By A. T. Pierson
For we which have believed do enter into rest (Hebrews 4:3).
In the ninth and tenth verses of the same chapter we further read: “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.” The emphasis of this whole passage is therefore on the present rest of God’s saints, another of the high privileges to which God invites believers.
The greatest work of John Bunyan, and perhaps the greatest religious book except the Bible, that was ever given to men, we call The Pilgrim’s Progress. But there is in the Bible itself a Pilgrim’s Progress that was written long before John Bunyan was in Bedford Gaol. It is the account, begun in the Book of Exodus and concluded in the book of Joshua, of the pilgrimage of God’s people from the borders of Egypt into the Holy Land of Canaan. We cannot read this history of the wanderings of the Israelites without saying, with Paul, which things are an allegory. It is quite plain to the attentive student of the Word of God that there is back of the simple historical narrative a meaning that can be explained only by spiritual things. And this is one of the most remarkable allegories that has ever been written for man’s learning: it is a parable throughout. The history we are very far from questioning as actual history; we simply intimate that beneath the history there lies the allegory.
There is Egypt with its bondage, with its darkness, with its plagues, with its sins, with its judgments; there is the blood-sprinkled doorway with the Israelite hiding behind its shelter; there is the deliberate leaving of Egypt, and the crossing of the Red Sea; there is the wilderness journey with the law given at Sinai, and the pillar of cloud going before God’s people; there is the Kadesh Barnea on the borders of the Holy Land with the steps that were taken backward toward Egypt, and the long forty years of journeying; there is the crossing of Jordan, and the occupation and conquest of Canaan. And who cannot see in all this a higher spiritual meaning?
Egypt is the world with its bondage to sin and to Satan; the blood-sprinkled doorway is the atonement of Jesus Christ, with the security from the judgments of God accorded to the believer; the crossing of the Red Sea may represent justification, passing away from Egypt and beginning the new life under the leadership of God; the wilderness journey may represent the uncertain and the unsettled course of those that are disciples, but have not learned the fulness of their privileges; and the crossing of Jordan may represent the disciple coming into the possession of his present privileges, realizing the rest that is given to him in Christ and by the Spirit even in this world.
There is a mischievous notion that has found its way into the Church of God, and sometimes even into our hymns, that Canaan represents heaven, and Jordan represents death; and so we read such verses as this:
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye,
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
Well, I thank God our heavenly possessions do not lie in such a Canaan. Palestine was a very poor type of heaven, was it not? Canaan was a land of enemies, and wars, and conquests, and conflicts, and by-and-by of fatal and awful apostasy of the people of God from His worship; a very poor type of heaven, where there are no conflicts because all conquests are past; where there are no possible sins and no possible snares; where the people of God shall never depart from the knowledge of His ways or cease from a perfect worship and service. Jordan is never treated in the Bible as the emblem of death, and Canaan is never treated as the symbol of heaven. Jordan should be crossed in this life, and Canaan is the type of privileges into which the disciple may enter here, and which are a foretaste and foreshadowing of privileges that lie in the ideal land of promise far beyond. We shall consider then, the present rest into which believers may enter in this world, the foretaste of heaven anticipated upon earth, imperfect but still far more complete than most of the experiences that Christian disciples actually enjoy.
We shall ask two questions, and seek, by God’s grace, to answer them from His Word: First, What is this rest? and secondly, How shall it be entered?
What is this rest?
A present rest. Suppose we take this wilderness experience as the illustration of the theme. We have already seen in the reading of the Holy Scripture that My rest, to which here Jehovah refers, was the rest of Canaan, the land of promise, that the Jesus referred to here is the Joshua that led the children of Israel after the death of Moses, and, as Moses had led them over the Red Sea, led them over the Jordan. So that we shall find, in the passage of the children of Israelover the Jordaninto the landof Canaan, a very complete illustration of the Christian disciple’s entrance into the rest that God gives him in this life.
For instance, this rest which God offers the disciple is a rest from wandering. When these Israelites crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan they ceased to wander, and entered upon a settled and permanent habitation. They had been moving about in tents; pitching their tents today and striking them tomorrow; staying a few months, it may be a few years, in one locality, and then, as the Pillar of Cloud might go forward or backward, advancing towards the Holy Land or going back again towards Egypt. That life in the wilderness was unsettled, and uncertain, and unsatisfying. They hungered and they thirsted, they were weary and worn, they went over hot desert sands under dry skies that withheld moisture, they fought enemies, they suffered defeats, they passed through plagues and pestilences, and all manner of evils; but just as soon as they crossed the Jordan and came into the land that God had given them for a possession, the tents were laid aside, and settled habitations were built; the tabernacle of God ceased to be, and the temple was erected in its place. God says to you, who believe in Jesus Christ, that it is your privilege to stop a life of wandering, to get out of your unsettled, and uncertain, and unsatisfying experiences into a settled, a certain, a satisfying life. You are harassed with doubts, it is God’s will that you should have assurance; you are burdened with discontent, it is God’s will that you should be content; you hunger and thirst, it is His will that should be filled; you are tired of a tent life, it is His will that you should have a house, and that you should have, near by His temple, the place of your abode. That is the first element of rest: that wandering should cease, that you should come into something certain, and satisfying, and settled, and comparatively permanent.
Then, again, when these children of Israel crossed the Jordan they got out of the wilderness into a favoured land. They had been across the desert sands which yielded no crops, and where it was not worth while to sow. They may, here and there, in some comparative oasis, have raised some harvests for a time, but for the most part they had been over sterile desert tracts; had wandered in a wilderness way where no man was, where there were no springs of water, and no green and fair and fragrant meadows. But when they went across the Jordan they went into the garden of the Lord. Palestine, in those days, was one of the most fertile, one of the most beautiful, and one of the most attractive sections on the surface of the earth. Its hills teemed with harvests and had oliveyards, vineyards, and orchards; the early and the latter rains were God’s benediction upon their crops, and those crops did not fail. And when they went up to worship God in the temple and left their homes comparatively without protection, God, according to promise, watched over their harvest fields, and their homes, and no enemy was ever permitted successfully to invade Palestine, to destroy the fruits of their ground at such seasons, until after they crucified the Lord of Glory.
So God says to you — You have been in the wilderness, you have been journeying through desert sands, you have been where there were no crops and harvests, where you had not abundance, but a sterile land, an unfertile soil. Come out of the desert and go into the garden; get out of the barren sands and come to the fertile hills; your past life has brought forth no fruit to God: come where you shall have abundance to repay you for your sowing, and where the Lord’s benediction of early and latter rain shall cause your seed to spring up and bear abundant fruit in the salvation of souls, and the glory of His dear name.” So there is a second element in this rest, — it is the rest of service; it is the rest of a fertile, and beautiful, and useful life, over against a life that has comparatively wasted its powers and resources, and energies, in a half-and-half obedience, and unfruitful, half-hearted attempts at serving.
Then, again, when the children of Israel passed over the Jordan, into the Holy Land, they got rid of what may be called a certain weariness of their desert experiences. Perhaps you think it strange that we should speak of people as being weary of doing nothing. Yet, no doubt, a human soul becomes more weary of doing nothing than of most diligent working for God. There is nothing so absolutely wearying as an idle life, an aimless life, a life without a purpose, without any definite end before it, any definite object toward which to press. The young man who is the heir to property, and with it the heir to laziness, the spendthrift who has nothing to do in this world but to enjoy himself, to waste in pleasure what his father has accumulated, who goes about aimless and purposeless, must be a very weary man. I like to see a human soul get thrilled with a purpose! a life that has been like a trumpet hanging up on the walls of society — silent, getting rusty, losing lustre and even musical power, and that some warrior comes forth and seizes, and puts to his lips, and blows a blast through it. Blessed be God when He takes some idle and aimless and purposeless life, and, by the breath of His Spirit, turns the old rusty trumpet into a clarion that sounds the peal for advance.
Here was a people that, all through this wilderness journey, had been aimless. They had had no definite object before them, they had been consulting their own pleasure, the gratification of their appetites, feeding themselves to satiety with quails, trying to be contented with the manna that fell, having nothing before them but each day’s endurance of privation, of labour, of the weariness of their march. But, when they came into the land of Canaan, they had a definite object. The land was full of enemies, of Canaanites to be driven out, of Anakim, the giant sons of Anak, that had to be dispossessed and driven back with their chariots of iron; and the Lord set Canaan before them, with its fair hills and verdant valleys and limpid streams and charming woodlands, and all its attractions and resources, and said, Go, and take possession, build your houses, build My temple; I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall be My people; and I will be your God. That is what He says to you today, that have been living an aimless and purposeless life, and are weary of the very life you have been leading, because it has had nothing of the blast of the breath of God through its old rusty trumpet!
Then, once more, these children of Israel, when they went over Jordan, forsook a life of backward movement for a life of forward movement. There is a little phrase in the previous chapter which very few people have ever thought about: As in the day of provocation. What is that? If you turn to the fourteenth chapter of Numbers, second to fourth verses, you will find out what the provocation was. When the people murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said, Why hast thou brought us out of Egypt to die in this land? When they threatened, as they often did, to go back into Egypt, and even to make another captain that should lead them back into the bondage of slavery and the misery of their Egyptian life, they cared more for the leeks, and onions, and garlics, and cucumbers, of Egypt, than they did for the presence of God, in the wilderness journey with His tabernacle and pillar of fire. When they entered the land of promise they began to make an onward advance and stop their retrograde movements.
May it not be said, on the basis of the Word of God, with entire reverence, that there is nothing that is such a provocation to the Lord of grace and glory as that when disciples have tasted of His Spirit, of the powers of the world to come, and of the good Word of God, they should turn back again to a worldly life, and desire the leeks, and garlics, and onions, and cucumbers, of Egypt? caring more for a worldly bill of fare than for the dainties that God sets on the banquet table beneath the banner of His love. How many of us, since we crossed the Red Sea and became children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, have been continually tempting, grieving, and provoking God, by our worldly appetites asserting themselves, arid by a willingness at times to go back again into the bondage of sin, and slavery, and misery, in the world we have forsaken! Sinners no doubt provoke Him, tempt Him, grieve Him; but scarcely more than backsliding children of God provoke Him, tempt Him, grieve Him. When you have found out Christ, to go back from Christ; when you have tasted the glory of grace, to go back to law and, worse still, to condemnation under sin; when you have looked into the riches of the Word of God, to absorb yourselves in man’s poor productions, as though the Word of God were of no value: what a provocation that must be to Almighty God! God says to you, Come out, come out of this wandering of yours into a settled, certain, and satisfying life; leave the desert for the garden; leave the sterile life you have been leading for a fertile life of usefulness and service; stop your weary aimlessness, and idleness, and shiftlessness, and laziness, and come into work, and war, and conquest, for God; and leave your waywardness, your backward movements, your longings for past and forsaken things, and move straight on and forward into a higher and holier, and more beautiful, and more consistent, Christian demeanour and character. That, it seems to me, is the rest that remains now for the disciple, and which the passage of the Israelites over the Jordan represents in type — the present privilege of a believer.
How do we enter into this rest?
Though that question has been already partially answered, let us give it a candid and careful answer now. I think it will be found that this passage of Scripture indicates to us what the method is by which we enter into this most blessed rest.
First of all, we enter it by believing : For we which have believed do enter into rest. Faith is the beginning, middle and end of all holy living. Every successive step in the upward and onward progress of the disciple, is a step in newness of faith, in more cordial and complete belief, in more absolute confidence in the Word of the living God. We which have believed do enter into rest. I have already referred to the provocation to which we have subjected God. And how is it that we have provoked Him? By unbelief; and the whole passage, of which the text is part, emphasizes the hardening power of unbelief. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke. There is nothing that hardens a human heart like unbelief. The rejection of the testimony of God, turning away from Christ as a Saviour, turning away from the Holy Ghost as a Sanctifier, turning away from the Word of God as a guide, that is unbelief.
Notice the difference between unbelief and disbelief. Disbelief is denial, disbelief is dispute, disbelief is rejection of a thing as truth. But unbelief may entirely consist with a state of mind in which there is no real disbelief or disposition to deny the truth of the Gospel or the reality of Christ’s work. If I shut out that gospel and that work from possessing and controlling my life — that is unbelief, which is thus very different from disbelief.
There are a great many who think they will be saved because they do not dispute the truths of the Gospel or the reality of the life and death, the resurrection and ascension of Christ. But one may be a believer in one sense, and an unbeliever in another sense. The devil believes and trembles. The devil is an unbeliever of the worst sort; but the devil is not a disbeliever. He believes, for he dares not deny; but he has no faith; he has no reception of Christ; he knows no taking in of the great truths of salvation, for his own personal uplifting. Yes, there is nothing that petrifies the heart like unbelief. Even disbelief hardens the heart less rapidly, for a man may have been brought up in certain circumstances, in which he is surrounded by an atmosphere of scepticism; his father was a disbeliever and an infidel, and he has always breathed the air of infidelity. Such a man is not as much hardened by disbelief as another is hardened by unbelief, who dares not deny the truth of the Word of God, and yet shuts out that Word in its power, and hinders its transforming influence in his own heart.
As unbelief hardens, so faith softens. Just as soon as you believe Jesus, your heart at once turns from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. The heart upon which no impression could be made before, becomes a heart keenly sensitive to touch, now. The heart that before had no throb, pulses now with life; the heart that before had no feeling, is full of feeling that responds to God’s appeal; and every time you take a step in advance in believing, in more fully believing, in more cordial, in more absolute belief, the more tender and soft and responsive your heart becomes; until, like an ear that was once half deaf, but is now keenly sensitive to every sound, or like an eye that was before half blind and only saw men as trees walking, but now sees everything clearly; every new step in faith makes the heart softer, makes it more responsive, makes it more receptive to the influences of God.
A second thing which helps us to enter this rest is, ceasing from our own works. Notice the tenth verse of this fourth chapter, He that is entered (that is, has already entered) into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Now what was the first rest of which we read in the Bible? It was the rest of the original Sabbath. When God had completed the works from the foundation of the world then He set apart the seventh day for rest, and He ceased from His own works. And so we find that rest has always in the Bible been linked with, and never more can be separated from, Sabbath keeping.
Sabbath keeping, what is it with us? It is ceasing from our own works. You were busy at your trade yesterday, or profession, or whatever be your calling. You laid it aside and you came up to the House of the Lord this morning, not to handle the tools or implements of your trade or calling during the Lord’s day; you have excluded worldly pursuits, you have banished business affairs from your mind; you have left sealed your secular letters as you have shut up your secular warehouse, and you took the Word of God and read it, and besought God in prayer to give you His personal presence and blessing, and came up for worship here where only God is acknowledged, His Word magnified, and His Spirit besought. You have ceased from your own works in order that you should keep the Sabbath. If, while you are here, you are meditating business schemes, studying about what you shall say in answer to letters that you have received — if you are opening your mind to things outside of the limits which God has set to guard His day of rest, and doing it voluntarily, you are not keeping the Sabbath; you have not ceased from your own works. So the rest that is in store for God’s people, and which He invites them to enter, is a rest in which, in three senses, they cease from their own works.
First, sinful works. If there is anything you have been doing that you know to be a sin, or any duty that you have been neglecting that you understand to be a duty, you never can enter into this rest of God till that sin is abandoned and that duty is taken up. There can be no rest in a soul where voluntary sin still exists, or where there is voluntary non-performance of duty. How important this is! To enter into God’s rest, that is just before you to be possessed by you, put away your sinful works. If there has been a lie that you have been telling, acknowledge that lie, confess it, forsake it. If there has been a slander that you have circulated about one of your brethren, acknowledge it before God, and go and acknowledge it to your brother. If there has been a disposition that you have been cherishing that has been malignant, malicious, uncharitable, unkind, forsake it, and ask that the spirit of love may possess you. If there has been any neglect of the Word of God, of prayer, of Christian fellowship, of the ordinances of the sanctuary — if there is any act you ought to have performed that you have not performed, or if you have performed any act that you ought not to have performed, you must cease from your sinful works; that is the only way to enter into rest. Any other rest than the rest of voluntary, abandonment of sin is deceptive, delusive and utterly false.
Then you must cease from your own legal works, that is cease relying on the law; you must rely on grace. Remember that while Moses led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, he could not lead them into the promised land; it was Joshua that led them into the land of promise. Moses represented Law, Joshua represented Jesus, or Grace. If you turn back to the works of the law you can never have the rest that is in God. Ah! many of us — I trust very many of us — know what it is to stop resting upon our own works for justification, and know what it is to fall back on what Jesus has done for us, and say, “Dear Lord, henceforth this is the rock on which I build; my strength, my righteousness, is found only in Jesus.
Then you must cease from your own selfish works. If you are doing something for self-gratification, for self-advancement; if you are living in this world to gather riches, to get pleasure to yourself, to get fame for yourself, to gratify your ambition, to mount to some elevated point of influence and power among men; as long as you are seeking your self-interest you never will have rest. There is nothing so restless as a selfish man, and the very gratifications that he gathers to himself only make him more restless.
Then, again, we must not only cease from our own works, but we must take a definite step of consecration. That is a much-abused word, and has become very offensive in the ears of some devout and earnest disciples, because it has been used so much in the interests of cant and rant and offensive forms of pietism. But there is a true consecration that we never ought to lose sight of, because of false types of consecration that we hear of and see round about us. What is consecration? It is made up of two words, and it means to set apart wholly unto the Lord our God; as when the Tabernacle was completed, Aaron took the gold, the silver and the brazen vessels, the tongs, the snuffers and all that pertained to the slightest matters connected with the Tabernacle; he gathered them all together and poured the holy oil upon them; he consecrated them to God. And God will never give a disciple the rest unto which the child of God is invited if he does not cross the Jordan of a new consecration. Half a life for God brings no rest to anybody; it is a tiresome life, it is an unsatisfying life. You cannot mix oil with water; you cannot mingle light and darkness; you cannot wed Christ and Belial. There must be a whole heart for God, or there can be nothing known of the rest into which God invites you.
The Jordan, in my judgment, stands for that consecration fully to God as the Red Sea stands for conversion, passing from Egypt into a life of dependence upon Jesus. There is a great deal of difference between acceptance of Christ as my Saviour, and acceptance of Christ as my Master; a great deal of difference between taking Christ as my Redeemer to save me from hell and lift me to heaven, and taking Christ as my Sovereign to rule over me, to reign in me, to direct my conduct, to govern my thoughts, to give an end to my purposes, and to control, my life. May God’s grace help each one of us to comprehend what blessings come to a child of God who simply takes his Redeemer and his Saviour to be also his Ruler and his Sovereign.
You should ask Jesus what His will is concerning your life and what work He would have you to do, what of your present activities He would have you forsake or diminish because they are worldly and selfish, and what new forms of service for Him He would have you assume in His dear name; how, when you have sought to sanctify your family altar, you may sanctify the counter in your business shop; how, when you have sought to sanctify yourself at the Lord’s table, you may sanctify yourself at your own family table; how, when you have sought to give one day in seven wholly unto the Lord, you may keep every day holy unto the Lord, so that, in a sense, every day should be a Sabbath of rest; so that you should go to your place of business tomorrow morning as truly to transact business for God as when you come to the Lord’s supper today to take the bread and the cup in His dear name; so that, as you sanctify the Sabbath day wholly unto His service, you should seek to pervade all your daily life with the conscious presence of your Master; so that He shall be a partner in your daily business, a sharer of its profits, and the constant companion of your daily walk.
If you would see what a difference there is between a man before he crosses that Jordan and after, look at Peter as a single example. There he was, a child of God — no one dares to doubt it — but he was in the wilderness; he was moving up towards to the land of rest, and then going downward and backsliding from his Master; and when he met the maid and she said, Thou wert also with Him, he said, I know Him not, and, when afterwards, again and again, he was accused of being one of the company of which Jesus was the head, he denied with curses and with oaths. That was when he was in the wilderness, a wanderer, a wayward man, without his impulses and his purposes being yet firmly fixed on Jesus. But he crossed the Jordan in that baptism of tears and prayers after Jesus looked upon him, and especially when the Holy Ghost came down in a mighty flood, and he trod, as it were, through the very midst of that flood and reached the other side.
Peter was now a new man, and we hear him on the day of Pentecost preaching a sermon for Christ, the immediate result of which was three thousand converts. And we find this same man that shrank from the sight of the maid in the garden and the courts of the High Priest, actually confronting the great Sanhedrim, the supreme council of the Jewish nation, and when they threatened him with scourging, and intimated even death as the possible result of his fidelity to Christ, he calmly said, We ought to obey God rather than men. And he went forth rejoicing to be counted worthy to suffer shame for his Master’s sake. Ah, there is a world of difference between Peter in the desert, and in the Lord’s garden; in the wilderness, and in the Land of Canaan; between Peter sighing and longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt, and Peter sighing and longing to be a sharer in the sufferings and the glory of his Lord Jesus.
When Paul went to Ephesus he found twelve disciples there, who had not received the Holy Ghost since they believed; they had gone over the Red Sea, but they had not gone over the Jordan; and he asked them carefully about their experience, and found that they knew only the baptism of John, a baptism unto repentance; then he taught them the fuller things of Jesus, and they were baptized again in His name, and down upon them came the same Spirit as at Pentecost in Jerusalem, and they began to prophesy and speak with tongues. Have you known the Spirit of God since you believed? Have you got any further than the baptism of John, which was unto repentance? Have you known what the fulness of the Holy Ghost is? If you have not, I beseech you come to God, and ask that your share in Pentecostal blessings may be bestowed upon you this day, that your tongue may be anointed for His service, and your whole soul animated and stimulated and cheered by His presence.
Let me add two very brief applications of these truths. First, a word to disciples. Just before they crossed the river, Joshua said, Prepare you victuals, for within three days ye shall pass over Jordan. The Lord comes to you and, says, Prepare to cross this Jordan, for within three days you may enter this rest of God. Nay, more, within three minutes you might enter this rest if the obstacles were removed out of God’s way, and your feet dared to cross the river Jordan. Think how these children of Israel came out of Egypt, and moved on to Kadesh Barnea, within, probably, less than three days of Canaan; and, from that point on the very borders of the Holy Land they went back, to and fro, through the wilderness for forty years; because of unbelief, because of disobedience, because of the provocation of their hard hearts, God sent them to wander to and fro, almost, in sight of the hills of Palestine. You have been wandering, some of you, forty years in the wilderness. When you first accepted Jesus Christ, and moved, under the impulses of your new life, onward toward the rest of God, you came to your Kadesh Barnea, and, perhaps, you got a few bunches of grapes from Eshcol to indicate to you what was the glory of the rest that God set before you. But your wayward and disobedient hearts backslid from God, and you have been wandering all these long years in the wilderness.
But the Lord says to you today, “within three days ye may pass over Jordan. And how many of you are ready to pass over? If God should see today, not a show of hands but a show of hearts — if in this great congregation some people that have been wandering from God in an unsettled and uncertain life of doubt and difficulty and almost despair, backsliding from God, loving the leeks and onions, looking back towards their life of slavery and misery, dismayed by their adversaries, having no courage for God, no aim for God, the old rusty trumpet still on the wall, and the Holy Ghost never having pulsed His breath through it — what if God should see in this great congregation today many hearts opening their doors to Him, and saying, Come, blessed Lord, lead me over this Jordan, I will undertake a consecrated life for the service of my Master, what tremendous issues might hang on such consecration.
There are some of you, that are not even yet out ofEgypt. You are in the land of plagues and darkness, you are in danger from the angel of judgment, and have not even taken refuge behind the bloodstained doorway; the Red Sea of justification is yet to be crossed, as well as the wilderness and theJordan. What shall I say to you? I can only entreat you this very moment to begin your departure from the land of slavery, and poverty, and misery; come to theRed Sea, the blood of Jesus Christ, and pass over and begin your pilgrimage with God. The year 1892 is almost at its close; a few Sabbaths more and it will be numbered with the everlasting past, and it is quite possible that some of you that have heard the Gospel preached here for some years, and have hardened your hearts, like Pharaoh, in disobedience to God, may, before the close of this year, be given up by God, as Pharaoh was, to the visitation of final judgment. I beseech you, believe in Jesus Christ today, no longer harden your hearts, and enter, by fulness of faith, into fulness of blessing for Jesus’ sake.