That which is specially set before us in this chapter is the comparison of the state of Israel in the wilderness and our analogous state with the entering into God’s rest.
We are apt continually to be referring something to ourselves, even when we acknowledge that it is grace that begins the work. We are still making ourselves the centre of our thoughts; and in thinking of heaven our thought is the thought of our getting there. The rest is ours, no doubt, just as the salvation is ours; but then we know its value much better when we know that it is God’s salvation. It is so with the rest; and the more we can bring our souls to lean upon God, whether as it respects salvation, sanctification, or the rest, or heaven, or glory to come—regarding it as God’s rest, God’s heaven, God’s glory, as much as it is God’s sanctification and God’s salvation—the more shall we understand our full blessing. We never get a blessing in its true value, until we see that it is all God’s. If I am thinking of my rest, I shall be thinking of my toil and my labour. This is true, but this is not the measure of the rest: in order to get the full measure it must be God’s—something so good and so blessed, that it can be God’s rest. It is mine, because He has brought me into it; but I never learn the full power of it until I learn that it is what God has wrought for His glory, according to the perfections of God, and not according to the wants of him who needs it. This truth of God’s being in the thing enters also into all my thoughts of that into which He is bringing me. God is the first leading thought of all that I hold precious in Christ.
He acts in grace by our wants, and toward our wants; but He does, by and through our wants, lead us to know what the God is to whom we are brought. He does not say simply you ought to be holy; but He chastens us that we may be made partakers of His holiness. Why so? Because God is acting from Himself towards us. His great delight is to act from Himself towards us. This is true grace; and I never know the spring of blessing, of joy, of happiness, of peace to my soul, until I know God acting from Himself in grace.
In all God’s dealings with His creatures, there are two great principles—responsibility, and the source of life. Even in the garden of Eden there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which was man’s responsibility; and also the tree of life. This is true also to us. Man, as a sinner, has a responsibility to God; and likewise as a saint, though the latter in grace. Angels are responsible to do His pleasure. All are responsible to God: but if the creature is to be blessed, he must have God’s grace as the spring of life to his soul.
That is the grand difference which God has brought out between law and grace. The law dealt with man’s responsibility. The law said, “Do this, and thou shalt live.” But though given as a rule, it really came to be the test of man’s estate, and as much as says, There you are, and that is what you are responsible for; and therefore it never could give rest or make perfect. God gave law as the measure of man’s responsibility; but this responsibility could not be the allowance of sin: its measure, as given of God, must be according to what man ought to be before God. God could give no other: and hence, though ordained to life, the sinner found it to be unto death; because it brought to light the sin, and the law of sin, which could not be subject to the law of God. It never was a guide to man. You cannot guide a will opposed to God. You can never guide a sinner by law to righteousness. It is the perfect rule of man’s responsibility; but it gave nothing, while it required everything. You cannot talk, if blessing is to be sought, of requiring from a sinner; for a sinner is in principle bad, and the requisition becomes the proof of it. What use, save for condemnation, to say, “Thou shalt not lust” to a man who has lust in his nature? You cannot guide a will opposed to God. The effect of the law was to discover man’s condition. The law of sin in his members was what he was; the law of God was what he ought to be. Paul was not guilty of immorality; but when it said, “Thou shalt not lust,” there was no hope for him; it was all over with him, because there was the detection of what he was. The law could not be a guide for man, who had lust in his nature. It was but the means of discovering that all he could produce was sin, making the law the minister of condemnation. The ten commandments were the prohibition of man’s natural state, the last saying, “Thou shalt not lust.” The law, therefore, was not condemning merely what I had done, but my nature. It prohibited that which the sinner really was, and found him even in that state which it came to prohibit. You can give no rule to a man’s sinful state; the law, which is a true rule to it, only acts to detect the lust and sinful wanderings of the will in his nature.
Then we come to another thing. We learn that God is the source of grace and life to those in this condition, and what in grace He does for man in this condition. Here we must begin altogether with God. In Romans God discovers man as a sinner, shewing what he is, Jew or Gentile; and then presents the blood of Jesus. And there again He takes up man’s righteousness, contrasts it with His own, and shews its nothingness. As it regard’s man’s glory, it was all gone; all that was wasted and destroyed by sin. Of God’s glory he was altogether short; but God brings in Christ’s glory—His own glory in Christ. Christ is God’s man set up in perfect righteousness to be the head of a new creation. God becomes the source of life in this new creation. He brings in glory when all was spoilt by sin. It is His rest after all that has passed. If it is life, glory, righteousness—it is the life of God, the glory of God, the righteousness of God. There is no rest, worthy of those who possess the life and the glory and the righteousness of God, but the rest of God. God makes us partakers of His holiness; He does not demand it (though in another and a practical sense this might be said); so likewise He makes us partakers of His rest.
The labour of a saint is of God, not that of a sinner; the sinner labours of man, he is seeking to work so as to satisfy God. He may be honest and sincere in that; but it is all based on the thought that man must work up to God. The end of it all is, he finds a law in his members so that he can never satisfy God. That which man does under the law is labouring up to God. “O wretched man that I am” is its end, even where the desire and understanding are right concerning it. There is the saint’s labour in Christ in 1 Thessalonians 1—the labour of love. Christ’s labour (while faithful under the law indeed) was not up to God, but from God. It all came from God—flowed from Him as the source and spring of it all; and such is the labour of the saint. Persons suppose that when a believer labours, it must be to get up to God; and if not, of what use is it to labour. Miserable thought! The saint’s labour is the sort of labour which was in Christ, when He came from God to work the works of God. Still that is not rest; labour is not rest. We have not ceased from our works. We have rest of conscience, it is true, but not rest from the labour of love.
The Hebrews were in danger of slipping back into the law, like the Galatians, and of ending in the flesh, having begun in the Spirit. The labouring up to God is a very different thing from labouring from God. The labouring from God has the consciousness first of being in God. So in Hebrews 3:6, “Hold fast the beginning of your confidence stedfast unto the end.” Here is the labour of love—holding the treasure committed to them, being in bodies of flesh. And also there is conflict with what would dispute our progress, like the children of Israel walking through the wilderness. There is nothing in this world, nor of this world, which could refresh the new man, any^ more than there is in heaven to satisfy the old man. We are in danger, as the children of Israel, of getting weary of the way.
When Joshua got into the land, there were fleshly enemies in the earthly Canaan; we also have spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places to contend with. We do not obtain any promise without a spiritual victory. This is not rest. What, then, is the rest of God? In order to have God’s rest we must have His mind in order that we may delight; in what He delights in. If so, I never can have complete rest until things are in accordance with God’s mind. God may act in grace in, and towards, things as they are now; but He cannot take His rest in them. Therefore Jesus says, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” John 5:17. God has no sabbath now, so to speak. I see the consequences of sin weighing down the hearts of sinners, and I cannot rest.
There is one preliminary to all this: if you are at war with God, and uncertain whether it is a question of judgment against you, or if under the law, there is not rest. The first thing is to have the great question—your subjection to Christ, and so acceptance with God through the cross—settled, and then the conscience gets rest. If I am uncertain whether God will save me, I cannot speak of rest; the conscience must first have rest. And here be it observed, that when God deals with man as to rest of conscience, it is not what man is to do, but what he is; not what is the fruit merely, but what is the tree. Man may bring many offerings, and God dashes them all away, and says, I have to do with you, and you with Me; the condition of your soul is what I have to do with: and then all question of man’s working is set aside. See Micah 6:7. The fountain is foul. Things are traced up to the fountain, and this is unclean. Something may be introduced into the stream to make the water more sweet, but itself is ever foul: this cannot satisfy God. But God has settled the question by putting sin out of the way by the blood of Jesus.
When the grace of the gospel is presented, it may be received very sincerely, and yet often without the full practical discovery of the evil within, or of the law of sin in the members, to the extent that is afterwards learnt practically; and the result is, that, in measure, the knowledge of the grace of God is superficial, and the soul often gets alarmed. But whenever the soul has been really brought to the experimental knowledge of the law of sin working in the members, and the grace of God in dealing with sin in Christ Jesus; then it knows that God is for us, thus evil as we were, and so ceases to be harassed by the workings of the law. God’s grace has judged the condition of the sinner, thus fully shewn, and put away the sin by Christ; and we have only to adore and praise Him for what He has done. The sin has been imputed to Christ, and He has put it away, and that is all, and the conscience has peace. The soul knows God, not as under the law, but under grace. This being settled, we have altogether ceased from our anxieties; as it regards the conscience, we have peace then through the blood of Christ. But this is preliminary to all true labour, and to the divine rest.
For if we would consider the subject before us, the rest is like the first rest. When God had made everything, He ceased from His works. Sin has destroyed His rest. It may be modified by a number of things, but there is nothing which God rests in, for evil is all around; and where we have Satan’s power to contend with, there can be no rest to the saints. Not that we have any uncertainty of the rest; but by virtue of the joy, through the Holy Ghost, of entering into this rest, we groan on account of all around. God cannot rest in the corruption of sin, in the world as it now is; and therefore He is bringing in the new man to rest in a new state of things, which He creates for Himself. But it is not in rest yet, while in the midst of evil; therefore there remaineth a rest (v. 9). The believer does not groan because he is not accepted; he does not groan out, “Oh, wretched man that I am”; but, as he gets further discoveries of God, he longs to be with Him. The heart of the renewed man rests in the rest which God has accomplished in the Lord Jesus Christ, as to judgment, for there is God’s rest; and it looks for the rest which He is about to fulfil in Christ.
As God satisfied Himself with mere creation blessedness before the fall (placing man in the midst of it), He likewise will be so satisfied in the new creation as to plant the second Man there. This never will be spoiled; and He cannot rest until He has accomplished all His purpose, and brought the Lord Jesus Christ into all that scene of blessedness; and this is God’s rest: and that is the rest into which we are to be brought; a rest fit for the new man in Christ. The more I look at the Lord Jesus, as God has accepted Him, the more my desires flow after this rest.
When rest of conscience is obtained, I find there is a work to be done in the meanwhile by the Spirit working in love and in energy in the new nature. I have joy in God looking up; I serve God looking down. There is a work going on in the patience of hope and labour of love. Moreover the saint finds that within him which is contrary to this life of faith—something that hinders him in this life of service. Besides the opposition from without, there is that in him which tends to mar his undivided purity of service. Just as Paul found a tendency to be puffed up: the flesh would say to him that nobody had been in the third heavens but himself; when he went about that blessed work, his having been in the third heavens would give the flesh an occasion for abusing this grace; and therefore he had the thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. This was very profitable, but it was not rest; it was not sin, the thorn he had to contend with, but it was what checked the tendency to sin. We are in the conflict; and in the work of faith and labour of love, we make the discovery, not of that which is imputed to us as sin, but of that which hinders us from fully glorifying God in the work and service of love.
Many a saint considers himself in Egypt because he finds himself in conflict. This is wrong. If Israel had not been redeemed out of Egypt they never would have had to contend with the Canaanites; we must not confound bondage to Pharaoh with conflict against the Amalekites and Canaanites.
All through this conflict, what is the standard of the path of the saint who has got this hope (v. 12)? why talk of falling? —“lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief,” v. 11. Because the constant tendency of the flesh in the saint is to that to which it will bring the unrenewed professor, and would bring us, were we not kept of God. It is the working of my will. I get away from the strength of God, and therefore this allusion to the falling in the wilderness. How does God work in this? He sends His word, which detects the things which lead to falling. “For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word is the light which shews him that which is in his heart, which would tend to this fall. The thing which produces the danger is detected by the searching fight of the word (v. 12). Now it is that the soul does not shrink from the light; but, as in Psalm 139, says, “Search me, O God.” But O, what confidence that is, what amazing confidence! Is there anything that can prove such confidence in grace as that? Could any, who thought God would impute the sin, say, “See if there be any way of wickedness within me”? The moment he knows that God has wrought salvation and quickened him in the grace of Christ, he can say that.
But God detects the evil, and chastens His saints to prevent their stumbling in the way. He looks well to see if there is any evil in their hearts, in order to strip from them evil, and prevent their falling. And this brings the one who has tasted of the rest to go on; and God never rests until He brings us into what satisfies His desire: “He shall rest in his love.” God’s love never rests until He has brought us into that which satisfies His desires, not our desires. Where shall we find the measure of His love? even in what God has done in glorifying His Son, and putting everything into His hands, and bringing us into the same measure of blessing. He meets us in His love, and brings us with Him into life, glory, and blessedness. When He has redeemed us, He puts us through trial and conflict, that the old man may be completely judged, and that we may be delivered from the power and works of the old man.
All along through this conflict we have the sustaining power of Christ our High Priest, who intercedes for us, and watches over us, while passing through it. “Seeing then, that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession,” v. 14.
The first thing is, to be brought into this great place of service for God. There must be the realisation that redemption has been accomphshed and settled; that we are altogether accepted in Christ Jesus.
The grace which has blotted out every sin will impute none at all. If a tittle of sin could be imputed to man, it would be all over with him. In order to stand in the presence of God, there must be no sin between us and God. Then there is the thorough and complete searching of the old man, in order to the enjoyment of all blessing by the new man. When perfected in glory, in God’s presence, it will be the rest of God for us.