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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 4 - Verse 3

Verse 3. For we which have believed do enter into rest. That is, it is a certain fact that believers will enter into rest. That promise is made to "believers;" and as we have evidence that we come under the denomination of believers, it will follow that we have the offer of rest as well as they. That this is so the apostle proceeds to prove; that is, he proceeds to show, from the Old Testament, that there was a promise to "believers" that they would enter into rest. Since there was such a promise, and since there was danger that by unbelief that "rest" might be lost, he proceeds to show them the danger, and to warn them of it.

As he said, etc. See Heb 3:11. The meaning of this passage is this:— "God made a promise of rest to those who believe. They to whom the offer was first made failed, and did not enter in. It must follow, therefore, that the offer extended to others, since God designed that some should enter in, or that it should not be provided in vain. To them it was a solemn declaration, that unbelievers should not enter in—and this implied that believers would. As we now, "says he, "sustain the character of believers, it follows that to us the promise of rest is now made, and we may partake of it."

If they shall enter, etc. That is, they shall not enter in. See Heb 3:11. The "rest" here spoken of, as reserved for Christians, must be different from that of the promised land. It is something that pertains to Christians now, and it must, therefore, refer to the "rest" that remains in heaven.

Although the works were finished, etc. This is a difficult expression. What works are referred to? it may be asked. How does this bear on the subject under discussion? How can it be a proof that there remains a "rest" to those who believe now? This was the point to be demonstrated; and this passage was designed clearly to bear on that point. As it is in our translation, the passage seems to make no sense whatever. Tindal renders it, "And that spake he verily long after that the works were made from the foundation of the world laid," which makes much better sense than our translation. Doddridge explains it as meaning, "And this may lead us further to reflect on what is elsewhere said concerning his works as they were finished from the foundation of the world." But it is difficult to see why they should reflect on his works just then, and how this would bear on the case in hand. Prof. Stuart supposes that the word "rest" must be understood here before "works," and translates it, "Shall not enter into my rest—to wit, rest from the works which were performed when the world was founded." Prof. Robinson (Lex.) explains it as meaning, "The rest here spoken of, 'MY rest,' could not have been God's resting from his works, (Ge 2:2,) for this rest, the Sabbath, had already existed from the creation of the world." Dr. J.P. Wilson (MSS. Notes) renders it, "For we who have believed do enter into rest (or a cessation) indeed (kaitoi) of the works done (among men) from the beginning of the world." Amidst this variety of interpretation it is difficult to determine the true sense. But perhaps the main thought may be collected from the following remarks.

(1.) The Jews, as the people of God, had a rest promised them in the land of Canaan. Of that they failed by their unbelief.

(2.) The purpose of the apostle was to prove that there was a similar promise made to the people of God long subsequent to that, and to which all his people were invited.

(3.) That rest was not that of the promised land, it was such as God had himself when he had finished the work of creation. That was peculiarly his rest—the rest of God, without toil or weariness, and after his whole work was finished.

(4.) His people were invited to the same rest—the rest of God—to partake of his felicity; to enter into that bliss which he enjoyed when he had finished the work of creation. The happiness of the saints was to be like that. It was to be, in their case, also a rest from toil—to be enjoyed at the end of all that they had to do. To prove that Christians were to attain to such a rest was the purpose which the apostle had in view—showing that it was a general doctrine pertaining to believers in every age, that there was a promise of rest for them. I would, then, regard the middle clause of this verse as a parenthesis, and render the whole," For we who are believers shall enter into rest—[the rest] indeed which occurred when the works were finished at the foundation of the world—as he said [in one place] as I have sworn in my wrath they shall not enter into my rest." That was the true rest—such rest or repose as God had when he finished the work of creation—such as he has now in heaven. This gives the highest possible idea of the dignity and desirableness of that "rest" to which we look forward—for it is to be such as God enjoys, and is to elevate us more and more to him. What more exalted idea can there be of happiness than to participate in the calmness, the peace, the repose, the freedom from raging passions, from wearisome toil, and from agitating cares, which God enjoys? Who, torn with conflicting passions here, wearied with toil, and distracted with care, ought not to feel it a privilege to look forward to that rest? Of this rest the Sabbath and the promised land were emblems. They to whom the promise was made did not enter in; but some shall enter in, and the promise therefore pertains to us.

{a} "he said" Ps 95:11

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