Copyright 1945 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Assigned to Homer C. Hoeksema. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reprinted in any form without permission from the publisher, except in the case of a brief quotation used in connection with a critical article or review.
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Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. --- MATT. 28:11.
In order to be saved, we must come to God. And since we as sinners cannot possibly come to God as we are, guilty and defiled with sin, we must come to Jesus, in order that through Him we may come to God. For Jesus is the revelation of the God of our salvation, and He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God through Him. And all that will to come unto Him may surely come, and have the assurance that they shall not be cast out.
But who are they that will come to Jesus, to the Christ of the Scriptures? In whatever way you may explain the fact, it is evident that not all men have the desire and the will to come, for if they did, they would surely come to Him. Scripture and actual experience teach us plainly, however, that all men are not saved. And when the gospel is preached to men promiscuously, it soon becomes evident that many reject Him, must have none of Him, hate Him, and crucify Him afresh, while others receive Him and receive power to become the sons of God. Christ is set for a fall and rising again of many, and that not only in Israel, but throughout the ages of the present dispensation, and among all nations. Lu. 2.34.
He is a sign that is contradicted, and the thoughts of many hearts are revealed through Him. Lu. 2:34, 35. The word of the cross is foolishness to some, and a power of God unto salvation for others. I Cor. 1:18. Christ crucified is to many a stumbling block, while to thousands He is the wisdom of God. I Cor. 1:23, 24. And those that preach the gospel are a savor of life unto life to some, but they are also, a savor of death unto death to many. II Cor. 2:15, 16. He is the chief corner stone, elect, precious, upon which many are built into a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; but to others He is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense. I Pet. 2:5-7. Thus it was when Jesus Himself was on earth, and preached the gospel of the kingdom, and the same distinction and separation between men is always caused by the gospel of Christ.
The question arises: how do you explain this difference? On the one hand we may ask: what is there about this Jesus, this Christ of the Scriptures, that some should hold Him above all things, and count all things but dross and dung in comparison with the knowledge of Jesus their Lord, while others despise and reject Him, and even hate Him above all there is to be hated? And on the other hand, the question is: what is there in men that they should reveal such radically different evaluations of, and assume such sharply opposing attitudes with respect to the same Christ? Whosoever will may come, to be sure. But all men do not will to come. Why not? And why do some will to come to Him at all?
In order to find the answer to these questions we must take a little closer look at the Christ of the Scriptures, as well as at men in relation to Him. Who is this Jesus? What does He claim to be? What does He promise to those that come to Him, and what must men seek, desire, love, in order to have the will to come? Especially those passages in which the Lord calls men to come unto Him demand our attention. And one of these is the well known passage from Matt. 11:28: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
It is evident at once that the Savior here presents Himself as the Rest-giver. And let us note at once that this statement is both positive and unlimited as to time and place. It is positive in its promise: I will give you rest. And it is precisely by such statements as these that the Savior distinguished Himself from all that ever spoke. He spoke with authority, and not as the scribes. He does not say: I will instruct you in the art of securing rest for yourselves, or I will show you where you may find rest; but positively He declares: I will give you rest. And it is not limited to time or place, for He still speaks these words. More than nineteen hundred years ago He spoke them in the little country of Canaan. But He has spoken them ever since, and still speaks them, and that, too, in all the world. And still it is the only voice of power and authority that is heard in the midst of a world full of unrest, war, hatred, bloodshed, and destruction: Come unto me, and I will give you rest!
We may, probably, be inclined to think, that all the world, especially the war-torn and war-weary world of today, would heed this voice, and turn to Him for rest. O, it is true, we are at war. We are fighting the bitterest, the deadliest, the most destructive war that was ever fought. But are we not fighting for peace, for universal rest to succeed this terrible struggle? Are we not seriously seeking, talking about, planning a real, a just, a durable peace for the whole world ? Well, then, the solution seems simple. Here is the voice of authority, causing itself to be heard to the utmost ends of the world: Come unto Me, I will give you rest! Surely, all men will come to Him, that He may realize His promise to them!
But what is this rest He promises?
Frequently Scripture speaks of rest, and the idea of it is always essentially the same. In six days God created the world, and on the seventh day He rested. That was God's rest, His Sabbath, His entering into the enjoyment of His finished work. And He sanctified that day for man, that he, too, might enter into the rest of God. The land of Canaan, into which Jehovah led His people Israel, was the rest: there the people were to dwell in covenant-fellowship with the Lord their God. And He commanded them to keep the Sabbath, the rest of the Lord. But the people that do err in their hearts, and that do not know His ways, are the objects of His wrath to whom He swears that they shall never enter into His rest. Ps. 95:10, 11. In the way of Jehovah's precepts the people shall find rest for their souls. Jer. 6:16. The first part of the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews is entirely devoted to the discussion of this rest. And there we learn, that neither the rest of creation in the first paradise, nor the rest of the land of Canaan, was final and perfect: God had planned another, a better, a richer and more enduring rest for His people, the rest in Christ the eternal Sabbath that remains for the people of God. And now we must labor to enter into that rest. Heb. 4:1-11. And of that rest speaks the voice from heaven in Rev. 14:13: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." It is the very opposite of the state of the wicked, that worship the beast and his image, the smoke of whose torment "ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day or night." Rev. 14:11. From beginning to end the Scriptures speak of this rest as the realization of the promise of God to His people. And it is of this same rest that the Savior speaks when He calls: Come unto Me, and rest!
What, then, is rest in general, and what is this particular rest that is held before us in the Scriptures as the final goal of salvation ?
Rest is not the same as idleness or mere inactivity. For, on the one hand, it is quite possible to stretch one's limbs on the bed of indolence without finding rest, and a state of strict inactivity is impossible for man: his spirit is ever busy. And, on the other hand, a state of full and highest activity is quite compatible with perfect rest. God is pure activity, yet He is always in the state of perfect rest. In that beautiful and highly symbolic picture of the state of glory presented in Rev. 4, we read of the four living creatures that stand around the throne of God and of the Lamb that "they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." vs. 8. Yet, who does not understand that in this incessant glorification of the Most High they enjoy the perfect rest? Even the rest of our weekly Sabbath does not consist in mere cessation from all work, but rather in filling the day to capacity with the activity of seeking the kingdom of God. And a man that loafs his time away on the first day of the week, may be a worse desecrater of the Sabbath than he that spends the whole day in the shop or on his farm.
Rest implies that a certain task is finished, that the work is accomplished and perfected, that the purpose has been attained and the goal is reached, and that now we enter into the enjoyment of the finished work. It is the state of soul and body, of mind and heart in which the highest activity is at the same time perfect repose, and work is perfect joy.
For man, this rest is the perfect fellowship with the living God. The famous saying of Augustine is quite true: "Our heart is restless, until it rests in Thee." For man was made after the image of God, in true righteousness and holiness, endowed with the knowledge of God which is life, in order that in this likeness of God he might be God's friend, enter into His most secret communion, enjoy His favor and taste that the Lord is good. And in this fellowship he was to be constantly active, love the Lord His God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and serve the Most High with his whole being in willing obedience. In that state of perfect rest and highest activity, of joy and peace, of life and bliss, in which he constantly reached the goal of fellowship with God in the way of perfect obedience of love, God placed man in the state of rectitude in the first paradise. And of this perfect relation of labor and rest the weekly cycle of six days and one was to be symbol and seal to him.
But man fell out of the rest of God into the hopeless unrest of the devil. He disregarded the Word of his God, and turned to follow the lie of the serpent. He sinned. He refused to walk in that way of obedience in which alone the rest of God's blessed fellowship could be attained and tasted. And he became an exile from God's house, guilty and worthy of death, an object of the wrath of God under which he pines and dies, darkened in his understanding, corrupt in heart and perverse of will, an enemy of God, seeking rest where only unrest can be found, peace where there is only war, life in death. He bears a load of guilt for which he can never atone, but which he can only increase daily; he is chained with shackles of sin and corruption which he is not able to break; and he is in the power of death which he is incapable to overcome. Restlessly he wanders, without God in the world, and he "is like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." Isa. 57:20, 21.
God, however, had provided a better rest for His people, the rest of His eternal kingdom and covenant, in which His tabernacle would be with men forever, and that, too, in heavenly glory. And the work of God, whereby He lifts us out of the depth of our unrest into the glory of the eternal Sabbath. His rest, is the wonder of grace and salvation. For also this final and eternal rest can be attained only in the way of perfect obedience, and this time in the way of an obedience that is sufficient to blot out and overcome sin. The justice of God must be satisfied, sin must be atoned, a basis of righteousness must be established. And the sinner must be redeemed, and liberated from the power and dominion of sin and death, and clothed with a new righteousness, endowed with a new life, in order that he may have the right, and the power to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Rest, therefore, is cessation from sin, the state in which the power of sin and death has been vanquished forever, and the goal of perfect righteousness and eternal life in God's heavenly tabernacle has been reached.
That rest is in Christ. We could never accomplish the task of atoning for our sins, nor could we ever deliver ourselves from the bondage of corruption and the dominion of death. Heavy laden are we, and even if we would toil to atone for our sins, we would but labor in vain. The work is God's. The rest is His. He accomplished the work in and through Christ, His only begotten Son. Christ is the rest in His very Person, for He is Immanuel, God with us; the divine and human nature are forever united in His blessed Person. He merited the rest, for He took all our sins upon His mighty shoulders, and bore the whole burden of them upon the accursed tree. He accomplished the task, for he cried out: "It is finished." He took all our guilt away, overcame the power of death, and issued forth into the glory of His resurrection-life. And He went into the highest heavens, and received the promise of the Spirit, so that He is the quickening Spirit, able to deliver us from sin unto righteousness, from death into eternal life. And from there He calls: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
But will men come unto Him? Have they the desire and the will to enter into His rest? Not, to be sure, of themselves! For the will to come is motivated by the longing to return to God, and man is an enemy of God. The will to come implies the consciousness and the acknowledgment of our being heavy laden, laden with a burden of sin, which we can never remove. It implies that we know that we are weary, weary of sin and death, and that we toil in vain. It means that we have come to the acknowledgment that, as far as we are concerned, the task is impossible: there is no way out, no way into the rest. It means that we have eyes to see Jesus as the Restgiver, and that we long for Him, that He may bring us to God, and into rest. We want to get right with God, and we know not how; we want to cease from sin, and we cannot; we want to go home, and we may not. But Christ knows, and He is able, and in Him is our hope. Such is the will to come.
But the natural man of himself has not this will. He is weary, to be sure, but not of sin. He is weary of unrest, of war, of destruction, of bloodshed, of sickness, of sorrow, of death. And he labors and toils to improve his condition, to establish peace and happiness, to make a better world. But he does not acknowledge that his burden is his sin, and that all his unrest finds its cause in the fact that he has forsaken God. He does not want to cease from sin. He does not seek after God. He seeks rest in the sphere of sin. Speaking beautiful words of peace, he makes war, boasting of righteousness he hates the righteousness of God, claiming to labor for a better world, he destroys it. And he does not will to enter into the rest of God, and to come to Christ.
But Christ speaks: Come! And when He speaks, who can still resist? Ah, when I speak, when mere man speaks, when a preacher begs and calls and persuades, it is of no avail. You hear with the natural ear, you see with your natural eye, you understand the meaning of the gospel, but you refuse to come, you reject the Christ, you only prove that you are blind, and deaf, and very corrupt, and aggravate your guilt. But Christ speaks! He that once stood at the open grave of Lazarus, calling: "Lazarus, come forth," and he came out, speaks. He speaks by his Spirit and Word. And through the power of His almighty Word you receive eyes to see, ears to hear, an enlightened understanding to know your misery, the longing to be delivered and to enter into the rest of God, the will to come to Christ! And whosoever will may come! The promise is yours, and it shall never fail: "Come, and I will give you rest!"