"THERE remaineth a Sabbath-rest for the people of God." The Commentaries fail us here. Information about the works of a watch, however interesting it may be, does not seem opportune when we want to know the time. And our desire to know about that Sabbath-rest cannot be satisfied by learned criticisms of the Apostle’s quotations from the, Old Testament.
We may say at once that if that section of the Epistle means merely that a justified sinner can have peace with God, we can afford to ignore it altogether, for this truth is still more plainly taught in a single verse in Romans. But we must not treat Holy Scripture thus. And without attempting to solve all the difficulties which beset the passage, we may find perhaps that it throws not a little light upon a truth of the highest interest and importance to the Christian. The Apostle shows that the Sabbath-rest here spoken of was not the rest of creation, for the promise was given in the days of Moses. Neither was it the rest of Canaan, for the promise was repeated "in David." And that it was not realized in the days of the kingdom is no less certain. But no divine promise is ever cancelled, or can ever fail; and therefore "there remaineth a Sabbath-rest for the people of God, and some must enter therein."
It is a popular error to suppose that the forty years of Israel’s wilderness wanderings were a part of the divine purpose. When God brought His people out of Egypt He led them to Sinai; and there He gave them His judgments and laws, and the ordinances of the divine religion. But within two years from the Exodus they were encamped at Kadesh Barnea, and from "the Mountain of the Amorites" the promised land lay open before them, and God bade them enter and take possession of it. "But they could not enter in because of unbelief." For the stern facts reported by the spies whom they had sent into the land were more real to them than the divine promises; and they rebelled against the command of God, and threatened to stone their leaders. For forty days the spies had "searched the land"; and, in judgment on their sin, God declared that for forty years they should wander in the wilderness; and that, save only Caleb and Joshua, not a man of all the armed host that marched out of Egypt on the Paschal night should ever enter Canaan. (Numbers 14)
And when at last a new generation of Israelites entered the promised land, it was not by way of a triumphal march, such as that to which their fathers had been summoned, but through a death baptism in Jordan. What concerns us here, however, is the fact that the Sabbath-rest thus preached and thus forfeited was a corporate, and not a personal, blessing. Has all this no voice for us? In the Apostolic age the people of God were taught to look for a Sabbath-rest, through the return of Christ. And in these days of flippant unbelief, when that hope is declared to have been a delusion or a blunder, we do well to recall the Apostle Peter’s words, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1-16)
But what has become of that hope? The passage of the Jordan was not the fulfillment of the promise forfeited by Israel’s unfaithfulness eight-and-thirty years before. And death is not the fulfillment of the hope which, for half of eight-and-thirty centuries, the unfaithfulness of the Professing Church has barred. I speak advisedly, for, even before the close of the Apostolic age, that hope had been let slip. It is ignored in our Christian creeds, and almost ignored in our standard theology. And no one who has any knowledge of Church History will pretend that, at any epoch in the past, "the Christian Church" was in a condition to receive the fulfillment of it.
In proof of this statement I might "put in" (as the lawyers would say) a whole library of standard works. But two brief quotations must suffice. "I know not" (says the author of the Bampton Lectures, 1864) "how any man, in closing the Epistles, could expect to find the subsequent history of the Church essentially different from what it is. In these writings we seem, as it were, not to witness some passing storms which clear the air, but to feel the whole atmosphere charged with the elements of future tempest and death. Every moment the forces of evil show themselves more plainly."1 And of the Church in after times Dean Alford uses the following pregnant words in his commentary on the concluding parable of Matthew 12. After noticing its, application to the Jewish people, he proceeds: - "Strikingly parallel with this runs the history of the Christian Church. Not long after the Apostolic times, the golden calves of idolatry were set up by the Church of Rome. What the effect of the captivity was to the Jews, that of the Reformation has been to Christendom. The first evil spirit has been cast out. But by the growth of hypocrisy, secularity, and rationalism, the house has become empty, swept, and garnished: swept and garnished by the decencies of civilization and discoveries of secular knowledge, but empty of living and earnest faith. And he must read prophecy but ill, who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the man of sin, the great repossession, when idolatry and the seven worse spirits shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end." In the light of all this let us now turn back to Hebrews 10. The exhortation to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, is followed by the further exhortation to "hold fast the confession of our hope." And to this is added the word of cheer, "Ye see the day approaching." In Scripture, as in common speech, "day" is generally used to symbolize a time of light and gladness. And so (after the parenthesis already noticed) the Apostle returns to the promise of "the day," and adds, "For yet a little while and the Coming One will come and will not tarry."
But here again the Commentaries; fail us. For the only future advent known to our creeds or noticed in most of our standard theological works is Christ’s final coming to judgment - the awful climax of the great and terrible day of the Lord - when, the reign of grace being past and the era of mercy over, the flood-gates of divine vengeance will be opened upon a guilty world.
And so we are told that "the expression, the day, or that day, is almost always in the New Testament used of the day of judgment." It would be nearer the truth to say that it is never so used, save where, as for example in 1 Thessalonians 5:4, the context plainly indicates the reference to the day of wrath. And in that very passage the Apostle adds, reverting immediately to the ordinary meaning of the word, "Ye are all sons of light and sons of the day." This Hebrews passage is the counterpart of Romans 13:11-12, "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed: the night is far spent, the day is at hand."2 No one but a monster could regard the coming of the great day of wrath as a hope. But the coming of Christ is the true hope of the people of God in every age.3
Froude, the historian, has well described the difference between the Church of the New Testament and the Church of the Fathers as a change from the religion of Christ to the Christian religion. And "the Christian religion" jettisoned the teaching of Scripture on this subject, save in relation to the great final advent in the far distant future. A pandemonium ended by a bonfire might epigrammatically describe the scheme of the divine government of the world as travestied by much of our theology. True it is that this earth, which has been the scene of the pandemonium, shall yet be given up to fire, but not till every word of prophecy has been fulfilled; for no word of God can ever fail. "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth"; but that belongs to an eternity to come. It is in time, as measured upon human calendars, and here on this earth of ours, now blighted by human sin, that divine goodness and power shall yet be displayed in righteous rule.
Of the fulfillment of this hope "God hath spoken by all His holy prophets since the world began"; and "the mystery of God" (Revelation 10:7; 11:15- 18) is that its fulfillment is delayed. And yet the mass of those who profess to believe the Scriptures treat it as a dream of visionaries; and not a few there are who scoff at it. Though they pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth," they cannot tolerate the thought that the Lord will fulfill the prayer that He Himself has given us.
Here are the Apostle Peter’s words to the Jerusalem Jews who had crucified the Messiah:
"Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send the Christ who hath been appointed for you even Jesus whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, where of God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began." (Acts 3:19-21 R.V.)
"Seasons of refreshing," "the times of restoration of all things," or in other words, the times when everything shall be put right on this earth of ours, have a large place in all Hebrew prophecy from Moses to Malachi. And the Apostle proclaimed that a national repentance would bring them these times of gladness and blessing, by the return of the Messiah. But to "the Christian Church" today his divinely inspired words have no meaning. They are generally dismissed, indeed, as though they were merely the ravings of an enthusiast.
The nation having proved impenitent, God deferred the realization of these promises. Like their fathers in the days of Moses and of David, "they entered not in because of unbelief." The "Apostle to the Gentiles" received the call to his great ministry; and instead of "sending the Christ appointed for them," God sent them the awful judgment of the destruction of Jerusalem. The present dispensation, as we have seen, is episodical; and to "the Apostle to the Gentiles" the revelation was given that it will be brought to a close by a coming of Christ entirely unnoticed in Hebrew prophecy.4 And if that coming is still delayed, the delay gives proof, not that the Word of God has failed, but that His people in this dispensation have followed in the evil ways of Israel of old. The Lord is called "the Coming One," and He will yet fulfill the promise of His Name. "Surely I am coming quickly" are His last recorded words, spoken from the throne in heaven. But their fulfillment awaits the response He looks for from His people, "Amen, come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20, 21)
There is not a Church in Christendom that would corporately pray that prayer today. For, as Bengel so truly says, "The Christian Churches have forgotten the hope of the Church." But though we cannot look with any confidence to organized Christianity, we may find encouragement in the records of God’s dealings with His people in the past. At the first coming of Christ they who were "waiting for the redemption" were but a little company. It was a time of apostasy, as foretold in the last sad wail of Hebrew prophecy. But there mingled with that wail the gladdening words, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name." (Malachi 3:16.)
And with these words before us may we not cherish the hope that; in "the deepening gloom" which prevails in Christendom today,5 those who think upon His Name may be led ere long with one heart to plead that parting promise, and to unite in that answering prayer.
To this end it is important to elucidate the teaching of Scripture on the subject. Prevailing error crystallizes round the expression "The Second Advent," which, with most Christians, means the great day of wrath. The phrase has no Scriptural sanction. It may seem, perhaps, to find a warrant in the last clause of Hebrews 9, but only at the cost of misreading the passage, and separating it from the context. For just as the geologist sometimes comes upon a fragment of rock that is foreign to its environment, so this passage is deemed to be a prophetic fragment embedded in a doctrinal exposition of Old Testament typology. But it is, in fact, an important step in the exposition which begins with chapter 9, and ends with Hebrews 10:25.
It has definite reference to Hebrews 9:24. When, on the Day of Atonement, Aaron passed within the veil with the blood of the sin-offering, the people waited and watched till he came forth to bless them. And his appearing again was the pledge and proof that the sacrifice was accepted. So also, we read, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;6 and to His waiting people He will appear a second time, as did the high-priest in Israel, "without sin unto salvation." That this will have a literal fulfillment for the earthly people we need not doubt; but it is a great doctrinal truth for the people of God in every age.
"The sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow" - such was the burden of Messianic Hebrew prophecy. But how could the difficulties be explained which underlay such seemingly incompatible predictions? A popular solution with many a Jew was the figment of two Messiahs, one to suffer and the other to reign. And the theology of Christendom, unwarned by this Jewish blunder, assumes that all outstanding prophecy shall be fulfilled by one great "Second Advent." And the many Scriptures which cannot be made to fit in with this theory are either discounted as mere hyperbole or poetry, or else they are dismissed as the blundering of Apostles and Evangelists!
But even at the cost of forfeiting the respect of "all people of discernment," we accept the clear testimony of Holy Scripture. We must not presume to map out the future in detail, but we cannot fail to recognize that, beyond the present episodical dispensation, there lies a long vista of prophecy yet to be fulfilled on earth. For every promise of blessing both to Israel and to the world will yet be fulfilled as definitely as were the Scriptures relating to the sufferings of Christ.
No part of the prophecy of the Sacred Calendar shall fail. The present age is only the first of the great festivals that foretold in type the harvest of redemption. The sheaf of the first-fruits, primarily fulfilled in Christ, has a secondary and mystical fulfillment in "the Church which is His Body." But after Passover came Pentecost with its "two wave loaves" - Israel and Judah restored, and again in acceptance with God. And beyond the feast of Pentecost there still lie the principal harvest months, ending with the feast of Tabernacles - the great harvest-home of redemption, when an innumerable multitude of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues shall raise from earth such a redemption song as will lead the very angels of heaven to fall upon their faces before the throne in adoring worship. (Revelation 7:9-12)