Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Entering God's Rest
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.
Question 116 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is required in the Fourth Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The Fourth Commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day.”
I mentioned last time that I eventually embraced the Westminster doctrine of the Sabbath Day. Studying three of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons convinced me. In one of those sermons Edwards focused on the passage from Hebrews at the head of this article. Previously, I had understood this text as speaking of God’s eschatological rest being typified by the Fourth Commandment. Indeed, the greater context speaks not only of the Mosaic Sabbath, but also of the Sabbath rest of Joshua and even of David. In each case God’s eschatological Sabbath was not realized, His rest was not fully entered into, because His promises did not fully come to pass for the people of God in any of these periods. Therefore, I concluded that v. 9 above spoke of that remaining Sabbath rest which is finally realized under the new covenant, gospel period, as each one having entered God’s rest through faith in the gospel rests from his own works – that is, from those typological works like circumcision, animal sacrifices, and the Sabbath Day. So, by faith Christians fully enter the rest that was held out to Israel under types and shadows. And having fully realized God’s Sabbath rest we, in the New Testament period, have no more need of a typological, anticipatory weekly Sabbath day rest. Such was my view as nearly as I can remember it.
There was one problem with my interpretation of this passage, and that was the middle verse. I took “the one who has entered His rest” as the generic person having been converted and so “entering” the rest of eternal life. Therefore, his resting from his works meant either his evil works of sin; that he “ceased” from such evil works (KJV, NKJV); or else it meant those typological works of the ceremonial law which ceased being obligatory with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But then how would verse 12’s call for diligence to enter a yet future rest apply to the already converted Christian? Moreover, the warning of falling has, in the text, a reference to the hypocritical disobedience of which those Israelites who fell in the wilderness were guilty. That is, ongoing lives of disobedience by those who profess to be God’s people is the same warning that occurs throughout this epistle. If the warning to them as well as to us was against hypocritical disobedience, and if they as well as we have a yet future Sabbath still to enter, how could I see this text doing away with a weekly Sabbath for us but not for them? The author took great pains in these two chapters (3 & 4) to virtually equate the Christian’s situation to that of the Israelites in the time of Moses, Joshua, and David. And if they still needed an anticipatory weekly Sabbath rest for their ongoing sanctification, until such time as they fully entered God’s rest in heaven, how don’t we?
Well, I began to see that this text does not do away with a weekly Sabbath rest for the people of God, but quite the opposite: it implies a continuation of one. The only remaining question for me was, who is that one in verse 10 who has entered God’s rest and so ceased from his works? Well it could be the generic, departed believer having entered heaven, but I don’t believe anything in the text would indicate that. No, I agree with Edwards: verse 10 is referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is His example alone that is repeatedly put before us in the New Testament, which we are to follow. Thus, Christ alone is “the One who has entered His rest and (the “and” is in the Greek text) has Himself rested from His works, as God did from His.” Let us all then be diligent to enter Christ’s rest, by guarding our hearts from hypocrisy. In other words, let us strive to show forth the real fruits of living, saving faith, and let us make a proper use of the weekly Sabbath rest as a means to do just that!