fires are bubbling and boiling, and will burst out some day. What is the worth of a tranquillity which only survives on condition of our ignoring the most patent and most operative fact in our lives? It is only when you shuffle God out of your consciousness, and when you wink hard so as not to see the facts of your own moral condition and sinfulness, or when you sophisticate yourself into illogical and unreasonable diminution of the magnitude and gravity of your sins, that some of you know a moment’s rest. If the curtain were once drawn aside, and we were brought face to face with the realities of heaven and the realities of our own characters, all this film of apparent peace would break and burst, and we should be left to face the trouble that comes whenever a man’s relation with God is, consciously to himself, perverted and wrong. But trust brings rest; rest from the gnawing of conscience, rest from the suspicion of evil consequences resulting from contact with the infinite divine righteousness, rest from all the burden of guilt, which is none the less heavy because the man appears to be unconscious of it. It is there all the same. ‘We which have believed do enter into rest,’ because our trust brings about the restoration of the true relation to God and the forgiveness of our sins. Trust brings rest, because it casts all our burdens on another. Every act of reliance, though it does not deliver from responsibility, delivers from anxiety. We see this even when the object of our trust is but a poor creature like ourselves. Husbands and wives who find settled peace in one another; parents and children; patrons and protected, and a whole series of other relationships in life, are witnesses to the fact that the attitude of reliance brings the actuality of repose. A little child goes to sleep beneath its mother’s eye, and is tranquil, not only because it is ignorant but because it is trustful. So if we will only get behind the shelter, the blast will not blow about us, but we shall be in what they call on the opposite side of the Tweed, in a word that is music in the ears of some of us - a ‘lown place,’ where we hear not the loud winds when they call. Trust is rest; even when we lean upon an arm of flesh, though that trust is often disappointed. What is the depth of the repose that comes not from trust that leans against something supposed to be a steadfast oak, that proves to be a broken reed, but against the Rock of Ages? We which have ‘believed do enter into rests’ Trust brings repose, because it effects submission. The true reason for our restlessness in this world is not that we are ‘pelted by the pitiless storm’ of change and sorrow. A grief accepted loses most of its power to sadden, and all its power to perturb. It is not outward calamities, but a rebellious will that troubles us. The bird beats itself against the wires of its cage, and wounds itself, whereas if it sat still in its captivity it might sing. So when we trust we submit; and submission is the mother of peace. There is no other consolation worth naming for our sorrows, except the consolation that comes from submission. When we accept them, lie still, let him strike home and kiss the rod, we shall be at rest.

Trust brings repose, because it leads to satisfied desires. We are restless because each object that we pursue yields but a partial satisfaction, and because all taken together are inadequate to our needs. There is but one Person who can fill the heart, the mind, the will, and satisfy our whole nature. No accumulation of things, be they ever so precious, even if they are the higher or more refined satisfactions of the intellect, can ever satisfy the heart. And no endless series of finite persons is sufficient for the wants of any one of the series, who, finite as he is, yet needs an infinite satisfaction. It must be a person that shall fill all the cavities and clefts of our hearts, and, filling them, gives us rest. ‘My soul thirsteth for God,’ though I misinterpret its thirst, and, like a hot dog upon a road, try to slake my thirst by lapping at any puddle of dirty water that I come across in my path. There is no satisfaction there. It is in God, and in God only, that we can find repose.

Some of us may have seen a weighty acknowledgment from a distinguished biologist lately deceased which strikes me as relevant to this thought.

Listen to his confession: ‘I know from experience the intellectual distractions of scientific research, philosophical speculation, and artistic pleasures, but am also well aware that even when all are taken together, and well sweetened to taste, in respect of consequent reputation, means, social position, etc., the whole concoction is but as light confectionery to a starving man .... It has been my lot to know not a few of the foremost men of our generation, and I have always observed that this is profoundly true.’ That is the testimony of a man who had tried the highest, least material forms of such a trust. And I know that there is an ‘amen’ to it in every heart, and I lift up opposite to all such experiences the grand summary of Christian experience: ‘We which have believed do enter into rest.’

II. Note, secondly, the energy of work which accompanies the rest of faith.

There is a good deal said in the context - a difficult context, with which we are not concerned at present, about the analogy between a man’s rest in God and God’s own rest. That opens wonderful thoughts which I must not be tempted to pursue, with regard to the analogy between the divine and the human, and the possible assimilation, in some measure, of the experiences of the creature with those of the Creator. Can it be that, between a light kindled and burning itself away while it burns, and fire which burns and is not consumed, there is any kind of correspondence? There is, however dim the analogy may be to us. Let us take the joy and the elevation of that thought, ‘My peace I give unto you.’

But the main point for which I refer to this possible analogy is in order to remind you that the rest of God is dealt with in Scripture as being, not a cessation from work, but the accomplishment of a purpose, and satisfaction in results. ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,’ said Jesus Christ. And modern speculation puts the same thought in a more heathenish fashion when it says ‘preservation is continual creation.’ Just as God rests from His creative work, not as if either needing repose or holding His hand from further operation, but as satisfied with the result; just as He rests in work and works in rest, so Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God in eternal indisturbance and repose, in token that He has fulfilled His work on earth. But He is likewise represented as standing at the right hand of God in attitude to help His servants, and as evermore working with them in all their toils.

In like manner we shall much misconceive the repose of faith, if we do not carry with us the thought that that repose is full of strenuous toil Faith brings rest. Yes! But the main characteristic of Christian faith is that it is an active principle, which sets all the wheels of holy life in more vigorous motion, and breathes an intenser as well as calmer and more reposeful activity into the whole man. The work of faith is quite as important as the rest of faith. It works by love, and the very repose that it brings ought to make us more strenuous in our toil. We are able to cast ourselves without anxiety about ourselves, and with no distraction of our inner nature, and no weakening of power in consequence of the consciousness of sin, or of unconscious sin - into the tasks which devolve upon us, and so to do them with our might. The river withdrawn from all divided channels is gathered into the one bed that it may flow with power, and scour before it all impurities. So the man who is delivered from restlessness is quickened for work, and even ‘in his very motion there is rest.’ It is possible to blend together in secret, sweet, indissoluble union these two partial antitheses, and in the midst of the most strenuous effort to have a central calm, like the eye of the storm which whirls in its wild circles round a centre-point of perfect repose. It is possible, at one and the same time, to be dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, and feeding our souls with that calm that broods there, and to be up to the ears in business, and with our hands full of pressing duties. The same faith which ushers us into the quiet presence of God in the centre of the soul, pushes us into the forefront of the battle to fight, and into the world’s busy workshop to labour.

So the rest which is Christian is a rest throbbing with activity; and, further, the activity which is based on faith will deepen repose, and not interrupt it. Jesus Christ distinguished between the two stages of the tranquillity which is realised by His true disciples, for He said ‘Come unto Me... and I will give you rest’ - the rest which comes by approach to Him in faith from the beginning of the approach, rest resulting from the taking away of what I have called the deepest cause of unrest. There is a second stage of the disciples’ action and consequent peace; ‘Take My yoke upon you... and ye shall find rear’ - not ‘I will give’ this time - ‘ye shall find’ - in the act of taking the yoke upon your necks - ‘rest to your souls.’ The activity that ensues from faith deepens the rest of faith.

III. Lastly, to consider the future perfecting of the present rest.

In a subsequent verse the writer uses a different word from that of my text to express this idea; and it is rather unfortunate for the understanding of the progress of the thought that our version has kept the same expression in both cases. ‘There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God’ -which follows a few verses after my text - had better have been rendered,’There remaineth the keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God’; although probably the writer is pointing to the same facts there as in my text, yet he introduces a metaphor which conveys more clearly than the text does the idea of an epoch of rest following upon a week of toil.

So I may venture to say that the repose of faith which is experienced here, because the causes of unrest are taken away, and a new ally comes into the field, and our wills submit, and our desires are satisfied, is but the germ of that eternal Sabbath day to which we look forward. I have said that the gift spoken of here is a present thing; but that present thing bears in all its lineaments a prophecy of its own completion. And the repose of a Christian heart in the midst of life’s work and worry is the best anticipation and picture, because it is the beginning, of the rest of heaven.

That future, however it may differ from this present, and how much it differs none know except those who are wrapt in its repose, is in essence the same. Yonder, as here, we become partakers of rest through faith. There, as here, it is trust that brings rest. And no change of bodily environment, no change of the relations between body and spirit, no transference of the man into new conditions and a new world will bring repose, unless there is in him a trust which grasps Jesus Christ. Faith is eternal, and is eternally the minister of rest. Heaven is the perfecting of the highest and purest moments of Christian experience.

So, Christian men and women, the more trust the more rest. And if it be so that going through this weary world you have but little confirmation of the veracity of the great saying of my text, do not fancy that it is a mistake. Look. to your faith and see that it is deepened.

And let us all, dear friends, remember that not death but faith brings present repose and future perfecting. Death is not the porter that opens the gate of the kingdom. It is only the usher that brings us to the gate, and the gate is opened by Him ‘who openeth and no man shutteth; and who shutteth and no man openeth.’ He opens to them who have believed, and they enter in and are saved. ‘Let us labour, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.’


Verse 9-10

Hebrews

ENTRANCE INTO GOD’S REST

Hebrews 4:9-10

WE lose much of the meaning of this passage by our superficial habit of transferring it to a future state. The ground of the mistake is in the misinterpretation of that word ‘remaineth’; which is taken to point to the ‘rest,’ after the sorrows of this life are all done with. Of course there is such a rest; but if we take the context of the passage, we cannot but recognise this as the truth that is taught here, that faith, and not death, is the gate to participation in Christ’s rest - that the rest remained over after Moses and Judaism, but came into possession under and by Christ.

For the main scope of the whole passage is the elucidation of one of the points in which the writer asserts the superiority of Christ to Moses, of Christianity to Judaism. That old system, says he, had in it for its very heart a promise of rest; but it had only a promise.

It could not give the thing that it held forth. It could not, by the nature of the system. It could not, as is manifest from this fact - that years after they had entered into possession of the land, years after the promise had been first given, the Psalmist represents the entrance into that rest as a privilege not yet realised, but waiting to be grasped by the men of day whose hearts were softened to hear God’s voice. David’s words clearly, to the mind of the writer of the epistle, show that Canaan was not the promised ‘rest.’ David treats it as being obtained by obedience to God’s Word; and as not yet possessed by the people, though they had the promised land. He treats it as then, in his own ‘day,’ still but a promise, and a promise which would not be fulfilled to his people if they hardened their hearts. All this carries the inference that the Mosaic system did not give the ‘rest’ which it promised. Hence, says the author of the Hebrews, that ‘rest’ held forth from the beginning, gleaming before all generations of the Jewish people, but to them only a fair vision, remains unpossessed as yet, but to be possessed. God’s word has been pledged. He has said that there shall be a share in His rest for His people. The ancient people did not get it. What then? Is God’s promise thereby cancelled? ‘They could not enter in because of unbelief,’ but the unbelief of man shall not make the faith of God without effect. Therefore, as the eternal promise has been given, and they counted themselves unworthy, the divine mercy which will find some to enter therein, and will not be balked of its purposes, turns to the Gentiles; and the ‘rest’ provided for the Jews first, but unaccepted by them, remains for all who believe to partake.

And, still further, the writer establishes the principle that the rest promised to the Jew remains yet to be inherited by the Christian, on a second ground: ‘For,’ says he, in the tenth verse of the chapter, ‘for He that is entered into His rest, He also has ceased from His own works, as God did from His.’ How is that a proof? It is not a proof that there is a rest for us, if you interpret it as people generally do. But it is so if you give to it what seems to be the correct interpretation - by referring it to Christ and Christ’s heavenly condition. ‘He that has entered into His rest - that is Jesus Christ, ‘He has ceased from His own works’ - His finished work of redemption - ‘as God did from His’ His finished work of creation. And there is the great proof that there is a rest for us: not only because Judaism did not bring it, but because Christ hath gone up on high. We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens. Christ our Lord has entered into His rest - parallel with the divine tranquillity after Creation. And seeing that He possesses it, certainly we shall possess it if only we hold fast by Him. ‘There remains a rest’ - proved by the fact that Christ hath gone into it, and carrying the inference, ‘Let us labour, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.’

We find here, then, three main points. First, the divine rest, God’s and Christ’s. Secondly, this divine rest, the pattern of what our life on earth may become. And lastly, this divine rest, the prophecy of what our life in heaven shall assuredly be.

I. In the first place, then, we have here the divine rest.

‘He hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His.’ The writer is drawing a parallel between God’s ceasing from His creative work and entering into that Sabbath rest when He saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good; and Christ’s ceasing from the work of redemption, and passing into the heavens to the Sabbath of His everlasting repose.

I need not dwell at any length upon a matter which, after all speech, remains for us but very dimly intelligible - the rest of God. ‘My rest’ - that rest belongs necessarily to the Divine Nature. It is the deep tranquillity of a nature self-sufficing in its infinite beauty, calm in its everlasting strength, placid in its deepest joy, still in its mightiest energy; loving without passion, willing without decision or change, acting without effort; quiet, and moving everything; making all things new, and itself everlasting; creating, and knowing no diminution by the act; annihilating, and knowing no loss though the universe were barren and unpeopled. God is, God is everywhere, God is everywhere the same, God is everywhere the same infinite, God is everywhere the same infinite love and the same infinite self- sufficiency; therefore His very Being is rest. And yet that image that rises before us, statuesque, still in its placid tranquillity, is not repellent nor cold, is no dead marble likeness of life. That great ocean of the Divine Nature which knows no storm nor billow, is yet not a tideless and stagnant sea. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He loves. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He wills. God is changeless and ever tranquil, and yet He acts. Mystery of mysteries, passing all understanding I And yet He says, ‘They shall enter into My rest!’ Now I believe, and I hope you believe, that the rest of Christ is like the rest of God, even in respect of this Divine and Infinite Nature. ‘He hath ceased from His works, as God did from His.’ Jesus Christ is ‘the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’ Whatsoever you can predicate of the settled tranquillity, and stable, necessary, essential repose of a divine nature, that you can predicate of Christ our Redeemer, of Christ the Son of God.

But still further. Besides that deep and changeless repose which thus belongs to the Divine Nature, there is the other thought which perhaps comes more markedly out in the passage before us - that of a rest which is God’s tranquil ceasing from His work, because God has perfected His work. When we read in the Old Testament, that at the end of the creative act, God rested upon the Sabbath day, and blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, of course the thought that comes into view is not that of a divine nature wearied with toil and needing repose, but that of a divine nature which has fully accomplished its intent, expressed its purpose, done what it meant to do, and rests from its working Because it has embodied its ideal in its work. It is the proclamation, ‘This creation of Mine is all that I meant it to be - finished and perfect’; not the acknowledgment of an exhaustion of the creative energy which needs to reinvigorate its strength by repose after its mighty ,effort. The rest of God is the expression of the perfect divine complacency in the perfect divine work.

And, in like manner, as after that creative act there came the Sabbath, when He saw that it was all very good, and the morning stars sang together for joy;-so after the mightier new-creative act of redemption, the Christ, who is divine, ceased and held His hand, not because Bethlehem and Calvary had wearied Him, not because after pain He needed rest, not because the Cross had tasked His powers, and His suffering had strained His nature; but because all that had to be done was done, and He knew it-because redemption was completed. The Sabbath on which God rested from His work, and the new Sabbath on which Christ rose from the dead, the conqueror of death, the destruction of sin, are parallel in this, that in either case the work was done, that in either case the Doer needed no repose after His finished task. And just as God, full of all the energy of being, operated unspent after creation, needed not that rest for His refreshment, but took it as the pledge and proclamation to the universe that all was done; so Christ, unwearied and unwounded from His dreadful close and sore wrestle with sin and death, sprung from the grave to the skies, and rests - proclamation and token to the world that His work is finished, that the Cross is enough for the race for ever more, that all is complete, and man’s salvation secured. As God hath ceased from His works, Christ hath ceased from His.

Still further: this divine tranquility - inseparable from the Divine Nature, the token of the sufficiency and completeness of the divine work - is also a rest that is full of work. When Christ was telling the Jews the principles of the Sabbath day, He said to them: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ The creative act is finished and God rests; but God, in resting, works; even as God, in working, rests. Preservation is a continued creation. The energy of the divine power is as mightily at work here now sustaining us in life, as it was when He flung forth stars and systems like sparks from a forge, and willed the universe into being. God rests, and in His rest, up to the present hour and for ever, God works. And, in like manner, Christ’s work of redemption, finished upon the Cross, is perpetually going on. Christ’s glorious repose is full of energy for His people. He intercedes above. He works on them, He works through them, He works for them. The rest of God, the divine tranquillity, is full of work. There, then, is a parallel: the rest of the Father, who ceased from His work of creation, and continueth His work of preservation, is parallel with that of the Son, who ceased from His work of sacrifice, and continueth His work of intercession and of sanctifying. These two are one. ‘My rest’ is the rest of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Father. That still communion and that everlasting repose are a prophecy for our lives, brethren. The ancient promise, long repeated, has come sounding down through the echoing halls of the centuries, and rings in our ears as fresh as when first it was spoken, ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God,’ they shall enter into the stillness and the secret of His tranquillity!

II. Then, in the second place, the text gives us, The rest of God and of Christ as the pattern of what our earthly life may become.

Like Christ, like God - can it be? It can be, with certain differences; but oh! the differences drop into insignificance when we think of the resemblances. Whether a man is capable of knowing absolute truth or not, he is capable of coming into direct and personal contact with the absolute Reality, the Truth of Truth. And whether here below we can know anything about God as He is or not, this at all events the New Testament teaches us, that we can come to be like Him - like Him in the substance of our souls; like Him - copy of His perfections; like Him - shadow and resemblance of some of His attributes. And here lies the foundation for the belief that we can ‘ enter into His rest.’ We cannot possess that changeless tranquillity which knows no variations of purpose or of desire, but we can possess the stable repose of that fixed nature which knows one object, and one alone. We cannot possess that energy which, after all work, is fresh and unbroken; but we can possess that tranquillity which in all toil is not troubled, and after all work is ready for yet greater service. We cannot possess that unwavering fire of a divine nature which burns in love without flickering, which knows without learning, which wills without irresolution and without the act of decision; but we can come to love deeply, tranquilly, perpetually, we can come to know without questioning, without doubts, without darkness, in firm confidence of stable assurance, and so know with something like the knowledge of Him who knows things as they are; and we can come to will and resolve so strongly, so fixedly, so wisely, that there shall he no change of purpose, nor any vacillation of desire. In these ways, in shadow and copy, we can resemble even the apparently incommunicable tranquillity which, like an atmosphere that knows no tempests, belongs to and encircles the throne of God.

But, still further: faith, which is the means of entering into rest, will - if only you cherish it - make your life no unworthy resemblance of His who, triumphant above, works for us, and, working for us, rests from all His toil. Trust Christ! is the teaching here. Trust Christ! and a great benediction of tranquil repose comes down upon thy calm mind and upon thy settled heart. Trust Christ! and so thy soul will no longer be like ‘the sea that cannot rest,’ full of turbulent wishes, full of passionate desires that come to nothing, full of endless meanings, like the homeless ocean that is ever working and never flings up any product of its work but yeasty foam and broken weeds; - but thine heart shall become translucent and still, like some land-locked lake, where no winds rave nor tempests ruffle; and on its calm surface there shall be mirrored the clear shining of the unclouded blue, and the perpetual light of the sun that never goes down. Trust Christ! and rest is thine - rest from fear, rest from toil and trouble, rest from sorrow, rest from the tossings of thine own soul, rest from the tumults of thine own desires, rest from the stings of thine own conscience, rest from seeking to work out a righteousness of thine own. Trust Christ, cease from ‘thine own works,’ forsake thine own doings, and abjure and abandon thine own righteousness; and though God’s throne be far above thee, and the depth of that Being be incommunicable to and uncopyable by thee, yet a divine likeness of His still, and blessed, and unbroken repose shall come down and lie - a solid and substantial thing - on thy pure and calmed spirit. ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God.’ Say then, my Lord rests and my Father: I Will trust Him; I will rest in the Lord, and He shall keep me in perfect peace, because my mind is stayed on Him.

III. Finally: This divine rest is not only a pattern of what our earthly life may become, but it is a prophecy of what our heavenly life shall surely be.

I have said that the immediate reference of the passage is not to a future state. But that does not exclude the reference, unless, indeed, we suppose that the Christian’s life on earth and his condition in heaven are two utterly different things, possessing no feature in common. The Bible presents a directly reverse notion to that. Though it gives full weight to all the differences which characterise the two conditions, yet it says, There is a basis of likeness between the Christian life on earth and the Christian life in heaven, so great as that the blessings which are predicated of the one belong to the other. Only here they are in blossom, sickly often, putting out very feeble shoots and tendrils; and yonder transplanted into their right soil, and in their native air with heaven’s sun upon them, they burst into richer beauty, and bring forth fruits of immortal life. Heaven is the earthly life of a believer glorified and perfected. If here we by faith enter into the beginning of rest, yonder through death with faith, we shall enter into the perfection of it.

We cannot speak wisely of that future when we speak definitely of it. All that I suggest now as taught us by this passage is, that heaven will be for us, rest in work and work that is full of rest. Our Lord’s heaven is not an idle heaven. Christ is gone up on high, having completed His work on earth, that He may carry on His work in heaven; and after the pattern and likeness of His glory and of His repose, shall be the repose and glory of the children that are with Him. He rests from His labours, and His works do follow Him. He sitteth at the right hand of God ‘expecting’ - waiting patiently and in the confidence of assured triumph, ‘till His enemies become His footstool.’ But yet the dying martyr saw his Lord standing, not sitting, ready to help, and bending over him to welcome; and though He has ascended, and left the work of spreading the gospel to be done on earth, ‘the Lord works with us’ from His throne, nor is untouched by our troubles, nor idle in our toils. All the rest of that divine tranquillity, is rest in rapid, vigorous, perpetual motion. Ay, it is just as it is with physical things: the looker-on sees the swiftest motion as the most perfect rest. The wheel revolves so fast that the eye cannot discern its movements. The cataract foaming down from the hillside, when seen from half-way across the lake, seems to stand a silent, still, icy pillar. The divine work, because it is such work, is rest - tranquil in its energy, quiet in its intensity; because so mighty, therefore so still! That is God’s heaven, Christ’s heaven.

The heaven of all spiritual natures is not idleness. Man’s delight is activity. The loving heart’s delight is obedience. The saved heart’s delight is grateful service. The joys of heaven are not the joys of passive contemplation, of dreamy remembrance, of perfect repose; but they are described thus, ‘They rest not day nor night.’ ‘His servants serve Him, and see His face.’

Yes, my brother, heaven is perfect ‘rest.’ God be thanked for all the depth of unspeakable sweetness which lies in that one little word, to the ears of all the weary and the heavy laden. God be thanked, that the calm clouds which gather round the western setting sun, and stretch their unmoving loveliness in perfect repose, and are bathed through and through with unflashing and tranquil light, seem to us in our busy lives and in our hot strife like blessed prophets of our state when we, too, shall lie cradled near the everlasting, unsetting Sun, and drink in, in still beauty of perpetual contemplation, all the glory of His face, nor know any more wind and tempest, rain and change. Rest in heaven - rest in God! Yes, but work in rest! Ah, that our hearts should grow up into an energy of love of which we know nothing here, and that our hands should be swift to do service, beyond all that could be rendered on earth, - that, never wearying, we should for ever be honoured by having work that never becomes toil nor needs repose; that, ever resting, we should ever be blessed by doing service which is the expression of our loving hearts, and the offering of our grateful and greatened spirits, joyful to us and acceptable to God, - that is the true conception of ‘the rest that remaineth for the people of God.’ Heaven is waiting for us - like God’s, like Christ’s - still in all its work, active in all its repose. See to it, my friend, that your life be calm because your soul is fixed, trusting in Jesus, who alone gives rest here to the heavy laden. Then your death will be but the passing from one degree of tranquillity to another, and the calm face of the corpse, whence all the lines of sorrow and care have faded utterly away, will be but a poor emblem of the perfect stillness into which the spirit has gone. Faith is the gate to partaking in the rest of God on earth. Death with faith is the gate of entrance into the rest of God in heaven.


Verse 11

Hebrews

MAN’S SHARE IN GOD’S REST

Hebrews 4:11.

WITH this simple, practical exhortation, the writer closes one of the most profound and intricate portions of this Epistle. He has been dealing with two Old Testament passages, one of them, the statement in Genesis that God rested after His creative work; the other, the oath sworn in wrath that Israel should not enter into God’s rest. Combining these two, he draws from them the inferences that there is a rest of God which He enjoys, and of which He has promised to man a share; that the generation to whom the participation therein was first promised, and as a symbol of that participation, the outward possession of the land, fell by unbelief, and died in the wilderness; that the unclaimed promise continued to subsequent generations and continues to this day. All the glories of it, all the terrors of exclusion, the barriers that shut out, the conditions of entrance, the stringent motives to earnestness, are one in all generations. Surface forms may alter; the fundamentals of the religious life, in the promise of God, and the ways by which men may win or miss it, are unchangeable.

And so the reiterated appeal comes to us with its primeval freshness, saying, after so long a time, ‘Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’

We have, then, in the words before us, these three things - the rest of God; the barriers against, and the conditions of, entrance; and the labour to secure the entrance.

I. Note then, first, the rest of God.

Now it is quite possible that the Psalmist, in the passage on which our text foots itself, may have meant by ‘My rest’ nothing more than repose in the land, which rest was God’s since He was the giver of it. But it seems more probable that something of the same idea was floating in his mind, which the writer of this Epistle states so expressly and strongly - viz., that far beyond that outward possession there is the repose of the divine nature in which, marvellous as it may seem, it is possible for a man, in some real fashion, to participate.

What, then, is the rest of God? The ‘rest’ which Genesis speaks about was, of course, not repose that recruited exhausted strength, but the cessation of work because the work was complete, the repose of satisfaction in what we should call an accomplished ideal.

And, further, in that august conception of the rest of God is included, not only the completion of all His purpose, and the full correspondence of effect with cause, but likewise the indisturbance and inward harmony of that infinite nature whereof all the parts co-operant to an end move in a motion which is rest.

And, further, the rest of God is compatible with, and, indeed, but another form of, unceasing activity. ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,’ said the Master; though the works were, in one sense, finished from the foundation of the world.

Now can we dare to dream that in any fashion that solemn, divine repose and tranquillity of perfection can be reproduced in us? Yes! The dewdrop is a sphere, as truly as the sun; the rainbow in the smallest drop of rain has all the prismatic colours blended in the same harmony as when the great iris strides across the sky. And if man be made in the image of God, man perfected shall be deiform, even in the matter of his apparently incommunicable repose. For they who are exalted to that final future participation in His life will have to look back, too, upon work which, stained as it has been in the doing, yet, in its being accepted upon the altar on which it was humbly laid, has been sanctified and greatened, and will be an element in their joy in the days that are to come. ‘They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them’ - not for accusation, nor to read to them bitter memories of incompleteness, but rather that they may contribute to the deep repose and rest of the heavens. In a modified form, but yet in reality, the rest of God may be possessed even by the imperfect workers here upon earth.

And, in like manner, that other aspect of the divine repose, in the tranquillity of a perfectly harmonious nature, is altogether, and without restriction, capable of being reproduced, and certain in the future to be reproduced in all them that love and trust Him, when the whole being shall be settled and centred upon Him, and will and desires and duty and conscience shall no more conflict. ‘Unite my heart to fear Thy name,’ is a prayer even for earth. It will be fully answered in heaven, and the souls made one through all their parts shall rest in God, and shall rest like God.

And further, the human participation in that divine repose will have, like its pattern, the blending without disturbance of rest with motion. The highest activity is the intensest repose. Just as a light, whirled with sufficient rapidity, will seem to make a still circle; just as the faster a wheel moves the more moveless it seems to stand; just as the rapidity of the earth’s flight through space, and the universality with which all the parts of it participate in the flight, produce the sensation of absolute immobility. It is not motion, but effort and friction, that break repose; and when there is neither the one nor the other, there will be no contrariety between activity and rest; but we shall enjoy at once the delights of both without the wear and tear and disturbance of the one or the languor of the other.

This participation by man in the rest of God, which has its culmination in the future, has its germ in the present. For I suppose that none of the higher blessings which attach to the perfect state of man, as revealed in Scripture, do so belong to that state as that their beginnings are not realised here. All the great promises of Scripture, except those which may point to purely physical conditions, begin to be fulfilled here in the earnest of the inheritance. And so, though toil be our lot, and work against the grain, beyond the strength, and for merely external objects of passing necessity., may be our task here, and the disturbance of rest through sorrows and cares is the experience of all, yet even here, as this Epistle has it, ‘we who have believed do enter into rest.’ The Canaan of the Jew is treated by the writer of this Epistle as having only been a symbol and outward pledge of the deeper repose to which the first receivers of the promise were being trained, if they had been faithful, to look forward and aspire; and the heaven that awaits us, in so far as it is a place and external condition, is in like manner but a symbol and making manifest to sense of the spiritual verity of union with God and satisfaction and rest in Him.

II. So look, secondly, at the barriers against, and the conditions of, entrance into that rest.

My text says, ‘Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.’ Now it is to be observed that in this section, of which this is the concluding hortatory portion, there is a double reason given for the failure of that generation to whom the promise was addressed to appropriate it to themselves; and that double representation has been unfortunately obscured in our Authorised Version by a uniform rendering of two different words. Sometimes, as here in my text, we find that the word translated ‘unbelief’ really means disobedience; and sometimes we find that it is correctly translated by the former term. For instance, in the earlier portions of the section, we find a warning against ‘an evil heart of unbelief.’ The word there is correctly translated, Then we find again, ‘To whom He ‘sware in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest; but unto them that believed not,’ where the word ought rather to be ‘them that were disobedient.’ And in the subsequent verse we find the ‘unbelief’ again mentioned. So there are not one but two things stated by the writer as the barriers to entrance - unbelief and its consequence and manifestation as well as root, disobedience.

And the converse, of course, follows. If the barrier be a shut door of unbelief, plated with disobedience, like iron upon an oak portal, then the condition of entrance is faith, with its consequence of submission of will, and obedience of life.

Notice the important lessons that are given by this alternation of the two ideas of faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience. Disobedience is the root of unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of further disobedience. Faith is submission, voluntary, within a man’s own power. If it be not exercised the true cause lies deeper than all intellectual ones, lies in the moral aversion of his will and in the pride of independence, which says, ‘Who is Lord over us?’ Why should we have to depend upon Jesus Christ? And as faith is obedience and submission, so faith breeds obedience, and unbelief leads on to higher-handed rebellion. The two interlock each other, foul mother and fouler child; and with dreadful reciprocity of influence the less a man trusts the more he disobeys, the more he disobeys the less he trusts.

But, then, further, note the respective influence of these two - faith and unbelief; and the other couple, obedience and disobedience, in securing entrance to the rest. Now I desire to bring into connection with this duality of representation, which, as I have said, pervades this section of our letter, our Lord’s blessed words, ‘Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn’ of Me ‘and ye shall find rest.’ There again, we have the double source of rest, and by implication the double source of unrest. For the rest which is given, and the rest which is found, that which ensues from coming to Christ, and that which ensues from taking His yoke upon us and learning of Him, are not the same. But the one is the rest of faith, and the other is the rest of obedience.

So, then, consider the repose that ensues from faith, the unrest that dogs unbelief. When a man comes to Christ, then, because Christ enters into him, he enters into rest. There follow the calming of the conscience and reconciliation with God, there is the beginning of the harmonising of the whole nature in one supreme and satisfying love and devotion. These things still the storm and make the incipient Christian life in a true fashion, though in a small measure, participant of the rest of God.


People say that it is arbitrary to connect salvation with faith, and talk to us about the ‘injustice’ of men being saved and damned because of their creeds. We are not saved for our faith, nor condemned for our unbelief, but we are saved in our faith, and condemned in our unbelief. Suppose a man did not believe that prussic acid was a poison, and took a spoonful of it and died. You might say that his opinion killed him, but that would only be a shorthand way of saying that his opinion led him to take the thing that did kill him. Suppose a man believes that a medicine will cure him, and takes it, and gets well. Is it the drug or his opinion that cures him? If a certain mental state tends to produce certain emotions, you cannot have the emotions if you will not have the state. Suppose you do not rely upon the promised friendship and help of some one, you cannot have the joy of confidence or the gifts that you do not believe in and do not care for. And so faith is no arbitrary appointment, but the necessary condition, the only condition possible, in the nature of things, by which a man can enter into the rest of God. If we will not let Christ heal our wounds, they must keep on bleeding; if we will not let Him soothe our conscience, it must keep on pricking; if we will not have Him to bring us nigh, we must continue far off; if we will not open the door of our hearts to let Him in, He must stop without. Faith is the condition of entrance; unbelief bars the door of heaven against us, because it bars the door of our hearts against Him who is heaven.

And then, in like manner, obedience and disobedience are respectively conditions of coming into contact or remaining untouched by the powers which give repose. Submission is tranquillity. What disturbs us in this world is neither work nor worry, but wills unconformed to our work, and unsubmissive to our destiny. When we can say, ‘Thy will be done,’ then some faint beginnings of peace steal over our souls, and birds of calm sit brooding even on the yet heaving deep. The ox that kicks against the pricks only makes its hocks bloody. The ox that bows its thick neck to the yoke, and willingly pulls at the burden, has a quiet life. The bird that dashes itself against the wires of its cage bruises its wings and puts its little self into a flutter. When it is content with its limits, its song comes back. Obedience is repose; disobedience is disturbance, and they who trust and submit have entered into rest.

III. Now, lastly, a word about the discipline to secure the entrance.

That is a singular paradox and bringing together of opposing ideas, is it not, Let us labour to enter into rest? The paradox is not so strong in the Greek as here, but it still is there. For the word translated ‘labour’ carries with it the two ideas of earnestness and of diligence, and this is the condition on which alone we can secure the entrance, either into the full heaven above, or into the incipient heaven here.

But note, if we distinctly understand what sort of toil it is that is required to secure it, that settles the nature of the diligence. The main effort of every Christian life, in view of the possibilities of repose that are open to it here and now, and yonder in their perfection, ought to be directed to this one point of deepening and strengthening faith and its consequent obedience.

You can cultivate your faith, it is within your own power. You can make it strong or weak, operative through your life, or only partially, by fits and starts. And what is required is that Christian people should make a business of their godliness, and give themselves to it as carefully and as consciously and as constantly as they give themselves to their daily pursuits. The men that are diligent in the Christian life, who exercise that commonplace, prosaic, pedestrian, homely virtue of earnest effort, are sure to succeed; and there is no other way to succeed. You cannot go to heaven in silver slippers. But although it be true that heaves is a gift, and that the bread of God is given to us by His Son, the old commandment remains unrepealed, and has as direct and stringent reference to the inward Christian life as to the outward. ‘In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread,’ though it be at the same time bread that is given thee. And how are we to cultivate our faith? By contemplating the great object which kindles it. Do you do that?

By resolving, with fixed and reiterated determinations, that we will exercise it. ‘I will trust and not be afraid.’ Do you do that? By averting our eyes from the distracting competitors for our interest and attention, in so far as these might enfeeble our confidence. Do you do that? Diligence; that is the secret - a diligence which focuses our powers, and binds our vagrant wills into one strong, solid mass, and delivers us from languor and indolence, and stirs us up to seek the increase of faith as well as of hope and charity. Then, too, obedience is to be cultivated. How do you cultivate obedience? By obeying - by contemplating the great motives that should sway and melt, and sweetly subdue the will, which are all shrined in that one saying.

‘Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price,’ and by rigidly confining our desires and wishes within the limits of God’s appointment, and religiously referring all things to His supreme will. If thus we do, we shall enter into rest.

So, dear friends, the path is a plain enough one. We all know it. The goal is a clear enough one. I suppose we all believe it. What is wanted is feet that shall run with perseverance the race that is set before us. The word of my text which is translated ‘labour,’ is found in this Epistle in another connection, where the writer desires that we should show ‘the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ It is also caught up by one of the other apostles, who says to us, ‘Giving all diligence, add to your faith’ the manifold virtues of a practical obedience, and so ‘the entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ A more authoritative voice points us to the same strenuous effort, for our Lord has said, ‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you,’ and when the listeners asked Him what works He would have them do, He answered, bringing all down to one, which being done would produce all others, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’

So if we labour to increase our faith, and its fruits of obedience, with a diligence inspired by our earnestness which is kindled by the thought of the sublimity of the reward, and the perils that seek to rob us of our crown, then, even in the wilderness, we shall enter into the Promised Land, and though the busy week of care and toil, of changefulness and sorrow, may disturb the surface of our souls, we shall have an inner sanctuary, where we can shut our doors about us and enjoy a foretaste of the Sabbath-keeping of the heavens, and be wrapped in the stillness of the rest of God.


Verse 16

Hebrews

THE THRONE OF GRACE

Hebrews 4:16

IN the context are three great exhortations which bear a very remarkable and distinct relation to each other: ‘Let us labour to enter into rest’; ‘Let us hold fast our profession’; Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.

It is a hard thing to labour to enter into rest. How is it to be done? The second exhortation helps us to answer, ‘Let us hold fast our profession,’ which being translated into other words, is this: our true way of labour is to cling in faith to Him whom we acknowledge; but knowing the weakness of our own hearts, and how they waywardly fluctuate and pass away from the one confidence and happiest trust, it is with profound wisdom that the ultimate injunction is held out for the foundation of all - ‘Let us come to the throne of grace.’ There we get the strength that will enable our slack and benumbed fingers to grasp again the thing we hold. There we shall get that fresh grip of Christ which will quicken us for the labour of entering into rest. And so this portion of exhortation interposed between the doctrinal and theological parts of this letter is addressed to every one in the Christian profession. I ask you, then, to look at this exhortation, which covers the whole ground of Christian duty and strength.

Now, first, here is a very remarkable and beautiful expression - ‘the throne of grace.’ Grace, of course, as I do not need to explain, is the New Testament word for the undeserved favour and loving regard of God to man considered as weak, sinful, and unworthy; it is love which has its own motive, apart from any regard to worthiness in the object upon which it falls. Grace is its own real impulse and motive, and grace is set in Scripture as the opposite of desert; it is of grace, not of works, and so forth. It is set as the antagonist of sin and unrighteousness and all evil, and so runs up to the idea that it expresses the unmerited, self-originated, loving regard of God to us poor miserable creatures, who, if dealt with on the ground of right and retribution, would receive something very different indeed. But my text says the throne of grace is the throne of God. I wonder if it is too picturesque to take that word grace here as a kind of synonym of God? Think of the figure that was in the writer’s mind, as being that grace itself was the occupant of the throne, that there she sits, regal, sovereign, enthroned in the heart of the universe, queen of all things, and giving from her full and generous hand to every creature all that which the creature requires. And then if we take the more prosaic notion - which perhaps is the safer one - and think that the metaphor is not that grace is queen and sovereign, but only that the throne is based and established, as it were, in grace, out of which this undeserved love flows in broad, full streams. Even if we take the metaphor thus, we come to the same thought, that whatever else there may he in the divine nature, the ruling sovereign element in Deity is unmerited love and mercy and kindly regard to us poor, ignorant, sinful creatures, which keeps pouring itself out over all the world. God is King, and the kingly thing in God is infinite grace.

Then we can scarcely but bring into connection with this grand idea the other phases which the Old Testament gives to the same thought. Read such words as these: - ‘Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne’ - ‘God sitteth on the throne of His holiness’ - ‘The throne of Thy glory.’ Yes, the throne of justice and of judgment. White and sparkling - cold and repellent. The throne of glory - flashing and dazzling, coruscating and blinding, glittering and shimmering - ready to smite the diseased eye. The throne of Thy holiness. Yes, lofty, far up there, towering above us in its pure completeness, and we poor creatures, being ourselves blinded and dazed, and far away from Him, down amidst the lowlands and materialities, and all that majesty in the heavens - the justice and judgment, the holiness and glory - all that is only the envelope and wrappage, the living centre and heart of it is a pure, lambent glow of tenderness, and the throne is truly the throne of grace. The ‘throne’ gives us all ideas of majesty, sovereignty, dominion, infinitude, greatness. The thought that it is ‘the throne of grace’ sheathes all these in the softest, tenderest, most blessed folds of love - unmerited, free, spontaneous - simply because He is God, and not on account of any goodness in us. Bearing in mind this great conception of true love, ruling, dominant, the sovereign element in the divine nature, let us ask, How do we reach it? Are we warranted in believing it? Read the verses that come before: ‘For we have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ Turn that doctrinal statement into a statement of principle and it just comes to this: that our certitude that God’s throne is a throne of love and grace, is all involved in, dependent upon, and built upon, the work of Christ, the High Priest of our profession. That is to say, not ‘thank God’ that His work makes God’s throne a throne of grace - that is not the teaching of the Scripture - but that He, as High Priest, and, therefore, as the revealer to us of God as He is, shows us in His life and death, in the gentleness of His character, in the tenderness of His compassion, in the depth of His sympathy on earth, in the tenderness that touched the little children in their innocence and the harlots in their filth, and in the death He died upon the Cross for the sake of the world - the very heart of God is cut open, as it were, and the two halves fall apart as when we cut some rich fruit to lay hare the inmost pulp. God is manifested to us, God declares Himself to us, in the sympathy of the humanity, in the life, in the death upon the Cross; and the Priest, in His sacrifice, and by His sacrifice, shows us that between the cherubim throned above the mercy-seat shimmers the Shekinah of power, with its white centre of love and peace. And then, on the other side, that same great thought of the priesthood of Christ influences this conception of the throne of God in another fashion still; for, as it seems to me, there is no understanding of the depth and meaning of the work of Jesus Christ, our Lord, unless we heartily accept this, that His great sacrifice for us, in which mainly He is the Priest of our profession, is the means and channel and medium and condition through which all the love of God expresses itself to the world, and has communicated to sinful man all His goodness and all His pity and His tenderness, supplying all our necessities, and is all things to us through Christ our Lord. Seen through Him the throne is white with tenderness; flowing through Him from the throne proceeds the river of the water of life, and so, in both ways, the throne of grace is such by reason of the priesthood of Christ.

Look for a moment, in the next place, at the temper and disposition with which we come to this throne. ‘Let us come boldly.’ Now boldly is a somewhat incongruous word; it neither conveys the original, nor does it correspond to our sense of propriety. The thought would be far more beautiful and far more naturally represented by a more literal translation - ‘Let us come with frank confidence’ to the throne of grace. The word literally means, if we go to the etymology of it, speaking everything. You can easily understand how naturally that becomes an expression for the unembarrassed, unrestrained full out-pouring of a heart. You cannot pour out your heart in the fullest confidence to a person you do not respect, but if you get with some one you entirely trust, how swiftly the words flow. and how very easy it is to tell out the whole heart. Just so with this great word of the writer of this Epistle, descriptive of the temper and disposition with which men are to go to God - with confidence, full, cheerful, and unembarrassed, and which expresses itself in full trust, exactly as one of the old Psalms says - ‘Ye people, pour out your heart before Him.’ Yes, let it all flow out, just as you would do to husband or wife, or lover, or friend, or the chosen companion to whom we can tell everything. Ah, but there is no such person - there is nobody, not a soul, could stand the turning inside out of a man! There is no one able to do it to another, even supposing the other could bear it! But my text says ‘come,’ and is so gentle in its love, so strong in its grace, sweetly wooing us to the freest and frankest outpourings of all our hearts before the throne. Let us then come with confidence, because Jesus’ work as our High Priest is in the writer’s mind. You remember the vision in the Revelation where the seer beholds the angel coming with a censer, and he takes incense from off the golden altar, and he goes on to say, that this much incense was offered in the censer with prayers of saints. That is a picturesque and graphic representation of this same idea; my poor cry, the devotions of my trembling, unfaithful heart, the halting, limping approach of my sluggish spirit, these go along with, and are offered through, that Great High Priest.

‘Let the much incense of Thy prayer On my behalf ascend.’

Truly we have a loving High Priest; let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace. Let us not use as a mere empty form those words ‘for Christ’s sake,’ but let us remember that these words do hold the very secret of all acceptable approach to God, and that’ no man cometh to the Father but by Me. There is reason enough, God knows, in your heart and mine, and in our poor, miserable, wretched, conventional, formal chatterings called prayers, for diffidence and distrust. Well, then, let us fully look that fact in the face, entertain untremblingly the fullest consciousness of the insufficiency and unworthiness of all we do, and all we are, and all we feel, and all we seek, and then wrenching ourselves away as it were from the contemplation of our own selves, which only land us in diffidence and despair, let us turn to Him, that we may have boldness and confidence in our access to the feet of Him who is our Great High Priest, passed into the heavens, and who now sits on the ‘throne of grace.’

And now, lastly, a word about the issue and result of this confidence of access to the throne of grace, the throne of spontaneous love. ‘That we may obtain mercy,’ says the writer, ‘and find grace to help in time of need.’ It is noteworthy, I think, to consider that the writer here is evidently thinking, not about a communion with God which is not prayer, but a communion with God which, on our side, is the lifting up of an empty hand, and on His side the bestowing a large, full gift. There is no fellowship with God possible on the footing of what people call ‘disinterested communion.’ No, we have always to go to Him to get something from Him. The question is, What do we expect to get? My text tells us, not the temporal blessings, not the answers to foolish desires, not the taking away of thorns in the flesh, but mercy and grace to help - inward and spiritual blessings. But what are these? Well, I don’t know whether it is too nice or too microscopic criticism to say that I seem to see a difference between obtaining mercy and finding grace. I take it grace is used in what I call its secondary sense, not meaning so much the love of God unmerited, but rather signifying the consequences of that love in the gifts bestowed upon us, and you know that is a usage of the word common in the New Testament, thus making the word into a plural, ‘graces’ - the manifold gifts that love bestows upon us. So that, I take it, this word is here used in the secondary sense, and if that be so, we may shape a difference between the two phrases, ‘obtaining mercy’ and ‘finding grace.’

I do not think I can put that better than by using a metaphor. The one expresses the heart of God, the other expresses the hand of God. We may obtain mercy as a suppliant coming boldly, confidently, frankly, with faith in the Great High Priest, to the throne of grace. There we get the full heart of God. I stand before Him in my filth, in my weakness, with conscience gnawing at me in the sense of many infirmities, many a sin and shortcoming and omission, and on the throne, if I may so say, is a shoot of tender love from God’s heart to me, and I get for all my weakness and sin pity and pardon, and find mercy of the Lord in that day. And then in getting the full heart of God, with all its divine abundance and pardoning grace and tender, gracious pity, I get, of course, the full hand of God to obtain mercy, and find grace, the bestowment of the needful blessings, the obtaining of grace in time of need, the right grace No blunders in the equipment with which He supplies us. He does not give me the parcel that was meant for you; there is no error in the delivery. He does not send His soldiers to the North Pole equipped for warfare in Africa. He does not give this man a blessing that the man’s circumstances would not require. No, no; blessed be God, He cannot err. We fall back upon the words that precede my text, ‘And there is no creature concealed from His sight, for all things are naked, and open to the eyes Of Him to whom we must give an account.’ That may be, and is terrible, unless we take it along with the other word, ‘We have not a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weakness.’ We see a divine omniscience shining upon us through the merits of the great High Priest, full of light and hope, and because all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him who is our High Priest; therefore the right grace will be most surely given to me to help me in time of need, or, as the words may perhaps be more vigorously and correctly translated, find grace for timely aid, grace punctually and precisely at the very nick of time, at the very exact time determined by heaven’s chronometer, not by ours. It will not come as quickly as impatience might think it ought, it will not come so soon as to prevent an agony of prayer, it will not come in time enough for our impatience, for murmuring, for presumptuous desires; but it will come in time to do all that is needed. Ah, and it will come before Peter has gone below the water, though not until Peter has felt the cold waves rise to his knees, and has cried out, ‘Lord, save me, I perish.’ ‘Master, he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ and He abode still two days in the same place where He was, and when He came, ‘Lord, if Thou hadst been here my brother had not died.’ ‘Said I not unto thee, that if thou didst believe thou shouldest see the glory of God.’ ‘God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved, the Lord shall help her, and that right early.’ You remember the narrative of that great final battle on the plains of Waterloo. For long weary days brave men died by the thousands - the afternoon of the last day was wearing rapidly away, the thin red living line getting thinner and thinner, the squares smaller and smaller at each returning charge - but at last, just before the daylight faded, just before endurance could do no more, there comes old Blucher at last and gives the order, and the whole line bore down upon the enemy and scattered them. Ah, help came at the right time, not so soon but that the courage of our brave soldiers had been tested, but before despair had settled upon the ranks, and in time for a great and perfect victory. Oh, my friends, ‘Let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace for every time of need.’

Through waves and clouds and storms
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time - thy darkest night
Shall end in brightest day.’

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/hebrews-4.html.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology