A Comforting Message for the Closing Year
“Rest in the Lord.”— Psalm xxxvii. 7.
IT is certain, Christian, that thou hast nowhere else to rest. Of the whole of this time-state it was well said, “This is not your rest,” and of all the comfort that you find in earthly friendships and relationships, in the good things of this life, or in any hopes short of heaven, we may truly say, “This is not your rest.” The other day, at Highgate, I passed some fine old trees that were marked with a white cross, to indicate, no doubt, that they were to be cut down. So, everything we have here is marked with the woodman’s cross, and the axe must fell all our joys. Ye birds of paradise, build not your nests on trees that are marked to fall! This earth is not your rest. Ye shall fly the wide world over till your wings are weary; but, ye doves of Christ, ye shall find no rest till ye come back to the hand of your Noah, and nestle in his ark of covenant grace. “Rest in the Lord,” says the text, and in saying so it does, as it were, condemn all other pretended rests and fancied refuges. May every one of you who have wandered hear the voice of wisdom, and may your hearts say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee”!
But though there is no rest to be found in earthly things, yet we may have rest even while here, rest which droppeth from above. ’Tis true the wilderness yielded no bread to the children of Israel, yet there was bread for them in the wilderness, for it fell from heaven. The arid sands could give no streams of cooling water, yet there was water even there, for the apostle Paul tells us that “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” Because I tell you that this world is a wilderness, and you find it true, do not think that you are never to have any rest in it. Behold, your rest is sent to you from on high; behold, your refreshment cometh from the Rock of Ages. In Jesus ye have rest, even though ye be pilgrims, and even though ye be troubled, for we who have believed in him even now have entered into rest. True Christians, when they are in a healthy state of mind and heart, do rest in the Lord; and, as I hope this Tabernacle is not a lazar-house, but a place where the warriors of Christ have come to feast at the table of their great Captain, I desire for each of you, and for myself also, that all of us who are in Christ may this night have perfect “rest in the Lord.”
What is this rest that is mentioned in our text?
I. The rest which believers enjoy is, first of all, REST FROM WANDERING.
You know that God promised to give rest to his ancient people. They had none in the wilderness; for, often, they had no sooner pitched their tents than they had to strike them again. As quickly as the fiery-cloudy pillar moved, so had they, though weary and footsore, to follow. Joshua said to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, whose inheritance was to be on the further side of Jordan, “Ye shall pass before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and help them; until the Lord have given your brethren rest.” The Promised Land was always looked forward to by the weary and wandering tribes as a place where they should rest. Well, beloved, you and I no longer wander; we have come to our rest. O my heart, how thou didst wander, like a weary pilgrim, through the Egypt of thy bondage! Thou didst wander to Sinai, where thou didst hear the law that made thee tremble. Thou didst wander across the wilderness of Sin, where thy good works vexed and tired thee, and thine evil works, like fiery serpents, bit thee; but that is all over now. My soul, thou hast crossed the Jordan, and having found Christ thou hast no inclination to wander more. My brethren, remember how our minds used to wander after fifty pretended comforts, and we found no joy in any of them; one day we thought this, the next day we thought that. One day, we dreamed that peace was to be found here; the next day, we fancied it was to be obtained yonder; the bubble mocked us as we pursued it, and it continually fled from our grasp. We thought full sure that we had secured something solid; but the apple of Sodom was crushed when we laid hold upon it, and turned to ashes in our palm.
We used to be always wandering; none could tell where we should rest on the morrow; but now, we rest in the Lord, we have no inclination to wander to anyone else. “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” Every now and then, people find out a new gospel, and they want us to believe it; but we say to them, “No, we are perfectly content with what we have received.” Sometimes, a new form of religion is invented, but it has no attractions for us. We have left off being pilgrims now; we are settled down, and cannot be moved. We say of all these inventions,—
“Should all the forms that men devise,
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I’d call them vanity and lies,
And bind the gospel to my heart.”
I do not usually find it worth my while, nowadays, when anybody tells me, at the beginning of a book, that he is going to disprove all that I believe, to read the book at all. If a cook informs me that a joint of meat is bad, and on tasting the first mouthful I find that it is so, there is no need that I should eat it all in order to prove that it is not good wholesome food. So, you had better leave these tainted doctrines alone; when you have your principles firmly fixed, especially when you have come to rest at the very feet of the unchanging Jesus, and have learned the meaning of that text, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever,” you have reached perfection’s own self, and you may well grow conservative, and never go a step beyond. Paul could say to the Galatians, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed,” for he could also say, “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
“Now rest, my long-divided heart,
Fix’d on this blissful centre, rest;”
never more to go gadding abroad, to seek after other loves, and other trusts. In that sense, dear friends, “rest in the Lord.” Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine; but abide fast by Christ, whom ye have received by faith.
II. We have also another rest, and that is, REST FROM ALL OUR FOES.
Scripture, speaking of the victories of the children of Israel under Joshua and Caleb, says, “The land had rest from war.” When Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor, was converted, we read, “Then had the churches rest.” Now, dear friends, the people of God are always being molested by enemies; there are multitudes of foes on the right hand and on the left; yet was David right when he penned that verse, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The moment we begin to think of the prevalence of Christ’s plea, the merit of Christ’s blood, the power of Christ’s arm, the faithfulness of Christ’s heart, what are all our sins within us, or all our foes without us? Do they not melt away like the host of Midian before the sword of the Lord and of Gideon? Doth some stout sin, like Goliath of Gath, come out, and challenge thee to fight? Take thou the name of the Lord as thy sling and stone, and thou shalt yet be able to cut off the giant’s head. Do thy foes come out against thee with multitudes of chariots? Let thy faith open its eyes, and thou shalt see horses of fire and chariots of fire round about thee. Put thy trust in God, and thou shalt soon learn that more are they that are for thee than all that can be against thee. “War, war, war!” the voices of enemies constantly cry around the walls of Zion; but what is that sweet sound within the city? It is the music of the harp, and the sons: of them that make merry!
“There is a stream whose gentle flow
Supplies the city of our God;
Life, love, and joy, still gliding through,
And watering our divine abode.”
Yes, brethren, notwithstanding that hell is against us, and that devilish trinity, the world, the flesh, and Satan, yet, when we come to our Lord Jesus Christ, and sit under the shadow of his great atonement, and remember his glorious resurrection and ascension, we feel at once that we can “rest in the Lord.”
III. Further, we have REST IN THE SENSE OF CONFIDENCE.
In this meaning of the word, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, we do really “rest in the Lord.” We are not Christians if we do not, for the very first mark of a believer is that he rests in Christ for everything, depending on the blood and righteousness of Christ as the Alpha and the Omega of his salvation. Now, as believers rest in Christ for the first things, so ought they to rest in Christ for all things. Whatever need thou hast, rest thou on the bare arm of God to supply it. Though thou shouldst require infinity, it is at thy beck and call. Only rest thou in God; for omniscience is watching for thy good, and omnipotence is prepared to aid thee. Beloved, I fear that we often place our confidence in ourselves, or get resting on an arm of flesh, depending first on this friend and then on that, relying first upon this scheme and then upon that plan. Happy is the man who has learned to cast off Saul’s armour, saying, “I cannot go with these,”— the man who can cry, as David did to the giant, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” “Best in the Lord,” Christian, whatever it is that thou requirest to bring thee safely to his dwelling-place above, and let thy confidence exercise itself upon thy Lord’s faithfulness, almightiness, and truth.
IV. Now, though we have used the word “rest” in three senses, we have not as yet come to the sweetest part of our subject. Believers have REST IN THE SENSE OF SAFETY.
A Hebrew, pursued by the manslayer, never rested till he reached the city of refuge. Lot must not rest, until he getteth into the little city of Zoar. So, we must never think of resting till we are saved. You who are afraid you are not saved, have no rest. There are some of you who never say more than this, “Well, I hope I am saved;” or, “I trust I may be saved.” You do not have real rest, dear friends; you may have something like rest, but you do not know the perfect peace of one who has fled for refuge to Christ, one who has given up every resting-place except the finished work of Jesus. Such a person, having taken refuge in Christ, feels positively sure that nothing can harm him. What if I should venture to make my boast in my God to-night? What if I should say,—
“In my Surety I am free,
His dear wounds avail for me”?
What if I should glory in sin completely pardoned, and in a robe of righteousness, woven from the top throughout, in which I stand arrayed before the Lord? If I said all this, I should say no more than thou oughtest to say, thou who art trusting in the Lord. Thou art saved, thou art saved now; thou art safe for all the days and all the nights thou mayest live, thou art safe in life and in death, in time and through eternity. Since Christ endured thy condemnation, it cannot rest on thee. God acquits thee; therefore no accusation can lie against thee. God absolves thee; Christ pleads on thy behalf; it is not possible that all thy past sin can ruin thee, for it was laid upon the Scape-goat’s head of old; nothing in the present can daunt thee, for Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Nought in the future shall cast thee down, for even to the end doth the Lord keep his people; he giveth unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand. I recollect when I first heard the glorious doctrine of the believer’s eternal safety; the good old man preached it very plainly indeed, but its effect on me,— I was then an unconverted but anxious soul,— its effect on me was that it set my mouth a-watering. “Oh!” thought I, “what would I not give to be saved?” I never had any relish for that tinkering gospel which is preached by Arminians; it is a very fine thing to look at, but it does not bear the wear and tear of life. I never cared for that sham gospel which may save to-day but may damn to-morrow. I never admired that gospel chariot which has no bottom to it, or has wheels with rotten spokes, and that breaks down in the miry places of the way. I never had a taste for that sort of teaching, even before I was converted; but that gospel which says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and makes no “ifs” and “ands” about it, that gospel which promises eternal life, and says that believers shall never perish, oh! it set my heart a-longing. How ardently I desired to get hold of it! And when I learned that I might have it, that I, the vilest of the vile, might have it, have it on these terms,— “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,”— oh! it seemed worthy of God’s giving and worthy of man’s accepting, worthy of the Spirit’s work, worthy of Christ’s procuring, worthy indeed of the man it blesses and of the God who is glorified in blessing him. O dear friends, let us, if we are not safe in Christ, long to be so, and may the Lord bring us to him, even at this very hour! “Rest in the Lord,” then, Christians, for in him is every believer perfectly safe.
“Munitions of stupendous rock
His dwelling-place shall be;
There might his soul, without a shock,
The wreck of nature see.”
V. But the word “rest” has a further meaning yet. God gives to his people PERFECT REST FROM WEARINESS.
Man sometimes wipes his brow, and asks, “When will the shadows come? When shall I have fulfilled as a hireling my day of toil?” To think of being saved by our feelings and doings, brings much weariness to the spirit; and, indeed, even to a believer, this world’s cares and strifes may often make him fling himself down upon his couch, and say, “Lord, let me die; I am no better than my fathers!” But, dear friends, when we really rest in Christ, when we sit down under his shadow with great delight, all our weariness goes away at once. Do you not know what it is to spring up, with elastic footstep, and go forth to some new duty, or to some fresh suffering, at the mere mention of your Lord’s name, when, just before, you were bowed down with sorrow, and thought that surely your end must soon come, and that you must speedily fall by the hand of the enemy? Every now and then, you know, our bodily strength needs to be renewed in sleep; constantly must this experience recur, or else we must die. Now, Jesus “giveth his beloved sleep” and all the balm that sleep can infuse into the body does faith in Christ give to the soul. The jaded mind is calm when he is near; the distracted heart, when Christ has breathed upon it, is like a mountain lake on a summer’s day.
Absence from Christ produces weariness; but the presence of Jesus always brings a sense of perfect ease. Have I not seen a man go staggering along beneath a little load of trouble because he had not gone to God with his burden? Yet I have seen another carry three times the weight, and stand like a Hercules, unmoved, with his feet firmly set, because God was in him, and his confidence was in the Most High. I have seen you, friend, groaning and repining because you had a trifling loss, or a slight sickness; and I have seen another, close to the verge of death, who has suffered the loss of all things, who has nevertheless rejoiced in the Lord, and sung aloud in his Redeemer’s name. All the difference is here: if we rest in the Lord, we do rest, and nothing can make us weary then; but if we go not to him, we know no rest, and the slightest fatigue bows us down. I would, dear friends, that all the members of this church had more of this resting in the Lord. Sometimes, I wish that some of you had more weariness; you will never fag yourselves to death serving Christ, you are a great deal more likely to weary yourselves by serving the world. How men will moil and toil, and run hither and thither, to get a little of this world’s goods, and then they put it into a bag that is full of holes! They neglect the means of grace, and as to the week-night service,— dear, dear, dear, there is that shop that must be attended to; and some of you can scarcely give yourselves time to pray because you must rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness. I wish that you would sometimes grow weary in that kind of labour, and take to another Master, and work for him as you have worked for the world, till you grew weary in his cause, for then would you know the sweet rest with which he maketh the weary to rest when they have wearied themselves for him in preaching, in teaching, in spreading his truth. We read in Isaiah’s prophecy, “This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest;” and I know there are some weary ones here. You are not weary of God’s work, but you are weary of bearing Christ’s cross, you have had so much shame and so much sorrow; well, well, brethren, “rest in the Lord.” You may come to him, and since he carried his cross, and that cross was yours as well as his, you may put your cross upon his shoulder, and then you will find it easy work to carry the cross yourselves. This, then, is one of the rests which every Christian may have, rest from weariness.
VI. There is also a rest called THE REST OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. Was it not said of Boaz, by the mother-in-law of Ruth, “The man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day”? Some Christians never have any rest, or they have but very little, because they do not understand the doctrine of a finished salvation. If you and I are only half-saved, why, of course, we can never be really restful till the work is finished. Nay, if we are only three-quarters saved, we shall never have any true rest till the other quarter of the work is done. If there is one stone for us to lay in order to complete the edifice, we must not give sleep to our eyes, nor slumber to our eyelids, till it is fixed in its place. But here is the joy, here is the peace of Christians, that our salvation is a finished one. We have not a farthing to pay to complete the ransom of our souls; we have not a stitch to set to finish the robe of our salvation; we have not an act to perform, a prayer to offer, a tear to weep, a thought to think, in order to finish the work of our redemption. I know that all these things shall be wrought in us, and that by the Spirit of God we shall be made to do them; but all that shall not be with any view to the completion of our salvation, that was finished in the person of the bleeding Lamb of Calvary. There are a great many people who imagine that they will be saved because they go to church regularly; they might go to church as long as Methuselah lived, but not get an inch nearer to heaven by so doing. Others of you may suppose that you will go to glory through coming here constantly. We will soon drive that delusion out of your minds if you are indulging any such notion; still, there it is, you think that, if you are kind, moral, upright, if you do good to your neighbours, if you bring up your families well, in some way Jesus Christ will mysteriously come in to make up your deficiencies, and then when you get to glory, of course, you intend to have a song all to yourself; you will say, “Praise and glory and honour be to myself! I did my part, and Christ’s assistance made the matter all right.” The man who thinks that the work of salvation is partly his own, does not understand the finished work of Christ. Either Christ completed all that was necessary for your salvation, or he did not. If he did finish it, then rest in him, and be glad, and say, “I am secure for ever because my salvation is finished; I have nothing now to do but to live to the honour of him who has completely saved me by his grace, his blood, his righteousness.”
But if Christ did not finish the work, you cannot complete it; if he has left a stitch unsewn or a stone unlaid, you cannot supply the deficiency. What! the human and the divine be joined together as equals? What! yoke your little, insignificant, insect-like power with the omnipotent strength of the Divine Redeemer? God forbid! What! shall the dross and scum of human merit come and be reckoned with the pure gold of Christ’s atoning sacrifice? No; that can never be. Grace reigns, and grace reigns alone. It reigns in this, that there is a finished work; therefore rest, Christian, “rest in the Lord,” for the work is done. Be of good cheer, take thine ease in Christ. Eat of him, drink of him, and be merry, for thou hast much goods laid up for many years; thy feasting will never bring to thee the censure of being a fool, but thou wilt be as foolish as a thousand fools if thou dost not rest in Jesus.
VII. Once again; we have, as Christians, enjoyed, and we do now enjoy, THE REST OF COMPLETE SATISFACTION. There are very few persons in this world who are perfectly contented, but true believers, when they are in a right state of mind, are always so. I do not believe that I have a wish in all this world except to know more of my Master, and to win more souls for him. Besides that, I cannot see anything to long for; and I can truly sing,—
“I would not change my blest estate,
For all that earth calls good or great;
And while my faith can keep her hold,
I envy not the sinner’s gold.”
Rich sinners think poor saints are great fools. You, young man, over there, you own a fine horse, and you have a splendid house and garden, or you have a flourishing business, and very bright prospects; but I could pick out some old woman here,— and, thank God, there are many such who come to the Tabernacle regularly, poor souls who have little else but the grace of God to comfort them,— I could bring this old woman up for you to see. Her clothes are darned in a hundred places, or else she would be in rags; she works very hard to earn the little that keeps her out of the workhouse; she has not many comforts, yet sometimes, when we get a shake of her hand, we find she has some comforts, though they are of a sort that this young man does not understand. Well now, come here, my good sister; do you see that young man over there? He never has rheumatics in his bones, he never has to sit shivering in winter time because there is no fire in the grate, he never has to say to his landlord, “I do not know where I shall get the week’s rent;” he never has to pinch himself, and live on nothing but a small piece of bread-and-butter for a couple of days; no, never. I ask her, “Will you change places with this young gentleman?” “Well,” she says, “I should like to know first whether he has an interest in Christ.” When I tell her that he has not, I am sure her answer would be, “Change places with him? No, never; I’d sooner starve, and have Christ as my Saviour, than own all the wealth and comforts of this world, and be without Christ.” So say we, brethren; and in the language of Watts we sing,—
“Go now, and boast of all your stores,
And tell how bright you shine;
Your heaps of glitt’ring dust are yours,
And my Redeemer’s mine.”
Having Christ, we feel perfect satisfaction, and want nothing more. H go up or down, to the right or to the left, we can find nothing beyond our Lord. Having him, we possess all things, and our soul is satisfied. You recollect that Naomi spoke of Ruth finding rest in the house of her husband; that is to say, she should have all she needed; her husband should be all things to her. She did not want another husband, she did not want to find another house, nor broader fields, nor larger wealth. Boaz was all in all to her, and what he gave her was enough for all her wants. So is it with the Christian; Christ is all in all to him; whatever he may give, or whatever he may deny, the Christian is perfectly content.
VIII. I close, dear friends, by noticing that all these forms of rest should bring to the believer THE REST OF CONSCIOUS ENJOYMENT.
Going down to Windsor to preach, some time ago, my friend, John we Anderson, was with me; and about twelve o’clock, as we were near Datchet, under the broad trees of a park we saw a number of sheep lying down peacefully. My friend quoted that passage in the Canticles, “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon.” It was the very picture of content and restful enjoyment; and as I came along to-night, I was thinking that I should like to see the same picture in this church when we meet presently around the communion table. May you all have the rest of enjoyment! You have Christ to feed upon. You have heard about him again this evening; you know he is yours, then kiss him with the kisses of your mouth. You have not a doubt, I hope, of your interest in him; if you have, come to him again just as you came at first, as poor sinners resting on him alone. But if he be indeed yours, treat him as you would treat a loaf of bread if you were hungry; do not merely look at him, but eat of him, and eat abundantly, O beloved! Leave all your cares behind now. You remember what Pharaoh said to Joseph’s brethren, “Also regard not your stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.” Now, do not regard that household of yours to-night, leave that stock-in-trade behind, let all that lumber lie where it is, for the good of Christ and of all the land of heaven is yours. Come now, and be satiated with all the goodness of God’s grace. “Ah!” you say, “it is not quite so easy to leave all these things; there are such attractions in the world.” Attractions, brethren! Rather, call them distractions; but I say that the attractions of Christ are greater than the distractions of the world. Fix your souls steadily on this fact, that you have Christ, that Christ is all in all to them that trust him, and so come now, and take your full rest in the Lord your God.
Oh, that some might be set a-longing to-night, and say, “That is what we want to do”! Well, if you long for Christ, then Christ longs for you; if you want Christ, then Christ wants you. If you penitently return to the Lord now, he will hasten towards you; while you are yet a great way off, he will run to meet you, even as the father ran to meet his prodigal son. If you begin to confess, with the prodigal, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son,” the Lord will say to his servants, as the father in the parable said, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” Remember that verse of Joseph Hart’s which we have often sung, and as I repeat it, trust the Saviour of whom he sings,—
“Trust him; he will not deceive us,
Though we hardly of him deem:
He will never, never leave us,
Nor will let us quite leave him.”