From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: October, 1939
From the beginning God determined that the ruination of the old creation should be followed by the producing of a new creation, with a new law of that creation, a new covenant, and a new Sabbath rest, unto His own glory by Jesus Christ. The renovation of all things by the Mediator was Divinely foretold (Acts 3:21): it was to be a "time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10). From the Epistles we learn that this renovation of all things has been accomplished by Christ: "old things are passed away," etc. (2 Cor. 5:17)--the old covenant, the old order of worship, the Judaical Sabbath. "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, which are in Heaven and which are on earth; in Him" (Eph. 1:10): only those things pertaining to the Mosaic economy remain which are useful to our living unto God, and they abide not on their old foundation, but on a new disposition of them in Christ: cf., 1 Corinthians 9:21.
Thus it is with the Holy Sabbath: it remains, yet it has undergone a decided renovation. As the incarnation of God's Son affected the chronology of the world (for all civilized time is, by common consent, dated from the year of His birth!), so His death and resurrection terminated the old covenant and ratified the new, and this necessarily resulted in a change of the weekly day of rest. Last month we pointed out that the first day of the week as now being the one Divinely appointed for Sabbath observance was, first, adumbrated in the Old Testament types, where "the eighth day" is so conspicuous. Second, that it was clearly intimated by what is recorded in the New Testament: the first day being that of our Lord's resurrection and the day of meeting with His disciples. Third, that it was so celebrated by the early Church: Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2.
We are now to consider, fourth, that this change was conclusively demonstrated in Hebrews 4. We will first call attention to the fact itself as there stated, and then endeavour to indicate and elucidate the course of the Apostle's argument in that chapter. In Hebrews 4:8 it is expressly affirmed, "for if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day." What this other "day" is, may be unequivocally ascertained from the context: it is the Holy Sabbath--"God did rest the seventh day from all His work" (v. 4). So, too, immediately after mentioning "another day" (i.e. another or different one from the "seventh") the Apostle went on to say, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (v. 9). In proof of this and also to identify this "another day" he declared, "For He (not "they," but "He," which is Christ) that is entered into His rest, He also hath ceased from His own works, as God did from His" (v. 10).
What has just been pointed out is quite simple and easy to understand, but in order to grasp the force of the Apostle's argument we need to gird up the loins of our minds and attend very closely to his chain of reasoning. First, we must observe that here in chapter 4 he is continuing what he had said in chapter 3. There he gave an exhortation unto faith, obedience, and perseverance (3:1-6), and this he enforced by a quotation from Psalm 95, which contained a pointed exhortation and a solemn warning taken from the case of those who fell under Divine wrath because they were guilty of the sin contrary to the duties of faith, obedience, and perseverance (3:7-11). This he at once follows by making application of the warning unto the Hebrews, and by expounding certain expressions in this quotation which he had made from the Psalmist (3:12-18).
Because the words of Psalm 95 contain not only a warning applicable to New Testament saints, and more especially because those words also had interwoven in them a prophecy (note "promise" in Heb. 4:1) concerning the rest of God in Christ by the Gospel and our duty thereon, Paul proceeded to enlarge upon and confirm his exhortation in 3:12, 13, still using the language of Psalm 95 for that end. First, he propounds the duty which he aimed to press on the Hebrews (4:1, 2). Second, he established the foundation of his exhortation, by showing that the "rest" mentioned by David was still future when he wrote Psalm 95 (Heb. 4:3). Third, he enters into a careful discussion of and differentiates between the various "rests" of God (vv. 4-10). Fourth, he concludes by returning to and repeating his original exhortation (v. 11).
Let it be clearly grasped at this stage that the Apostle's design in Hebrews 4:4-11 was to confirm what he had laid down in verses 1-3, which we paraphrase thus: There is under the Gospel a promise of entering into the rest of God left or remaining unto believers, and they do enter into that rest by mixing the promise of it with faith. It was the more necessary to press this upon the Hebrews: that notwithstanding their ancient and present enjoyment of the land of Canaan, yet their fathers fell short of entering into God's rest because of their unbelief, and that now they (their children) were under a new trial or test, a new rest being proposed unto them in the promise. This he proves by a testimony out of Psalm 95, whereof he had previously treated in Hebrews 3.
Now the application of Psalm 95 to the case of the Hebrews was liable to a serious objection: the "rest" mentioned there by David seemed to be one long since past. If that were the case, then these Hebrews could have no new or fresh concern in it, and therefore could be in no danger of coming short of it. It was to remove such an objection, and to confirm what he had previously advanced, that the Apostle occupied himself in what follows, and this he does by a direct appeal to Psalm 95, showing from the proper signification of its words, from the time when it was written, and from the persons there addressed, that no other "rest" was there intended than what was here being proposed by him unto them, namely, the rest of God and His people in the Gospel.
The general argument insisted upon by the Apostle to support his design and establish his purpose, consists in an enumeration of all the various "rests" of God and His people mentioned in the Old Testament. From the consideration of them all, he proves that no other rest could be intended by the language of David in Psalm 95 than the rest of the Gospel, whereinto all who believe do now enter. This he arrives at, most logically, by a process of elimination. First, the rest "promised" (Heb. 4:1) in Psalm 95 was neither the rest of God from the works of creation, nor the Sabbath rest which ensued thereon (Heb. 4:4-6). Second, nor was it the rest of Canaan, which Joshua brought the people into (Heb. 4:7, 8). No, it was a spiritual rest which remained or subsisted for believers to enjoy now (vv. 8-10). We are now prepared to enter into detail.
In verse 3, three things are laid down. First, an assertion, which comprises the whole intendment of the Apostle in this passage: "For we which have believed do enter into rest." Second, a proof of that assertion from the words of the Psalmist: "As He said, As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest," or as the Psalm reads, "They should not enter into My rest" (95:11). Third, an ellyptical entrance into a full confirmation of his assertion and the due application of his proof produced unto what he had designed: "although the works were finished from the foundation of the world." Now that "rest" which believers enter through faith in Christ (cf. John 16:33) is first and primarily the spiritual rest of God, and is not to be restricted unto the eternal rest in Heaven, though that will be the fruition of it. God rests in Christ (Isa. 42:1) and in His people (Zeph. 3:17).
"As I have sworn in My wrath, If they shall enter into My rest" (Heb. 4:3), or "that they should not enter into My rest." How did those words contain a confirmation of what has been affirmed in the preceding clause? Two ways. First, by an axiom of logic. It is a well-known rule that unto immediate contraries contrary attributes may be certainly assigned, so that he who affirms the one at the same time denies the other, and he who denies that one affirms the other. For instance, if I say it is "day," I also affirm it is not "night." If, then, those who believed not entered not into God's rest, then it logically follows that those who believe do enter into it. Second, theologically: according to the analogy of faith--every threatening also includes a promise, and every promise has also the nature of a threat in it.
"Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (v. 3). In those words the Apostle began his answer to an anticipated objection against what he had asserted of the Gospel rest. Now all "rest" presupposes labour, consequently each several "rest" of God must have some work preceding it. So it was, first, with His rest in Genesis 2:2 that was preceded by the six days of creation. This the Apostle at once refers to in verse 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." Now as Owen so convincingly pointed out, God's rest here is not spoken of absolutely, with respect to Himself only, but rather with reference to an appointed rest that ensued thereon for His creatures to rest in with Him, for this is the Apostle's scope all through this passage. Hence he refers us back to the whole passage from which he quotes (Gen. 2:2, 3): and there we learn that God not only rested on the seventh day, but "blessed" it for the rest of man. Thus he first treats of the Sabbath in relation to the state of man under the law of nature.
"And in this place again, If they shall enter into My rest" (Heb. 4:5). The "in this" has reference to Psalm 95, which he is here expounding and applying to the case of the Hebrews. The word "again" emphasizes the fact that the Apostle is now alluding to the second "rest" of God and the proposal He made unto His People of their entering into it. At the finish of His work, God rested the seventh day and blessed it for a day of rest unto His creatures. And "again," on another occasion, He spoke of "My rest." What that "other occasion" was, Psalm 95 tells us: it was when Israel was in the Wilderness (Psa. 95:8). God had finished another series of miraculous works when He brought His people out of Egypt and conducted them through the Red Sea. Then He took them into covenant relationship with Himself (at Sinai), renewed the Law, and set before them the rest of Canaan. That a spiritual rest was then proposed unto Israel is clear from the Apostle's changing the Psalmist's, "they should not enter into My rest" (95:11) to, "If they shall enter"--the exclusion of some definitely implied the entrance of others into God's rest if they complied with His terms.
At the risk of being wearisome, but for the benefit of those desiring to really understand this passage, we will here summarize the force of the Apostle's reasoning so far as we have yet gone. God's rest was tendered unto and entered into by some (viz., believers) from the foundation of the world. It must therefore be another rest which the Psalmist (so long after) spoke of, and which the descendants of Abraham were afresh invited to enter into, as later in his discussion the Apostle more clearly proves. And they who deny any Sabbath rest from the beginning remove all foundation for Paul's discourse: had there been no rest from the foundation of the world what need for him to prove that the "rest" mentioned in Psalm 95 was not the original one, if there had been none such? The very object of the Apostle in again referring to Psalm 95 was to show that the "rest" mentioned by David was not that which was appointed from the beginning of the world, but a much later one.
What that second and later "rest" was, we have defined in the last paragraph but one, as the rest of Canaan--not merely external relief from their wilderness wandering, but an entrance into the spiritual rest of God. Ere proceeding further we give proof of this, for we will take nothing for granted. There was a rest of God under the Mosaic economy. The prayer about it was, "Arise, O LORD, into Thy rest, Thou and the ark of Thy strength" (Psa. 132:8)--the ark being the symbol and pledge of God's presence and rest. This "rest" of God followed upon the completion of His mighty works in bringing Israel into Canaan. After the establishment of His worship therein, He said of it, "This is My rest forever: here will I dwell" (Psa. 132:14)!
God having entered into His rest in like manner as formerly (upon the finishing of His glorious work), two things ensued thereon. First, the people were invited and encouraged to enter into the rest of God. This the Apostle treats of in Hebrews 3 and 4: their entrance into that rest being conditioned upon their faith and obedience. Although some of them came short of it, because of their unbelief, yet others entered into it under the leadership of Joshua. Second, this rest, both of God and of His people, was expressed by appointing a day of rest which was a token and pledge of God's present rest in His instituted worship, and was designed as a means in the solemn observance of that worship to further their entrance into His rest eternally. Hence the seventh day was to Israel a special sign that He was their God and they His people.
While it is true that the Day appointed in connection with this second rest of God was the same as the first one, viz., the seventh, yet it was now established upon new considerations and unto new ends. The time for the change of the day of rest was not yet come, for the work of God in bringing Israel into covenant-relationship with Himself, conducting them into Canaan, and instituting His worship among them, was but preparatory to yet another work and rest. The Covenant of Works, to which the original Sabbath was annexed, being not yet abolished (but only modified), therefore the Day of rest was not then changed.
Now to proceed. The Apostle goes on to show that Psalm 95 prophetically intimated that there was yet to be a third rest of God--which His people were to enter into--an especial rest under the Messiah, which he here proposed unto the Hebrews and exhorted them to enter into (Heb. 4:11). In this third state there was to be a particular condition of rest, distinct from and superior to each of those which had gone before. To the constitution thereof, three things were required: some signal work of God completed, whereon He entered into His rest. Second, a spiritual rest ensuing therefrom, for them that believe to enter into. Third, a new day of rest to express this rest of God, and to be a pledge of our entering therein. These things we now further inquire into.
"Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief" (v. 6). Here the Apostle draws a conclusion which is incisive, but observe carefully it is based on the principle that a promise is included in every conditional threatening, for unless the word of the Psalmist, "they should not enter into My rest" may also be (deductively) understood as, "if they shall enter," that is, they shall providing they meet the conditions, there would be no force whatever in saying, "that some must enter." They who entered not in because of unbelief or "disobedience" were the adult Israelites who came out of Egypt. The rest of Canaan which they missed was typical of the present rest of believers in Christ.
"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" (v. 7). In this verse the Apostle confirms what he had just affirmed about a new rest and a new Day of Rest remaining for the people of God to enter into, and which rest he proposes unto them. After the institution of the Sabbath rest at the beginning, and after the proposal of the rest of Canaan to Israel in the Wilderness, God, in addition ("Again"), limited or designed and determined another particular rest and "day," which was neither of the former, namely, that of the Gospel. It is to be carefully noted that in this verse the Apostle expressly changes his terms: God had "limited" or "defined" not only a "certain" or "particular" rest, but a DAY, because, it was Paul's design to show that God had determined not only another (a third) "rest," but also another "day" as a pledge of this new rest.
The force of his argument in verse 7 is taken from the time when this "day" was limited or determined. Had those words of David (in Psa. 95) been uttered by Moses just before Israel entered the typical rest of Canaan, they might have been thought to pertain thereunto and to have contained in them an exhortation unto Israel as that season. But instead, it was "after so long a time," namely, 500 years after Moses, that God gave this message through the Psalmist. Consequently it must have related and referred to some other "rest" than Canaan, and some other "day" than the Jewish Sabbath. Therefore, there is still a promise remaining of entering into this (third) rest of God, unto which we must take heed that we come not short of it by unbelief and disobedience.
"For if Jesus [Joshua] had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day" (v. 8). In this verse the Apostle removes a possible objection and gives further confirmation of his argument, by a particular application of it unto the point before him. That which he still insists upon is, his principal assertion from the words of David, namely, the rest prepared and proposed in the Gospel unto believers. To this the Hebrews might object: Although the people who came out of Egypt entered not into the promised rest of God, yet the next generation did so under Joshua--why then propose this rest unto us, and warn against our danger of missing it? This objection is conclusively set aside by showing that God in David proposed "another day" of rest unto Israel centuries after Joshua, and as no new Sabbath was appointed in David's time, his words must be understood prophetically. Hence there was a rest proposed unto the Hebrews (and so us) and "another day" to memorialize it.
"There remaineth therefore a rest [keeping of a Sabbath] unto the people of God" (v. 9). The Apostle here shows, in a brief summary, what had been conclusively established in his whole disquisition: three things indubitably followed. First, that a Divine and spiritual rest remains for the people of God to enter into and enjoy with Him. Second, that a Sabbath day to memorialize it, and be a means of entering into that rest, abides under the Gospel. Third, that it must of necessity be "another day," a different one from that which obtained under the old covenant. It is to be duly noted that the Apostle did not say "there awaiteth" or "there is yet to be a Sabbath keeping," but "there remaineth." The reference is not to something future, but what is present. This word is used in the same sense when applied negatively to the system of sacrifices: "There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:26). How striking that this occurs in Hebrews! The Levitical priesthood has been set aside, the temple is no more, Judaism is abolished: but a Sabbath remains!
We wish to call special attention to the fact that in verse 9 Paul again deliberately changed his terms. The word for "rest" here in verse 9 is an entirely different one from that used in verses 1, 3, 5, 8, 10. It is "Sabbatismos" which speaks for itself: the R.V. has, "There remaineth therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God." It was a word coined by the Apostle to express the whole sense of that with which he was treating: that is, to denote both the rest itself and the appointment of "another day" as a token of it--it signifies our rest in God and the Day which is the pledge of it. And this Sabbatismos remaineth--the word "remaineth" signifies to be left after others have been withdrawn (as the primitive and Judaical Sabbaths have), to continue unchanged, as the Christian Sabbath will unto the end of the world. Here, then, is a plain, positive, unequivocal declaration by the Spirit of God: "there remaineth therefore a Sabbath keeping." Nothing could be simpler, nothing less ambiguous, for this is addressed to the "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" (3:1). Hence, we solemnly and emphatically declare that the man who says there is no Christian Sabbath takes direct issue with the New Testament Scriptures. We must leave for next month the closing verses of this most important passage.--A.W.P.