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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 4 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER IV.

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.

THIS chapter comprises two parts. In the first, Heb 4:1-13, the apostle pursues and completes the exhortation which he had commenced in the previous chapter, drawn from the comparison of the Saviour with Moses, (see the analysis of chapter 3;) and in the second part, (Heb 4:14-16,) he enters on the consideration of the character of Christ as a high priest, which is pursued to the end of the doctrinal part of the epistle.

In the first part, (Heb 4:1-13,) he describes more at length the character of the "rest" to which he had referred in the previous chapter. He shows (Heb 4:1) that the promise of a "rest" yet remains, and that there is still danger, as there was formerly, of coming short of it, or of losing it. He affirms that such was the nature of that promise, that it is applicable to us as well as to those to whom it was first made, and that the promise of rest as really pertains to Christians now as it did to the Hebrews of old, Heb 4:2. The reason, he adds, (Heb 4:2) why they did not enter into that rest was, that they had not faith. This he had established in the previous chapter, Heb 3:18. In Heb 4:3-6, he proceeds to demonstrate more at length that there is a "rest" remaining for those who believe. The great object, in this part of the chapter, is to prove that a "rest" remains for believers now; a rest of a spiritual character, and much more desirable than that of the land of Canaan; a rest to which Christians may look forward, and which there may be danger of losing. Addressing Hebrew Christians, he, of course, appeals to the Old Testament, and refers to several places where the word "rest" occurs, and argues that those expressions are of such a character as to allow that there remains a "rest" for Christians yet. It would have been easy to have affirmed this as a part of the Christian revelation; but, throughout the epistle, he is bringing his illustrations from the Old Testament, and showing to the Hebrew Christians to whom he wrote that there were abundant considerations in the Old Testament itself, to constitute an argument why they should adhere inviolably to the Christian religion. He says, therefore, (Heb 4:4,) that God himself had spoken of his own rest from his works; that when he had finished the work of creation he had instituted a rest which was characterized by the peace, and beauty, and order of the first Sabbath after the work of creation, when all was new, and lovely, and pure. That might be called the rest of God—a beautiful emblem of that which dwells around his throne in heaven. The meaning of this verse (Heb 4:4) is, that the Bible spoke early of a rest which appertained to God himself. In Heb 4:5, he goes on to say, that the prospect of entering into His rest was spoken of as a possible thing; that some were excluded, but that there was a place deserved to be called "the rest of God"—" My rest"—to which all may come. Of course, that rest must be of a spiritual nature, and must be different from that of the promised land. That "rest," the apostle implies, it was possible to attain. He does not argue this point at length, but he assumes that God would not create a place of rest in vain; that it was made to be enjoyed; and that since those to whom it was at first offered were excluded, it must follow that it remained still; and as they were excluded by the want of faith, it would follow also that it was reserved for those who had faith. Of course, therefore, it is offered to Christians now, Heb 4:6.

This view he proceeds to confirm by another consideration, Heb 4:7,8. It is that David, who lived nearly five hundred years after the land of promise had been occupied by the Israelites, spoke then of the possibility of entering into such a "rest." He says (Ps 95:7,) that, in his time, the people were called to hear the voice of God; that he warned them against the guilt and danger of hardening their hearts; that he reminded them that it was by that that the Israelites were excluded from the promised land; and that he said that the same thing would occur if those in his own time should harden their hearts. It followed, therefore, that even in the time of David there was a hope and promise of "rest;" and that there was something more intended for the true people of God than merely entering into the promised land. There must be something in advance of that; something that existed to the time of David—and it must be, therefore, a spiritual rest. This, the apostle adds, (Heb 4:8,) is conclusive; for if Joshua had given them all the "rest" that was contemplated, then David would not have spoken as he did of the danger of being excluded from it in his time. He, therefore, (Heb 4:9,) comes to the conclusion, that there must still remain a "rest" for the people of God—a "rest" to which they were invited, and which they were in danger of losing by unbelief. He adds, (Heb 4:10,) that he who enters into that "rest" ceases from toil, as God did from his when he had finished the work of creation. Since, therefore, there is such a "rest," and since there is danger of coming short of it, the apostle urges them (Heb 4:11) to make every effort to enter into it. He adds, Heb 4:12,13,) as a consideration to quicken them to earnest effort and to anxious care, lest they should be deceived, and should fail of it the fact that God cannot be deceived; that his word penetrated the heart, and that everything is naked and open before him. There should, therefore, be the most faithful investigation of the heart, lest they should fail of the grace of God, and lose the hoped-for rest.

In the second portion of the chapter, (Heb 4:14-16,) he enters on the consideration of the character of Christ as High Priest; and says, that since we have such an High Priest as he is, we should be encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace. We have encouragement to persevere from the fact that we have such a High Priest, and in all our conscious weakness and helplessness we may look to him for aid.

1. Let us therefore fear. Let us be apprehensive that we may possibly fail of that rest. The kind of fear which is recommended here is that which leads to caution and care. A man who is in danger of losing his life or health should be watchful; a seaman that is in danger of running on a lee-shore should be on his guard. So we who have the offer of heaven, and who yet are in danger of losing it, should take all possible precautions lest we fail of it,

Lest a promise being left us. Paul assumes here that there is such a promise. In the subsequent part of the chapter, he goes more into the subject, and proves from the Old Testament that there is such a promise made to us. It is to be remembered, that Paul had not the New Testament then to appeal to, as we have, which is perfectly clear on the subject, but that he was obliged to appeal to the Old Testament. This he did, not only because the New Testament was not then written, but because he was reasoning with those who had been Hebrews, and who regarded the authority of the Old Testament as decisive. If his reasoning to us appears somewhat obscure, we should put ourselves in his place, and should remember that the converts then had not the full light which we have now in the New Testament.

Of entering into his rest. The rest of God—the rest of the world where he dwells. It is called his rest, because it is that which he enjoys, and which he alone can confer. There can be no doubt that Paul refers here to heaven, and means to say that there is a promise left to Christians of being admitted to the enjoyment of that blessed world where God dwells.

Any of you should seem to come short of it. The word "seem" here is used as a form of gentle and mild address, implying the possibility of thus coming short. The word here— dokew -is often used so as to appear to give no essential addition to the sense of a passage, though it is probable that it always gave a shading to the meaning. Thus the phrase esa videatur is often used by Cicero at the end of a period, to denote merely that a thing was—though he expressed it as though it merely seemed to be. Such language is often used in argument or in conversation as a modest expression, as when we say a thing seems to be so and so, instead of saying "it is." In some such sense Paul probably used the phrase here—perhaps as expressing what we would by this language—" lest it should appear at last that any of you had come short of it." The phrase "come short of it" is probably used with reference to the journey to the promised land, where they who came out of Egypt came short of that land, and fell in the wilderness. They did not reach it. —This verse teaches the important truth, that though heaven is offered to us, and that a "rest" is promised to us if we seek it, yet that there is reason to think that many may fail of reaching it who had expected to obtain it. Among those will be the following classes:—

(1.) Those who are professors of religion, but who have never known anything of true piety.

(2.) Those who are expecting to be saved by their own works, and are looking forward to a world of rest on the ground of what their own hands can do.

(3.) Those who defer attention to the subject, from time to time, until it becomes too late. They expect to reach heaven, but they are not ready to give their hearts to God now, and the subject is deferred from one period to another, until death arrests them unprepared.

(4.) Those who have been awakened to see their guilt and danger, and who have been almost, but not quite, ready to give up their hearts to God. Such were Agrippa, Felix, the young ruler, (Mr 10:21;) and such are all those who are almost but not quite prepared to give up the world, and to devote themselves to the Redeemer. To all these the promise of "rest" is made, if they will accept of salvation as it is offered in the gospel; all of them cherish a hope that they will be saved; and all of them are destined alike to be disappointed. With what earnestness, therefore, should we strive that we may not fail of the grace of God!

{a} "Let us therefore fear" Heb 12:15

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