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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Hebrews 4

 

 

Verse 3

THE PROMISED REST

‘We which have believed do enter into rest.’

Hebrews 4:3

How shall we describe the manifold features that characterise this union with the God of rest?

I. The rest of the yielded will.—It is almost a commonplace to say it. But it needs constant saying, for in the neglect of this submission of the will lies the true reason of all the world’s unrest. To say from the heart ‘Not my will but thine be done’ is to cover all our case.

II. The rest of a satisfied affection.—It is one of the saddest features of the day that even men who come to God for salvation will go somewhere else for pleasure. This love of pleasure is the curse of the hour. It infects the Church and dominates the world. The only way to remedy it is to show men that true satisfaction is in Christ.

III. The rest of harmonious action.—The rest of union with Him is the secret of the believer’s usefulness and power. When the Great Worker takes up His abode within, then heart friction ceases, worry is soothed away, labour itself is restful, and we can work and rest and rest and work, perhaps even to the end.

IV. The rest of an eternal Sabbath in heaven.—‘What,’ asked a friend of William Wilberforce, ‘is your idea of heaven?’ He answered, ‘Love.’ ‘And what,’ said the questioner, turning to Robert Hall, always a sufferer, ‘is yours?’ ‘Mine,’ he answered, ‘is rest.’ Both were right, for ‘There,’ as Augustine says, ‘we shall rest and gaze, we shall gaze and love, we shall love and praise.’

—Rev. E. W. Moore.


Verse 11

LABOUR TO REST

‘Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.’

Hebrews 4:11

It would be hard to say whether ‘labour’ or ‘rest’ is most the key-note of the Christian religion. And the two are essentially united, for all rest presupposes labour. You cannot work for God till you rest in God. And yet to ‘rest in God’ is perhaps the highest and severest exercise of the soul of man.

There are four rests mentioned or implied in this passage to the Hebrews.

I. The first is God’s ‘rest’ from His work on the Seventh day.—‘For he spake in a certain place of the Seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the Seventh day from all His works.’ And here are given us the pledge and the first-fruit of all the ‘rest’ which should ever be in earth or heaven.

II. The second ‘rest’ is the ‘rest’ of Canaan, which the writer introduces as the illustration of the ‘rest’ of faith. For he reasons—‘Why did not all Israel enter into Canaan?’ Because of unbelief. Therefore he says, ‘Take heed lest you fail of your promised “rest” from the same cause’; for it was nothing else which kept them out of Canaan.

III. Thirdly, we come to the ‘rest’ of faith; and that is seen in the rest of Canaan.—The ‘rest’ of faith is clear, as the writer argues. Thus, five hundred years after the ‘rest’ of Canaan, he defines another day emphatically, and says, by David, ‘To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts’ in unbelief. ‘To-day, after so long a time, to-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus (that is Joshua)—if Jesus had given them that rest’—if that rest of Joshua’s were all the rest God meant—‘He would not’—after five hundred years—‘have spoken of another day.’ What then? Beyond the rest of Eden, beyond the rest of Canaan, ‘there remaineth’—there was then, and there was to come, and there is now—‘there remaineth a rest to the people of God.’

IV. The fourth ‘rest’ is the ‘rest’ of heaven.—Whether, indeed, when the writer says, ‘There remaineth a rest, a Sabbatism for the people of God,’ he meant that beyond the ‘rest’ of Eden and beyond the ‘rest’ of Canaan there remains that other ‘rest’ of faith of which I have been speaking; or whether he means that now again to those who have already found the ‘rest’ of faith in Christ there still remains the higher rest of another life in the world to come, it is not quite certain. I incline to think that he rather intends the first. But we need scarcely make the distinction, for they are both one. The first is heaven in us, and the second is we in heaven; only, in the first, it is the ‘rest’ of the assurance of victory in a battle that is going on in a hostile field; in the second, it is that victory won in a world of love and union.

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘It will be a blessed “rest” when we get to heaven! It will well repay all the toil. We had “rested” before from the dominion of sin; but then we shall “rest” from its power. We had “rested” before from its victory; but then we shall “rest” from its conflict. We had “rested” before from its burden; but then we shall “rest” from its presence. We had “rested” before in Christ, for Christ; but then with Christ. It was “rest” before, but in a restless world, with a half-resting mind; but then it will be the quietness of the calm repose of a satisfied love, which breathes nothing else but the atmosphere of the stillness of heaven! But that kingdom “suffereth violence,” and “the violent take it by force.” Therefore, up, and be doing, for we go to a world where “rest” and “labour” will be one word.’


Verses 14-16

OUR HIGH PRIEST IN HEAVEN

‘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. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’

Hebrews 4:14-16

In His Ascension our Lord entered heaven, not only as a King of Glory, but He entered the highest heaven on our behalf as our great High Priest. Almost the whole of the Epistle to the Hebrews deals with this matter—the entrance of our Blessed Saviour into the highest heaven. And in the Epistle you will note that we find there a sketch of the perfect priest, and how our Lord represents to us the Perfect Priest. The word ‘intercession’ means to go between; our Lord’s intercession is a going between man and God, between man who has sinned and God against Whom man has sinned.

I. That intercession is of two kinds:—

(a) There is the intercession of His simple presence, the fact that in heaven He bears our own nature, the nature of those who have sinned against the Eternal Father, that in His own hands, and feet, and side He bears the mark of that which He has endured for our salvation. The simple presence of His wounded human nature is a perpetual intercession on our behalf.

(b) Beyond that there is the actual pleading for us. He speaks for you and for me, One Who knows what we need, Who knows our own helplessness, and has made Himself our champion. That help is going on ceaselessly.

II. What are the fruits of His Priesthood?—What does He obtain for us?

(a) Well, first of all, He obtains on our behalf mercy for our sins. It is an endless intercession, claiming on our behalf the Divine mercy of our Father and His forgiveness. So in the hymn we plead:—

Look, Father, look on His anointed face,

And only look on us as found in Him.

(b) Then His intercession takes up into itself the imperfection of our own prayers and of our own works. The best that we can do is poor and worthless; but, caught up in the intercession of our great High Priest, the feeblest prayers have their value, and they prevail with our Father.

(c) Yet again, His intercession upon the throne of heaven pleads endlessly for us just the graces that we need for our daily life—grace which will help us to outgrow our weakness and our faults, and grow in likeness to the perfect life of Jesus. Then there descends upon that intercession the rain of His grace, which shall help us to escape above ourselves, and to come nearer Jesus.

III. What is the consequence and fruit of all this?—We have in the text, ‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace.’ If the intercession of our Lord is to avail for us, if its fruit is to abound in us, then we must come to Him. There it all is—the immeasurable good of what Jesus has done and is doing on our behalf; but it awaits our claiming. ‘Come,’ the Apostle says, ‘and claim your share in the intercession of Jesus, in the merit of His life and His death. Come boldly to the throne of grace.’

—Rev. E. F. Russell.

Illustration

‘Some time ago a famous modern Jewish preacher, standing up in his pulpit and addressing a large crowd of his co-religionists, began his sermon in such words as these: “I am the child of sorrow. We Israelites are all of us the children of sorrow. For we have no one to represent us now before the throne of God.” The language is indescribably mournful; not less true than mournful. But we who believe in the Lord Jesus are not so unhappily situated. We have a great High Priest Who bears our names on His heart in the presence of God; Who carries on His shoulders the weight of our temporal and eternal interests. He is one Who has passed through the whole range of human experiences, and cannot but be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And therefore we may approach Him boldly: the poor in their bitter poverty, the suffering in their agony, the bereaved in their loneliness, the young man in his temptations (for was not Jesus Himself a young man?), the business man in his sometimes terrible struggle to keep his footing and to preserve his honour intact; and the spiritual worker in his sad hour of failure—all the sorrowful, and disappointed, and neglected, and despised, and anxious, and weary, and heavy-laden—and God knows how many such there are in the world—all, all may come and find room for themselves in that gentle and loving human heart of Jesus, ay, and find more than room—find an unfailing supply of consolation and strength.’


Verse 15

CHRISTIANITY BETTER THAN JUDAISM

‘For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’

Hebrews 4:15

From the first chapter to the last of this Epistle the author discourses on the glory of Christ. To set forth Christ’s glory he contrasts Him with prophets—angels—Moses—Aaron—and shows how in all things Christ has the pre-eminence. His great point is to show how the religion of Christ is better than the Jewish religion. Christ’s religion has a better hope (Hebrews 7:19), a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6), better promises (Hebrews 8:6), a better Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:23). In fact the writer uses the word better no less than thirteen times. You can hardly conceive what a wrench it was for a Jew to give up the God-given, time-honoured religion of his fathers and of his childhood. That was why the author laboured chapter after chapter to prove that the Gospel of Christ is infinitely and eternally better than the Law of Moses.

I. A life of perfect sympathy.—Ah! then, He is so great He cannot feel for us! Yes, ten thousand times yes. He is a High Priest Who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. His life on earth was a life of perfect sympathy. Every sermon, every miracle, every parable proclaimed it.

II. Wondrous is the power of sympathy.—If you would realise its power, imagine its absence. ‘I will buy with you,’ says Shylock, ‘sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.’ Man needs it. Even a child quickly feels its warmth.

III. Purity and sympathy.—Human sympathy is a poor picture of the Divine. But if human sympathy is so sweet, what must the Divine be? Then the question comes: How can the sinless sympathise with the sinful? When any one has fallen into sin, who are the men who most sympathise with him? Are they his old companions?—those worse than himself? Not so. If he wants sympathy when he has fallen into sin, he must go to the most Christ-like. The more holy the saint, the truer his sympathy. The nearer to Christ the greater the sympathy. Perfect purity is essential to perfect sympathy. Christ was perfectly pure, so His sympathy with sinners was perfect too. Let us entreat Christ to give us in our measure this sweet gift of sympathy.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘Henry Ward Beecher was one cold wintry night buying a newspaper of a ragged, shivering Irish newsboy. His very teeth were chattering, so that he could hardly call out the names of the newspapers. Beecher, for pity, bought the whole sheaf of papers under the boy’s arm. “Poor little fellow!” sighed Beecher, whilst his eye moistened, “ain’t you very cold?” And the boy said, with a gulp, “I was, sir, before you passed by.”’


Verse 16

THE THRONE OF GRACE

‘Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’

Hebrews 4:16

Mercy is man’s great need. If he looks back he needs mercy for the past, every day he needs mercy; and when he looks forward to eternity he needs mercy still.

I. God’s mercy is free—‘Every one that asketh receiveth’ (St. Luke 11:10). His mercy is free as the air or the sunshine, given without money and without price to those who feel they have no merit to bring.

II. God’s mercy is tender.—We read of this ‘tender mercy’ in St. Luke 1:78. Never think of the majesty of God without His tenderness. The heart of the great Father melts with pity and love.

III. God’s mercy is exhaustless.—The streams of His mercy never run dry. In every age men drink of these rivers of mercy, and go on their way rejoicing. Yet God’s mercy is ‘plenteous’ still—enough for thee and for me, and for all who will seek it.

IV. ‘And find grace to help in time of need.’—This teaches us one use of prayer. It is a preparation for trial. The sorrows of life too often take us by surprise. Men of the world are crushed by unexpected troubles, and led thereby to despair and even suicide. They are utterly bewildered, and cry, ‘O God, who could have expected such a blow as this?’

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘How touching was the end of the great missionary-explorer, David Livingstone! His servants found him lying dead in the hut that had been built for him. Alone, and on his knees, he had breathed out his soul to God while the shadows of the African night were still around him. This was early on the 1st of May, 1873. The traveller’s rest had come. “He entered heaven with prayer.”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/hebrews-4.html. 1876.

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Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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