The word of God is connected with the apostleship. (Chap. 3:1) In the last verses the priesthood of Christ the subject. These are the two means of our being carried through the wilderness—the word of God, and priesthood of Christ. Israel were treated as a people brought out of Egypt, but liable to fall by the way. So the warning to these Hebrews,(chap.4:1) “as to seeming to come short.” The word is softened. In chap. 3 we have seen them addressed as a body brought out under the name of Christ, but admitting the possibility of hypocrites among them.
There are two distinct things connected with the people—redemption, and being carried on when brought out into the wilderness.
The epistles to the Hebrews and to the Philippians both address saints as in the wilderness. In Philippians it is more personal experience that is spoken of, e.g., “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer.” In both it is as passing through the wilderness, and not yet in the rest.
Ver. 1 We have “His rest.” Not merely rest, but God’s rest; and this makes all the difference. It is not merely as tired ones, and glad to rest: we are going into the rest of God. There is an allusion to creation when God saw all that He had made very good. He delighted in it, and rested. Spiritual labour now is not rest, nor the worry and plague of sin. God will rest in His love. (Zeph. 3:17.) How could He rest here? Not till He sees all those He loves perfectly happy. How can He rest where sin is? Holiness cannot rest where sin is. Love cannot rest where sorrow is. He rested from His works in the first creation, because it was all very good; but when sin came in, His rest was broken. He must work again. God finds rest where everything is according to His own heart. He is completely satisfied in the exercise of His love.
When conflict and labour are over, we shall get into the rest in which He is. That is the promise. “A promise being left us of entering into his rest”—God’s own rest. If affections have not their object, they are not at rest. They will have this then, and we shall be like Him. There will be also comparative rest, even for this poor creation, by and by.
These Hebrews, who are addressed, are compared to the Jews who came out of Egypt, some of whom fell; but he says, “We are persuaded better things of you,” ye “are not of them that draw back into perdition.” What had they got? Their Messiah on earth? No. He was gone, and they were left strangers as to what was here below and not having reached heaven either. That is what every Christian is: the state of his heart is another thing.
Ver. 2 “Gospel preached.” We have glad tidings preached to us as well as they. The apostle is speaking of the character of those who go in (heaven, God’s rest, the promise for us, as Canaan was for Israel). Unbelievers do not go into rest—believers do. That is the door they go in by.
As to God’s creation, there is not rest for them in it—it is not come for them. “If they shall enter,” etc. This means they shall not, but God did not make the rest for no one to enter. He begins again. (Ver. 7) David came five or six hundred years after Moses, and in Psalm 95 he says, “To-day after so long a time,” etc. If they did not get into the rest by Joshua, there “remaineth a rest to the people of God.” That is not come at all yet. It is to be under the new covenant, when Christ comes, the Messiah according to their own Scriptures.
“He that is entered into His rest hath also ceased from his own works” not only from sin. When God ceased, it was not from sin, but from labour. Godly works are not rest. God rests in Christ. I have ceased from my works, as regards my conscience because I have ceased from works for justification. I have not ceased from godly works; that rest is not come yet. Labouring to enter in here, does not mean as to justification. “There remaineth a rest.” We have the former, but there is more we wait for.
The two means of carrying us through, spoken of before, are the Word applied by the Spirit, and the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We never get union with Christ spoken of here; there is no discerning, judging, etc, connected with that; but as Christians in the wilderness, there is, and the intercession of Christ is needed; as distinct, separate Christians going through the world, beset with snares on every hand, we are addressed.
It is remarkable how the word of God is made to be the revelation of God Himself. “The word of God is quick and powerful, manifest in His sight.” Whose sight? The word of God, the revelation of Christ. He is called the word of God—“God manifest in the flesh.” He was the divine life—the perfection of all divine motives in a man in this world. The word of God brings the application of God’s nature. All that He is, is applied to us in going through this world. That begins by our being begotten by the word—born again, of incorruptible seed—the divine nature imparted, which cannot sin because born of God. Then all the motives and intentions of the heart have to be displayed by this word. The written word is the expression of God’s mind down here. Divine perfectness, as expressed in the life of Christ, in the written word, is applied to us. What selfishness was there in Christ? I do not now refer to His going about doing good, but as to the feelings and motives of His heart. How much has self been our motive? Not like Christ. It is not gross sins that are spoken of here, but “thoughts and intents of the heart.” How much self through the day!
In John 17 our Lord says, “I sanctify myself.” Christ set apart as the perfection of man—Christ, a model man, if I may so speak—all that God approves in a man was seen in Christ. The same should be seen in us. “Sanctify them through thy truth.” The word applied to us in all this path, in motives, thoughts, and feelings, is for this purpose. Christ was not only doing good; He walked in love, and He says to us, “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and given Himself,” “forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.” What comes down from God goes up to Him. Self may enter in our doing good; but only what is of a sweet savour goes up to God—“an offering to God.” What is not done exclusively in the power of divine love, in the sense of an offering, is spoiled—self has come in.
“Dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” God has created natural affections, but how much self and idolatry come in! Self-will, too, and self-gratification, how awfully it comes in! That is soul, and not spirit. The word of God comes in, and knows how to divide between soul and spirit, what looks like the same thing, the very same affections, as far as man sees. What a mass of corruption! Can we have communion with God when self comes in? How powerless Christians are now—you, and I, and every one. There is grace, blessed be God! but, in a certain sense, how low we are! “I will give myself unto prayer,” said one. All blessing comes from the immediateness of a man’s life with God. There are rivers of living water. How are you to get them? “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” and “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” A man must drink for himself first, before there can be rivers, etc. In the time of the prophets they had a message, “thus saith the Lord,” and then had to enquire the meaning of the prophecy, but with us, we drink ourselves first. We are so connected with Christ, that we have it ourselves from Him, before communicating it to others.
What would make us fall in the wilderness? The flesh. It has no communion with God; flesh in saints, as well as in others, is bad. What would make us fall is flesh—the unjudged “thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word of God comes and judges all that is of nature in us, after He has brought us out of Egypt. According to the new nature, everything is judged. Everything in Christ is applied to the motives and intents of our hearts—everything is judged according to God Himself. The word is a sword—not healing, but most unrelenting in the character. It detects poor flesh, shows it up, and marks its thoughts, intents, will, or lust. All is sifted. But are there no infirmities? Yes. But whenever the will and intent is at work, the word of God comes as a lancet to cut it all away. For infirmities, weaknesses, not will, we have a high priest, who was in all points tempted like as we are, without sin.
This is beautifully expressed in a figure in the Old Testament. There was water wanted; the rock was smitten, and the water flowed. (There are resources in Christ Himself, the smitten rock, for us; but besides, for us there is the water, a well in us.) They were also tried all through the wilderness. The two edged sword was wanted. There were murmurings. They must be turned back. God turns back with them. How did they get through? What was on Moses’ part, for he was like the apostle here, set forth? How was he to get rid of their murmurings? The rock has not to be smitten again. The rods must be put in. There are leaves, buds, blossoms on Aaron’s—life out of death—living priesthood. Then go and speak to the rock. Suppose God had only executed judgment! How would they have got through the wilderness? There was the living priesthood come in; grace in the shape of priesthood. That carries us through; and all the infirmities, and even failures, when they are committed, are met by Him who has passed through the heavens, etc.
There is not the least mercy on the flesh. This is judged by the word. Moses, the meekest man, failed in that. Abraham, who had been taught God’s almightiness, goes down to Egypt, and fails through fear. God glorified Himself. He glorified Himself at the rock in the wilderness, but Moses did not glorify Him, and He was shut out of the land.
Ver. 14 There are things mentioned, very important, about the priesthood. 1st. The priesthood is exercised in heaven, where we need it; it is the place where God is. When it was an earthly calling, the priesthood was on earth. Ours is a heavenly calling, and Christ, our high priest, has passed through the heavens. Another important part is, Christ in no sense has any of these infirmities while He is exercising the priesthood for us. He has passed through all the course in holiness, obedience, and sanctity. When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them. He walks the sheep’s path, and they follow Him. Christ went through all these exercises of a godly man (e.g, wanting bread, and being tempted to make it, but not yielding to it). Everything that a saint can want as a saint, Christ went through before in perfection. There is the example of perfectness in Him, in the sheep’s path; but that was not the time of His priestly work. He has passed through the road, and now can be “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”
In Hebrews we have, as another brother has remarked, more of contrast than comparison. The vail in the tabernacle, and the priesthood of Israel all in a contrasted state to that in which we have them. Our high priest is not compassed with infirmity. Mark the consequence of that: His being in heaven, He brings all the perfectness of the thought and feeling of the place He is in to bear on us. I have these infirmities and difficulties, and He helps me up into all the perfectness of the heavenly places where He is. That is just what we want. He can show a path, and feel what a path is of passing through this world, and bear the hearts down here clean up into heaven.
People often think of priesthood as a means of getting justified; but then God has the character of a judge in their eyes. They are afraid to go straight to God, and, not knowing grace and redemption, they think of enlisting Christ on their behalf. This is all wrong. Many a soul has done it in ignorance and infirmity, and God meets it there, but it is to mistake our place as Christians. Does our getting the intercession of Christ depend upon our going to get it? It is when I have got away from God—when not going to him—I have an advocate with the Father. Again, Christ prayed for Peter before he committed the sin. It is the living grace of Christ in all our need—His thought for us, or we should never be brought back. It was when Peter had committed the sin that He looked on him. Even when we have committed faults, His grace thus comes in. It is in heaven He is doing it: then how can we have to say to Him if we have not righteousness? The reason I can go is because my justification is settled. He has given me the title of going into heaven in virtue of what He is, “Jesus Christ, the righteous,” and what He has done. Our place is in the light as God is in the light—sitting in heavenly places in Christ. Our walk on earth is not always up to this. Our title is always the same, but our walk not. Then what is to be done? I am within the vail, and not in a condition to go there at all. The priesthood of Christ is there to reconcile this discrepancy between our position in heaven, and our walk down here. Jesus Christ is the righteous one; and the righteousness I have in Him is the title I have to the place. The priestly work restores me to the communion of the place where I am in righteousness. It is immediately connected with the perfectness of His own walk down here and the place where He now is.
Satan came to Him, when here, and found nothing. He ought to find nothing in us, but he does. I do not want to spare the flesh; then there is the word of God for that. But in all the feelings down here, as He said, “reproach hath broken my heart.” In Gethsemane He was in an agony and prayed the more earnestly. He had the heart of a man; and all that the heart of man can go through, He went through but in communion with His Father, no failure possible. Apart from sin, is better than “yet without sin,” because there was no sin in him inwardly any more than outwardly. In all these feelings He is now touched for us. Verse 16, “Come boldly to the throne of grace.” This is going straight to God, not to the priest. It is to the “throne of grace.” We want mercy; we are poor weak things, and need mercy; in failure we need mercy; as pilgrims we are always needing mercy. What mercy was shown to the Israelites in the wilderness! their garments not getting old; God even caring for the clothes on their backs! Think of the mercy that would not let their feet swell! Then, when they wanted a way, Oh! says God, I will go before with the ark to find out a way. That was not the place for the ark at all. It was appointed to be in the midst of the camp, but God would meet them in their need. They want spies to go and see the land for them; fools that we are to want to know what is before us. They had to encounter the Amorites, high walls, giants. A land that devours the inhabitant, is their account of it, even with the grapes on their shoulders. Just like us on the way to heaven. They cannot stand these difficulties. We are as grasshoppers, say they; but the real question is, what God is.
As saints we are weaker than the world, and ought to be; but when waiting on God, what is that? When they have not confidence in God, they find fault with the land itself. What a wonderful God He is! He says, If you will not go into Canaan, you must stay in the wilderness; and He turns them, and turns back with them. It is grace, but the throne of grace. God governs: it is a throne. He will not let a single thing pass. See the people at Kibroth-hataa-vah! In case of accusation from the enemy, as Balaam, there is not chastening, but He says, “I have not seen iniquity in Jacob.” The moment it is a question between God’s people and the enemy’s accusation, He will not allow a word against them; but when there is an Achan in the camp, He judges. Why? Because He is there. It is a throne. If you are not victorious, there is sin.
We may come boldly to the throne, etc. Still it is a throne (not a meditator), but all grace. If I go to the throne, instead of the throne coming to me, so to speak, it is all grace; I get help. I never can go to the throne of grace without finding mercy. He may send chastening, but it is a throne of grace and all mercy—“grace to help in every time of need.” If you have a will, He will break it; if a need, He will help you. Do you feel that you can always go boldly, even when you have failed? humbled, of course, and at all times humble, but humbled when you have failed.