Return unto Your Rest!
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"Return unto your rest, O my soul — for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you." Psalm 116:7
David experienced a great variety of changes and trials, which gave him an opportunity to learn much of the faithfulness of God — and much of the deceitfulness of his own heart. He was often in great perplexity, and was as often relieved by the interposition of his heavenly Father.
Some recent deliverance called forth the tender and interesting Psalm from which our text is taken. "I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: 'O LORD, save me!' I was brought low, and he helped me."
His treacherous heart was often seduced from God by the allurements of the world. In this state of declension he "found trouble and sorrow." From troubles of some sort, he had been recently delivered. Melted by this experience of a Father's love, he broke forth into the grateful exclamation. "Return unto your rest, O my soul — for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!"
Ah, could we learn the heavenly art of resting in God! Shall I attempt to describe a habit of soul in which lies the great secret of happiness?
To rest in God implies a cordial satisfaction with His character and government. It is a delight in His benevolence, which cannot bear to see His creatures rise up in hatred and war against each other, and therefore hates sin and takes the form of holiness; which, because a moral government is necessary to bring God into connection with His creatures and to secure the order and happiness of the universe — has established a law; and because a law must have sanctions or be nothing but advice — has annexed a penalty to it; and because a penalty must be executed or lose its force — has built a Hell. This is benevolence acting in the form of justice. In all this holiness and justice, in all this administration of a moral government, God is nothing but love. And then His mercy, His amazing mercy, in giving His Son to die for a world of enemies; and His truth, which remains inviolate from eternity to eternity.
These are His glorious perfections. To rest in Him implies a delight that such a God fills and enriches the universe, and that by being glorified, He will be seen and honored and enjoyed by His creatures! Without such an approbation of His whole character and government — the soul cannot rest in Him.
To rest in God implies submission and trust. Without submission to His will — we can never trust Him. We must consent that He should govern the world as He pleases, before we shall confide our interests to His care. If our own wills are supreme — then we can trust Him for nothing. And we never can rest in Him — without such a confidence.
We must trust Him for different blessings; first, for a readiness to answer prayer, particularly for the Holy Spirit. Our Savior, having displayed the effect of "importunity" in the man who would borrow "three loaves," took great pains to awaken this confidence in a prayer-hearing God. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:7-11
We must believe then, that our heavenly Father is more ready to give the Holy Spirit to those who importunately ask Him — than parents are to give bread to their hungry and imploring children. This faith is of the utmost importance to our success in prayer.
Secondly, we must trust God for our daily support. Our Savior is most explicit on this point: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" Matthew 6:25-30
Thirdly, we must trust in Him for a rightful ordering of His general providence towards us and the world. "Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." This prayer and thanksgiving are to be constant, when the mind is not otherwise necessarily occupied; and they unite in expressing a dependence on God and a trust in Him for all things from moment to moment. And this is what the apostle meant when he exhorted, "Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks." This is the most important of all habits, and will ensure that peace "which passes all understanding."
David had learned to say, "Oh how great is your goodness which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have wrought for those who trust in you before the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret of your presence from the pride of man; you shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." Every Christian who has been hid in the divine presence from pursuing troubles, knows the striking propriety of this figure. He can remember that he felt as safe as though there had been a literal tent pitched for him in the heavens, guarded on every side by the everlasting arms. O the blessedness of the man who is thus taken up and hid in God! "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you — because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever — for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength!"
To rest in God implies faith in Christ and an acceptance of Him for our Savior; a firm belief in Him as the medium of approach to God, and in the sacred oneness between Him and the Church. He is the Husband of the Church, and loves it as His own flesh. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." A firm belief in this relationship will bring rest indeed.
To rest in God implies a sweet reliance on the truth of His promises and on His covenant faithfulness. The soul in this act rests upon His unchanging truth, and sees this perfection as clear and as bright as the sun. It takes strong hold of such representations of covenant faithfulness as this: "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Hebrews 6:17-19
This faith will preserve the soul "in perfect peace." It will give assurance that God will keep His children "as the apple of his eye," and not allow "any plague" to "come near" their "dwelling"; that He will withhold from them no real blessing, and make all things work together for their good. If cares or sorrows come — the believer flees into this hiding-place, and is at rest. If spiritual enemies assault, he goes and tells his Father, and hears Him promise that they shall not prevail. If guilt rears its horrid form, he repairs to his Father and complains of himself, and hears Him say, "Go in peace — your sins are forgiven."
To rest in God is to be satisfied with Him as our portion, to take Him for our supreme good, and to feel that we have enough and abound while possessing Him — though everything else is taken away. "Give me," says the believer, "the enjoyment of my God, and I desire no more. Give me to feast on heavenly truth — and I shall never complain that I am poor. Let worldlings divide the globe among themselves; let emmets contend for this little heap of dust; I have God — and I ask no more. Come wars and pestilence, come poverty and death; you cannot rob me of my portion."
Can this be otherwise than rest? Must it not be substantial rest to have the infinite God for a portion, to have all the restless desires of the mind composed, to feel no anxious apprehension for the future, to know that if everything which blast or mildew, time or death can destroy were removed, the whole of one's portion would remain; to feel that nothing can injure, nothing impoverish, nothing perplex or disturb? Ah, give me rest — this instead of thrones and kingdoms!
It is the misery of man, that he is so prone to wander from God in pursuit of idols. Some worldly good is set up which he thinks will make him happy. Until it is obtained — he rests in the hope of obtaining it; and soon as he gains it, he starts in pursuit of another object. If he does not obtain it, he will sooner settle down and rest in a wretched being, than return to God. The ambitious man imagines that happiness lies on the summit of some advancement. The avaricious man hopes that if he can accumulate so much property he shall be happy — in the meantime he dwells on the progress of his affairs towards that point. Every man is proposing some arrangement in the circumstances of his life, which he secretly hopes will make him happy. In this pursuit after idols, men wander from God, and get into darkness and perplexity. None depart without an object. They are drawn away by idols.
As sure as the world is not our Heaven, as sure as Heaven is made by the presence of God — so sure it is, that a departure from Him will bring disappointment and sorrow. He who goes to worldly objects for enjoyment, must be disappointed, whether he obtains them or not. If he does not obtain them, or if he loses them after the acquisition — all is gone. If he acquires them and continues to possess them — they do not furnish the happiness expected.
The soul, originally formed for the enjoyment of God, has desires which nothing but God can fill; and while scattering its affections on the world and indulging tastes opposed to God, it has desires which nothing in Heaven or earth can satisfy (boundless desires after bounded objects), and is "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest." To these natural perplexities, are added the pangs of guilt, and the superadded restlessness which is sent to punish idolatry.
Were there no external affliction, he must be a wretch who departs from God. But these afflictions will come. They were appointed for discipline in this state of trial. These chilling damps of grief settle down upon this region of night. They are unknown above. The heart that lives above is out of their reach. But there are many daily incidents to vex the heart which has no wings to soar above them all. It may be admitted as an eternal maxim, that the man who is not above a dependence on the world for happiness — is not above disappointment and perplexity. To be a slave to the world — is to be in league with disappointment. "There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked."
Happiness has been hunted for in every corner of creation, in every scene of pleasure, in every grade of honor. But nowhere this side of God, has it ever been found. The sea says: It is not in me; and the land says: It is not in me. And yet foolish man is as eager in searching for it on earth — as though no disappointment had ever been. But still the voice of heavenly wisdom cries, "This is not your rest — because it is polluted." This poor world is no place for the child of misfortune to find repose. When troubles arise, let the ambitious repair to his honors, the miser to his wealth, and the epicure to his pleasures — their gods will be as deaf as Baal. But let a Christian bear his aching heart to Jesus of Nazareth, and all his anguish is quelled.
Who then are those who depart from God? It is difficult to convince careless sinners that this is the case with them. Having imbibed from education, a general respect for religion, and exercising a selfish gratitude to the God of providence — they deem themselves His friends, while they supremely love the things for which they seem to give thanks. Can they appeal to the Searcher of hearts that He engrosses more of their thoughts than the world? Do they delight more in Him, than in all creature comforts? However amiable their outward conduct, however sweet their social affections — if God is not supreme in their hearts, if communion with Him is not their chief delight — they do not love Him at all, but are His enemies! As sure as the Word of God is true, the affections of every unregenerate man, at all times, depart from him.
It is a lamentable truth that even Christians sometimes search for rest — where rest is not to be found. From amidst the sweetest scenes of devotion, from the footstool of the mercy-seat, from among the opening glories of Heaven — they wander into the world, and are found in scenes of rebellion. Yesterday, enrapt in divine communion, their faces beaming with heavenly light, and confident that they could never forget the scene; today, searching for happiness among the lumber of earthly objects, anxious to acquire possessions, to make a name for themselves, to prepare a paradise on earth, and almost saying: Here shall be my rest. And when they have thus wandered, there is no knowing into what follies they may fall. Ah, the idolatry, the selfishness, the unbelief, the pride, the unsubmission, the ingratitude that follow! Ah, what is man!
But in a happy hour, when they obtain a new view of the mercy that has followed them through all their perverseness, their hearts melt within them, their eyes are drowned in tears, and their trembling lips repeat, "Return unto your rest, O my soul! For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you."
Let me seize the happy moment to strengthen this rising resolution, and press upon the soul its obligations to return.
Yes, "the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!" In the face of all your repinings, "The Lord has dealt bountifully with you." He redeemed you from Hell by the agonies of His beloved Son. He placed you in the midst of Sabbaths and sacraments, and put His Word into your hands. By distinguishing grace, He separated you from your former companions, and gave you a title to Heaven — while they were left to perish. He has blessed your eyes with the sight of His work revived. His tender care has preserved you every moment. Your food and clothing have daily come from His hand.
Ah, how have you forgotten! Can you not remember the blessed hour when heavenly mercy first opened on your soul, and your glowing lips could say, "If I forget you, O my Savior — then let my right hand forget her skill." And now all — all so soon forgotten! Ah, ungrateful and unkind!
Do you not remember, in former days, when you had wandered and lost your way, and got entangled among the thorns — how your heavenly Father came out to find you, and brought you home and restored you in comfort? And will you now forsake that home where you found comfort — when not another spot in the wide world could afford you rest for the sole of your foot? When were you bereft of comfort and returned to seek it here on this poor earth, and found it not? When your father and mother forsook you — the Lord has taken you up. There is no friend so kind, no obligations so great, no rest so sweet.
Ah, how much you lose by not dwelling always in God! "Return unto your rest." The charming accent! It comes from lips which once trembled in death for you. Let it enter your wakeful ear and seize your ravished heart, "Return unto your rest." Return unto your Savior, your love, your life.
My dear brethren, who would have thought that you, so much beloved, so much obliged to your Savior — could ever have forsaken your Father's house? Hereafter let duty and love constrain you. Wander no more from God in pursuit of rest in this poor world. Has He given you a cause to forsake Him? Has He "been a wilderness unto you — a land of darkness"?
What need is there to wait and wait for rest until the completion of some worldly purpose? In God it is always to be found. You need not be comfortless and always waiting for comfort. The reason that you find it not — is that you seek it where it is not to be found. You go to one poor object and to another — when you ought to go to God.
Do you hear a Christian complain of the lack of rest? You may know he has been to seek it outside of God. Had he fully renounced the world and determined to enjoy God or nothing — then these complaints would not have been heard. Our heavenly Father is more ready to give the Holy Spirit, with all His consolations, to those who importunately ask Him — than parents are to give bread to their children. If any are straitened, they are not straitened in Him, but in themselves.
My brethren, though lost sinners were able to find rest in the world, you are not. In that blessed hour when heavenly light first broke in upon your darkness, it ruined the world for you as a portion and place of rest. In that hour it was unchangeably settled that you should be happy in God, or be miserable. You then received those insatiable longings which nothing but God can satisfy, and which can never endure a state of absence from Him. You may wander, but your wanderings will be far more painful than those of other sinners.
Though the raven could leave the ark and sweep blithely through the air, not so the meek-eyed dove. She could find no rest for the sole of her foot until she returned to the ark. Nor is this a misfortune. It is a mercy that every other way is hedged up. Could you find rest away from God — then you might stray and never return. Could you find a paradise on earth (an object for which so many pant) — then it would prove the greatest curse to you! Would you not tremble to think of enjoying a paradise here, that should deprive you of the paradise above? Be satisfied that your rest is not to be found on earth, and be content to wait for the "rest" that "remains for the people of God." The promise is sure: "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."
My dear brethren, I congratulate you on your superior happiness. In all your trials, you have a resting-place at hand. You need not fear that any future afflictions will find you without a refuge. When lost sinners are pressed with sorrow — then they must bear it as well as they can. They have no resting place to which they can resort. But you have one that will never fail you. The voice is constantly in your ears, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden — and I will give you rest."
One word to poor lost sinners, and I am done. Unhappy men, you have never known rest. You are orphans, with no Father to give you comfort. You are always restless, always hoping for better things tomorrow; but better things never come: "tomorrow is as this day." Still your hopes are stretching forward, and still disappointment returns.
Then you say, "I will arise and go to another place, into other company, into other business. I will explore other lands." You go, but rest still retreats. Then you wonder, and half discouraged begin the round again. Ah, have you not learned the cause? You are not in the way to rest. You are seeking it where it is not to be found. "The way of peace, you have not known." You must return to God — or you will never find what you seek.
You say, "What a weariness it is to serve the Lord." This you say because you never tried. It is not weariness, but rest . . .
rest from the pangs of guilt,
rest from agitating fears,
rest from turbulent passions,
rest from unsatisfied desires,
rest from the sorrows of life,
rest from conflicts with men,
rest and eternal peace with God.
There is a voice which invites you to return. Do you know what voice it is?
Conceive of the integrity, the wisdom, the dignity of the most venerable bench of judges. Enlarge that idea to infinity — and that is God. Conceive of the tenderness of a mother's heart. Enlarge that idea to infinity, and that is God. And shall the voice of such a God invite you in vain?
Another voice I hear. It is the voice which once cried in death, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Draw near and behold Him on the cross. It is for sinners like you that He suffers. Mark how the agonies distort His visage — how the blood smears His beauteous temples! See His dying eye fixed on you, with compassions which an angel never felt! For you He prays: Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does. And this is the voice which now invites you to His arms? And will you refuse to go? Can you — dare you refuse? It is the one who will judge you at the last day. Dare you refuse?
I leave you with this voice of Jesus ringing in your ears, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30