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Christ Superior to Joshua.
(Hebrews 4:1-3 )
The exhortation begun by the apostle in Hebrews 3:12 is not completed till Hebrews 4:12 is reached, all that intervenes consisting of an exposition and application of the passage quoted from Psalms 95:0 in Hebrews 3:7-11 . The connecting link between what has been before us and that which we are about to consider is found in Hebrews 3:19 , "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." These words form the transition between the two chapters, concluding the exhortation found in verses 12, 13, and laying a foundation for the admonition which follows. Ere proceeding, it may be well to take up a question which the closing verses of Hebrews 3:0 have probably raised in many minds, namely, seeing that practically all the adults who came out of Egypt by Moses perished in the wilderness, did not the promises of God to bring them into Canaan fail of their accomplishment?
In Exodus 6:6-8 , Jehovah said unto Moses, "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God... and I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did sware to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord." We quote now from the helpful comments of Dr. J. Brown upon these verses:
"This is a promise which refers to Israel as a people, and which does not by any means necessarily infer that all, or even that any, of that generation were to enter in. No express condition was mentioned in this promise not even the believing of it. Yet, so far as that generation was concerned, this, as the event proved, was plainly implied; for, if it had been an absolute, unconditional promise to that generation, it must have been performed, otherwise He who cannot lie would have failed in accomplishing His own word. There can be no doubt that the fulfillment of the promise to them was suspended on their believing it, and acting accordingly. Had they believed that Jehovah was indeed both able and determined to bring His people Israel into the land of Canaan, and, under the influence of this faith, had gone up at His command to take possession, the promise would have been performed to them.
"This was the tenor of the covenant made with them: ‘Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation’ (Exodus 19:5 , Exodus 19:6 ). ‘Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My name is in Him. But if thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an Enemy unto thine enemies, and an Adversary unto thine adversaries’ (Exodus 23:20-22 ).
"Their unbelief and disobedience are constantly stated as the reason why they did not enter in. ‘Because all those men have seen My glory, and My miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted Me now these ten times, and have not harkened to My voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked Me see it’ (Numbers 14:22 , Numbers 14:23 ), cf. Joshua 5:6 . God promised to bring Israel into the land of Canaan; but He did not promise to bring them in whether they believed and obeyed or not. No promise was broken to those men, for no absolute promise was made to them.
"But their unbelief did not make the promise of God of none effect. It was accomplished to the next generation: ‘And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein’ (Joshua 21:43 ). Joshua appealed to the Israelites themselves for the completeness of the fulfillment of the promise, see Joshua 23:14 . That generation believed the promises that God would give Canaan, and under the influence of this fact, went forward under the conduct of Joshua, and obtained possession of the land for themselves."
This same principle explains what has been another great difficulty to many, namely, Israel’s actual tenure of Canaan. In Genesis 13:14 , Genesis 13:15 we are told, "And the Lord said unto Abraham, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place from where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." This promise was repeated again and again, see Genesis 7:8 , etc. How then came it that the children of Israel occupied the land only for a season? Their descendants, for the most part are not in it today. Has, then, the promise of God failed? In no-wise. In His promise to Abraham God did not specify that any particular generation of his descendants should occupy the land "for ever" and herein lies the solution to the difficulty.
God’s promise to Abraham was made on the ground of pure grace; no condition whatever was attached to it. But grace only superabounds where sin has abounded. Sovereign grace intervenes only after the responsibility of man has been tested and his failure and unworthiness manifested. Now it is abundantly clear from many passages in Deuteronomy 31:26-29 , that Israel entered Canaan not on the ground of the unconditional covenant of grace which Jehovah made with Abraham, but on the ground of the conditional covenant of works which was entered into at Sinai (Exodus 24:6-8 ). Hence, many years after Israel had entered Canaan under Joshua, we read, "And an Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of the land of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break My covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars; but ye have not obeyed My voice: Why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be a thorn in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you" (Judges 2:1-3 ).
The same principles are in exercise concerning God’s fulfillment of His gospel promises. "The gospel promise of eternal life, like the promise of Canaan, is a promise which will assuredly be accomplished. It is sure to all ‘the seed.’ They were ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.’ Eternal life was promised in reference to them before the times of the ages, and confirmed by the oath of God. They have been redeemed to God by ‘the blood of the Lamb,’ and are all called in due time according to His purpose. Their inheritance is ‘laid up in heaven’ for them, and ‘they are kept for it by the mighty power of God, through faith unto salvation.’ And they shall all at last ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.’
"But the Gospel revelation does not testify directly to anyone that Christ so died for him in particular, that it is certain that he shall be saved through His death: neither does it absolutely promise salvation to all men; for in this case all must be saved, or God must be a liar. But it proclaims, ‘he that believeth shall be saved he that believeth not shall be damned.’ It is as believers of the truth that we are secured of eternal life; and it is by holding fast this faith of the truth, and showing that we do so, that we can alone enjoy the comfort of this security. ‘The purpose of God according to election must stand,’ and all His chosen will assuredly be saved; but they cannot know their election they cannot enjoy any absolute assurance of their salvation independent of their continuance in the faith, love, and obedience of the Gospel, see 2 Peter 1:5-12 . And to the Christian, in every stage of his progress, it is of importance to remember, that he who turns back, turns ‘back to perdition’; and that it is he only who believes straight onward that continues in the faith of the truth that shall obtain ‘the salvation of the soul’" (Dr. J. Brown).
Our introduction for this article has already exceeded its legitimate limits, but we trust that what has been said above will be used of God in clearing up several difficulties which have exercised the minds of many of His beloved people, and that it may serve to prepare us for a more intelligent perusal of our present passage. The verses before us are by no means easy, as any one who will really study them will quickly discover. The apostle’s argument seems to be unusually involved, the teaching of it appears to conflict with other portions of Scripture, and the "rest" which is its central subject, is difficult to define with any degree of certainty. It is with some measure of hesitation and with not a little trepidation that the writer himself now attempts to expound it, and he would press upon every reader the importance and need of heeding the Divine injunction of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 , "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
It should be evident that the first thing which will enable us to understand our passage is to attend to the scope of it. The contents of this chapter are found not in Romans or Corinthians or Ephesians, but in Hebrews, the central theme of which is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism, and there is that in each chapter which exemplifies this. The theme is developed by the presentation of the superlative excellencies of Christ, who is the Center and Life of Christianity. Thus far we have had Christ’s superiority over the prophets, the angels, Moses. Now it is the glory of Christ which excels that attaching to Joshua.
Our next key must be found in noting the connection between the contents of chapter four and that which immediately precedes. Plainly, the context begins at Hebrews 3:1 , where we are bidden to "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession." All of chapter 3 is but an amplification of its opening verse. Its contents may be summarized thus: Christ is to be "considered," attended to, heard, trusted, obeyed: first, because of His exalted personal excellency: He is the Son, "faithful" over His house; second, because of the direful consequences which must ensue from not "considering" Him, from despising Him. This second point is illustrated by the sad example of those Israelites who hearkened not unto the Lord in the clays of Moses, and in their case the consequence was that they failed to enter into the rest of Canaan.
In the first sections of Hebrews 4:0 , the principal subject of chapter 3 is continued. It brings out again the superiority of our "Apostle," this time over Joshua, for he too was an "apostle" of God. This is strikingly brought out in Deuteronomy 34:9 , "And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid hands upon him; and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses" the prime thought of the "laying on of hands" in Scripture being that of identification. Let the reader compare Joshua 1:5 , Joshua 1:16-18 . The continuation of the theme of Hebrews 3:0 in chapter 4 is also seen by the repeated mention of "rest," see Hebrews 3:11 , Hebrews 3:18 and cf. Hebrews 4:1 , Hebrews 4:3 , etc. It is on this term that the apostle bases his present argument. The "rest" of Hebrews 3:11 , Hebrews 3:18 refers to Canaan, and though Joshua actually conducted Israel into this (see marginal rendering of Hebrews 4:8 ), yet the apostle proves by a reference to Psalms 95:0 that Israel never really (as a nation) entered into the rest of God. Herein lies the superiority of the Apostle of Christianity; Christ does lead His people into the true rest. Such, we believe, is the line of truth developed in our passage.
"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" (verse 1). The opening words of this chapter bid us seriously take to heart the solemn warning given at the close of verse 3. God’s judgment upon the wicked should make us more watchful that we do not follow their steps. The "us" shows that Paul was preaching to himself as well as to the Hebrews. "Let us therefore fear" has stumbled some, because of the "Fear thou not" of Isaiah 41:10 , 43:1, Isaiah 41:5 , etc. In John 14:27 , Christ says to us, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." And in 2 Timothy 1:7 , we read, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." On the other hand, believers are told to "Fear God" (1 Peter 2:17 ), and to work out their own salvation "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12 ). How are these two different sets of passages to be harmonized?
The Bible is full of paradoxes, which to the natural man, appear to be contradictions. The Word needs "rightly dividing" on the subject of "fear" as upon everything else of which it treats. There is a fear which the Christian is to cultivate, and there is a fear from which he should shrink. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and in Proverbs 14:26 , Proverbs 14:27 we read, "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence.... The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life"; so again, "Happy is the man that feareth always" (Proverbs 28:14 ). The testimony of the New Testament inculcates the same duty: Christ bade His disciples, "Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell" (Matthew 10:28 ). To the saints at Rome Paul said, "Be not high-minded, but fear" (Romans 11:20 ). To God’s people Peter wrote, "Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17 ). While in Heaven itself the word will yet be given: "Praise our God all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him both small and great" (Revelation 19:5 ).
Fear may be called one of the disliking affections. It is good or evil according to the object on which it is placed, and according to the ordering of it thereon. In Hebrews 4:1 it is placed on the right object an evil to be shunned. That evil is unbelief, which, if persisted in, ends in apostasy and destruction. About this the Christian needs to be constantly on his guard, having his heart set steadily against it. Our natural proneness to fall, the many temptations to which we are subject, together with the deceitfulness of sin, the subtlety of Satan, and God’s justice in leaving men to themselves, are strong enforcements of this duty. Concerning God Himself, we are to fear Him with such a reverent awe of His holy majesty as will make us careful to please Him in all things, and fearful of offending Him. This is ever accompanied by a fearsome distrust of ourselves. The fear of God which is evil in a Christian is that servile bondage which produces a distrustful attitude, kills affection for Him, regards Him as a hateful Tyrant. This is the fear of the demons (James 2:19 ).
"Let us therefore fear." "It is salutary to remember our tendency to partiality and one-sidedness in our spiritual life, in order that we may be on our guard, that we may carefully and anxiously consider the ‘Again, it is written’; that we may be willing to learn from Christians who have received different gifts of grace, and whose experience varies from ours; above all, that we may seek to follow and serve the Lord Himself, to walk with God, to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Forms of godliness, types of doctrine, are apt to become substitutes instead of channels, weights instead of wings.
"The exhortations of this epistle may appear to some difficult to reconcile with the teachings of Scripture, that the grace of God, once received, through the power of the Holy Spirit by faith, can never be lost, and that they who are born again, who are once in Christ, are in Christ for ever. Let us not blunt the edge of earnest and piercing exhortations. Let us not pass them over, or treat them with inward apathy. ‘Again it is written.’ We know this does not mean that there is any real contradiction in Scripture, but that various aspects of truth are presented, each with the same fidelity, fullness and emphasis. Hence we must learn to move freely, and not to be cramped and fixed in one position: we must keep our eyes clear and open, and not look at all things through the light of a favorite doctrine. And while we receive fully and joyously the assurance of our perfect acceptance and peace, and of the unchanging love of God in Christ Jesus, let us with the apostle consider also our sins and dangers, from the lower yet most real earthly and time-point of view.
"When Christ is beheld and accepted, there is peace; but is there not also fear? ‘With Thee is forgiveness of sin, that Thou mayest be feared’ (Psalms 130:4 ). Where do we see God’s holiness and the awful majesty of the law as in the cross of Christ? Where our own sin and unworthiness, where the depths of our guilt and misery, as in the atonement of the Lord Jesus? We rejoice with fear and trembling.... It is because we know the Father, it is because we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Savior, it is as the children of God and as the saints of Christ, that we are to pass our earthly pilgrimage in fear. This is not the fear of bondage, but the fear of adoption; not the fear which dreads condemnation, but the fear of those who are saved, and whom Christ has made free. It is not an imperfect and temporary condition; it refers not merely to those who have begun to walk in the ways Of God. Let us not imagine that this fear is to vanish at some subsequent period of our course, that it is to disappear in a so-called ‘higher Christian life.’ No; we are to pass the time of our sojourn here in fear. To the last moment of our fight of faith, to the very end of our journey, the child of God, while trusting and rejoicing, walks in godly fear" (Saphir).
"Lest a promise being left us." It is very striking to observe how this is expressed. It does not say, "lest a promise being made" or "given." It is put thus for the searching of our hearts. God’s promises are presented to faith, and they only become ours individually, and we only enter into the good of them, as we appropriate or lay hold of them. Of the patriarchs it is said concerning God’s promises (1) "having seen them afar off, (2) and were persuaded of them, (3) and embraced them" Hebrews 11:13 ). Certain promises of Jehovah were "left" to those who came out of Egypt. They were not "given" to any particular individuals, or "made" concerning that specific generation. And, as the apostle has shown in Hebrews 3:0 , the majority of those who came out of Egypt failed to "embrace" those promises, through hearkening not to Him Who spake, and through hardening their hearts. But Caleb and Joshua "laid hold" of those promises and so entered Canaan.
When the apostle here says, "Let us fear therefore lest a promise being left" there is no "us" in the Greek he addresses the responsibility of the Hebrews. He is pressing upon them the need of walking by faith and not by sight; he is urging them to so take unto themselves the promise which the Lord has "left," that they might not seem to come short of it. But to what is the apostle referring when he says, "lest a promise being left"? Surely in the light of the context the primary reference is clear: that which the Gospel makes known. The Gospel proclaims salvation to all who believe. The Gospel makes no promise to any particular individuals. Its terms are "whosoever believeth shall not perish." That promise is "left," left on infallible record, left for the consolation of convicted sinners, "left" for faith to lay hold of. This promise of salvation looks forward, ultimately, to the enjoyment of the eternal, perfect, and unbroken rest of God in heaven, of which the "rest" of Canaan, as the terminal of Israel’s hard bondage in Egypt and their wearisome journeyings in the wilderness, was the appropriate figure.
"Any of you should seem to come short of it." Passing over the word "seem" for a moment, let us inquire into the meaning of "to come short of it." Here again the language of Hebrews 11:13 should help us. As pointed out above, that verse indicates three distinct stages in the faith of the patriarchs. First, they saw God’s promises "afar off." They seemed too good to be true, far beyond their apprehension. Second, they were "persuaded of them" or, as the Revised Version renders it, "greeted them," which signifies a much closer acquaintance of them. Third, and "embraced them"; they did not "come short," but took them to their hearts. It is thus the awakened and anxious sinner has to do with the Gospel promise. Wondrous, unique, passing knowledge as it does, that promise is "left" him, and the Person that promise points to is to be "greeted" and "embraced." "That which was from the beginning (1), which we have heard (2), which we have seen with our eyes (3), which we have looked upon (4), and our hands have handled of the Word of Life" (1 John 1:1 ).
At this stage perhaps, the reader is ready to object against what has been advanced above, "But how can the ‘promise’ here refer to that presented in the Gospel before poor sinners, seeing that the apostle was addressing believers? Is not the ‘promise’ plainly enough defined in the ‘of entering into His rest’?" Without attempting now to enter into a fuller discussion of God’s "rest," it should be clear from the context that the primary reference is to the eternal sharing of His rest in heaven. This is the believer’s hope which is laid up for you in heaven, "whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the Gospel" (Colossians 1:5 ). At first this "hope" appears "afar off," but as faith grows it is "greeted" and "embraced." But only so as faith is in exercise. If we cease hearing and heeding the Voice which speaks to us from heaven, and our hearts become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, the brightness of our hope is dimmed, we "come short" of it; and if such a course be continued in, hope will give way to despair.
The whole point of the apostle’s exhortation here is a pressing upon Christians the imperative need of persevering in the faith. Israel left Egypt full of hope, as their song at the Red Sea plainly witnessed, see Exodus 15:13-18 . But, alas, their hopes quickly faded. The trials and testings of the wilderness were too much for them. They walked by sight, instead of by faith; and murmuring took the place of praising, and hardness of heart instead of listening to the Lord’s voice. So too the Hebrews were still in the wilderness: their profession of faith in Christ, their trust in the Lord, was being tested. Some of their fellows had already departed from the living God, as the language of Hebrews 10:25 dearly implies. Would, then these whom the apostle had addressed as "holy brethren" fail, finally, to enter into God’s rest? So it is with Christians now. Heaven is set before them as their goal: toward it they are to daily press forward, running with perseverance the race that is set before them. But the incentive of our hope only has power over the heart so long as faith is in exercise.
What is meant by "seeming to come short" of the Gospel promise of heaven? First , is not this word inserted here for the purpose of modifying the sharpness of the admonition? It was to show that the apostle did not positively conclude that any of these "holy brethren" were apostates, but only that they might appear to be in danger of it, as the "lest" warned. Second , was it not to stir up their godly fear the more against such coldness and dullness as might hazard the prize set before them? Third , and primarily, was it not for the purpose of showing Christians the extent to which they should be watchful? It is not sufficient to be assured that we shall never utterly fall away; we must not "seem" to do so, we must give no occasion to other Christians to think we have departed from the living God. The reference is to our walk. We are bidden to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ). Note how this same word "seem" signifies "appeared" in Galatians 2:9 . The very appearance of backsliding is to be sedulously avoided.
"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" (verse 2). The contents of this verse unequivocally establish our definition of the "promise" in verse 1, namely, that it has reference to the Gospel promise, which, in its ultimate application, looks forward to the eternal rest in heaven. Here plain mention is made of the "gospel." The obvious design of the apostle in this verse is to enforce the admonition of us fearing a like judgment which befell the apostate Israelites, by avoiding a like course of conduct in ourselves unbelief.
The Gospel preached unto Israel of old is recorded in Exodus 6:6-8 , and that it was not "mixed with faith in them that heard it" is seen from the very next verse, "And Moses so spake unto the children of Israel, but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage." We need hardly say that was not the only time a gospel message was proclaimed to them, see Numbers 13:26 , Numbers 13:27 , Numbers 13:30 ; and for their unbelief, Numbers 14:1-4 . "But the word preached did not profit them." "They were none the better for it. They did not obtain the blessing in reference to which a promise was given them: they did not enter into Canaan: they died in the wilderness" (Dr. J. Brown). The reason for this was, because they did not receive the good news in faith. The mere hearing of the Gospel is not enough: to profit, it must be believed. Thus Hebrews 4:2 is parallel with Hebrews 2:3 .
"For we which have believed do enter into rest" (verse 3). Failure to rightly understand these words led many of the commentators right off the track of the apostle’s argument in this passage. It pains us to have to take issue here with some eminent expositors of Scripture, but we dare not call any man, however spiritual or well-instructed, our "father." We must follow the light which we believe God has granted us, though we would again press upon the reader his responsibility for "proving all things" for himself.
"For we which have believed do enter into rest." Many have taken these words as referring to a spiritual rest into which believers enter here and now. But we believe this is a mistake. The apostle did not say, "We which believe have entered into rest." To which it may be replied, "Nor did he say, ‘We which have believed shall enter into rest.’" True, for to have put it thus would have weakened his argument. Moreover, it would be to evacuate the exhortation of verse 11 of its significance, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." If then verse 3 does not refer to a spiritual rest into which believers now enter, what is its meaning?
Bagster’s Interlinear (and we know of no English translation which is its equal) gives, "For we enter into the rest, who believe." This is a literal word for word rendering of the Greek into English. Put thus, the historical tense is avoided, and we have simply an abstract statement of a doctrinal fact. This verse gives us the positive side of verse 2, defining the characters of those who will enter God’s rest, namely, Believers. Unbelieving Israelites did not, believing Christians shall. It is important to remember that the "rest" of this whole passage is as yet only "promised," verse 1.
"For we which have believed do enter into rest." "The apostle speaks of believers of all ages as a body, to which he and those to whom he was writing belonged, and says, ‘It is we who believe, and we alone, who under any dispensation can enter into the rest of God’" (Dr. J. Brown). The opening "for" signifies that what follows is added as a reason to confirm what has been previously stated. The reason is drawn from the law of contraries, the inevitable opposites. Of contraries there must be opposite consequences. Now faith and unbelief are contraries, therefore their consequences are contraries. As then unbelievers cannot enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 3:18 ), believers must (Hebrews 4:3 ), that is their privilege. Such we believe is the force of this abstract declaration.
"The qualification of such as reap the benefit of God’s promise is thus set down, ‘Which have believed.’ To believe is to yield such credence to the truth of God’s promise, as to rest on Him for participation of the thing promised. We can have no assurance of the thing promised till we do believe the promise: ‘After that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise’ (Ephesians 1:13 ). ‘I know whom I have believed,’ saith the apostle, and thereupon maketh this inference, ‘and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day’ (2 Timothy 1:12 ). This, Christ manifested by the condition which He required of those whom He cured, thus, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible,’ Mark 9:23 ." (Dr. Gouge).
The second half of verse 3 we must leave for the next chapter. In the meantime, "Let us therefore fear." "The absolute safety, the fixed and unchanging portion of the chosen people of God can never be doubted. From the eternal, heavenly, divine point of view, saints can never fall; they are seated in heavenly places with Christ; they are renewed by the Spirit, and sealed by Him unto everlasting glory. But who sees the saints of God from this point of view? Not the world, not our fellow-Christians. They only see our character and walk.... From our point of view, as we live in time, from day to day, our earnest desire must be to continue steadfast, to abide in Christ, to walk with God, to bring forth fruit that will manifest the presence of true and God-given life. Hence the apostle, who says to the Philippians, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Hebrews 1:6 ), adds to a similar thought in another epistle, ‘If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.’ In the one passage Paul’s point of view is the heavenly, eternal one; in the other he looks from earth heavenwards, from time to eternity. And in what other way could he think, speak, exhort, and encourage both himself and his fellow-Christians but in this manner? For it is by these very exhortations and warnings that the grace of God keeps us. It is in order that the elect may not fall, it is to bring out in fact and time the (ideal and eternal) impossibility of their apostasy, that God in His wisdom and mercy has sent to us such solemn messages and such fervent entreaties, to watch, to fight, to take heed unto ourselves, to resist the adversary" (Saphir).
Christ Superior to Joshua.
(Hebrews 4:3-10 )
There has been so much confusion in the minds of commentators, so many conflicting interpretations of Hebrews 4:0 in the past, that we deem it the more necessary to go slowly, and endeavor to supply full proof of the exposition which we are here advancing. That which appears to have occasioned the most difficulty for many is the statement made at the beginning of verse 3, "For we which have believed do enter into rest," or, more literally, "for we enter into the rest, who believed." Having regarded this verse as setting forth a spiritual rest into which believers now enter, they have altogether failed in their understanding of the second part of verse 1. That sinners do enter into rest upon believing is clear from the promise of Christ in Matthew 11:28 . That the measure in which this is enjoyed, subsequently, will be determined by the degree and frequency with which faith is kept in exercise, we fully allow. But these things are not the subjects of which Paul is treating here in Hebrews 4:0 .
Considering that Hebrews 4:3 speaks of the believer’s present rest, many expositors have read this into the opening verse of the chapter, and have regarded its admonition as meaning, Let Christians be on their guard lest, through carelessness and backsliding, they "seem to come short" in their experimental enjoyment of Christ’s rest. In other words, they look upon the "rest" of the opening verses of Hebrews 4:0 as signifying communion with the Lord. They argue that this must be what was in the apostle’s mind, for he was not addressing the unconverted, but "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." With considerable ingenuity they have appealed to the context, the contents of the closing verses of Hebrews 3:0 , as supporting their contention. Those who failed to enter into Canaan (which they consider was a figure of the saints’ present portion) were not heathen, but Israelites, the covenant-people of God. We must therefore expose the error of this interpretation before proceeding farther.
First, we would remind the reader once more that the apostle was not here writing to Gentile Christians, but to Hebrews, whose circumstances and temptations were peculiar, unique. There was a very real and grave danger menacing them, not so much of interrupting their spiritual fellowship with Christ, but of shaking their faith in Him altogether. The temptation confronting them was the total abandonment of their Christian profession, of their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, now exalted at the right hand of God; and returning to Judaism. This fact must be kept in mind as we take up the study of each chapter of this Epistle. To lose sight of it, courts certain disaster in our interpretation.
Second, while it is true that the apostle’s warning in Hebrews 3:0 is taken from the history of Israel, the covenant people of God, it needs to be borne in mind that in connection with Israel there was an election within an election, a spiritual one within the national. Romans 9:7 , Romans 9:8 distinctly affirms, "Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." Unless this fact be steadily remembered, much misunderstanding and error will ensue. The fact is that Israel as a Nation, in Old Testament times, is not a type of God’s elect in this New Testament dispensation (as so many have wrongly supposed), but a figure of Christendom as a whole. It was only the spiritual remnant, the elect of God within the nation, who foreshadowed His saints of today.
Third, close attention to what is said of the Israelites in Hebrews 3:0 shows conclusively that they were an illustration not of true Christians out of communion with God, but instead, of nominal professors who were never born again. In proof of this note in Hebrews 3:10 it is said of them, "They do always err in heart;" now though believers err frequently they do not so "always;" then it is added, "they have not known My ways" could this be said of the spiritual election of God? Surely not. Again, in verse 11, We are told, "So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest:" but God is never wrathful with His own children. Further, in verse 17 it is not simply said that "they died" but that their "carcasses fell" in the wilderness, sure proof is such language that they were not children of God, for "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalms 116:15 ). Finally, the words of the apostle in Hebrews 3:19 admit of no misunderstanding, "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." Thus, they were "children in whom is no faith" (Deuteronomy 32:20 ).
Now at the beginning of chapter 4 the apostle applies this solemn warning to test the profession of those who were in danger of "departing from the living God." First he says, "Let us therefore fear." The "therefore" would have no real force if after referring to unbelievers he should apply their example to warn believers, of the tendency and danger of ceasing to have communion with the Lord; in such a case his illustration would be strained and irrelevant. No, when he says, "Let us therefore fear" he obviously has in mind the danger of an empty profession, and sets them to a testing of their faith, which test is answered by perseverance. "Lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." It was not a "rest" of communion into which they had entered but were warned against leaving, or failing to enjoy; but instead, a rest that was promised. What follows clearly defines "His rest" and confirms what we have said above. It has to do with the Gospel, and not with precepts to saints! And the point insisted on is the presence or absence of faith.
The order of thought in Hebrews 4:0 , so far as we discern it, is as follows: First, there is a searching exhortation made (verse 1) to all who profess to be Christians, that they should work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and that their walk should be such as to give no one the impression that they "seem" to be departing from Christ. This is followed by a solemn warning (verse 2) that, the mere hearing of the Gospel is not enough; to profit us, it must be received by faith. Third, this is followed by the declaration that only believers enter into the rest of God. In the remainder of our passage the Spirit makes further comment on Psalms 95:0 and shows (by negative inference) what the "rest" of God is, and how that the believer’s entrance into it is yet future.
"For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they should enter into My rest" (verse 3). The relation of these two clauses the one to the other, is denoted by "as He said," what follows being a quotation from the 95th Psalm; their connection with the opening words of the verse being that they supply proof of what is there said. As pointed out in the previous article, "For we enter into the rest, who believed," simply informs us who are privileged to enter God’s rest, namely, Believers. Corroboration of this is now furnished. Upon the second clause of this verse we cannot do better than quote from Dr. Gouge:
"These words ‘as He said’ may have a double reference. One immediate, to the words next before. Considered thus, they furnish a proof by the rule of contraries. The force of the argument resteth on that ruled case, which the apostle taketh for granted, verse 6, namely, that ‘some must enter’ into that rest which God hath promised. Hereupon this argument may be made: If some ‘must enter,’ then believers or unbelievers: But not unbelievers, for God by oath hath protested against them; Therefore believers shall enter."
"The other reference is more remote to the latter part of the former verse. If the first clause of verse 3 be included in a parenthesis, the reference of this unto the former verse will appear to be the more fit. For it showeth unbelievers reap no benefit by the word of promise, because God hath sworn that such shall not enter His rest. The relative ‘He’ is to God. That which He said was in and by David, in Psalms 95:11 ." Upon the words here quoted from the Psalm, Dr. J. Brown said, "According to the Hebrew idiomatical elliptical mode of expressing an oath, ‘they shall not enter into My rest’."
"Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (verse 3). It is at this point the real difficulty of our passage begins, due in part to its peculiar grammatical structure. "The passage that follows wears a peculiarly disjointed appearance, and has occasioned perplexity to interpreters. I apprehend that the last clause of the 3rd verse should be disconnected from the words immediately preceding, and should be connected with those which immediately follow. Along with the 4th and 5th verses, it appears to be a kind of explanatory note on the expression, ‘the rest of God’." With this explanation the writer is in full accord, indeed, it seems to him impossible to see in the passage any connected sense unless it be taken thus. Continuing to quote from Dr. Brown:
"A promise is left us of entering into His rest. The ‘rest’ of God, in its primary use in the Old Testament scriptures, is descriptive of that state of cessation from the exercise of creating energy, and of satisfaction in what He hath created, into which God is represented as entering on the completion of His six days’ work, when in the beginning ‘He formed the heavens and the earth, and all their hosts.’ In this sense the phrase was plainly not applicable to the subject which the apostle is discussing; but in these words he shows that the phrase, the rest of God is not in the scriptures so appropriated to the rest of God after the creation as not to be applicable, and indeed applied, to other subjects.
"Verses 4, 5. Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world (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’), yet in this place again, ‘If they shall enter into My rest.’ In this way the three apparently disjointed members are formed into one sentence; and that one sentence expresses a sentiment calculated to throw light on the language which the apostle has employed."
"Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." This sentence is introductory to what immediately follows, in which the apostle, step by step, leads the Hebrews to the consideration of an higher and better rest than ever was enjoyed in this world. There were two "rests" frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as special pledges of God’s favor: the Sabbath and the land of Canaan: the former being styled "the Sabbath of rest to the Lord" (Exodus 35:2 ), and "the Sabbath of the Lord" (Exodus 20:10 ); the latter, "the rest which the Lord gave them" (Deuteronomy 12:9 ; Joshua 1:15 ). In view of these the Hebrews might well say, We have always enjoyed the Lord’s Sabbath, and our fathers have long occupied Canaan, why then do you speak so much about entering into God’s rest? The verses which follow meet this objection, showing that neither of those "rests" was meant by David in Psalms 95:0 , nor by himself here in Hebrews 4:0 .
The "rest" to which the apostle was pointing the Hebrews was so blessed, so important, so far surpassing anything that Judaism had known, that he was the more careful they should not be mistaken in connection with its nature and character. First, he clears the way for a definition of it by pointing out what it does not consist of. He begins with the Sabbath which is the first "rest" mentioned in Scripture. Second, he passes on to the rest of Canaan. The rest of the Sabbath did foreshadow the heavenly rest, and Canaan was, in an important sense, a figure of it too; but Paul would turn them from types and shadows to contemplate and have them press forward to the antitype and substance itself.
This reference to "the works" being "finished from the foundation of the world" takes us back to Genesis 2:1 , Genesis 2:2 . It is the works of creation and restoration, detailed in Genesis 1:0 . The word "foundation" here carries with it a double thought: stability and beginning. As pointed out in our remarks upon Hebrews 1:10 , "foundation" denotes the fixity of that which is reared upon it: it is the lowest part of an edifice, upon which the whole of the structure rests. As the "foundation" is the first thing attended to in connection with a building, so this term is used here to denote the beginning of this present world system.
"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" (verse 4). God’s rest on that primitive seventh day possesses at least a fourfold significance. First, it denoted His own complacency, His satisfaction in what He had made: "And God saw everything that He had made and, behold, it was very good." Second, it was the Creator setting before His creatures an example for them to follow. Why had God taken "six days" to make what is described in Genesis 1:0 ? Had He so pleased, all could have been done in one day, yea, in a moment! Obviously it was for the purpose of teaching us. Just as the great God employed in works of usefulness, in providing for the temporal necessities of His creatures, so should we be. And just as God has ceased from all the works of those six days and on the seventh day "rested," so must we. Third, that primitive Sabbath was the prophetic pledge of the "rest" which this earth shall enjoy during the reign of Christ. Fourth, it was a foreshadowing and earnest of the eternal Sabbath, when God shall "rest in His love" (Zephaniah 3:17 ).
Perhaps it needs to be added that the words "and God did rest" do not signify, absolutely, that He remained in a state of inactivity. The "rest" of Scripture is never a condition of inertia. The words of our Savior in John 5:17 respecting the Sabbath day, "My Father worketh hitherto" in nowise conflict with Genesis 2:3 . God’s "rest" there was from creating new kinds of creatures; what Christ speaks of is His work in doing good to His creatures; it concerns God’s providences, which never cease day or night, preserving, succoring, governing His creatures. From this we learn that our keeping of the Sabbath is not to consist of a state of idleness, but is forebearing from all the ordinary works of the preceding six days. The Savior’s own example in the Gospels teaches us that works of absolute necessity are permissible, and works of mercy proper. Isaiah 58:13 , Isaiah 58:14 informs us how the Sabbath is to be kept. John 5:17 linked to Genesis 2:3 also contains a hint of the eternal "rest" of heaven: it will be a ceasing from all the carnal works in which we were engaged here, yet it will not be a state of idleness as Revelation 22:3 proves.
"And in this again, If they shall enter into My rest" (verse 5). The line of argument which the apostle is here pursuing will the more readily be perceived if due attention be paid to the word "again". He is proving that there was another "rest" of God beside that which followed upon His works of creation. This is evident from the language of Psalms 95:0 , upon which he comments in the next verse. Thus the Holy Spirit warns us that each expression used in Holy Writ must be interpreted strictly in harmony with its context. A great deal of unnecessary confusion had been avoided if expositors heeded this simple but fundamental rule. Take the oft-quoted words of James 5:16 , "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man available much." How often the "righteous man" here is regarded as synonymous with "Christian," one who is "righteous" in Christ. But such a view ignores the context. This statement is found not in Romans, but James. The epistle of James does not give us the believer’s standing, so much as his state. The prayers of a Christian whose ways are not "right" before God, "avail" little or nothing. So all through the book of Proverbs the "righteous" man is not regarded there as one who is righteous imputatively, but practically.
Take again the believer’s present experimental "rest." There are numbers of passages in the New Testament where the same word "rest" is found, but they by no means all refer to the same thing or experience. Each reference needs to be studied in the light of its immediate context, in the light of the particular book in which it is found, (remembering the special theme of that book), and in connection with what is predicated of that "rest". "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" (Matthew 11:28 , Matthew 11:29 ). Here it is obvious, almost at first glance, that two distinct "rests" are before us. The first may be designated rest of conscience, which the convicted sinner, groaning beneath the intolerable load of his conscious sins, obtains when he casts himself on the mercy of Christ. The second is rest of soul, which alas, many professing Christians know very little, if anything, about. It is obtained by taking Christ’s "yoke" upon us and "learning" of Him.
"Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief" (verse 6). The first words give intimation of an inference being drawn from what has gone before. In verse 5, God’s protestation against unbelievers is recorded, here the apostle infers therefrom that there is a rest for believers to enter into. Since God has made promise of some entering into His rest, then they must do so: if no unbelievers, then believers. The words, "it remaineth" here signify "it followeth," for no word of God can fall to the ground. No promise of His can be utterly made void. Though many reap no good thereby, yet others shall be made partakers of the benefit of it. Though the vast majority of the adult Israelites perished in the wilderness, yet Caleb and Joshua entered Canaan.
"And they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief." The word "preached" here means "evangelize." The same root word is rendered "gospel" in verse 2. This shows us, First, that God has employed only one instrument in the saving of sinners from the beginning, namely, the preaching of the gospel, cf. Galatians 3:8 . Second, that the demand of the Gospel from those who hear it is faith, taking God at His word, receiving with childlike simplicity and gladness the good news He has sent us. Third, that "unbelief" shuts out from God’s favor and blessing. In Hebrews 11:31 we are told, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not." It was not because the others were Canaanites, heathen, wicked people, but because they believed not that they "perished." Solemn warning was this for the Hebrews whose faith was waning.
"Again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today" (verse 7). It is evident that Hebrews 5:6 is an incomplete sentence, finished, we apprehend, in Hebrews 5:11 . What follows in verses 7-10 is a parenthesis, and to its consideration we must now turn. The purpose of this parenthesis is to establish the principle on which the exhortation is based, namely, that since there is a "rest of God" for believers to enter, and seeing that Israel of old failed to enter therein, it behooves us today to give the more earnest heed to the word of the Gospel which we have heard, and to "labor to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."
"Again He limiteth a certain day, saying, in David, Today, after so long a time, as it is said, Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (verse 7). This may be called the text which the apostle goes on to expound and apply. The Revised Version rendering of it is much to be preferred: "He again defineth a certain day, Today, saying in David, so long a time afterward (even as hath been said before), Today if ye will hear" etc. Having drawn an argument from Psalms 95:11 to show that the promise of rest which is "left" (verse 1) Christians, is not the same as that mentioned in Genesis 2:3 , the apostle now proceeds to point out that there is another "rest" to be sought after than the land of Canaan let us not deem the demonstration of this needless, lest we be found impugning the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle’s argument here turns on the word "Today" found in Psalms 95:7 . This was what was "limited" or "defined." The "after so long a time" refers to the interval which elapsed after the Israelites perished in the wilderness and the writing of that Psalm, which contained a Divine exhortation for God’s people living then. Betwixt Moses and David was a period of five centuries (Acts 13:20 ). "The apostle’s argument may thus be framed: That rest wherewith men are invited to enter four hundred and fifty years after a rest possessed, is another rest than that which Israel possessed. But the rest intended by David is a rest wherein he inviteth men to enter four hundred and fifty years after Canaan was possessed. Therefore Canaan is not that rest" (Dr. Gouge).
"For if Joshua had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day" (verse 8). It is plain that the apostle is here anticipating a Jewish objection, which may be stated thus: Though many of the Israelites which were in the wilderness entered not into Canaan, yet others did; for Joshua conducted their children thither. To obviate this, the apostle proves that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of another "rest" besides that. He does not deny Canaan to be a rest, but he denies that it was the only rest, the rest to be so rested in as no other was to be sought after. The "then would he have not afterward have spoken of another day" is the proof that Joshua did not settle God’s people in the "rest" which David mentioned.
It is right here that we may discern the point to which the apostle would direct the Hebrews’ attention, though to spare their feelings he does not state it explicitly. It was a glorious thing when Joshua led Israel’s hosts out of the wilderness, across the Jordan, into the promised land. Truly that was one of the outstanding epochs in their national history. Nor would the apostle, directly, deprecate it. Yet if the Hebrews would but meditate for a moment on the nature of that rest into which the illustrious successor of Moses led their fathers, they must see that it was very far from being the perfect state. It was only an earthly inheritance. It was filled with enemies, who had to be dispossessed. Its continued tenure was dependent on their own faithfulness to God. It was enjoyed comparatively only a short time. Different far is the rest of God into which the Apostle of Christianity will yet lead His people. Listen to His own words, "In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that, where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2 , John 14:3 ). Here, then, we may see the superiority of Christ over Joshua, as the rest into which He brings His people excels that into which Joshua conducted Israel.
"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (verse 9). This verse gives the conclusion drawn from the preceding argument. The apostle had shown that the "rest" mentioned by David was neither the rest of the primitive Sabbath in Genesis 2:0 nor the rest of Canaan into which Joshua had conducted the second generation of Israel. Therefore there "remaineth a rest to the people of God:" that is, there is some other rest for God’s people to look forward to. Thus, the "therefore" here is, first of all, a general inference drawn from all that precedes. A "promise is left" of entering into God’s rest (verse 1). That promise must be appropriated, "mixed with faith" in those who hear it (verse 2). Only believers will enter that rest, for God hath sworn that unbelievers shall not enter therein (verse 3). Although there is a rest of God mentioned in Genesis 2:0 (verses 2,3), and although Joshua led Israel into the rest of Canaan (verse 8), yet neither of these "rests" was what is promised Christians (verse 8). Hence, we can only conclude there is another "rest" for God’s people (verse 9).
That the Christian’s perfect "rest" is yet future is clear from the language of verse 11, where the Hebrews were admonished to "labor therefore to enter into that rest." Thus, regarding verse 9, first, as a general conclusion drawn from the whole of the context, we understand it to mean: "Thus it is evident there is a rest for the people of God." These words were designed to reassure the hearts of the Hebrews. In turning their backs on Judaism the "rest" of Canaan was relinquished, but this did not mean that they had, because of their faith in Christ, ceased to be "the people of God," nor did it involve the forfeiture of all privileges and blessings. Nay, the apostle had warned them in Hebrews 3:6 , Hebrews 3:12 , Hebrews 3:14 that it was impossible to retain the privilege of belonging to the people of God except through faith in Christ. Now he assures them that only for such people was there a rest of God remaining.
Above, we have pointed out that the "therefore" of verse 9 denotes, first of all, that the apostle is here drawing a general conclusion from all he had said in the context. We would now call attention to a more specific inference pointed by that word. It needs to be most carefully observed that in this verse the Holy Spirit employs an entirely different word for "rest" than what he had used in verses 1, 3-5, 8. There the Greek word is rightly rendered "rest," but here it is "sabbatismos" and its meaning has been properly given by the translators in the margin "keeping of a Sabbath." The Revised Version gives the text itself, "There remaineth therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God."
The purpose of the Holy Spirit in employing this term here is not difficult to discover. He was writing to Hebrews, Jews who had professed to become Christians, to have trusted in the Lord Jesus. Their profession of faith involved them in sore trials at the hands of their unbelieving brethren. They denounced them as apostates from the faith of their fathers. They disowned them as the "people of God." But as we have said the apostle here reassures them that now only believers in Christ had any title to be numbered among "the people of God." Having renounced Judaism for Christ the question of the "Sabbath" must also have exercised them deeply. Here the apostle sets their minds at rest. A suitable point in his epistle had now been reached when this could be brought in: he was speaking of "rest," so he informs them that under Christianity also, "there remaineth therefore a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God." The specific reference in the "therefore" is to what he had said in verse 4: God did rest on the seventh day from all His works, there]ore as believers in Christ are the "people of God" they must rest too.
"There remaineth therefore a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God." The reference is not to something future, but to what is present. The Greek verb (in its passive form) is never rendered by any other English equivalent than "remaineth." It occurs again in Hebrews 10:26 . The word "remain" signifies "to be left after others have withdrawn, to continue unchanged." Here then is a plain, positive, unequivocal declaration by the Spirit of God: "There remaineth therefore a Sabbath-keeping." Nothing could be simpler, nothing less ambiguous. The striking thing is that this statement occurs in the very epistle whose theme is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism; written to those addressed as "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." Therefore, it cannot be gainsaid that Hebrews 4:9 refers directly to the Christian Sabbath. Hence we solemnly and emphatically declare that any man who says there is no Christian Sabbath takes direct issue with the New Testament scriptures.
"For he that is entered into his rest he also hath ceased from his own works, as God from His" (verse 10). In this verse the apostle expressly defines the nature of that excellent rest of which he had been speaking: it is a cessation from our works, as God from His. The object in thus describing our rest is to show that it is not to be found in this world, but is reserved for the world to come. The argument of this verse its opening "for" denotes that further proof is being supplied to confirm what has been said is taken from the self-evident principle that rest is not enjoyed till work is ceased from. This world is full of toil, travail and trouble, but in the world to come there is full freedom from all these.
"Thy commandment is exceedingly broad" (Psalms 119:96 ). There is a breadth and fullness to the words of God which no single interpretation can exhaust. Just as verse 9 has at least a double application, containing both a general conclusion from the whole preceding argument, and also a specific inference from what is said in verse 4, so is it here. Not only does verse 9 state a general principle which serves to corroborate the apostle’s inference in verse 9, but it also has a specific reference and application. The change in number of the pronoun here is not without meaning. In verse 1 he had used a plural, "us," so in verse 3 "we," and again in verse 11 he uses "us," but here in verse 10 it is "he and his." "It appears to me that it is the rest of Christ from His works, which is compared with the rest of God from His works in creation." (Dr. John Owen).
The reference to Christ in verse 10 (remember the section begins at Hebrews 3:1 and concludes with Hebrews 4:14-16 ) completes the positive side of the apostle’s proof of His superiority over Joshua. In verse 8 he had pointed out that Joshua did not lead Israel into the perfect rest of God; now he affirms that Christ, our Apostle, has entered it, and His entrance is the pledge and proof that His people shall "whither the Forerunner is for us entered" (Hebrews 6:20 ). But more: what is said of Christ in verse 10 clinches our interpretation of verse 9 and gives beautiful completeness to what is there said: "There remaineth therefore a Sabbath-keeping to the people of God. For He that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from his own works, as God from His."
Thus, the Holy Spirit here teaches us to view Christ’s rest from his work of Redemption as parallel with God’s work in creation. They are spoken of as parallel in this respect: the relation which each "work" has to the keeping of a Sabbath! The opening "for" of verse 10 shows that what follows furnishes a reason why God’s people, now, must keep the Sabbath. That reason invests the Sabbath with a fuller meaning than it had in Old Testament times. It is now not only a memorial of God’s work of creation, and a recognition of the Creator as our Proprietor, but it is also an emblem of the rest which Christ entered as an eternal memorial of His finished work; and inasmuch as Christ ended His work and entered upon His "rest" by rising again on the first day of the week, we are thereby notified that the Christian’s six work-days must run from Monday to Saturday, and that his Sabbath must be observed on Sunday. This is confirmed by the additional fact that the New Testament shows that after the crucifixion of Christ the first day of the week was the one set apart for Divine worship. May the Lord bless what has been before us.
Christ Superior to Joshua.
(Hebrews 4:11-16 )
The verses which are to be before us complete the present section of our Epistle, a section which begins at Hebrews 3:1 and which has two main divisions: the first, setting forth the superiority of Christ over Moses; the second, His superiority over Joshua. In the last six verses of chapter 4 a practical application is made of what had previously been said. That application begins with an exhortation for Christians to "labor therefore to enter into that rest." Both the nature and the place of this "rest" have been defined in the earlier verses. As the opening verse of the chapter shows, it is the "rest of God" which is, in promise, set before us. Beautifully has another said:
"But what did God mean by calling it His rest? Not they enter into their rest, but His Own. Oh, blessed distinction! I hasten to the ultimate and deepest solution of the question. God gives us Himself, and in all His gifts He gives us Himself. Here is the distinction between all religions which men invent, which have their origin in the conscience and heart of man, which spring up from the earth; and the truth, the salvation, the life, revealed unto us from above, descending to us from heaven. All religions seek and promise the same things: light, righteousness, peace, strength, and joy. But human religions think only of creature-light, creature-righteousness, of a human, limited, and imperfect peace, strength and blessings. They start from man upwards. But God gives us Himself, and in Himself all gifts, and hence all His gifts are perfect and divine.
"Does God give us righteousness? He Himself is our righteousness, Jehovah-Tsidkenu. Does God give us peace? Christ is our peace. Does God give us light? He is our light. Does God give us bread? He is the bread we eat. As the Son liveth by the Father, so he that eateth Me shall live by Me (John 6:0 ). God Himself is our strength. God is ours, and in all His gifts and blessings He gives Himself. By the Holy Spirit we are one with Christ, and Christ the Son of God is our righteousness, nay, our life. Do you want any other real presence? Are we not altogether ‘engodded,’ God dwelling and living in us, and we in Him? What more real presence and indwelling, awful and blessed, can we have than that which the apostle described when he said: ‘I live; yet not I, But Christ liveth in me?’ Or again, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ Thus God gives us His rest as our rest" (Saphir).
Following the exhortation to labor to enter into God’s rest, reference is made to the living, powerful, and piercing character of the Word of God, and the effects it produces in regeneration. In the light of the solemn warning which follows in verse 13, the contents of verse 12 seem to be brought in for the purpose of enabling the Hebrews to test the genuineness of their Christian profession: sufficient is there said for them to discover whether or not they had been born again. Then the chapter closes with one of the most precious passages to be found in our Epistle, or indeed in the whole of the New Testament. It makes known the gracious provisions which God has made for His poor people while they are yet in the place of testing. It brings before us the sufficiency and sympathy of our great High Priest, in view of which Christians are bidden to "come boldly unto the throne of grace," that they "may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." May the Spirit of God condescend to open up to us this portion of His Word.
"Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (verse 11). As pointed out in the preceding article, this verse completes the sentence begun at verse 6. It is in view of the solemn fact that the great majority of those Israelites to whom the Gospel of Rest was first preached did not receive it in faith, and so perished in the wilderness, and hence because that only true believers will enter into God’s rest, the Hebrews were now enjoined to spare no efforts in making sure that they would not fail and miss it. This 11th verse is also the complement to verse 1.
The verb for "let us labor" is derived from another verb meaning "to make haste." It is designed to point a contrast from "any of you should seem to come short of it" in verse 1. There the word is derived from a root meaning "afterwards," and some able linguists declare that the word for "come short of" means, literally, "be a day late." We believe the Spirit’s designed reference is to what is recorded in Numbers 14:0 . Israel had already crossed the wilderness, and had reached Kadesh-barnea. From thence Moses had sent the twelve spies to view the land of Canaan. They had returned with a conflicting report. Ten of them magnified the difficulties which lay ahead, and discouraged the people but Caleb said, "Let us go up at once, and possess it" (Numbers 13:30 ). The congregation listened only to the ten, and "wept that night" and "murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us into this land, to fall by the Sword, that our wives and children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make us a captain and let us return into Egypt" (Numbers 14:1-3 ).
Then it was that the wrath of Jehovah was kindled against His unbelieving people, saying, "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against Me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against Me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in Mine ears, so will I do to you: Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness" (Numbers 14:27-29 ). But instead of bowing to the Lord’s solemn sentence, we are told, "And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised" (verse 40). Moses faithfully expostulated with them, "Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten." But they heeded him not: "They presumed to go up unto the hill top... Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah" (verses 44, 45). They were a day late! They had delayed, they had failed to trust the Lord and heed His voice through Caleb the previous day, and now they "came short" of entering the promised rest of Canaan.
It was in view of Israel’s procrastination at Kadesh-barnea that the apostle admonished the Hebrews, "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." As we pointed out the word "seem" regarded their walk: let there be nothing in their ways which gave the appearance that they were halting, wavering, departing from Christ. For Christians to seem to come short, be a day late, in laying hold of the promise "left" them of entering into God’s rest, means to sink to the level of the ways of the world, to settle down here, instead of going forward as "strangers and pilgrims." It means to look back to and long for the flesh-pots of Egypt. Ah, my reader, to which does your daily life witness? to the fact that you have not yet entered your "rest," or that you have found a substitute for it here? If so, heed that solemn word, "Arise ye, and depart for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy, even with a sore destruction" (Micah 2:10 ).
Having then warned the Hebrews in verse 1 what to avoid, the apostle now tells them in verse 11 what to essay. They were to "labor" to enter into that rest. As stated above, the Greek word is derived from another verb meaning "to make haste;" the one used here signifies to "give diligence" and is so rendered in the Revised Version. In 2 Timothy 2:15 it is translated "study." "The word ‘labor’ is equivalent to ‘eagerly and perseveringly seek.’ The manner in which the Hebrew Christians were to ‘labor to enter unto that rest,’ was by believing the truth, and continuing ‘steadfast and unmoveable’ in the faith of the truth, and in the natural results of the faith of the truth" (Dr. J. Brown). It is human responsibility which is here being addressed again, and Hebrews 4:11 is closely parallel with the exhortations of 1 Corinthians 10:10-12 and 2 Peter 1:5-10 .
Our real "rest" is yet to come, it is but "promised" (verse 1); in the meantime we are to press forward to it. "This world is not a fit place, nor this life a fit time, to enjoy such a rest as is reserved in heaven. Rest here would glue our hearts too much to this world, and make us say, ‘It is good to be here’ (Matthew 17:4 ). It would slack our longing desire after Christ in heaven. Death would be more irksome, and heaven the less welcome. There would be no proof or trial of our spiritual armor, and of the several graces of God bestowed on us. God’s providence, prudence, power, mercy, could not be made so well discerned. This rest being to come, and reserved for us, it will be our Wisdom, while here we live, to prepare for trouble, and to address ourselves to labor: as the soldiers in the field and as the laborers in the daytime. Yet withal to have our eye upon this rest to come; that thereby we may be the more encouraged and incited to hold out to the end" (Dr. Gouge).
"Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." To enforce the previous exhortation the apostle points out the danger and damage that would follow a neglect thereof. The "rest" is a word of caution and calls for circumspection as a preventative against apostasy. The "lest any man" intimates that this care and circumspection is not to be restricted to one’s own self, but extended to our fellow-pilgrims. The word "fall" signifies to fall utterly: it is used in Romans 11:22 . Professors may fall away; many have done so (see 1 John 2:19 , etc.); then let us be on our guard. The "example" of others having fallen through unbelief should make us wary.
"We may well observe from this exhortation, 1. That great oppositions will and do arise against men in the work of entering into God’s rest . . . But notwithstanding all these difficulties, the promise of God being mixed with faith will carry us safely through them all. 2. That as the utmost of our endeavor and labors are required to our obtaining an entrance into the rest of Christ, so it doth very well deserve that they should be laid out therein. Men are content to lay themselves out to the utmost and to spend their strength for the ‘bread that perisheth,’ yea ‘for that which is not bread.’ But the rest of the Gospel deserves our utmost diligence and endeavor. To convince men thereof is one of the chief ends of the preaching of the Gospel" (Dr. John Owen).
As was the case with the contents of verses 9, 10, so we are assured there is a double reference to the words of verse 11: a general and a specific. The general, refers to the future and perfect rest of the Christian in heaven; the specific, being to that which is the emblem and type of it, namely, the weekly sabbath. This, we believe, is why the Holy Spirit here says, "Let us give diligence therefore to enter into that rest," rather than "into His rest," as in verse 1. "That rest" designedly includes both the eternal rest of God, and the sabbath rest, spoken of in verse 10. This we are to "give diligence" to enter, not only because the sabbath-desecration of worldlings is apt to discourage us, but also because there are professing Christians who loudly insist that there is no such thing as a "Christian sabbath." Beware lest we fail to heed this word of God, and "fall through the same example of unbelief" as Israel in the wilderness, who failed to listen to God.
"For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (verse 12). The first word of this verse (which has the force of "because") denotes that the apostle is here furnishing further reason why professing Christians should give diligence in pressing forward to the rest which is set before them. That reason is drawn from the nature of and the effects produced by the Word of God. This verse and the one which follows appear to be brought in for the purpose of testing profession and enabling exercised souls to discover whether or not they have been born again.
"Let us give diligence therefore to enter into that rest . . . For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." It should be evident that the first thing emphasized here is that Christianity consists not so much of external conduct, as the place which the Word of God has within us. The Word of God "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" is the effect which it produces, under the application of the Lord, when a sinner is regenerated. Man is a tripartite being, consisting of spirit and soul and body. This, we believe, is the first and deepest meaning of Genesis 1:26 , "And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." God Himself is a Trinity in Unity, and such He made man to be.
The "spirit" is the highest part of man, being the seat of God-consciousness. The "soul" is the ego, the individual himself, and is the seat of self-consciousness; man has a "spirit," but he is "a living soul." The "body" is his house or tabernacle, being the seat of sense-consciousness. In the day that man first sinned, he died spiritually. But in Scripture "death" never means extinction of being; instead, it always signifies separation (see Luke 15:24 ). The nature of man’s spiritual "death" is intimated in Ephesians 4:18 , "alienated from the life of God." When Adam disobeyed his Maker, he became a fallen creature, separated from God. The first effect of this was that his "spirit" no longer functioned separately, it was no more in communion with God. His spirit fell to the level of his soul.
The "soul" is the seat of the emotions (1 Samuel 18:1 , Judges 10:16 , Genesis 42:21 , etc.). It is that part of our nature which stirs into exercise the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." The unregenerate man is termed "the soulical man" (1 Corinthians 2:14 ), the Greek word there being the adjectival form of "psyche" or "soul." That is to say, the unregenerate man is entirely dominated by his soul, his lusts, his desires, his emotions. Spiritual considerations have no weight with him whatsoever, for he is "alienated from the life of God." True, he has a "spirit," and by means of it he is capable of perceiving all around him the evidences of the "eternal power and godhead" of the Creator (Romans 1:20 ). It is the "candle of the Lord" (Proverbs 20:27 ) within him; yet has it, because of the fall, no communion with God. Now at regeneration there is, literally, a "dividing asunder of soul and spirit." The spirit is restored to communion with God, made enrapport with Him, "reconciled." The spirit is raised from its immersion in the soul, and once more functions separately: "For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit" (Romans 1:9 ); "my spirit prayeth" (1 Corinthians 14:14 ) etc.
The first consequence of this is intimated in the closing words of verse 12, "And is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." The Word of God now exposes his innermost being. Having eyes to see, he discovers, for the first time, what a vile, depraved and hell-deserving creature he is. Though, in the mercy of God, he may have been preserved from much outward wickedness in his unregenerate days, and so passed among his fellows as an exemplary character, he now perceives that there dwelleth "no good thing" in him, that every thought and intent of his desperately wicked heart had, all his life, been contrary to the requirements and claims of a holy God. The Word has searched him out, and discovered him to himself. He sees himself a lost, ruined, undone sinner. This is ever the first conscious effect of the new birth, for one who is still "dead in trespasses and sins" has no realization of his awful condition before God.
Ere passing on let us earnestly press upon the reader what has just been before us, and ask, has the Word of God thus "pierced" you? Has it penetrated, as no word from man ever has, into your innermost being? Has it exposed the workings of your wicked heart? Has it detected to you the sink of iniquity which dwells within? Make no mistake about it, dear friend, the thrice holy God of Scripture "requireth truth in the inward parts" (Psalms 51:6 ). If the Word of God has searched you out, then you cried with Isaiah "Woe is reel for I am undone" (Hebrews 6:5 ); with Job, "I abhor myself" (Heb. 42:6); with the publican, "God be merciful to me the sinner" (Luke 18:13 ). But if you are a stranger to these experiences, no matter what your profession or performances, no matter how highly you may think of yourself or Christians think of you, God says you are still dead in sin.
Let it not be supposed that we have attempted to give above a complete description of all that takes place at the new birth; not so, we have confined ourselves to what is said in Hebrews 4:12 . Nor let it be thought that the language of this verse is to be restricted to what occurs at regeneration, not so, that is only in initial reference. The activities of the Word of God therein described are repeated whenever a Christian gets out of communion with Him, for then he is dominated to a large extent by his soul rather than his spirit. It should not need pointing out, yet the terrible ignorance of Scripture prevailing today makes it necessary, that when a child of God is walking in communion with Him, His word does not come to him as a "sword"; rather is it "a lamp" unto his feet. If the reader will compare Revelation 2:12 and Revelation 19:15 he will obtain confirmation of this.
The relation of this 12th verse to the whole context is very striking, and its contents divinely appropriate. It brings out the dignity and Deity of "The Apostle" of our profession. It shows the sufficiency of His Word. It is striking to note that just seven things are here said of it. First, it is the "Word of God." Second, it is living, or "quick." Third, it is mighty, "powerful." Fourth, it is effectual, "sharper than any two edged sword." Fifth, it is penetrating, "piercing." Sixth, it is regenerative, "even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit." Seventh, it is revealing and exposing, bringing to light the "thoughts and intents of the heart, etc." The reference to the Word piercing to the dividing asunder of "the joints (external) and marrow" (internal) tells of its discriminating power over every part of our being. The more we submit ourselves unto its searching and convicting influence the more shall we be blest.
"Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (verse 13). The rendering of the A.V. here is faulty, the opening "Neither" being quite misleading. The Revised Version gives "And there is no creature that is not manifest in His sight" etc. Thus the first word denotes that a reason is being given for the power and efficacy of the Word, a reason which is drawn from the nature of Him whose Word it is, namely, God; who being Himself the Searcher of the heart and the Discerner of all things, is pleased to exercise that power in and by the ministry and application of His Word. The two verses taken together supply a further reason why Christ’s voice should be heeded, even because, as God, He is the omniscient One.
"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" (verse 14). The connection between this and what has gone before is most blessed. The closing verses of our chapter contain precious words of encouragement. They tell of the wondrous provisions of God’s grace for His people while they are still in the place of testing. They assure us that none of those who are really the people of God shall, finally, miss the perfect and eternal rest.
The Revised Version reads, "Having then a great High Priest"; Bagster’s interlinear gives, "Having therefore a High Priest, great." The general reference is back to what was said in 1:3, 2:17, 3:1: the Divine sonship, the incarnation, the exaltation of Jesus, our High Priest, is the supreme motive for holding fast our profession. The particular reference is to the apostle’s main point in this chapter: if the question be asked, What hope have we poor sinners got of entering into God’s rest? The answer is, Because Christ, our High Priest, has already entered heaven, and we also must do so in and by Him. The immediate reference is to what had been said in verses 12, 13: we shall be assuredly found out if we fall from our profession, therefore it becomes us to hold it fast.
As the priesthood of Christ will, D.V., come before us more fully in the chapters that follow, we shall offer here only a few brief remarks on the verse now before us. First, it is to be noted that the Holy Spirit here designates Christ the "great High Priest"; no other, neither Aaron nor Melchizedek, is so denominated. Its use emphasizes the supreme dignity, excellency, and sufficiency of our High Priest. Second, He has "passed in (Greek "through") the heavens." "This word signifies to pass through notwithstanding any difficulties that may seem to hand. Thus it is said that an angel and Peter ‘passed the first and second wards’ (Acts 12:10 ). Our Lord Christ having assumed our nature, passed through the virgin’s womb; and being born, in His infancy, childhood, and manhood, passed through many difficulties, temptations, afflictions, persecutions, yea, death itself and the grave; after His resurrection He passed through the air and the stellar heavens, entering the heaven of heavens. Thus we see that nothing could hinder Him from that place where He intended to appear as our Priest before His Father" (Dr. Gouge).
"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" (verse 15). Most blessed is this. The third thing said in verse 14 of our exalted High Priest is that He is "the Son of God." Well may poor sinners, conscious of their unworthiness and vileness, ask, How may we, so weak and worthless, approach unto and seek the mediation of such an One? To reassure our poor hearts, the Holy Spirit at once reminds us that albeit Christ is such a great and glorious Priest, yet, withal, He is full of sympathy and tender compassion for His afflicted people. He is "merciful" (Hebrews 2:17 ), as well as omnipotent. He is Man, as well as God. He has Himself been tempted in all things, like ourselves, sin excepted.
"But was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," or literally, "who has been tempted in all things according to our likeness, apart from sin" i.e. in spirit, and soul, and body. "He was tempted tried, exercised for no more doth the word impart. Whatever is the moral evil in temptation is due to the depraved intention of the tempter, or from the weakness and sin of the tempted. In itself, it is but a trial, which may have a good or bad effect. He was tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Sin may be considered as to its principle, and as to its effect. Men are tempted to sin by sin, to actual sin by habitual sin, to outward sin, by indwelling sin. And this is the greatest source of sin in us who are sinners. The apostle reminds us of the holiness and purity of Christ, that we may not imagine that He was liable unto any such temptations unto sin from within as we find ourselves liable unto, who are never free from guilt and defilement. Whatever temptation He was exposed unto or exercised withal, as He was with all and of all sorts that can come from without, they had none of them in the last degree any effect unto Him. He was absolutely in all things ‘without sin’; He neither was tempted by sin, such was the holiness of His nature; nor did His temptation produce sin, such was the perfection of His obedience" (Dr. John Owen).
The Man Christ Jesus was the Holy One of God, and therefore He could not sin. But were not Satan and Adam created without sin, and did not they yield to temptation? Yes; but the one was only a created angel the other merely man. But our Lord and Savior was not a created being; instead, He was "God manifest in flesh." In His humanity He was "holy" (Luke 1:35 ) and, as such, as high above unfallen Satan or Adam as the heavens are above the earth. He was not only impeccable God, but impeccable Man. The prince of this world came, but found nothing in Him (John 14:30 ). Thus, He is presented before us not only as an example to be followed, but as an Object upon which faith may rest with unshaken confidence.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (verse 16). This verse sets before us the second use we are to make of the priesthood of Christ. The first is named in verse 14, to "hold fast our profession"; here, to "come boldly unto the throne of grace." In relation to the whole context this verse makes known the wondrous and blessed provision God has made for His wilderness people. Herein, too, we may behold again the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The Israelites were confined to the outer court; none at all save the high priest was permitted to draw near to God within the vail. But all Christians, the youngest, weakest, most ignorant, have been "made nigh" (Ephesians 2:13 ); and in consequence, freedom of access to the very throne of Deity is now their rightful and blessed portion.
"And having such a High Priest in heaven, can we lose courage? Can we draw back in cowardice, impatience, and faintheartedness? Can we give up our profession, our allegiance, our obedience to Christ? Or shall we not be like Joshua and Caleb, who followed the Lord fully? Let us hold fast our profession; let us persevere and fight the good fight of faith. Our great High Priest in the highest glory is our righteousness and strength. He loves, He watches, He prays, He holds us fast, and we shall never perish. Jesus is our Moses, who in the height above prays for us. Jesus our true Joshua, who gained the victory over our enemies. Only be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed. In that mirror of the Word in which we behold our sin and weakness, we behold also the image of that perfect One who has passed through the conflict and temptation, who as the High Priest bears us on His loving heart, and as the Shepherd of the flock holds us in safety forever more. Boldly we come to the throne of grace. In Jesus we draw near to the Father. The throne of majesty and righteousness is unto us a throne of grace. The Lord is our God. There is not merely grace on the throne, but the throne is altogether the throne of grace. It is grace which disciplines us by the sharp and piercing Word, it is grace which looks on us when we have denied Him, and makes us weep bitterly. Jesus always intercedes: the throne is always a throne of grace. The Lamb is in the midst of the throne. Hence we come boldly.
"Boldly is not contrasted with reverently and tremblingly. It means literally ‘saying all,’ with that confidence which begets thorough honesty, frankness, full and open speech. ‘Pour out your heart before Him.’ Come as you are, say what you feel, ask what you need. Confess your sins, your fears, your wandering thoughts and affections. Jesus the Lord went through all sorrows and trials the heart of man can go through, and as He felt affliction and temptation most keenly, so in all these difficulties and trials He had communion with the Father. He knows therefore, how to succor them that are tempted, how fully and unreservedly, then, may we speak to God in the presence and by the mediation of the man Christ Jesus!
"The Lord Jesus is filled with tender compassion and the most profound, lively, and comprehensive sympathy. This belongs to the perfection of His high-priesthood. For this very purpose He was tempted. He suffered. Our infirmities, it is true, are ultimately connected with our sinfulness; the weakness of our flesh is never free from a sinful concurrence of the will; and the Savior knows from His experience on earth how ignorant, poor, weak, sinful, and corrupt His disciples are. He loved them, watched over them with unwearied patience; prayed for them that their faith fail not; and reminded them the spirit was willing, but the flesh is weak. He remembers also His own sinless weakness; He knows what constant thought, meditation, and prayer are needed to overcome Satan, and to be faithful to God. He knows what it is for the soul to be sorrowful and overwhelmed, and what it is to be refreshed by the sunshine of Divine favor, and to rejoice in the Spirit. We may come in to Him expecting full, tender, deep sympathy and compassion. He is ever ready to strengthen and comfort, to heal and restore, He is prepared to receive the poor, wounded, sin-stained believer; to dry the tears of Peter weeping bitterly; to say to Paul, oppressed with the thorn in the flesh, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’
"We need only understand that we are sinners, and that He is High Priest. The law was given that every mouth may be shut, for we are guilty. The High Priest is given that every mouth may be opened . . . We come in faith as sinners. Then shall we obtain mercy; and we always need mercy, to wash our feet: to restore to us the joy of salvation, to heal our backslidings, and bind up our wounds. We shall obtain help in every time of need. For God may suffer Satan and the world, want and suffering, to go against us; but He always causes all things to work together for our good. He permits the time of need, that we may call upon Him, and, being delivered by Him, may glorify His name" (Saphir).
"We should come therefore with boldness to the throne of grace" (Bagster). Then let us do so, in the full confidence of our acceptance before God in the person of His Beloved (Ephesians 1:6 ). The verb in Hebrews 4:16 is not in the aorist tense, but the present let us "come" constantly, continually; let us form the habit of doing so. This is the first of seven occurrences of this blessed word in our epistle: the other references are Hebrews 7:25 ; Hebrews 10:1 , Hebrews 10:22 ; Hebrews 11:6 ; Hebrews 12:18 , Hebrews 12:22 . To "obtain mercy" is passive, and refers to past failures. "Finding grace" is active, and signifies that we humbly, earnestly, and believingly seek it. To "help in time of need:" this is daily, yea, hourly. But whenever the need may be, spiritually or temporal, grace all-sufficient is ever-available. May it be ours to constantly seek it, for the unchanging promise is, "Seek, and ye shall find."
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 4". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29