God's Instruments for Bringing His People Through the Wilderness

Hebrews 3-4
(Read Heb. 3 and iv.)
The argument of the Apostle in these connected chapters is plain, and the moral suggestions are obvious and of the most solemn import.
Having presented Christ to these Hebrews as the apostle and High Priest of their profession, of which Moses and Aaron were the types, as in his argument he reasons about the faithfulness of the one and the appointment of the other, the parallel rises in his mind between Israel, in the wilderness, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, and believers now in the world (their wilderness) under the leadership of Christ.
This is the ground of all the warnings drawn from Israel's history in the wilderness, and of the reiterated declarations concerning the fatal consequences of unbelief.
Having said of Israel (Chap. 3:19,) " So we see they could not enter in because of unbelief," he adds, in direct application, " Let us therefore fear lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest any of you should seem to come short of it." In saying, " For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them," it must not be imagined that he intends anything like the common notions of a preached gospel, or that it referred to salvation at all. The term is used in its most general import of " tidings;" and the force of the passage is, " unto us tidings of a rest have been brought as well as unto them," (Israel.) It is a reference to the tidings brought by Joshua and Caleb and the spies, about the land of Canaan, Israel's promised inheritance. And in adding, " But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it," he had simply, and alone, in view the report of the spies (" the word of the report ") which was not believed by the congregation of Israel. From this he passes to the consequence of their unbelief, that they did not enter into Canaan; but " their carcasses fell in the wilderness." But to give it a still closer application to those to whom he was writing, he adds, " We who believe do enter into rest." This has nothing to do with rest of conscience or rest of heart, the rest of faith which believers undoubtedly have in Christ, or any other rest by the way. He simply asserts, " Believers are entering into rest," analogously to Israel when delivered from Egypt, who, if they had to go through the wilderness, were on their way to their promised rest. Believers, he says, are now on their way to a rest, of which Canaan was a type, and Israel's history a warning. It is the same rest contemplated all through the chapter; and Canaan and the Sabbath are used as types. It is God's rest. It is yet future; and believers, by virtue of redemption, are called to labor towards it. Verse 11 shows that if believers had entered into this rest, they would have ceased from all their labors, as God did when the works of creation were finished. Consequently there would have been no ground for the exhortation, " Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief."
But it is to prevent this issue, and to sustain the confidence of the Hebrews, that verses 12 to 16 are added. It is by keeping the consciences of His people bright and their hearts reliant on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God keeps His people from falling, and brings them to His rest: the word and priesthood of Christ being His two great provisions for this end.
The scope of these exhortations and warnings is this: in the apostle's mind believers are viewed as replacing Israel on the earth as a people in relationship with God; just as in Rom. 11, the Gentile profession is viewed as the channel of the continuance and on-flow of God's promises; a position which might be forfeited, as they stood by faith. Hence, failing their continuance in " God's goodness," they were threatened with " cutting off." In like manner, in chap. 3 of this Epistle it is said, " Christ is a son over his own house; whose house are we, if-" But why " if?" Because of the parallel position between these Hebrews, on the score of their profession of Christ, and Israel that fell. They had replaced Israel in relationship with God, but on higher grounds. They had spiritual sacrifices, a heavenly priesthood, and a heavenly city; while a "heavenly calling" put a heavenly Canaan, or God's rest, before them, and this world as a wilderness, in present experience, to go through. On this ground there is the utmost consistency in these warnings and exhortations. They are the sign-posts of danger, which are planted along the pathway of the believer, as seen in the light of this epistle. Nay, more: they are the gracious provisions of the precious word, the means which God uses to prevent, on the part of His children, that which results to the mere professor. Both are addressed on the common ground of profession; but the saint uses these instruments for good, and heeds these warnings, while the mere professor goes on in security. Thus that Scripture is accomplished, " The prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth but the simple pass on and are punished."
We are in the wilderness actually; that is, it is no mere figure, but is the expression of a moral truth. We are also " risen with Christ " actually, for our life is in Him, and nowhere else. They are the two leading aspects of our position in grace.
" God is light," and " God is lore." Blessed, infinitely blessed, revelation of " Him with whom we have to do!" In redemption He has shown this, in having laid our sins upon His beloved Son that He might bear the judgment of them in the cross, and, in result, that we through that cross should be presented " holy and without blame before Him in love." But He shows it also in every step of our pathway that is taken with Him through this present evil world, in having provided the light of His word to detect in us all that is contrary to Himself, and the grace of Christ's priestly intervention to meet all that the light of the word detects.
We are not in the rest, as experience tells us, and the chapter shows, but are laboring towards it. Consequently, there is place for warning, lest the heart become " hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," and lest we be overtaken by the fatal consequences of unbelief. Unbelief lost Israel Canaan; and the force of the apostle's conclusion is that, unbelief would lose these Hebrews heaven, or the future rest. It is not the question of how grace is secretly ministered to sustain the soul, but of conscience and responsibility. If Peter's faith had failed, his sin would have been fatal to him, as the sin of Judas was to him. But Jesus said to him, " I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." Here we see the ground of his preservation from apostasy; as in his epistle he presents the truth, doctrinally, when he says, believers are " kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation," &c.
The same result is presented, in the passage before us, as accomplished by the searching power of " the word of God," and the intervention of Christ in unlimited priestly, or restoring grace. But here more than the result of final security is contemplated. That which detects and sets aside the latent grounds of apostasy brings into the soul the presence and power of God in his holiness and grace.
It is not indeed the " word of God" as revealing his grace and love that is here presented; but it is that word in its searching and detecting power. It is declared to be " quick and powerful"- living and energetic! As a sword it pierces through every fold which might conceal the working of evil, or hide from our view the germs of unbelief. It is light, and detects not only evil in act, but penetrates to the heart, and lays bare every thought, and motive, and desire that is not in accordance with the character of God, and with the light into which by redemption we are brought. It is thus that apostasy, or departure from the Lord, is arrested in its secret springs, and the soul is brought under the restoring power of grace.
Now " the word of God " is this, whether I accept it or not. It flashes its light into the inmost recesses of the conscience and the heart, and uncompromisingly shows me to myself, not by its precepts and commands alone, but by presenting to me what God is without a vail. But above all, it shows me to myself by showing me what Christ was here in this world; and, by the very contrast of what I find within, I am cast entirely and absolutely on Him for the exercise of His grace.
It is true that, if there were nothing but this searching and detecting light of the word, it would only induce the feelings of despair, and would lead to a surrender of all profession as hopeless. Darkness and distance from God would be sought, instead of light, as the only refuge from what the light disclosed. This is suggested in the exhortation, " Let us hold fast our profession; for we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," &c.
The business of the priest under the law is thus stated, (chap. 5:1, 2,) " Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way." For every sin and trespass, for every uncleanness and defilement, the intervention of the priest was provided; and nothing was excluded, except the highhanded wickedness (" sinning presumptuously") which despised alike the commandments and the gracious ordinances of the Lord. So, in Christ's priestly grace, there is nothing that the word discovers which that grace does not meet, except it be the unbelief and presumption that will not come to Him for help. When it is said, " Seeing we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God," it is to show that there is nothing which our need may call for that He is not prepared to meet.
In the word of God so presented, and the priesthood of Christ, I see the blessed means of God's own providing, by which, as light and love, I may have Him with me in all the possible phases of my experience, and in all the exercises, of my soul, as they are called into play by contact with the ever-varying and ever-trying scenes and circumstances of the wilderness of this world.
There is often, alas! in the soul even that has been brought into the liberty of the Gospel, and where the highest truths may be current in the thoughts, such a want of practical self-judgment, such a laxity in the feelings and principles, and motives as to indicate a sad want of the practical power of the truths before us, in the conscience and the heart. It may not be that assurance has departed from the soul, or that the sense of acceptance in the Lord Jesus Christ is undermined; but there is a mass of things that lies unjudged in the heart, and consequently keeps it practically at a distance from the Lord. " If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth."
It is not all and everything to know, as is so often concluded in this day, that we have eternal life. It is, indeed, much to know it, and cause of joy when any are brought by the power of the Gospel out of darkness into God's " marvelous light." For the word remains true, and who can be thankful enough for it? " He that heareth my words, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto lift." But that eternal life is to be lived, and not to be counted merely as the ground of eternal safety. There is place for the apostle's exhortation to Timothy, " Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called." This mighty boon of infinite goodness is not only to be known as the ground of present rest to the soul, and of security for the future; it is to be grasped as a present possession, and used as a moral lever to lift us above all that would depress us to the level of things that are " seen and temporal," to the height of those things which are " not seen and are eternal."
It is not all and everything that I should know " Christ has loved me, and given himself for me," and that I am eternally united to Him through infinite grace-that I am, as is often said, " in resurrection-life" in Him. I have, in addition to this, communion with God in the light to be maintained. I have, with the apostle, to " exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men." I ought, moreover, with the same apostle, to have Christ, through whom and in whom I have that eternal life, so the object of my affections and desires, as to be able to say with him, " This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This prize, to the apostle's mind, took the form of being with Jesus in the resurrection; and to reach this he was willing to be made conformable to His death. That is, he would pass through anything and everything to reach his object-the cross itself, if that were in the road to his attainment, " unto the resurrection of the dead."
Without this the soul becomes weakened in its apprehension of truths already learned. It requires to be in daily contact with God-to have the faith bright and the eye undimmed in its vision of eternal things. I must be advancing in the knowledge of God if I would not go back.
In the wilderness Israel had the sanctions of the law and the exhibitions of judgment; but these were not sufficient to bring the people through. Judgment might destroy the golden calf, and hide, for the time, the outward tokens of the people's sin, and the earth might open and swallow the rebellious amongst them, or fire from the Lord consume the " sinners against their own souls." The rod of power might be ready to smite, enemies if opposed, and Israel if disobedient; but no exhibitions of power, or avengings of a broken covenant, would avail to bring them through the wilderness, and place them in the inheritance their sins had forfeited. Something other than power was needed for this. It was the rod of priesthood-" Aaron's rod that budded:" the rod which, in a figure, showed that, out of death, God would bring forth mercy and forgiveness, and present the ground for the exercise of long-suffering love. t.
So is it now. There is the searching power of the word, and the eye of God, which cannot let any evil pass undetected and uncensored-no, not in thought nor in desire. " For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." (Heb. 4:12,1312For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12‑13).) But, then, it is added, " Seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Ver. 14-16.)
How often does the word assert its character as here presented; and amidst the throes of a conscience, awakened, it may be, by sorrow or calamity, or by the apprehended approach of death, compel the soul to register its verdict against a thousand things that have been allowed to pass without a scrutiny, or that perhaps have been extenuated or defended at a distance from the light! And how do we tacitly own this power of the word by the consciousness that we must not turn to it for its sanction of anything that our pride may seek, or our love of the world may paint desirable; or that it should allow of the indulgence of dispositions that our self-love refuses to correct!
It may be taken as a moral axiom, that when we are desiring to walk in the Spirit, the searching light of the word is welcome to our hearts; and the reverse is no less certain.
But is it possible for me to walk by such a rule, and to allow my thoughts and desires even to be tried by a standard so uncompromising? Yes. And its uncompromisingness will be the stay of my heart. For while it brings God so near to me, as " light," that it makes manifest " the thoughts and intents of the heart," it brings Him near to me as " love" too, and tells me how wonderful is the resource I have in Christ Jesus, to enable me thus to walk in the light as God is in the light. It makes me feel that it is not said in vagueness, but as presenting the immediate and necessary resource of the soul that is walking in the light, " Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
The night is almost spent,
The golden dawn is near;
I watch the firmament,
And wish the morning here.
Thou Morning Star, my Lord!
My every thought is thine;
Oh I think upon thy word,
And let thy glory shine.
All my desire's for thee,
My soul no more earth-bound,
Since thou hast set it free,
Is sad till thou art found.