The Present Truth : February 4, 1897
“For if Joshua had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Hebrews 4.8, 9
We have seen that although not one word of God’s promises to Israel failed, “the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,” (Hebrews 4.2), and that a long time after the Lord had given them rest, He set before them, through Joshua, the conditions on which they might enjoy the inheritance.
The Kingdom the Lord’s
Passing over a period of more than four hundred years, during which time the history of the children of Israel is a record of apostasy and repentance and apostasy again, we come to the time of David, when the kingdom of Israel was at the height of its power. Although, in demanding a king, the children of Israel rejected God, He did not reject them. It was not God’s design that Israel should ever have any other king than Himself, but they were not content to walk by faith, having a King whom they could not see. Nevertheless the kingdom still remained the Lord’s, and therefore He exercised His right to appoint rulers.
Even so it is in all the world. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” “His kingdom ruleth over all.” The people of the world do not recognize Him as King, and boast in the pride of their own Governments; yet “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” “He removeth kings, and setteth up kings.” Daniel 4.32; 2.21. “There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans xiii. 1. This is why every soul ought to be subject unto “the higher powers,” and is an evidence that the Lord’s kingdom includes the whole earth, even though the rulers who for a season are allowed to imagine that they are holding the reins, set themselves up against Him.
Strangers and Sojourners in David’s Time
So when in the providence of God David came to the throne of Israel, “and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies” (2 Samuel 7.1), it was in his heart to build a temple to the Lord. At first the prophet Nathan, speaking his own words, said to him, “Go, do all that is in thine heart,” but afterwards he spoke the word of the Lord, and said that David should not build it. At that time the Lord said to David: —
“I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any source as at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel. Moreover the Lord telleth thee that He will make thee an house.” 2 Samuel 7.10, 11
The people of Israel therefore had not yet obtained the rest and the inheritance. David was a powerful king, and had “a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth,” yet when he bequeathed the kingdom, with all the material for the building of the temple, to his son Solomon, he said in his prayer to God, “We are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” 1 Chronicles 29.15
At the time when the kingdom of Israel was as great and powerful as it ever was on this earth, the king declared himself to be as much a stranger and sojourner in the land as was Abraham, who had “none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on.” David in his house of cedar, as well as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who dwelt in tents, “sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country.” Not only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Gideon, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and the prophets, with many others, “having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” Hebrews 11.32-39. What stronger evidence could there be that the inheritance, which God promised to Abraham and his seed, was never a temporal possession in “this present evil world”?
The Temporal Jerusalem Signifies Slavery
Since the great king David, at the height of his power, had not received the promise, what utter folly it is to suppose that the promise to restore Israel to their own land can ever be fulfilled by any return of the Jews to old Jerusalem. Those who are building their hopes on “Jerusalem, which now is,” are losing all the blessedness of the Gospel. “We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear,” therefore we will put no confidence in anything connected with old Jerusalem; for “Jerusalem which now is,” “is in bondage with her children; but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Galatians 4.25, 26. When the promise is fulfilled, and the people of Israel really possess the land, and are no more strangers and sojourners in it, their days will no more be as a shadow, but they will abide forever.
But “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3.9. “The longsuffering of our God is salvation.” Verse 15. Even in the days of Moses, the time of the promise was at hand (Acts 7.19), but the people would not have it. They chose this present evil world, rather than the world to come. But God had sworn by Himself that the seed of faithful Abraham should enter in, and “seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief; again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day, after so long a time; as it is said, To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Hebrews 4.6, 7
The unbelief of man cannot make the promise of God of none effect. Romans 3.3. “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2.13. If not a single soul of the natural descendants of Abraham and Jacob proved themselves children of Abraham, but were all children of the devil (John 8.39-44), God’s promise to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled to the letter, for God is able even of the stones of the ground to “raise up children unto Abraham.” Matthew 3.19. That would simply be a repetition of what He did in the beginning, when He made man of the dust of the ground. If Joshua had given them rest, then of course there would have been no need of any further day of salvation; but the unfaithfulness of professed followers of God delays the fulfillment, and so God in His mercy grants another day, and that is “To-day.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6.2. “To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Just think of it! Even when David lived, it is called “after so long a time.” It was indeed a “long time,” fully five hundred years after the promise might have been fulfilled; and yet, after so much longer a time the Lord still offers “another day.” That other day is today; we have not a year given us in which to accept the offer of salvation, not next month, not next week, not even to-morrow, but only today. That is all the time that God has given us—probation is but one day long. With how much greater force, therefore, the words come to us after so long a time, “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” What a glorious treasure God has given us in today, —the opportunity of entering into the gate of righteousness. Christ is the door, and by Him all may enter in “while it is called to-day.” Shall we not accept it as “the day, which the Lord hath made” and “be glad and rejoice in it?” “The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous;” “for we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” “For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30.15
This rest is announced in the Gospel, for Christ says, “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. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11.28-30. The people of Israel in old time failed of this rest, not because it was not offered them, but because when the Gospel was preached to them they did not believe; the Gospel that is now preached to us is the very same that was preached to them. Hebrews 4.2
The rest is all prepared, for “we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, If12 they shall enter into My rest.” God has sworn by Himself that the seed of Abraham—those who have his faith—should enter into rest; and that was equivalent to an oath that they who did not believe should not enter in, and therefore God did indeed swore that the faithless ones should not enter in. This was not an arbitrary decree, but a statement of fact, for it is as impossible for an unbelieving person to enter into rest as it would be for a man to live and grow strong without eating, drinking, or breathing.
12 In an oath there are two parts—the condition, and the consequence if that condition is unfulfilled. For instance, a man swears, “I will forfeit one thousand pounds, if I do not save that man from prison;” or, “I pledge myself that I will not allow the prisoner to escape.” The Hebrew is very concise, and gives us the condition, without naming the consequence in connection with the oath. Each one can fill in all the dire results that his imagination can picture, if God should break His word. When God swears by Himself, He really pledges His very existence to be forfeited, —if the thing turns out contrary to His word; but that awful alternative is not stated, because it is beyond the range of possibility. Therefore we should always read this expression, wherever it occurs, as it is in the Revised Version: “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.”
The fact that “they could not enter in because of unbelief” shows that they would have entered in if they had believed; and the fact that perfect rest was all ready for them, is still further shown by the statement, “the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Hebrews 4.3. When works are finished, rest must ensue; accordingly we read, “God did rest the seventh day from all His works.” Verse 4. That is what God said in one place of the seventh day; but in another place He said, “They shall not enter into My rest.” Verse 5. We see, therefore, that the rest which was ready, and which the children of Israel did not enter into because of unbelief, was the rest connected with the seventh day. For it was God’s rest that was offered them, and it was His rest that they failed to secure, and the seventh day is the Sabbath—rest—of the Lord; it is the only rest of which we read in connection with God—God rested on the seventh day from all His work—and that rest was ready as soon as the work of creation was completed.
God’s Work and God’s Rest
The rest that is promised is God’s rest. Rest follows labor, but not until the labor is completed. A man cannot rest from a given work until that work is finished. God’s work is creation, a complete, perfect work; “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work, which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work, which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made.” Genesis 1.31; 2.1-3
The work was perfect, —it was as good as God Himself could make it, as perfect as He is, —and it was all done; therefore the rest was also perfect. There was no taint of the curse; it was absolute, pure, unalloyed rest. God looked upon His work, and there was nothing to cause Him regret; there was nothing to induce Him to say, “If I had it to do over again—;” there was no room for alteration or amendment; He was perfectly satisfied and delighted with what He had wrought. Ah, what tongue or pen can describe, or what mind imagine, the sense of boundless satisfaction, the delicious peace and content that must necessarily follow work all done and well done? This earth affords no such enjoyment, for—
Something still remains undone;
Something uncompleted still
Waits the rising of the sun;”
but all that sweet satisfaction and delicious rest God enjoyed in as much greater degree than human mind can imagine it, as God is greater than man, on that seventh day when God rested from all His work.
The Rest Into Which Adam Entered
This incomparable rest is what God gave man in the beginning. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Genesis 2.15. “Eden” means delight, pleasure; the garden of Eden is the garden of delight; the Hebrew word which in this place is rendered “put” is a word meaning rest; it is the word from which the proper name Noah comes (for the signification, see Genesis 5.29, and margin); therefore Genesis 2.15 may be rendered thus: “And the Lord God took the man, and caused him to rest in the garden of delight to dress it and to keep it.”
Man entered into rest, because he entered into God’s perfect, finished work. He was God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had before prepared, that he should walk in them. “This is the work of God, that ye believe,” (John 6.29), and it was solely by faith that Adam could enjoy God’s work and share His rest; for as soon as he disbelieved God, taking the word of Satan instead, he lost everything. He had no power in himself, for he was but dust of the ground, and he could retain his rest and his inheritance only as long as he allowed God to work in him “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
“We which believe do enter into rest,” because “this is the work of God, that ye believe.” The two statements are not contradictory, but are identical in meaning, because the work of God, which is ours by faith, is completed work, and therefore to enter upon that work is to enter upon rest. God’s rest, therefore, is not idleness, not laziness. Christ said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work,” (John 5.17), yet “the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary.” Isaiah 40.28. He works by His word to uphold that which He created in the beginning; so those who have believed God, and have therefore entered into rest, are exhorted to “be careful to maintain good works;” (Titus 3.8); but as those good works were obtained by faith, and “not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves,” (verse 5), so they are to be maintained by faith; but faith gives rest, and therefore the rest of God is compatible with and necessarily accompanied by, the greatest activity.