FEAR AND REST.
THE two words which claim our special consideration in this section are, fear and rest. I. We know only in part, in fragment. It is difficult for us to combine different aspects of truth. When doctrines apparently contradictory are presented to us, we are apt to attach importance to one, and to leave the other in the background, treating it with indifference and cold neglect. We cherish some portions of truth; we look but rarely and hastily on others. In our choice we are influenced by our natural temperament and conformation of mind, by preconceived notions, by the type of religious teaching in which we have been trained, and sometimes by our sinful tendencies, which shrink from some portions of Scripture and some aspects of divine truth, which avoid and hide themselves from the corrective and rebuking influence of some part of God's message.
It is part of our imperfection here that we can-not see the whole truth simultaneously, that we see truth in fragments, and that, while our eye rests on one phase or side of the revelation of God, the other portions are comparatively hid from our view. In eternity we shall see and know the Lord as He is. We shall behold at a glance the whole counsel of God; our light and love shall be perfect. (1John 3:2; 1Cor. 13:12.)
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 willingly 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. Here is the most subtle danger of idolatry. Doc-trines and systems of doctrine are like portraits more or less faithful and vivid of a beloved and beautiful countenance. But they are necessarily imperfect. They recall some aspects, expressions, characteristics; they are helpful to recall the reality and fullness of which they are incomplete representations. But we must not substitute them in our minds and imaginations for the living face.
Doctrines and circles of religious thought and experience are like channels; but we must not breathe the limited air of an enclosed space, but keep our hearts in communion with God, that out of the ocean of light and life, out of the living fountain, we may receive constant renewal and revival.
The exhortations of this epistle may appear to some difficult to reconcile with the teaching of Scripture, that the grace of God, once received through the power of the Holy Ghost 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.
The earnest counsel of the apostle in this chapter, Let us fear, may seem to be incompatible with his frequent and emphatic teaching that we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; that he is persuaded that nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus ; that we are to rejoice in the Lord, and that always.
Yet a most superficial glance at the epistles, and at the Scriptures In general, will show that fear is an essential feature of the Christian.
The worldly man neither fears nor loves God. - Be sometimes imagines he loves God, because he Is not afraid, because he is not awed by the holy majesty of God, and does not tremble at the righteous condemnation of the law. He mistakes his feeling of ease for a feeling of love to God, of whose character he has a false and shallow view, Absence of fear he mistakes for presence of love. The soul which is roused and convinced of sin fears God, His displeasure and punishment; fears the future, with its darkness and misery. This fear, created by the Spirit, has in it already elements, though concealed and feeble, of trust and affection. There is in it, as there is in repentance, a longing after the peace of God, a desire to be brought into harmony and fellowship with Him. There is in this fear, although dread and anxiety about self may predominate, reverence, conviction of sin, sorrow, prayer.
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." 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 depth of our guilt and misery, as in the atonement of the Lord Jesus? We rejoice with fear and trembling.
Thus the apostle Peter says, “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear. Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."
It is because we know the Father, it is because we are redeemed by the precious blood of the Saviour, 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 bond-age, but the fear of adoption;*[I] 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.
Likewise does the apostle Paul say, “Because God worketh in you to will and to do, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Not the fear of the self-righteous, who are under the law, without peace and strength, but the fear of those in whom the Holy Ghost dwells with His light and energy. Fear is therefore compatible with faith and assurance. The children of God, who cry Abba, who praise the Lamb, who are sealed by the Holy Ghost, rejoice with fear and trembling.
Fear which is rooted in unbelief is evil; for it drives away from God. If we fear that God will not be faithful and fulfill His promises, if we doubt the efficacy of Christ's atonement, or the immovable firmness of His gracious word, we are sinning against God, and forsaking the Rock of our salvation. Looking to God, our loving Father, our gracious Saviour, our gentle and indwelling Comforter, we have no reason to be afraid. The only fear that we can cherish is that of reverence and awe, and a dread lest we displease, offend, and wound Him who is our Lord. But when we look at ourselves, our weakness, our blindness, our sinfulness ; when we think of our path and our work, of our dangers and enemies, we may well fear, we may well feel that the time for repose and unmixed enjoyment has not come yet, and that, though sure of our ultimate triumph, we must watch anxiously and constantly ; we must dread our own sinfulness and our temptations ; we must fear worldly influences and estrangements ; we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
But even this statement is not sufficient, and does not cover the Scripture teaching. It is true the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are God's children. It is true the Saviour assures us that His sheep shall never perish; and, as the very expression implies, they who are born of in-corruptible seed possess life eternal; they abide for ever; they dwell in God, and He dwelleth in them. But why are there so many warnings and exhortations addressed to those who profess to believe in the Saviour? Why does the Lord say, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away”? Why does the apostle teach, " If ye live after the 'flesh, ye shall die”? Why does the apostle Peter say, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall”? Some of the reasons are obvious; and if we are sincere and honest with ourselves, we must have discovered them.
The absolute safety, the fixed and unchanging position 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. Not we ourselves, except in the moments when the Spirit beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. True, we trust in Christ, we rejoice in His love, we lean on Him ; but to make our calling and election sure, to hear the voice of the Saviour, " Thou art mine ; " to see the seal, " The Lord knoweth them that are His ; " this is the secret, hidden, constant prayer, the concentrated work of the Christian.
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," 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, which appears conditional, and as if it contradicted the fixed and eternal election, while to the conscience and heart of the saint there is no discord ? 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. The fight of faith is good; that is, beautiful (kalon), according to God's will, in God's strength, and of no uncertain issue: it must lead to victory. But it is a real fight. The enemy, the dangers, the wounds, the difficulties, the insidious and constant attacks—all are real. And can there be such a fight without fear? No: and even the fearful destruction which would follow, on our yielding to the enemy and forsaking our Lord, must be contemplated, that we may cleave to God. My soul followeth hard after thee; to keep within sight of my Guide, nay, leaning on my Beloved, this is my desire.
Yet the man who feareth always is blessed; for in the fear of the Lord, as the wise man saith, there is strong confidence. Strong confidence! For if you think that the Bible doctrine of the Christian's fear favors the notion that the child of God is not to have the knowledge of salvation, that he is not to be filled with joy and peace through believing, you are mistaken. All Christian life starts from faith, trust, and thanksgiving; not from doubt and suspense. Because Jesus the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us, we live unto Him and serve Him. Moved with fear, like Noah, we enter into the ark, and we are safe, adoring the goodness and the holiness of our Lord and Redeemer. The fear which hath torment is that fear which turns its face from the light and love of God. And if any element of torment enters into our fear we are to turn to the Lord, and look at that perfect love which casteth out fear. Whatever time I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord, said David. When we feel our weakness, danger, and sin, we look unto the Lord Jesus, and hear His voice, “My grace is sufficient for thee."
II. But the believer has rest, now on earth, and hereafter in glory. Resting in Christ, he labours to enter into the perfect rest of eternity.
The apostle returns to the quotation from Psalm 95, feeling that he has not yet exhausted the meaning of this important testimony of the Spirit.
On account of unbelief Israel entered not into rest. The promise was theirs; they heard it, but they believed not what they heard. (Isa. 53: 1.)*[II] The word of God is addressed to the heart, and the heart receives it by faith. The understanding assents, the imagination admires, the memory retains, and yet there is no reception of the Word, no inward appropriation, and hence no life or growth. The rain which falls on a roof produces no real and lasting effect; but when it falls on good ground, it maketh it bring forth and bud.
Israel received the Word only superficially, and not mixing it with faith, the word did not profit them. The application is obvious. We have received the word of promise unless by faith we appropriate and assimilate it (mark and inwardly digest it), it will be of no use to us. By faith, then, we do enter into rest.
But what did God mean by calling it His rest? Not they enter not 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 con-science and heart of man, which spring up from 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 blessedness. 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 vi.) God Himself is our strength. God Is ours, and in all His gifts and blessings He gives Himself. By the Holy Ghost 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”? Or as the Lord Himself in His last prayer before His crucifixion said to the Father, “I in them, and thou in me”?
Thus God gives us His rest as our rest.
It is written in the book of Genesis that God rested on the seventh day, and that thus (in His rest)*[III] all His works were finished. The rest of God is the consummation and crown of the creation. Without it the creation would not have been complete. In great condescension the loving God, by the Word and the Spirit, went out of Himself into the "all things" which He called forth. But they were created for Him and unto Him. Hence He returns unto Himself on the seventh day. Heaven and earth are to be filled with His glory.
The rest of the seventh day declares the sovereignty, majesty, and blessedness of God, which. all things according to their capacity are to show forth and to rejoice in. Hence, if you will think of it, this Sabbath of God is the substratum and basis of all peace and rest—the pledge of an ultimate and satisfactory purpose in creation. Without this idea the world is nothing else but constant motion without progress, journey without end, toil without reward, question without answer. "Sabbathless Satan." In this word Milton expresses a great thought.
But this rest of God in creation was disturbed and marred by sin. For the rest of God means not cessation from exhausting exertion — “He fainteth not, neither is weary." It does not mean cessation from work—" My Father worketh hitherto, and I also work"—but the joy and delight of God in His good and perfect work. God's rest is no longer in the first creation. It is in redemption's new creation, of which redemption Israel's deliverance out of Egypt and entrance into Canaan was a type. God said unto Israel, " Ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you. But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, &c."*[IV] And referring to this promise, Joshua said unto the two and a half tribes, "Now the Lord your God bath given rest unto your brethren, as He promised." *[V] David said,” The Lord God of Israel hath given rest unto His people, that they may dwell in Jerusalem for ever." In this beautiful expression David refers to God's rest, as it is written: “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.",*[VI] When David looked back upon the past history of. His people, full of vicissitudes and troubles, war and conflict, bondage and chastisement, and now contemplated the prospect of peace and quiet, worship and praise, his soul was filled with gratitude and joy. Now the ark was deposited in a permanent abode. Solomon was to be a man of peace. God would rest in His people and they in Him: But these were only types. For if Joshua had given them true rest, if the rest which God gave to Israel was not a mere imperfect shadow and type of the future, why should the Holy Ghost say by David, “To-day if you hear His voice, harden not your heart" ? Why should God speak of entering into His rest? God rests in Christ as the Redeemer and Restorer of fallen man. The Father was pleased in Jesus His beloved Son, and the Lord de-lighted in Him as His elect Servant. Jesus was the Tabernacle where God dwelt and found His rest. For our sins this Temple, holy and true, was broken; because of our justification it was built again. Now in the risen Jesus, the first begotten from the dead, Head of the church, Heir of all things, the Father beholds His glory and the fulfillment of His counsel. In Him, as our risen Saviour, dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and where God's rest is, there also is ours. Hence Jesus promises to give unto all who come to Him rest and peace. (Matt. 11; John 14.) *[VII]
Our souls long for rest. “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!. Then would I fly away and be at rest I" is the sigh of every soul. And this rest is only in God's rest. Death brings no rest to our souls. It is Jesus Christ who alone can give rest to man ; for only in Him we are re-stored and brought into communion with God. The reason of our unrest is nothing else but our fall, our abnormal condition, our alienation from God. The centre of our life is not fixed in God, and therefore there is no harmony and no peace; there is no health in us. For rest is not in sloth or unconsciousness, or in a life of half-roused energies. When we have no light for our mind, no peace in our conscience, no love in our heart, then are we disturbed ; then there is no worthy central aim and guide of life. When we are wandering in the wilderness, without knowing the end or beholding the light to direct, then are we without rest. The great promise of Christ is rest. For He is the Restorer. He gives us light. Men of brilliant genius, extensive information, acute and penetrating intellect, have often no rest, be-cause they see not the Light of the world, in whom alone God, immortality, and the way of peace and holiness are revealed. Men of piety and self-denial, who possess a high standard of morality, are not at rest, because they have not Christ, and in Him, the holy and righteous, yet merciful and loving forgiveness of God. The whole spiritual nature of man is without its centre until Christ is loved, and our life is a waiting for Him, and going forth to meet the Bridegroom.
We enjoy rest in Christ by faith. But the perfect enjoyment of rest is still in the future. *[VIII] There remaineth a sabbatism for the people of God.*[IX] Believers will enter into rest after their earthly pilgrimage, labor and conflict, and the whole creation will share in the liberty and joy of the children of God. The substance and fore-taste of this rest we have even now in Christ. In Him, as the glorified Head of the Church, the Father and the believers meet even now, and we have perfection and complete peace. But as Christ has entered into glory, we are to be glorified together with Him at His coming. Then will be perfectly satisfied the great and deep-seated desire of our heart for rest. By rest is not meant inactivity, but peace and harmony within and with all that is around us. We cannot conceive of God's children in eternity in a state of inactivity; for by reason of their union with Christ and with all angels, by reason of the central position given to the church, the glorified believers not merely behold and praise, but serve God day and night. Work is not opposed to rest. If we possessed perfect light, so that we saw clearly the end and the method of labor ; if we possessed a perfect medium of work, so that mind and body were perfect and efficient tools for the directing will, so that reason, affection, and all our energies, soul and body were willing, adequate servants of the spirit; if we were endowed with sufficient and unfailing strength, so that there could be no painful exhaustion or disproportion between the design and the power of execution ; and if the material to be worked upon was plastic and impressible, responsive to our thought, then work would be the greatest enjoyment, and in work would be a continued renewal of strength and an uninterrupted repose of thanksgiving. But all these conditions will be fulfilled in the renewed earth. The saints will be in light; seeing and knowing as they are known, they will possess minds and bodies, energies and powers, perfect and adequate instruments of their God-filled volitions, they will never be faint and weary, and all curse and obstructions will be removed. Thus while they praise and rejoice they will work, while they execute God's commandments they will behold His countenance. They will both reign and rest with Christ.
But the great contrast between the sabbatism we wait for and the present period is this. In the present life we are to work out according to God's energy within us; we are to sow, to lay up treasure, to grow, and make increase. We have talents entrusted, and we are to trade with them. Death stereotypes our character and ends our labors. It is here on earth that through sufferings and discipline we are conformed to the image of Christ. As we have been faithful, so shall we be rewarded.
As we have been faithful, so are we; whatever meekness, patience, love, humility, we have learned on earth, we shall possess throughout eternity. It is true of all God's saints, from the least to the greatest, that, delivered from the body of death, they are also freed from sin and the old man ; beholding the glory of Christ, they become like Him whom they see. Yet, without contradicting this comforting truth, the Scriptures constantly connect our faithfulness, obedience, and discipline on earth with our eternal condition and blessedness, with the reward which sovereign grace will assign to the heirs of life. They who sow sparingly reap sparingly ; they who sow abundantly reap abundantly There is no sowing after death, no more laying out our talents on usury ; no more development or growth. According to our life in the body is our glory; work therefore while it is day. (2Cor. 5:10 ; John 9: 4.)
While this is a very solemn truth, stimulating us to diligence and watchfulness, we must ever hold fast the blessed assurance that all believers will be glorified with Christ. Believers differ in glory, and in this diversity and gradation there will be harmony and the exercise of love and enjoyment of communion. For they who are nearest Christ, and possessed of the highest glory, are most fully conformed to the image of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, and their delight is to enrich all their brethren out of the abundance of their knowledge and joy.
Have I brought before you apparently contradictory doctrines? Fear and the assurance of God's salvation, rest and labor? In Christ Jesus all contradictions are solved. Let us learn Christ. Look unto Him, and you will fear lest you displease and grieve Him, lest the heavenly Bride-groom should discern in you the heart of unbelief and the love of the world. And this very fear will draw you to lean on Him and to abide in Him, who is your only life and strength. Rest in Jesus, and resting in Him you will labor, you will serve Christ in the Church, and you will look upon duties and trials as heavenly discipline to make you Christ like, as precious seed which will bring plentiful harvest. We can take nothing out of this world but Christ formed in us. And what-ever may have been our calling and occupation, the only question is, Has it been made subservient to the formation of the Christ-man? Earthly things are to be viewed in their relation to spiritual and eternal realities. The sum and substance of all our experiences, actions and trials in time must needs be the character, the attitude of the heart, the strength and affection of the soul. If a Christian is in business, if he has many and complicated transactions, many difficult and important duties, in which the welfare of others is concerned, large and complicated responsibilities, the question is, Has he learnt faithfulness, justice, kindness, self-restraint, generosity ? has he been a steward of God's gifts ? Has he been heavenly-minded, fervent in spirit while not slothful in business? Then all his earthly work has been spiritual work, and his labor in time has wrought out eternal results.
Whatever our duties, trials, social position, our mental attainments may be, the Christian's one aim is, that through them all Christ should be formed in him. Thus the Christian is always feeding upon Christ, he is always eating and drinking spiritual nourishment; all things work together to promote his growth and his conformity to the Saviour. As we speak of making flesh, so we may speak of the Christian making Spirit; doing all things to the glory of God and in the name of Christ: he is continually laboring for the meat which endureth for ever. Though engaged in what is secular, temporal, and apparently transitory, his spiritual, eternal man is forming; he is preparing his everlasting and peculiar mansion and harvest. Christ is the Vine, and we are the branches; but the object, fruit, and glory of the vine is to produce wine. No emblem can set forth the truth fully; for as Christ is the Vine, so the love of Christ abiding in the heart and trans-forming the soul is also the ultimate blessedness and glory of believers. Even now we possess and enjoy this love; hence our labor is full of rest ; and when at last we enter into the perfect rest, we shall be satisfied with His likeness when we behold His face in righteousness.
[I] * The patriarchs are often commended because they feared God. (Gen. 31:42, 54; 22:12; 13:18.) Theirs was especially a dispensation of faith and love. There was as yet no law, and they walked in simplicity before God, trussing in His goodness, and depending on His guidance. It is never said in Genesis that they loved God; but their fear of God is mentioned, their reverential and confiding sense of the holy and loving presence of God.
[II] * Comp. Rom. 10:16, 17. "Report," or literally that which is heard, is the same as preaching; the word of God heard is to produce faith. The prophet asks, Who hath believed that which through us was heard?
[III] * In considering the "rest of God" in Gen. 2, we should dismiss from our minds the questions concerning "Sabbath and Lord's-day," which are apt to narrow and cloud our view of this great subject.
[IV] * Dent 12:9-10
[V] * Joshua 22:4.
[VI] * 1chron. 23;Psalm 132:13,14
[VII] * The Hebrew word for peace (Shalom) implies' restoration to perfection, to the state of normal and complete being.
[VIII] * In like manner salvation and adoption are spoken of as future. (1Peter 1: 5; Rom. 8: 23, 24.)
[IX] * Sabbatismos (in our translation rest) is used here, and not katapausis, as in Heb 3:11,18;4:1,3,5,10,11; into God's rest we enter by faith when we trust in Jesus; into the Sabbatismos we enter when our day-work is finished and we rest from our labours (Rev.14:13), and still more fully when Christ shall make all things new, and rest in the full enjoyment of His redemptive work.