“Ye Shall Find Rest”
Which was the easier for the Israelites — to shake off the shackles of Egypt and cross the Red Sea, or to cross Jordan and conquer the heathen nations in Canaan? Very simply, the answer is that both were impossible to the Israelites in their own strength. It took forty years in the desert for Moses to learn the impossibility of deliverance being achieved by fleshly effort. The Israelites had to learn the same lesson. Well might they tremble on the shores of the Red Sea, surrounded as they were by mountains, sea, and soldiers, until Moses said, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14.13). Their experience forty years later, in attacking the small town of Ai without God’s presence with them, is sufficient to show the impossibility of the task of subduing Canaan. But, it would be equally true to answer the opening question by saying that both were possible to the Israelites when God was with them.
There is always the danger of pressing Scripture types beyond the realms of reason and clearly beyond what the Spirit of God intended. Someone has put it, “Wonderful things in the Bible I see: Things put there by you and by me!” Whilst we keep this danger in mind, we shall remember that these things were “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). The Holy Spirit, in the New Testament, shows us some of the lessons that He wants to teach us from the Old Testament.
We must bear in mind that God’s intention was not merely to release the Israelites from Egypt, but to bring them into the promised land of rest. Moses, in Deuteronomy 6.23 puts it simply, “He brought us out from thence (Egypt), that He might bring us in.” God’s purpose was to bring them out of bondage, through a necessary short period of instruction and testing in the wilderness, and into rest. The forty years of wandering were completely outside the Divine purpose and were made necessary for the simple reason that Israel could not believe that God, who alone had delivered them from bondage, would similarly deliver the inhabitants of Canaan into their hand. Listen again to Moses, “If thou shalt say in thine heart, These nations are more than I; how can I dispossess them? Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt; the great temptations which thine eyes saw and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the Lord thy God brought thee out: so shall the Lord thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid” (Deut. 7:17-19).
Rightly, we condemn the “gospel of works.” God’s Word has made it abundantly clear that salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast,” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done.” Clearly and emphatically we tell the unsaved that there is only one way of salvation, by faith in the finished work of Christ. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Now, when God saves a man from the bondage of sin, does God intend that that man should spend the rest of his life on earth wandering, striving to please God and failing, striving to overcome temptation and failing, striving to break off evil habits and failing? Does God not intend to bring that man into rest? Hebrews 3 and 4 make it abundantly plain that there is a rest for the people of God. What is that rest? “He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). It is a ceasing from my own effort and a trusting in what He has done:
Simply to cease from struggling and strife,
Simply to walk in newness of life;
Glory be to God.
In other words, I can no more become holy by my own effort, I can no more resist temptation by my own effort, than I could have saved myself by my own effort.
This was the mistake the Galatians made. They had heard the gospel of the grace of God and believed. But now they were trying to succeed in the Christian life by law-keeping, by their own works. “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3.). Is the God by whose stretched-out arm you were delivered from Egypt unable or unwilling to bring you into Canaan’s rest? Having saved you without your needing to do anything except believe, is He now asking you by your own effort to try your best to live the Christian life? When Paul said, “Work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12), he added, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (verse 13).
That is the glorious truth — Christ in you, living in you, overcoming sin in you, victorious in you. Let Him do the work whilst you just rest in what He is doing in you. Not only did Christ die for me, I died with Him. “I” could never save my soul, “I” could never live the Christian life. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Oh that we would enter into this wonderful truth even as we entered, by faith, into the family of God! How many of us groan over failures to do what we know we should do, living in Romans chapter 7, and forgetting that we died with Him (Romans chapter 6) and that now we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. “Christ in you” (chapter 8).
I may tell an unbeliever that he should not swear; he should not get drunk; he should do good. But I know that he lacks the power to carry out these injunctions. Even though he succeeded in these and a hundred other kindly acts, he could still not save his soul and be delivered from the power of sin. Similarly, I may tell a believer that he should be pure and loving and godly. But I know he cannot do this of himself and that, even if he tries his best, it will never lead him into rest. The New Testament has a wonderful balance of doctrine that often seems missing in much of our preaching, I fear. Even when believers give their consent to the fact that they can do nothing of themselves, they still tend to cling onto the lurking feeling that they should try to keep the commandments of God as best they can. “I” can no more keep the commandments of God now than I could in my unregenerate days. It is not “I”, but Christ living in me who can keep God’s commandments and bring pleasure to the heart of God.
As I face the Christian pathway with its temptations, its enemies, its tremendous possibilities for good, its wonderful opportunities of bringing blessing to others, I need first of all, by faith, to believe that “I” was crucified with Christ, “I” died and now it is not “I” who live the Christian life, but Christ who lives in me. As, by faith, I accept that, I shall enter into rest — the rest of ceasing from my own works and resting in His work in and through me. “He that believeth on Me,” said our blessed Lord, “as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). What untold — and often, to us, unknown —blessing will flow from us when we stop trying to live the Christian life and start believing that it is “not I, but Christ liveth in me.”