Reply to Sister Walker, on Hebrews 4:1,2.
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them; but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
The inspired writer in comparing the typical with the gospel dispensation, shows that the former, although a carnal people, having but a worldly sanctuary, were with their ordinances and service figurative. Having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very [or exact] image of the things to which they pointed, they could never make, with their perpetual sacrifices, the comers to their altars perfect; but still they bore a striking typical resemblance to the things which they prefigured.
Israel under the first covenant was typical of the spiritual Israel, whose circumcision is not outward in their flesh, but inward, in their hearts, not made with hands, but in the spirit, whose praise is not of men, but of God. Their consecration as the people of God, chosen in the flesh of Abraham, and heirs of the promised rest, in the land of Canaan, was beautifully emblematic of the spiritual seed of Christ, which were chosen of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, and in their relation to him, heirs of an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that cannot fade away. In all that is written of the carnal Israel, something may be found pointing to corresponding realities in the spiritual, or anti-typical Israel under the new covenant dispensation. Their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and their wearisome journey through the wilderness, and their final rest in the land of Canaan, with their constant inclination to murmur, and rebel against God, and the judgments visited upon them for their infidelity and idolatry, all foreshadowed the waywardness of the children of God under the gospel dispensation. The failure of the unbelieving Israelites, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, to enter and rest in the promised land of Canaan is urged as an admonition to the people of God,. under the gospel dispensation, to “labor to enter into rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
The rest prefigured by the land of Canaan, and by the Jewish sabbaths, is not, as some have supposed, the state of ultimate happiness which awaits the saints in the consummation of glory, for that ultimatum cannot be dependent in any degree upon contingencies of any kind. Christ has engaged by irrevocable decree to raise up at the last day, to that divine abode, all that his Father has given him. Canaan could not prefigure such a state of uninterrupted blessedness; for there was much fighting, and many sore conflicts to be endured in that land; neither could the Jewish sabbaths, for they were often desecrated, subjecting those who violated them to pains and penalties, very unlike the perfect security of the saints in glory. But we are informed in the connection of our subject that those times and places of rest under the old covenant pointed to and typified the rest which remains under the gospel dispensation to the people of God, into which they who believe have entered.
The argument of the inspired writer of our text is that in the type, the Lord swore in his wrath that the unbelieving Israelites should not enter into his rest, so that they could not enter in because of unbelief; thus representing that the rest which is enjoined in the gospel cannot possibly be entered or enjoyed in the absence of faith. As none but those who are born of God have, or possibly can have, that faith which is the fruit of the Spirit, none but they can possibly know experimentally anything of spiritual or gospel rest. And even the saints can only enjoy it when their faith predominates over the infidelity of their nature. On this very account the admonition comes to the saints, to those holy brethren who are partakers of the heavenly calling, to “fear, lest a promise being left them, of entering into his rest, any of them should seem to come short of it.”
His rest, or the rest which God has promised to his people, is said to be glorious. Not only is it a respite from labor and bondage, but a confident reliance on Christ, as a full and sufficient Savior, on his atoning blood for the remission of our sins, on his perfect righteousness for our justification before God; his Spirit bestowed on us in our new birth, to qualify us to appreciate and enjoy spiritual things; a firm reliance on his promises, and a complete cessation from all our own legal works, and legal thoughts. Such a rest is promised to the people of God, and that promise is left on record for them. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28,29. While the wicked are like the troubled sea that cannot rest, our Lord giveth his beloved rest. That this rest is provided for the people of God, and that the promise of entering it is left for the comfort of the people of God, is certain.
Why then are we admonished to fear lest those unto whom it is promised should seem to come short of it? Every child of God, while in the flesh, knows what this liability means. Such is the nature of the rest, that it is only entered and enjoyed when and while we believe. Whenever our doubts and fears prevail, we are tossed with tempest, and not comforted; labor, toil and unrest, weariness, fainting and distress will certainly come upon us. How can we rest upon a promise which faith does lay hold on and appropriate to us? God gave a promise of rest in the land of Canaan to the Hebrews, but it was seldom they relied on that promise while in the wilderness. When God made for them a wondrous pathway through the Red Sea, or displayed some wonderful power in their deliverance, they were for the moment satisfied that God would fulfill his promises; but when their way was intercepted by dangers and difficulties, they invariably murmured and said that they were brought into the wilderness to die.
How very like the murmuring tribes are we, when by some signal display of God’s delivering power, our faith rises above our fears, we feel strong in the Lord, and confess how slow of heart we have been to believe. Yet while believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Then we find the place where he feeds, and where he causes his flock to rest at noon. But as soon as the gathering clouds appear, and hide the sun from our sight, we recall our doubts and fears, and sometimes even doubt that we have ever seen the sun, or known its light. Do we not at such times seem to come short of the promised rest?
The admonition, “Let us therefore fear,” is not that we should cherish doubts and nurse our unbelief; but resist them; for it is said in verse 11, “Let us labor therefore to enter into rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” The example referred to is that of the carnal Hebrews in the type; they could not enter into Canaan because of unbelief. Nor can we enter into our spiritual rest while we cherish our doubts and fears. It is impossible for us to rest, only in a confident unwavering reliance on our God. Whether the people of God enjoy it or not, that rest remaineth for them. Do any of the tried and tempted, doubting, fearing, trembling saints enquire how they are to labor to enter into it? To such we say, it is not by searching for some good thing in your flesh, or fleshly nature; for Paul himself could not find it there. Not by looking to Mount Sinai; for if so much as a beast should touch that mountain it must die. The law is a ministration of death. Not by making a pilgrimage to the empty sepulchre of the dear Redeemer; you will not find him there; for he has risen. Seek not for the living among the dead. Our glorious Leader has given us directions. He says, “Come unto me.” Come away from Sinai, come away from yourself, come away from everything else, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. To perform such labor as this, you not only need to have life, but he who calls you unto him commands you to take on you his yoke. You cannot rest under the yoke of bondage which entangled the Galatian saints; for no yoke but that of Jesus is easy, no burden but his is light. How can you labor to advantage unless you put on his yoke? And when in his yoke, equally yoked with believers, you have confessed your allegiance to him, then “learn of him.” He will teach you as never man taught. He is meek, and will teach you to be meek; he is lowly, and will teach you lessons of humility; and in that meek and lowly spirit which you learn of Jesus, as God is true, you shall find rest to your soul.
Now remember all that faith which is indispensable to gospel rest is of God; it is the faith of the Son of God, and the fruit of his Spirit of which you are born again, and without which it is impossible to please God. And all that infidelity, unbelief, doubts, fears and lack of confidence which disturbs, disquiets and distresses you, is of your own carnal nature. When faith lifts up her eyes to the eternal hills, joy, peace and rest possesses your heart; you forget yourself, lost in the contemplation of eternal things, and like Paul when elevated to the third heaven, you are so perfectly stripped of all selfishness that you are unconscious of having a body, or whether in it or not you cannot tell. But when doubts and unbelief prevail, then you know where the body is, and you begin to worry and fret about yourself. The way of salvation by grace looks lovely and beautiful, but, O, says old self, how do I know that I have any interest in it? What is that to thee? Faith leaves that all with the Lord; and we venture the assertion that no child of grace ever entered into gospel rest, except when his faith was sufficiently strong to leave all personal interest with God. Faith says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” Isaiah 26:3,4.
When our confidence in God is firm and unshaken, we rest in that confidence. But when we doubt and fear, and even dispute all that he has ever done for us, we become restless and comfortless. In our firm reliance on God, on his promises, on his work that he has wrought in us, we sweetly and peacefully rest; but when we are tempted to distrust in God, and indulge our doubts and fears, we seem to come short of that rest. And when we consider the strong and constant tendency of our carnal minds to doubt and dispute what God has said and what he has done, do we not find that we have reason to fear that our rest will be broken? “Let us therefore fear” such insidious and treacherous propensities of our carnal or fleshly minds. These are what the word admonishes us to fear, for these are what invade, disturb and prevent our rest, so that although we have the promise and oath of God who cannot lie, to rest upon, we seem to come short, and do indeed often come far short of that rest which such gracious promises are sufficient to secure.
“For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them.” To them the promise of temporal rest was preached; and the preaching of the gracious promises of God is gospel preaching; but gospel preaching cannot bring rest and assurance to those who do not believe. The Hebrews could not be profited by the preaching of the promises when they had no faith in them, and did not believe them; they were not mixed with faith in them. It is even so with Christians now under the gospel dispensation. Unless we have faith and that faith predominating over our doubts, we cannot be profited in a way of rest when we hear the gospel preached. We will ask the doubting, fearing, trembling Christian, how has it been with you? You have heard the promises preached, they have seemed great and precious. Did they bring you rest? O no. Why? Because I could not believe they were for me. Well then you could not enter into rest, because of unbelief. You saw that they were blessed provisions for somebody, and longed to be that somebody. So instead of entering into rest, you seemed to come short of it. Can you find any other reason why you could not rest in the preached word, but your lack of faith and confidence to appropriate its consolation to your own case? The promise you heard preached to the weary and heavy laden, and you were weary and heavy laden; but you did not feel satisfied that it was for you. It was preached to all who have ears to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches; you had an ear to hear it preached to the churches, you saw and were fully satisfied that it was for the churches of the saints; but your unbelief told you that it was not for you, and so you failed to rest upon it, or to be comforted by it, because of your unbelief. The promises to the carnal Israelites, which were typical of the gospel, did not profit that carnal people, because they had no faith to believe them, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness and they entered not into the goodly land of rest.
And have we not reason to fear there are thousands of God’s dear children, who are born of the Spirit, who love the truth, who have an ear to hear, and who desire above all things to be numbered among, and in fellowship with the children of God, whose mortal bodies fall in the wilderness, without ever entering into the church in her gospel organization? Not so; not because the laws and order of the kingdom of Christ forbids them; not because they do not love her gates, and earnestly long for the milk and honey which forever flows within her sacred borders; but simply because they listen to and are swayed by the infidelity of their own carnal minds, and reject the testimony of God. To all such a promise is surely left of entering into his rest; and although we see them hugging their chains and fetters, and, like Rachel, refusing to be comforted, still the promise is none the less unto them, and to their children, and unto all them which are afar off; yet they seem to come short of it. That is, of resting upon it, by entering in through the gates into the city, where they may have right to the tree of life, but continue to remain without among the dogs and sorcerers, and other bad companions. But the enquiry may be, what is to become of them? We answer, although their unbelief may prevent them from the enjoyment of rest, while here in the flesh, and deprive them of the communion of the church of God, so far at least as to seem to come short of it, still their unbelief cannot make the promises of God of none effect. Notwithstanding all their shortcomings, their spiritual and immortal life is hid with Christ in God. Into the promised rest which their unbelief has disqualified them for the enjoyment while here below, they shall be brought when Christ our Lord, in fulfillment of his gracious pledge, shall raise them up at the last day.
We would not confine the application of the admonition of our subject to those timid, trembling, doubting children of our God, whose unbelieving doubts and fears prevail to keep them from the bosom of the church, and from the enjoyment of the rest into which believers have entered; for there are very many who have walked for many years in the fellowship of the churches, and who have often witnessed the sweet comfort of resting confidentially and steadfastly on the promises of the gospel, who at times are driven by their doubts, fears and unbelief from their resting place, and are tossed with tempests and not comforted. Their faith is sharply contested by their fears and unbelief; and at all such times they truly seem to come short of that rest which remaineth for the people of God. And they learn by experience that rest arises with the triumphs of their faith and confiding reliance on the God of their salvation, and declines with the prevalence of their doubts and fears.
Before we close this article, we will remark that, although there is no virtue in doubts and fears, no child of God, while in the flesh, is altogether free from them; nor is it possible that any but the heaven-born should ever be annoyed with such as we have described. They are the muddy streams which flow unbidden from our carnal nature, and war against the spirit of holiness which God has given to us. They are often excited by the tempter, and sometimes the saints are left to their buffetings, as a wholesome chastisement for our follies, or for the trial of our faith; but from whatever cause they may come, they disturb our repose, and disquiet and trouble the saints. But who ever heard of a hypocrite or unquickened person being troubled in this way? Should we meet with any who have long professed discipleship to Christ, who are strangers to the annoyance of doubts and fears, we could repose no confidence in their profession; and yet because we are troubled with them, what bitter things we write against ourselves.
We are to strive to enter into rest, by fighting valiantly the fight of faith, making war against our unbelief. “To you who are troubled,” the apostle says, “rest with us.” The apostles rested in God, and not in themselves. The direction of God is, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.” Cast all your care upon the Lord, for he careth for you. “Trust in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion that cannot be moved, but abideth forever.” Do you believe what God the Lord hath spoken, that he rideth upon the heavens in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky? Do you believe that “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms?”
“Then let the earth’s old pillars shake,
And all the wheels of nature break,
Our steadfast souls shall fear no more,
Than solid rocks when billows roar.”
April 15, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 397 – 404