Chapter 4

Here still the subject of God’s rest, and our rest with Him is continued. In the early part of Chapter 3, we see God in His rest—His redemption rest in Christ; hence the reference is to the tabernacle of old. But in the latter part of chapter 3, the subject is the believer entering into God’s rest, and the allusion is changed to the wilderness, and the passage of some through it into Canaan.

Verse 1.—The rest here is “His rest.” A “promise” shews that we have not come to it yet; and the words “Let us fear,” remind us that diligence is needed in obeying the continuous call, as it is possible to be negligent, and thus seem to “come short” of it. This is very solemn. One may be very upright, very moral, yet if not living by faith in a Christ at God’s right hand, holding fast his confidence in God, he will come short of that rest.

Verse 2.—“The Gospel,” or “A Gospel” was heard by them. “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given you “(Josh. 1:3); but it was not “mixed with faith:” they did not lay hold—saying, “That’s mine.” We must appropriate what God presents to us. This is to mix faith with it, to make it and our spirit one, and thus we shall be permeated by the Word of God, and it shall be our support.

Verses 3-8.—The creation rest, and Canaan rest, are contrasted with God’s final rest in Christ. Nothing can afford rest save that which is perfect, that of which Christ is the source and centre. And this final rest of God and His people, is as we have seen found in Him. In the tabernacle of old, the shechinah of glory rested upon the mercy-seat; but it also rested “between the cherubim” (Psa. 80:1). And thus, in that innermost circle of His sanctuary, do we learn that God and His Church both rest upon the same mercy-seat, so that whatever can disturb the rest of the One, will also of the other. And the shechinah-cloud dwelling between the cherubim, shews that God shall have His final rest and home among His people, who rest upon, and are one with Christ in resurrection. They rest through Christ in God, and God in Christ rests in them; and the foundation of all this new creation, is a blood-stained mercy-seat. The centre of it all, an enthroned Christ.

God’s creation rest, and His Canaan rest had both been disturbed, for they depended on the goodness of the creature. But this is impossible with His redemption rest, for it depends wholly upon Christ. In creation God looked upon His handiwork, “and behold it was very good “(Gen. 1:24); but redemption is because of what He is. In us there is no goodness as full well He knows, but all has been found in God’s Christ, as on the Cross He has told Himself out, Hence, when in the days of Solomon, Jehovah had entered His temple, the type of His final rest in Christ, the priesthood praised the Lord “for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever “(2 Chron. 5:13). And thus, the rest of God, and the blessing of the creature are both eternally secured in Christ; and the unfolding ages will only serve to bring out the perfection of the work upon which it rests.

And here we would notice, that the Holy Ghost throughout these chapters uses a different word entirely in speaking of this rest of God, from that which He had used elsewhere in speaking of our rest. Thus, when in Matthew 11:28, the Lord Jesus invites the “weary “and “heavy laden “to come unto Him for rest, the word is not only another for that which is here used, but it is one which is in reality a contrast to it, for the word here is literally—“I will give you an uprest.” And again, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, and you shall find an uprest to your souls” (v. 29). But throughout these chapters, in which the rest of God is the subject treated by the Spirit, the word He uses is—with one exception to which we shall refer directly—when exactly translated, a downrest. Is this change accidental, or of no account? If otherwise, what would the Holy Ghost have us to learn by the change? Assuredly this: that as the cherubim rested downwards upon the mercy-seat and the cloud also rested there; so the rest which Christ has in yonder glory, and God in Him, is of the character, as it is also the measure of the rest to which we, through Him are called upon to enter. The two rests of Matthew 11, are but negative in their character: in verse 28, rest from sin, and in verse 29, rest from disobedience. But here the rest is positive and abiding, for it is God’s own rest in Christ, which can never be disturbed or broken.

Verse 9-11.—“There remaineth therefore a rest,”—literally a Sabbatism, or a Sabbath-keeping—“for the people of God.” Here we are directed to the end, when God and His people shall finally rest together, with nothing to disturb or come between; when God shall be their portion, and they His for ever, and for aye. Already Christ has entered His rest (verse 10), and by holding fast His confidence, and mixing the word with faith, we who believe are entering that self-same rest also. Need we wonder at the energy of the words in the exhortation given us here: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.”

Verses 12, 13—The objection may be raised,—“You do not know what a poor stumbling, sinning creature you invite to enter this rest.” The answer is, God and His Word know you thoroughly. That Word is “living and active,” scrutinizing and dividing between what is of nature, and what is of grace. Whatever is in me, the Word finds it out; the natural piety, the spurious religion, which is as but honey in God’s sight. Honey however sweet to man’s taste, was not allowed on God’s altar; it would not stand the fire, whereas in the frankincense, the more it is burned, the sweeter an odour it emits. And further, “all things are naked and opened,” literally, bared and bent back,—an allusion to the slaying of the lamb, and the cutting open of its neck with the knife. So that God knows perfectly well what you are, and all that you are, every motive, thought and principle being perfectly open to Him, yet notwithstanding all, He invites you to come near and to attentively consider this great and glorious Apostle and High Priest, who is filling the entire space between you and Him, through whom He is speaking peace to your souls.

Verses 14-16.—“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest.” Here in its due place, is the subject of the priesthood of Christ introduced. As Saviour, He came down here to get at us. Now He has gone up there as High Priest, to lift us up to Him. Here it is said that “we have” Him as ours, and such He will remain until we have been lifted up to the presence of God, wholly—spirit, soul and body.

“He has passed through the heavens,” pierced the heavens right through, to a place where sun and moon never shone, the place of intimacy in the very presence of God. There He is distinctly engaged on our behalf. His eye is directed downward toward us, as we toil through the wilderness, with our eye upwards toward Him, and as He sees us, He sympathizes with us, and succours us for He is “Jesus the Son of God.”

“We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” He can sympathize with us better and more fully in temptation, than any other, for sin never pressed so sorely, or was so abhorrent to any one, as it was to Him. For, while Aaron could, up to a certain point, feel for those whom he represented as priest—“having compassion in a measure” (as the Greek word in chapter 5:2, implies), there is no measure in the sympathy of Christ. He is able to “sympathize fully” for His struggling, tempted people. “In all points,” refers to the matter of the temptation: “like as we are,” to the manner of it. “Without sin;” there is no “yet,” it spoils the sense. Thus, with the scrutinizing Word with us here, and a Great High Priest for us there, we are invited to draw near with boldness “to the throne of grace.” As the mercyseat sprinkled with blood, was in the furthest and highest place in the sanctuary of old, where also was the light of the Divine presence, so now, in the dazzling light of the unsullied glory of God, does the value of the blood of Christ speak for us, and the further in we come, the nearer we approach, the more welcome are we, and the more at home shall we find ourselves. Yet that mercyseat of old was not called a throne, for it only spoke of death, but here upon the throne, we see a living Christ who was the Sacrifice, and now is the High Priest of His people. And to this throne which—unlike the throne of Solomon in his glory, which was a throne of law (2 Chron. 9:17-19)—is a “throne of grace,” the tempted, tried and stumbling believer is invited near. What for? “To receive (or take) mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” all through the day, and every day, till travelling days are done.