Ellet J. Waggoner
The Present Truth : November 4, 1897
Before we begin the fourth chapter of Hebrews, let us briefly review the third chapter; for, although we have a chapter heading thrown in, there is not the slightest break in the subject. It is impossible to understand the fourth chapter unless the third stands clearly in mind.
In the beginning of the third chapter we are told about the house of God, the rule of which is faithfulness. “God is faithful,” and Christ the Son was faithful over His house, even as Moses was faithful as a servant. We are God’s house, provided we hold fast our confidence, that is, provided we are faithful to the end.
If we are thus faithful, we shall find rest in God’s house, for it is a place of rest. When Naomi told her two daughters-in-law to return to there own people, because she herself was about to go back to Judea, she said, “The Lord grant that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” Ruth 1.9. God sustains many relations to His people; indeed He is the fullness of every relation, so that He is Father, Brother, King, and Husband, for He represents Himself as married to the house of Israel. So He gives us the blessing of rest in His house. We become members of God’s household by faith (for it is a “household of faith” (Galatians 6.10), and faith brings rest, as we learn from the statement that “they could not enter in because of unbelief.” Hebrews 3.19
Ancient Israel, like the people of these days, saw the works of the Lord, but did not become acquainted with His ways, and therefore they did not enter into His rest. It needs no argument to prove that it is impossible to enter into the Lord’s rest while ignorant of His ways; that is self-evident. To know God is eternal life, and there is no eternal life except in the knowledge of Him; but eternal life is eternal rest, because it is everlasting youth. It is unconquerable. Life in light and the light shines in the darkness, and darkness does not quench it. The darker it is, the more brightly does the true light appear. Rest, therefore, God’s rest, the only real and enduring rest, is found only in God’s life, in an experimental knowledge of His ways.
The Characteristic of Rest
Rest must follow labor. Indeed, rest presupposes labor. But more than this: rest means labor completed. No one can rest from a work that is unfinished. It is true that we can cease our physical exertions for a time, but we do not rest from the labor until we are done with it. We may say that we are resting; but if we must again take up our round of work that shows that we do not rest from our labor. Still more: one does not rest from a task that is unfinished, even though for a time he remits his exertions, for his mind is not at rest. If the night comes on, and we see that there is a task that we ought to have completed, but which is still unfinished, our rest is unsatisfactory. We have regret for the past and anxiety for the future, and though we lay our bodies down to sleep, our rest is broken. Now it is an undeniable truth that,
“Labor with what zeal we will,
Something still remains undone,
Something uncompleted still
Waits the rising of the sun.
“By the bedside, on the stair,
At the threshold, near the gates,
With its menace or its prayer,
Like a mendicant it waits;
“Waits, and will not go away;
Waits, and will not be gainsayed;
By the cares of yesterday
Each today is heavier made;
“Till at length the burden seems
Greater than our strength can bear,
Heavy as the weight of dreams,
Pressing on us everywhere.
And we stand from day today,
Like the dwarfs of times gone by,
Who, as Northern legends say,
On their shoulders held the sky.”
Unknown to this World.—Such rest as that this world cannot give, because it knows it not. No man can find it in his own work, for no man can, as already seen, do perfect work. “Every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” Psalm 39.5. “All our righteousness are as filthy rags.” Isaiah 64.6. Of the whole world it is said, “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Romans 3.12. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8.7. Every man finds in himself the proof of this. No man ever yet did a thing that could not be improved, and of which he himself could not see the possibility of improvement. If a man invents a machine, he spends the rest of his life making improvements on it. If he writes a book, it is no sooner finished than he would like to get out a new edition. Who has not at some time said, “If I had that to do over again”—or “If I had my life to live over again.” How then can a mind find rest by his own works? Impossible; because since his work is always incomplete and imperfect, there is something always before him to be done. And so the man toils and struggles in the vain attempt to reach perfection and thus find rest for his soul. Vain attempt indeed it is, for the more he toils and struggles, the more worn out he becomes. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” Isaiah 57.20. If he persists in seeking rest by his own efforts, he will work himself into the grave, literally tired to death.
Perfect Rest with God.—“As for God, His way is perfect.” Psalm 18.30. He does everything right, and does it right the first time. “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, not anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him.” Ecclesiastes 3.14. God never has to say, “If I had that to do over again, I should make this improvement.” His goodness is unsearchable, and His righteousness endures forever. And He has given Himself to us, that we might be partakers of His perfection. “Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!” Psalm 31.19. Therefore Christ, who is the fullness of God, and whose name is “God with us,” 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 of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11.28-30
Rest in Confidence.—In God’s house is rest, and we are His house “if we hold fast the confidence.” Hebrews 3.6. Rest, therefore, comes by faith. This is self-evident from the fact that a man cannot find rest in himself. Rest is found only in meekness and lowliness. A man must acknowledge the truth, namely, that in him dwells no good thing, before he will accept the perfection that God alone gives. “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; and ye would not.” Isaiah 30.15. No; men in these days, just as Israel of old, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness; and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” Romans 10.3. Men who will acknowledge they cannot do their own work as well as they would like to, and that they cannot accomplish as much of it as they would like to, feel themselves perfectly capable of doing God’s work. As if any being less than God could do the work of God! As though the creature could do the work of the Creator!
When the Jews asked, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” John 6.28, 29. A child cannot do a man’s work; but, compared with God, the greatest man is less than the puniest babe; therefore it is folly for any man to think of doing God’s work. “His work is honorable and glorious.” Psalm 111.3. God’s work is nothing less than creation. Now all God’s works are in Christ; for “in Him were all things created, in the heavens, and upon the earth, things visible, and things invisible, . . . and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Colossians 1.16, 17. Therefore whoever receives Christ, receives the perfect works of God. But we receive Christ by believing on Him. John 1.12. Christ dwells in the heart by faith. Ephesians 3.17. So it is that the work of God is to believe on Him whom God hath sent. The Jews in the days of Moses, like the Jews in the days of Christ’s earthly ministry, would not accept Christ and the rest that He alone can give. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” Hebrews 3.19
An Exhortation to Us.—“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.” Hebrews 4.1. You stand by faith. Be not high minded, but fear.” Romans 11.20. It is the same exhortation that is given in Hebrews 3.12: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” These exhortations, following as they do immediately after the statement that “they could not enter in because of unbelief,” show us that the same rest that was held out to them is offered to us. We are to take heed lest we lose it even as they did. This is shown even more plainly still in the next verse.
The Same Gospel.—“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.” Hebrews 4.2. There are some professed believers of the Bible, who deny that the Gospel is more than nineteen hundred years old, claiming that it was not preached before the appearance of Christ on earth. Such ones virtually deny any salvation for all those who lived before Christ’s first advent; for salvation is by Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4.10-12), and the preaching of Christ is the Gospel (Romans 1.1-3); if, then, there was no Gospel for four thousand years, then of course Christ was not preached in all that time, and so there was no salvation. But the Psalms, to say nothing of the rest of the Bible, are full of Christ. How often do we find references to the Lord’s Anointed, namely, Christ, for “Christ” means “anointed.” Jesus says that Moses wrote of Him (John 5.45-47), and Paul writes: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the Gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed.” Galatians 3.8. Ancient Israel “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10.4. But as they did not drink by faith, the Word—Christ—did not profit them. They murmured, and in their murmuring they tempted Christ. 1 Corinthians 10.9. There is only one Gospel (Galatians 1.8, 9), so that the Gospel, which they had, is identical with that which is now preached to us. See 1 Peter 1.10-12. Most men would think that it would be putting it strongly to say that the Gospel was preached unto them as well as unto us; but the apostle tells us that the Gospel is preached to us, as well as it was to them; so that we have no more excuse than they had. They had the first opportunity; we are simply called to take what they refused. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
Entering into Rest.—“For we who have believed do enter into rest.” Hebrews 4.3. The proof of this follows in the statement, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest.” That was because they did not believe. The positive side of that oath is that those who believe shall enter into rest. The rest remains, is left behind for us, for it existed in the days of Israel in the wilderness, and they would not go in; therefore we enter in as soon as we believe. This is seen from the statement already quoted, “This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” John 6.29. But the work of God is complete and perfect; therefore to have the work of God is to have His rest.
Work Finished and Rest Prepared.—They could not enter into God’s rest, because of unbelief, “although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” What does that signify? —simply that the rest was prepared from the foundation of the world; for finished work means rest. When work is finished, rest must follow.
Remember that the rest offered is God’s rest; there is, indeed, no other. This rest is found in Christ, who calls all the weary to Himself. The rest is found in Christ, because in Him are all the works of God; He is the righteousness of God. Only in Him is there righteousness and strength.
Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The power of the cross is creative power, for “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5.17), or, as the margin of the Revision has it, “there is a new creation.” So we see the cross from the foundation of the world.
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast; for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before, prepared that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2.8-10, margin. We are created in Christ unto good works, but long before we were created the good works were prepared for us; they were finished from the foundation of the world. As soon as man was created, he found everything prepared for him. The Divine power of God had provided for him all things that pertain unto life and godliness. But as before stated, the cross of Christ is creation; therefore on the cross Christ cried out, “It is finished,” thus indicating that in His cross, and in that alone, could be found the perfect works that were prepared for man from the foundation of the world.
What a glorious Gospel of great joy! The works of righteousness are all done, and we have but to accept them in Christ, and walk in them. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes.” Romans 10.4. He has overcome the world (John 16.33) and the warfare is finished in Him. Isaiah 40.2. Therefore our faith in Christ is the victory that has overcome the world. There is no other way under heaven that men can get the victory over sin, except by grasping and holding fast by faith to the fact that sin and Satan have already been conquered. Oh, why will weary, sin-laden souls seek to get righteousness by their own efforts, when the perfect righteousness of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ is all ready to their hand? Cease your vain strivings, and allow God to work in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
“Come, weary soul, and here find rest,
Accept redemption, and be blest;
The Christ who died, by God is crowned,
To pardon on redemption ground.”
The Seal of Perfection.—The works were finished from the foundation of the world. Creation and redemption are the same, as we read, in His Son “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins . . . for in Him were all things created. Colossians 1.11-16. The cross of Christ redeems us by creating us anew. All this was done—these works finished—from the foundation of the world. What is the proof of this? —“For He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, and God did rest the seventh day from all His works. And in this place again, “They shall not enter into My rest.”” Hebrews 4.4, 5. “God did rest the seventh day from all His works.” That is proof that the works were finished, and that the rest was ready. The work being finished, rest must follow, and so it did, on the seventh day; and this, as the fifth verse in connection with the fourth shows, was the very same rest which the Jews rejected through unbelief, and which God now offers to us.
“In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God;” and as Sabbath means rest, and nothing else, we have God's own word for it that the Sabbath of the seventh day is His rest. Exodus 20.8-11
After the record of each day of creation we read, “And God saw that it was good.” At the close of each day the work was perfect as far as it had been done; but it was not finished, and therefore God could not rest from it until the close of the sixth day. Then God rested, and the seventh day was thus the seal of completion, of perfection. So when we who have wandered from God, and wearied ourselves with our own work, come to God through the cross of Christ, and are there made new creatures, He gives us His Sabbath as the seal of the perfect righteousness that Christ has wrought for us. So as the Sabbath is the memorial of creation,—of creation perfect and complete,—and the cross of Christ creates anew, it follows that the Sabbath is the memorial and the pledge of redemption through His blood.
Only by Faith.—“By grace are ye saved through faith.” The work of God is to believe (John 6.29), and since the work of God is finished and perfect, it is by faith that we enter into rest. The Sabbath, therefore, is not a substitute for faith, but a sign of faith. Without faith, there can be no Sabbath-keeping, for God says that the faithless ones cannot enter into His rest. Whoever professes to keep the Sabbath of the Lord, and yet does not fully and completely trust Christ for righteousness, is playing at being a Christian, he has at best only a form of godliness without the power. We do not keep the Sabbath in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Rest in God is salvation, and they who do not know rest and peace in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, do not know Sabbath-keeping, even though they nominally rest on the last day of the week. The Lord gives His word for it that they who truly keep His Sabbath shall delight themselves in the Lord. Isaiah 58.13, 14. The Sabbath, therefore, God’s Sabbath, means “joy in the Holy Spirit.”
We must leave the further consideration of this subject till next week. This much, however, may be said here: Just as each day of God’s work was perfect, and the Sabbath came as the crown of perfection when all was finished, even so there are many people whom God is forming into His own image, who have not as yet come to the light of the Sabbath, or who know it in form only, but not in reality, and yet who are counted perfect in God’s sight. The work of grace was begun in them, and He who has begun a good work in them will perfect it unto the day of the Lord Jesus, and ere that perfect day comes they will have seen the truth of the Sabbath, and in it will have learned to rejoice in a power infinitely greater than any they had experienced or even dreamed of in all their previous Christian life. They will by no means consider it a burden laid upon them, since rest cannot possibly be a burden, but they will rejoice in it as a glorious gift, which God allows them to share with Him.