What Is This Rest?
It was not only our interest in God and our joyful possession of him that was lost in Adam’s fall but all spiritual knowledge of God and a true disposition toward such a happiness. Man now has a heart too suitable to his estate: a low state and a low spirit. So when the Son of God comes with recovering grace to offer a spiritual and eternal happiness and glory, he does not find faith in man to believe it (Luke 18:8). We are like the poor man who would not believe that anyone had such a sum as a hundred pounds because it was so far beyond what he ever possessed. We are like the Israelites: When God gave them his Sabbaths of rest in a land of rest, he had more work to do to make them believe it than he had to overcome their enemies and obtain it for them. Then when they had it, though it was only as a small intimation of a more incomparably glorious rest through Christ, they simply sat down and said, “Surely there’s no other heaven but this.” In a similar way, we hardly believe that there is such a happiness as Christ has obtained for us.
The writer to the Hebrews devotes most of his letter to addressing this disorder. He clearly and expansively proves that the end of all ceremonies and shadows is in Jesus Christ, the substance. He demonstrates that the rest of Sabbaths and Canaan should teach his Christian readers to look for a further rest, which indeed is their happiness: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). This text is his conclusion after various arguments to that end, and it remains a useful conclusion for the believer today. It contains the ground of all his comforts, the end of all his duty and sufferings, and the life and sum of all gospel promises and Christian privileges. Thus you may easily see why I have made this verse the subject of this book. What could be more welcome to men under personal afflictions, tiring duty, and a succession of sufferings than rest? What could supply more welcome news to men under public calamities, unpleasing employments, plundering, losses, and all sorts of sad tidings than this news of rest? Reader, I pray to God that your attentions, intention of spirit, reception, and improvement of this welcome news will be even half answerable to the truth, necessity, and excellency of the subject. Then you will have cause to bless God while you live that ever you heard it.
A Perfect End
I will begin by describing what is contained in this Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God. First of all, this rest contains a cessation from all motion or action that implies the absence of the end. When we have reached the harbor, we have finished sailing. When the workman has his wages, he has completed his work. All motion ends at the center, and all means cease when we have the end. Thus there will be no more prayer, because there will be no more necessity, only the full enjoyment of what we prayed for. We will not need to fast, weep, and watch anymore, being out of the reach of sin and temptations. Nor will we need instruction and exhortation: preaching is done; ministry ceases; the sacraments are now past their use. The laborers are called in because the harvest is gathered; the tares are burnt, and the work is done (Matt. 13:24–30). The unregenerate are past hope; the saints are past fear forever.
This rest contains a perfect freedom from all the evils that accompanied us through our course in this world, for nothing enters heaven that defiles or is unclean (Rev. 21:27). Doubtless, there is no such thing as grief and sorrow there. Nor is there such a thing as a pale face, feeble joints, languishing sickness, groaning fears, consuming cares, or whatever deserves the name of evil. A gale of groans and a stream of tears will accompany us to the very gates, and there they will bid us farewell forever. Our sorrow will be turned into joy, and no one will take our joy from us.
Our sorrow will be turned into joy, and no one will take our joy from us.
This rest contains the highest degree of the saints’ personal perfection, both of soul and of body, which qualifies them to enjoy the full sweetness of glory. Here, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived what God has laid up for those who wait for him (1 Cor. 2:9). For the eye of flesh is not capable of seeing it, nor this ear of hearing it, nor this heart of understanding it. But there the eye, the ear, and the heart are made capable. The more perfect our sight, the more delightful the beautiful object. The more perfect our appetite, the sweeter the food. The more musical our ear, the more pleasant the melody. So too, the more perfect our soul, the more joyous those joys, and the more glorious to us is that glory.
This rest contains as the highest part our deepest enjoyment of God the highest good. And here, reader, do not be surprised if I am at a loss. When I know so little of God, I cannot know much of what it is to enjoy him. When I know so little of my own soul while it is here in this tabernacle, how little can I know of the infinite majesty or the state of this soul when it is advanced to that enjoyment? We will never be capable of clearly knowing until we are capable of fully enjoying. How can a man born blind conceive of the sun and its light? How can a man born deaf conceive of the nature of sound and music? So too, we lack still that sense by which God must be clearly known. I stand and look on a heap of ants and see them all with one view, very busy to little purpose. They do not know me, my being, nature, or thoughts, though I am their fellow creature. How little then must we know of the great Creator, though he with one view continually beholds us all? What knowledge we have is imperfect and such as must be done away with; it is only a glimpse the saints behold, as though through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:9–10, 12). But, poor Christian, be of good cheer. The time is near when God and you will be near, as near as you can ever desire.
This article is adapted from The Saints' Everlasting Rest: Updated and Abridged by Richard Baxter.
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