The Gospel of Rest
Hebrews 4:1-2
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.…

The Christian salvation is here presented under a third aspect as a rest, a sabbatism, a participation in the rest of God; the new view, like the two preceding, in which the great salvation was identified with lordship in the world to come and with deliverance from the power of the devil and the fear of death, being taken from the beginning of human history as narrated in the early chapters of Genesis. One aim of the writer of the Epistle in this part of his work was doubtless to enunciate this thought, and so to identify the gospel of Christ with the Old Testament gospel of rest. But his aim is not purely didactic, but partly also, and even chiefly, parenetic. Doctrine rises out of and serves the purpose of exhortation. In so far as the section (vers. 1-10) has a didactic drift, its object is to confirm the hope; in so far as it is hortatory, its leading purpose is to enforce the warning, "let us fear." The parenetic interest predominates at the commencement (vers. 1, 2), which may be thus paraphrased: " Now with reference to this rest I have been speaking of (Hebrews 3:18, 19), let us fear lest we miss it For it is in our power to gain it, seeing the promise still remains over unfulfilled or but partially fulfilled. Let us fear, I say; for if we have a share in the promise, we have also in the threat of forfeiture: it too stands over. We certainly have a share in the promise; we have been evangelised, not merely in general, but with the specific gospel of rest. But those who first heard this gospel of rest failed through unbelief. So may we: therefore let us fear." To be noted is the freedom with which, as in the case of the word "apostle" (Hebrews 3:1), the writer uses the εὐηγγελισμένοι, which might have been supposed to have borne in his time a stereotyped meaning. Any promise of God, any announcement of good tidings, is for him a gospel. Doubtless all God's promises are associated in his mind with the great final salvation, nevertheless they are formally distinct from the historical Christian gospel. The gospel he has in view is not that which "begun to be spoken by the Lord," but that spoken by the Psalmist when he said, "To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." Not less noteworthy is the way in which the abortive result of the preaching of the gospel of rest to the fathers is accounted for. "The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Is the word mixed with faith in the healer, or by faith with the hearer? and what natural analogy is suggested in either case? The one thing certain is, that he deemed faith indispensable to profitable hearing: a truth, happily, taught with equal clearness in the text, whatever reading we adopt. At ver. 3 the didactic interest comes to the front. The new thought grafted into ver. 1 by the parenthetical clause, "a promise being still left," now becomes the leading affirmation. The assertion of ver. 2, "we have been evangelised," is repeated, with the emphasis this time on the "we." "We do enter into rest, we believers in Christ." A rest is left over for the New Testament people of God. The sequel as far as ver. 10 contains the proof of this thesis. The salient points are these two:

1. God spoke of a rest to Israel by Moses, though He Himself rested from His works when the creation of the world was finished; therefore the creation-rest does not exhaust the idea and promise of rest.

2. The rest of Israel in Canaan under Joshua did not realise the Divine idea of rest, any more than did the personal rest of God at the Creation, for we find the rest spoken of again in the Psalter as still remaining to be entered upon, which implies that the Canaan-rest was an inadequate fulfilment. The former of these two points contains the substance of what is said in vers. 3-5, the latter gives the gist of vers. 7, 8; whereupon follows the inference in ver. 9, a rest is left over. A third step in the argument by which the inference is justified is passed over in silence. It is, that neither in the Psalmist's day nor at any subsequent period in Israel's history had the promise of rest been adequately fulfilled, any more than at the Creation or in the days of Joshua. Our author takes the oracle in the Psalter as the final word of the Old Testament on the subject of rest, and therefore as a word which concerns the New Testament people of God. God spake of rest through David, implying that up till that time the long promised rest had not come, at least, in satisfying measure. Therefore a rest remains for Christians. He believed that all Divine promises, that the promise of rest in particular, shall be fulfilled with ideal completeness. "Some must enter in"; and as none have yet entered in perfectly, this bliss must be reserved for those on whom the ends of the world are come, even those who believe in Jesus. "There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God." A sabbatism our author calls the rest, so at the conclusion of his argument introducing a new name for it, after using another all through. It embodies an idea. It felicitously connects the end of the world with the beginning, the consummation of all things with the primal state of the creation. It denotes the ideal rest, and so teaches by implication that Christians not only have an interest in the gospel of rest, but for the first time enter into a rest which is worthy of the name, a rest corresponding to and fully realising the Divine idea. This final name for the rest thus supplements the defect of the preceding argument, which understates the case for Christians. It further hints, though only hints, the nature of the ideal rest. It teaches that it is not merely a rest which God gives, but the rest which God Himself enjoys. It is God's own rest for God's own true people, an ideal rest for an ideal community, embracing all believers, all believing Israelites of all ages, and many more; for God's rest began long before there was an Israel, and the gospel in the early chapters of Genesis is a gospel for man. We have seen that our author borrows three distinct conceptions of the great salvation from the primitive history of man. It is reasonable to suppose that they were all connected together in his mind, and formed one picture of the highest good. They suggest the idea of paradise restored: the Divine ideal of man and the world and their mutual relations realised in perpetuity; man made veritably lord of creation, delivered from the fear of death, nay, death itself for ever left behind, and no longer subject to servile tasks, but occupied only with work worthy of a king and a son of God, and compatible with perfect repose and undisturbed enjoyment. It is an apocalyptic vision: fruition lies in the beyond. The dominion and deathlessness and sabbatism are reserved for the world to come, objects of hope for those who believe. The perfect rest will come, and a people of God will enter into it, of these things our author is well assured; but he fears lest the Hebrew Christians should forfeit their share in the felicity of that people: therefore he ends his discourse on the gospel of rest as he began, with solemn admonition. "Let us fear lest we enter not in," he said at the beginning; "let us give diligence to enter in," he says now at the close. Then to enforce the exhortation he appends two words of a practical character, one fitted to inspire awe, the other to cheer Christians of desponding temper. The former of these passages (vers. 12, 13) describes the attributes of the Divine word, the general import of the statement being that the word of God, like God Himself, is not to be trifled with; the word referred to being, in the first place, the word of threatening which doomed unbelieving, disobedient Israelites to perish in the wilderness, and by implication, every word of God. The account given of the Divine word is impressive, almost appalling. It is endowed in succession with the qualities of the lightning, which moves with incredible swiftness like a living spirit, and hath force enough to shiver to atoms the forest trees; of a two-edged sword, whose keen, glancing blade cuts clean through everything, flesh, bone, sinew; of the sun in the firmament, from whose great piercing eye, as he circles round the globe, nothing on earth is hid.

(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Let us fear therefore, lest perhaps anyone of you should seem to have come short of a promise of entering into his rest.

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