Rest for the People of God
May 31st, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-59 7:30 p.m.
There has hardly been any time, any week, in my life when I have prepared a sermon that meant more to me than this sermon tonight. Oh, how I could pray that God would help me so to preach it, to deliver it, that it could bear a like meaning to your heart. The text is: “There remaineth a rest for the people of God” [Hebrews 4:9]. And we read together in the fourth chapter of Hebrews, verses 1 through 11. The fourth chapter of Hebrews, chapter 4, verses 1 through 11. And the text will be Hebrews 4:9. Now we read the passage, verses 1 through 11 of the fourth chapter of Hebrews. Now together:
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.
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest: 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.
And in this place again, If they shall enter into My rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
Again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said: Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
For if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day.
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
And the text: the ninth verse: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” [Hebrews 4:9]. He speaks of four rests in this passage that you have just read. The first one is the rest of the weekly Sabbath. Hebrews 4:4: “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.” The Sabbath day, the rest of the Sabbath, was the sign of the covenant between God and Israel. In Exodus 31:16-17: “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” If you are a Jew, if you are a Hebrew, you ought to keep the Sabbath day. The sign of the covenant between God and Israel was the Sabbath day.
If you are a Gentile, there is no point, there is no reason, there is no example for your keeping it. It is a sign between God and Israel. We do not observe a Sabbath day. There is no commandment; there is no example for it. We observe the first day of the week because it is the Easter day. It is the resurrection day [Matthew 28:1-6]. It is the Christian’s holy glorious, hallelujah day. We do not keep a Sabbath day.
But the rest of the Sabbath is one that ought faithfully to observe, to be observed in principle, one day out of seven, at least, a man ought to turn aside from his tasks; he ought to rest [Exodus 20:8-11]. It is a day of worship, of meditation, of prayer. It is a day of Bible study. It is a day of singing to the Lord, one day in seven, the rest of the Lord’s Day—the Christian Sabbath [Hebrews 4:4-10].
Now the second rest that he speaks of, in the passage you just read, is the rest that God gave to the children of Israel when they entered Canaan’s fair and Promised Land [Deuteronomy 12:10]. The weary slaves in Egypt and the darkness of their servitude [Exodus 6:5-7], and the forty years of wandering in the wilderness [Numbers 32:13], and finally they came to the Promised Land [Joshua 3:14-17]. And beyond the river were the orchards and the vineyards, the land flowing with milk and honey, and the rest God gave to the children of Israel was seen in their possession of Canaan’s Promised Land [Joshua 21:43-45].
But the author says: Even though God gave them the Promised Land, yet five hundred years later, David spake in a certain place [Hebrews 4:7], and then he quotes from the ninety-fifth Psalm [Psalm 95:7]—of another rest. Then the author speaks on that text of David in the Psalm, “For if Jesus”—now that’s the Greek way of writing Joshua. We would say Joshua. “For if Joshua had given them rest”—possessing the land of Canaan—“if Joshua had given them rest, then would David not afterward have spoken of another day?” [Hebrews 4:8]. So the author argues here that the rest that God gave to the Israel people in the possession of Canaan was a type and a picture and a symbol of another rest, of another day. For, he says, five hundred years later, after the children of God had entered into Canaan, David speaks of another day and of another rest [Hebrews 4:7]. So “if Joshua had given them rest, then would there not have been spoken, another day” [Hebrews 4:8].
So the author takes the rest of Canaan and uses it as a type and a symbol of another day and another rest [Joshua 21:43-45; Hebrews 3:7-19]. What is that? This is the whole heart of his argument. In the third verse: “For we which have believed in Jesus do enter into rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. So the author says that the rest of Canaan, going in to possess the Promised Land, is a type and a symbol and a picture of the rest that we have in Jesus Christ; all of us who have trusted Him as our Savior. “For we which have believed do enter into rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. We who have trusted Jesus are at rest in Him.
Now the rest is not perfected, but it begins here. The perfection of it is in eternity. It is in heaven, it is in the glory that is to come [Revelation 14:13]. But it begins here, and if we ever possess it, we must possess it here [Hebrews 4:9, 11]. For the author says that we possess it by faith, and unbelief fails of it. So our unbelief here shuts us out from the rest of God [Hebrews 3:19]. But our faith in Jesus here brings us into the rest of God [Hebrews 4:3].
Now he does not mean by that word “rest” inactivity, for he says here, “we who have believed do enter into this rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. Now the man that wrote that was not inactive, He was in the midst of the intensest life [Hebrews 13:18-19]. And the people to whom he addressed his letter were not inactive, they also were in the midst of the most devoted service of our Lord [Hebrews 6:10]. It is inconceivable to think of God in heaven, of the angels in glory, of the sainted and blessed spirits there, as being in supineness and in inactivity.
So when he uses the word “rest,” we who have believed in Jesus do enter into God’s rest, what he means by it is, first, we are at rest in our controversy with God. No longer are we at war with the Almighty. No longer do we fight against the call of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. No longer are we in a struggle against the voice and will of God. We are at rest in the controversy between our souls and our Savior. We have yielded unto Him. We are at rest in Him [Hebrews 4:3].
I could not illustrate that better than by the children of Israel when they warred in Canaan. The Scriptures say: “And God gave the Israel rest from all of their enemies” [Joshua 23:1]. That is, in the war and in the battle and in the strife, they were in the midst of conflict and controversy, but when the war was over and the battle was ended, then God described His people as being at rest [Joshua 23:1]. So it is with us. When we no longer fight against God and war against the Spirit of Christ, then we have ceased from our controversy, and we are at rest in Him [Hebrews 4:3].
Now, a second rest: this rest that we who have believed do find in Christ–we are at rest from our own works by which we seek to secure and assure our salvation. For he says here, “That we who have entered into His rest, we also have ceased from our own works” [Hebrews 4:9-10]. No longer now are we engaged in grinding out religion by the day, and the hour, and the month, and the year in order to find salvation in God. We no longer work for ourselves, but what we do; we do for the love of God. We have ceased to work for ourselves that we might work for God. We are at rest. We are at peace. We are at quiet in the matter of our salvation [Hebrews 4:10].
No longer is it with us: “If I don’t do this, I’ll be damned. If I do do that, I’ll be damned. I’ve got to count these beads, I’ve got to genuflect, I’ve got to bow, I’ve got to do this penance. I’ve got to do these works. I’ve got to go to this mass. I’ve got to make it at five o’clock every morning. If I don’t, I will fall into the pit of hell and damnation.” No longer are we on a treadmill, grinding out religion, in order to be saved. We are at rest from these things [Hebrews 4:10]. And what we do now and our work now is done in quietude and in assurance. What we do now is not in order to be saved—no anxiety, no care, no burden of heart lest we fall into the pit of hell, but our work now is one of love and gratitude; one of glory and happiness. Here we are, not because we’d be damned if we weren’t here. Here we are because I’d rather be here than in any theater. I’d rather be here than in any picture show. I’d rather be here than in any ballpark. I’d rather be here than in any vaudeville. I’d rather be here than watching a television program or listening over the radio. I’m here just because I love to come, not in order to, but because of. And our works are at rest—no longer filled with an anxiety lest I fail, and lest I fall, but just trusting God, we have ceased from our own works [Hebrews 4:10].
It is the identical thing as a child in the home. The child in the home, in a godly home, is not full of care, lest he not be provided for. Not full of worry and concern, lest he be shoved out. Nor does the child even work for the bread that it eats, but the child is at peace and at rest in his father’s house, and all that the father would ask in return is the love and appreciation and gratitude of the child.
Are you a father? Are you a mother? Tell me, do you expect your children to pay you for having fed them, or having bought them clothes and shoes and a shelter under which to abide? Do you? All you would expect of the child is that the child love you in return. That’s enough! More than adequate recompense and pay. In no sense that they buy their bread or their clothing or their shelter; that is a gift of your heart. Same thing about our working to be saved; God doesn’t seek payment. God doesn’t seek stipend. God doesn’t seek wages. The gift of salvation is free [Ephesians 2:8]; it is a gift. It is without cost, without money and without price [Isaiah 55:1-5]. So he that has believed has entered into rest from all of his works that he might work for God [Hebrews 4:3]; that he might, out of the love of his heart, serve the Lord.
Now there is another thing. He that has entered into the faith of Christ has entered into the rest of God [Hebrews 4:3]. That is, he is no longer full of care and concern about his destiny and about the future days of his life; for he has identified himself with his Lord, and his service in Christ is in the service of Christ Himself in our life, in our members, in our body, in our desires, in our prayers, in our works. All of it is in God’s hands.
The man that has given his life in faith to Christ is no longer full of anxiety and concern about the destiny of the tomorrow. What shall become of him? How shall he succeed? That doesn’t matter, for his life belongs to Christ, and he is at rest in God [Matthew 6:31-33]. He has identified his life with Christ, and Christ’s life is in the life of the believer. So whatever it is, it’s in God’s will. It is Christ’s life. For example, if I hire a man to do something for me, it is as though I were doing it. If I hire a man to commit murder, I am guilty of murder myself. Though my hand did not do it, yet I hired that man’s hand, and he did it. But I did it because the man is doing it for me.
It is an identical thing when a man gives his life to Christ. Then what is done is according to the will of God. And what happens to us? Shall we rise, shall we fall? Shall we succeed, or in the sight of the world, shall we fail? Shall we die young or live to be old? Shall we be exalted or debased? Shall we have plenty or be in want? Shall we be elected or passed by? Shall we be acclaimed or unknown? It doesn’t matter; we are at rest in God [Hebrews 4:3]. “Our lives are hid with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3], and whatever happens, it is in His will. God’s life is being worked out in us. And we are identified with the cause of Christ, and it’s in His hand. I don’t need to worry. I don’t need to be full of care or concern. This is God’s will, for my life is in His hands, and it is being directed by His Holy Spirit. Paul one time said: “And I labored by the grace of God more abundantly than all of the other apostles: yet not I, but the grace of God in me” [1 Corinthians 15:10]. That is, his life was so given in trust to Christ that what he did was by the grace of God. It was Christ in him that did it.
And may I pause here to exegete a passage that I do not know why, but just at different periods of times certain passages are discussed by our people. And here’s one that in the last two or three months has so frequently been brought to me. In Matthew 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Now the reason that has been brought to me is because of a certain great international Christian denomination that says that refers to them, that they have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what they loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. So our young people picked those things up and they are greatly disturbed by them.
Now, first of all, they are rather spiritually egotistical to say that applies to them. Why doesn’t it apply to somebody else? They just say that’s speaking about us. Well, somebody else could say well that’s speaking about us. And somebody else could say, and that’s speaking about us. To supererogate that passage just to yourself is first of all spiritual egotism of the highest order.
There was no thought—when our Lord spake that—of applying that to them or to them. Our Lord was saying here the identical thing that I am speaking of in this passage of the rest that comes to the children of God. “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” And here are two periphrastic future perfects in the Greek language. “And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” [Matthew 16:19].
To bind and to loose is an old rabbinical phrase for teaching, preaching the truth, or not teaching and preaching the truth. So what Jesus says here is: “I give to you, into your hands, I give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” If a man is to be saved, he’s to be saved by the preaching of the gospel; by the mediation of the Spirit of God through the appeal of a man. No man is ever saved apart from the Word of God, from the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “I give to you that preachment, that key, that open door. And whatsoever you do in this earth with it shall have been decreed for that to be done in heaven. And whatsoever you don’t do in this earth with it, is the thing that has been decreed in heaven. Whatever you bind on earth, shall have been bound in heaven. Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall have been loosed in heaven” [Matthew 16:19].
That is, the true Christian identifies himself with the will of Christ. And what happens is the thing that has been elected and decreed in heaven. If I faithfully perform the preachment of the will of God and a hundred people are saved, that is in the will of heaven. If I faithfully preach the word of God and one somebody is saved, that also is in the will of heaven. I have identified myself with Christ, and what I do is the will of God. The only thing is, how I must pray, and how I must appeal, and how I must work and give myself in order that what we do is the thing that Christ would have us do: “But we who have believed in Jesus have entered into that rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. And it is with God.
Oh! How many, many, many, many innumerable numbers of times do I go from these services so blue and discouraged. Lord, Lord, nobody was saved at that hour. We had maybe five additions by letter; maybe two by letter; maybe fifteen by letter, but nobody was saved. And then I get to thinking about my sermon, and I get to thinking about how it was delivered. And I get to thinking about my own weaknesses and infirmities; and the stammering, stuttering lips that try to preach the message. And sometimes I am so blue and discouraged. I ought not to be that way. That’s a weakness of the flesh. When I have done the best I can, chosen the passage the best I know how, studied and prayed and prepared and delivered the sermon the best that I can; it lies in the hands of God.
So with all of our life and all of our work, we ought to rest in Christ. When we have done our best, prayed our best, tried our best, studied our best, worked our best, then we ought to rest in God. So it ought to come to us in all of the vicissitudes and fortunes that await us in Christ. How shall it be with us? Oh, it is a part of human frailty to fall into the valley of humiliation, and despair, and defeat! “My life seems so empty and so vain and so worthless.” And we have the feeling that “it is all naught as for me.” No, we ought to rest that case in God, and when our lives are His and we have trusted it to Him, then however it is, it’s in His will, and we ought to rest in the will of God. For we who have believed do enter into rest [Hebrews 4:3]. That rest that we have here in Christ is a rest in sorrow and bereavement, coming to us all, if it isn’t today, it will be tomorrow: “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and 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 you shall find rest unto your souls” [Matthew 11:28-29]. That’s why people who have no Savior face the darkest, inevitable hour someday, sometime, somewhere. But we, who have Christ, do enter into rest. However the bereavement may hurt and cut, however the sorrow may overwhelm our souls, we find rest in Christ. “Casting all of our care upon Him; for He careth for us [1 Peter 5:7]. For we which have believed do enter into rest” [Hebrews 4:3].
This is rest from the fear and the dread of death. If you are a Christian and if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, you ought not to fear the casket, or the coffin, or the grave, or the night, or the death. God will give us dying grace for that hour. I could not stand here and say the specter of death is not an awful apparition. The visage of his face is frightful indeed, and I do tremble before it. Yet, but when the time comes for me to face that inevitable hour, the God that saved me when I called upon His name, and the God that has kept me through the days of my manhood, is the same God who shall open the door in the days of my infirmity and age.
And I am to rest in Christ. Not fearful, not anxious, not full of foreboding and dread, but there will be grace given in that final and ultimate hour. “We who are believers in Christ do enter into rest” [Hebrews 4:3]. No perturbation of mind, no weariness of heart, no trouble of soul—we are at rest in Christ. The tempest may someday sweep this world and rock it like a cradle, and the revolution of the stars above may cease in their orbits, but the Christian is safe and secure in Christ.
I often think of a thing in the life of Simon Peter and an illustration that came out of it. An author drew a picture of peace and of rest and the way he did it was; it was a craggy shore of the ocean, and the storm was howling, and the waves were high and beating against the crags and the rocks. And way up high, way up there in one of those crevices in the rocks, in the storm, and in the night, and the rain and the wave and the tempest, way up there in the crag in the rock was a little bird. And he had his head under his wing, and he was sound asleep. That was the painter’s idea of rest and of peace.
And I thought of this thing in the life of Simon Peter when the angel came to deliver him out of his prison, before he was to be executed the next day. You remember what the Bible says: “And the angel smote him on the side to wake him up” [Acts 12:6-7]. Simon Peter was to be executed within a few hours. But he was so sound asleep that, when the angel came to deliver him, the angel had to strike him on the side in order to wake him up. Oh, isn’t that a great way to be? Going to have my head cut off in three more hours, that’s doesn’t matter. (Snoring sounds) O Lord in heaven, reckon I could be like that, absolutely given to God? Just committed to the Lord; that if my head is going to be cut off in three hours and it’s bedtime, why, that means three hours sleep; just at rest in God; all of our care upon Him; all of our burdens given to Him [1 Peter 5:7].
Now I close. There is one other rest—and I’ve just now got to my text. “There remaineth still and yet a rest to the people of God” [Hebrews 4:9]. There is another rest. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” And you know what that rest is? That rest is the rest on the other side of the great divide. For the trials of a Christian in this life are still very real and very sore. For one thing, I have been a preacher for thirty years and beyond, I have been a Christian for forty years, and yet, there are times when I am assailed with fear and doubt. Sometimes the book I read, sometimes the books that I read and the articles I read disturb me. We have so much of the world around us, and it is so material and godless. Where is our Lord? Where is God in this awful and dark world? And how few there are that really bow down and name His name!
You know, a Christian is like a fellow walking down through a jungle trail, and every lion is tied on either side, but he is just as afraid as if everyone of them was loose. And that’s the way we are. Satan is still aloose in this world, and he hurls his darts and his arrows upon us. Our martyrs wade through seas of blood, and the Christian is subject to all the ills that the world is subject to. We have aches in our bodies, and our heads hurt, and we fall into disease and torment and age and senility, and we lose our faculties, and we lose our limbs and we’re crippled, just like everybody else.
The trials of a Christian are as real in this life as the trials of anyone else. But there is a rest that remains for the people of God [Hebrews 4:9]. Someday blind eyes shall see again, and someday crippled limbs shall walk again, and someday the palsied arm will be strong again, and someday the weary heart shall be refreshed again. And there is a place where youth is perpetual and age furrows no longer plowing the brow. There is a time, there is a place, there’s a rest that remains to the people of God.
I was so moved one time to hear a blind boy sing—one of our seminary students—to sing in the Walnut Street Church in Louisville. To sing:
Face to face, shall I behold Him.
Far beyond the starry sky,
Face to face, in all His glory.
I shall see Him by and by.
[“Face to Face With Christ My Savior,” Carrie E. Breck]
“There remaineth a rest to the people of God” [Hebrews 4:9]. Here we bid adieu to the sweetest and fairest in this mortal race. All of us! The sweetest flowers fade. The sweetest cups are filled with dregs. The sweetest birds die and their song is hushed, and how many, many times?
In this last week, two of our deacons have died. How many times is it that slow, monotonous journey to the cemetery; earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes? The trial of the Christian—but over there, there’ll be no tolling of the funeral bell. There’ll be no dark hearses on the streets of gold. There’ll be no emblems of sorrow in the mansions of the blessed. There’ll be no graves on the hillsides of glory. There will be life and immortality [1 Corinthians 15:54]. The unrusted heart, the undimmed eye, the unfaltering voice, the unwearied heart, when death is swallowed up in victory, and when this mortal shall have put on immortality [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. Here we see from afar the lights of the city, but there we shall live in the splendor and blaze of its glory. Here we hear the faint melodies of heaven wafted on the breeze, but there, we shall be entranced with the glorious oratorio, and we shall join in the hallelujah chorus to our Messiah. Here we look over the garden wall and see the flowers of the blessed, there we shall walk between the beds of bliss. Here we taste of the heavenly joys; there we are seated at the banquet supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-8].
Oh, what inconceivable glory and gladness! Are these streets actually gold, and we shall see? Are these walls actually jasper and we shall look? Are these gates of solid pearl, that we shall behold them? [Revelation 21:19-21]. Wonder of wonder, joy of joys! O God, and here I am. Is it really I? This robe of white [Revelation 7:13], and the crown of gold [Revelation 12:1], oh, blessed blood, precious blood that washed me clean [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. Oh, blessed and precious faith that set me free [Ephesians 2:8]. Oh, blessed and precious Spirit that led me to believe [Romans 8:15]. “There remaineth a rest for the people of God” [Hebrews 4:9].
While we sing this song of appeal, somebody you to give your heart to Christ this hour, would you come? Somebody you to put your life in the fellowship of the church tonight, would you come? In this balcony around, should you, ought you to respond to this appeal tonight? Would you make it now? Down one of these staircases, there are two at the back; there are two at the front, would you come? You and your wife, one somebody you, a youth or a child, “I take Jesus tonight. I put my life in the fellowship of this church, here I come. I give you my hand; I give my heart to God.” On this lower floor, this throng of people, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Tonight I take Jesus as Savior,” or “Tonight I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this precious and blessed church.” While we prayerfully, earnestly sing this appeal, would you come? Would you make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.
REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-59I. The weekly Sabbath rest(Hebrews 4:4)
A. Sign of the covenant between God and Israel(Exodus 31:16-17)
B. There is no command or example for a Gentile to keep it
C. Principle ought to be faithfully observed – one day out of sevenII. The rest of Canaan(Hebrews 4:6-8)
A. The rest God gave children of Israel when they entered Promised Land
B. A type and picture of another rest, another dayIII. The present rest in Christ Jesus(Hebrews 4:3)
A. Rest from controversy with God(Joshua 23:1)
B. Rest, cessation, from works designed to secure salvation(Hebrews 4:10)
C. Rest from worry, anxiety about the course and destiny of our lives(1 Corinthians 15:11)
1. True Christian identifies himself with the will of Christ (Matthew 16:19)
D. Rest in sorrow and bereavement(Matthew 11:28-29, 1 Peter 5:7)
E. Rest from the fear and dread of death(Acts 12:7)IV. The rest that remains for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9)
A. Here, the trials of the Christian
1. Subject to doubt, fear; aches, pain, disease, age
2. There weary hearts refreshed, bodies made whole
B. Here we bid adieu to all that is fair and lovely