The Present and
Rest of True Believers
by John Newton
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and heavy burdened—and I will give you rest!" Matthew 11:28
The learned have a variety of arguments whereby to prove the Scripture to be the Word of God. But though that kind of proof, which may be brought in a way of reasoning and external evidence, is doubtless useful upon proper occasions. Yet, I apprehend, the chief and most satisfactory argument to those who are capable of receiving it, arises from the correspondence between the subject matter of the Scripture, and the state of an awakened mind. When the eyes of the understanding are opened, we begin to see everything around us, to be just so as the Scripture has described them. Then, and not until then, we perceive, that what we read in the Bible concerning the horrid evil of sin, the vileness of our fallen nature, the darkness and ignorance of those who know not God, our own emptiness, and the impossibility of finding relief and comfort from creatures, is exactly true. "He opened their minds—so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
And as we find our disease precisely described, so we perceive a suitableness in the proposed remedy. We need a Savior, and he must be a mighty one; but though our needs and sins, our fears and enemies, are great and numerous, we are convinced that the character of Christ is sufficient to answer them all. We need a rest, a rest which the world cannot give. Inquire where we will among the creatures, experience brings in the same answer from all, "It is not in me!" This again confirms the Word of God, which has forewarned us that we shall meet nothing but disappointment in such worldly pursuits. But there is a spiritual rest spoken of which we know to be the very thing we need, and all our remaining solicitude is how to attain it. From hence, as I said, we may assuredly conclude, that the book which gives us such just views of everything that passes, must be given by inspiration from Him who is the searcher of hearts. This proof is equally plain and conclusive to all capacities that are spiritually enlightened, and such only are able to understand it. We are now to speak of this promised rest. And here two things offer to our consideration.
1. What this rest is.
2. How this rest is obtained.
1. WHAT this rest is. The Greek word expresses something more than rest, or a mere relaxation from toil; it denotes refreshment likewise. A person weary with long bearing a heavy burden, will need not only to have it removed—but likewise he needs food and refreshment, to restore his spirits, and to repair his wasted strength. Such is the rest of the Gospel. It not only puts an end to our fruitless labor—but it affords a sweet reviving cordial. There is not only peace—but joy in believing. Taken at large, we may consider it as two-fold.
1st, A PRESENT rest. So the Apostle speaks, "We who have believed enter that rest." (Hebrews 4:3)
(1.) The common wearisome pursuit of the worldling is described in Scripture: "Why do you spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2) "Many are saying—Who can show us anything good?" (Psalm 4:6) "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Worldlings are wandering from object to object in quest of happiness, but are always frustrated by incessant and repeated disappointments. We should pity a person whom we should see seeking some necessary thing day after day—in a place which we knew it was impossible to be found there. This is, however, the case with all people—until they come to Christ. Satisfaction is what they profess to aim at; and they turn over every stone (as we say), they try every expedient, to find lasting happiness—but in vain. Real satisfaction is only to be found in Jesus! When they come to Him, their wishes are fully answered and satisfied! "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst!" John 4:13-14
This is exemplified by our Lord in the character of a merchant-man seeking goodly pearls, (Mat. 13:46) who was still upon the inquiry until he had found one pearl of great price. This answered and exceeded his desires! Upon the discovery of this one, he rejoiced to forego all his former acquisitions, and to give up every other possession or purpose that he might obtain it.
(2.) I have spoken something concerning the wearisome exercise of a conscience burdened with guilt: but by coming to Jesus and believing in him, an end is put to this. When we are enabled to view our sins as laid upon Christ, that those who come are accepted in the Beloved, that there is no more condemnation—but pardon, reconciliation, and adoption, are the sure privileges of all who trust in him—O the sweet calm that immediately takes place in the soul! It is something more than deliverance. There is a pleasure more than answerable to the former pain, a comfort greater than all the trouble that went before it. Yes, the remembrance of the former bitterness, greatly enhances the present pleasure. And the soul understands and experiences the meaning of those Scriptures, "When the Lord turned the captivity of Zion, then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." (Psalm 126:1-2) "In that day you will sing: Praise the Lord! He was angry with me, but now he comforts me. See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation!" (Isaiah 12:1-2)
(3.) There is likewise a rest from the power of sin. In vain is this sought from resolutions and endeavors in our own strength. Even after we are spiritually awakened, and begin to understand the Gospel salvation, it is usually for a season rather a fight than a rest. But when we are brought nearer to Christ, and taught to live upon him as our sanctification, deriving all our strength and motives from him by faith, we obtain a comparative rest in this respect also. We find hard things become easy, and mountains sink into plains, by power displayed in our behalf. Farther,
(4.) There is a rest from our own works. The believer is quite delivered from the law as a covenant, and owes it no longer service in that view. His obedience is gracious, cheerful, the effect of love; and therefore he is freed from those fears and burdens which once disturbed him in the way of duty. At first there was a secret, though not allowed dependence on himself. When his frames were lively—he was strong, and thought he had something to trust to—but under a change (and changes will happen), he was at his wit's end. But there is a promised, and therefore an attainable rest in this respect; a liberty and power to repose on the finished Work and unchangeable Word of Christ; to follow him steadily through light and darkness; to glory in him not only when our frames are brightest; and to trust in him assuredly when we are at our lowest ebb.
Such is the present rest; in different degrees according to the proportion of faith, and capable of increase even in those who have attained most, so long as we remain in this imperfect state. But there is,
2ndly, A FUTURE rest besides and beyond all that can be experienced here. "There is a special rest still waiting for the people of God." (Hebrews 4:9) Our most enlarged ideas of that glory which shall be revealed, are faint and imperfect. "Yes, dear friends, we are already God's children, and we can't even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is!" (1 John 3:2) Who can describe or conceive the happiness of heaven? The most we can clearly understand of it lies in negatives. It will be as unlike as possible—to this wilderness of sin and sorrow where we are now confined. Here we are in a warfare—but then we shall enter into perfect rest. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9
(1.) Heaven will be a rest from all SIN. No 'unclean thing' shall ever defile or disturb us forever! We shall be free from sin in ourselves. This alone would be worth dying for! Indwelling sin is a burden under which even the redeemed must groan, while they sojourn in the body; and those who are most spiritual are most deeply affected with shame, humiliation, and grief, on account their sins—because they have the clearest views of the holiness of God, the spirituality of the law, the love of Christ, and the deceitfulness of their own hearts! Therefore the Apostle Paul, though perhaps in grace and talents, in zeal and usefulness, was distinguished above all the children of Adam—accounted himself the 'chief of sinners,' (1 Ti. 1:15) 'less than the least of all saints,' (Ephesians 3:8) and cried out under the disparity he felt between what he was, and what he would be, "O wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin!" (Romans 7:24) But we shall not carry this burden of sin beyond the grave. The hour of death shall free us from the inbred enemies (the inseparable attendants of this frail perishing nature) which now trouble us, and we shall see them no more forever!
Again; we shall be free from all the displeasing effects of sin in others. Our hearts shall be no more pained, nor our ears wounded, nor our eyes filled with tears—by those evils which fill the earth. Now, like Lot in Sodom, we are grieved everyday, with all the immorality and wickedness around him. (2 Peter 2:7) Who that has any love to the Lord Jesus, any spark of true holiness, any sense of the worth of souls in his heart, can see what passes among us without trembling? How openly, daringly, almost universally, are the commandments of God broken, his Gospel despised, his patience abused, and his power defied. To be a silent spectator of these things is sufficiently grievous! But if (as we are in duty bound) we dare to stand as witnesses for God in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, we find the spirit of Cain instantly takes fire, and denounces war against all who should presume to say, that we ought to obey and fear God rather than men. Invectives and in treatment are the certain lot of all who openly and consistently appear on the Lord's side! And if they escape stripes and bonds, imprisonment and death—it is to be ascribed to the restraints of Divine Providence, and (as a means in our happy land) to the temper of the laws, and to the clemency of the powers under whom we live. These things often constrain the believer to say, "O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I flee away and be at rest." (Psalm 55:6) Let us not be weary or faint in our minds; before long this wish shall be answered. A glorious rest awaits you, where sin and sinners shall have no place, nor the alarms of war be any more heard.
(2.) Heaven will be a rest from all outward AFFLICTIONS, which, though necessary, and, under the influence of Divine grace, profitable, yet they are grievous to bear; but then they will be necessary no more. Where there is no sin—there shall be no sorrow. Then, "God will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever!" (Revelation 21:4)
(3.) Heaven will be a rest from SATAN'S TEMPTATIONS. How busy is this adversary of God and man, what various arts, what surprising force, what constant assiduity does he employ to ensnare, distress, and terrify those who by grace have escaped from his servitude. He says, like Pharaoh of old, "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will destroy!" (Exodus 15:9) He follows them to the last stage of life—but he can follow them no farther. The moment of their departure out of the body—shall place them beyond his reach forever
(4.) Heaven will be a rest from unsatisfied desires. Here on earth—the more we drink, the more we thirst. But in heaven, our highest wishes shall be crowned and exceeded; we shall rest in full communion with Him whom we love; we shall no more complain of interruptions and imperfections, of an absent God, and a careless heart. Here on earth—when we obtain a little glimpse of His presence, when He brings us into His banqueting-house, and spreads His banner of love over us—how gladly would we remain in such a desirable frame! How unwilling are we to 'come down' from the mount! But these pleasing seasons are quickly ended, and often give place to some sudden unexpected trial, which robs us of all that sweetness in which we lately rejoiced. But when we ascend the holy hill of God above, we shall never again 'come down'; we shall be forever with the Lord, never offend him, and never be separated from him again. We shall likewise rest in full conformity to him. "I will see Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be fully satisfied with Your presence!" (Psalm 17:15) Here on earth—we find a mixture of evil in our best moments; when we approach nearest to God, we have the liveliest sense of our defilement, and how much we fall short in every branch of duty, in every temper of our hearts. But when we shall see Jesus as he is, we shall be fully transformed into his image, and be perfectly like him!
2. HOW is this rest to be obtained? Blessed be God, in that way which alone can render it attainable by such unworthy indigent creatures. If it was to be bought—we have nothing to offer for it. If it was given as a reward of merit—we can do nothing to deserve it. But Jesus has said, "I will give you rest!" Our title to it cost him dear; he purchased it for us with his own blood; but to us it comes freely. Sincere faith in Jesus puts us in immediate possession of the first-fruits, the pledge of this inheritance; and faith will lead us powerfully and safely, through all hindrances and enemies, to the full enjoyment of the whole.
FAITH unites us to Christ; gives us an immediate interest in all the benefits of his life, death, and intercession; opens the way of communication for all needful supplies of grace here, and insures to us the accomplishment of all the Lord has spoken to us of, in a state of glory. "He who believes shall be saved;" (Mark 16:16) —saved in defiance of all the opposition of earth and hell; saved, notwithstanding he is in himself unstable as water, weak as a bruised reed, and helpless as a newborn babe! What Jesus will give—none can take away. Only remember that it is a free gift. Receive it thankfully—and rejoice in the Giver. Let him have all the glory of his own undertaking. Renounce every other hope and every other plea—but his promise and mediation. Commit your souls to him—and then fear nothing. "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" (Deu. 33:27) He will fight your battles, heal your wounds, refresh your fainting spirits, guide you by his counsel while here, and at last receive you to himself!
May we not therefore say, 'Happy are the people who are in such a case! Happy they, who have been enabled to accept this gracious invitation, who have already entered upon the rest of grace, and have a well-grounded expectation that they shall rest in glory!'
Believers, what should you fear, or why complain? Look back to where the Lord found you dead in sin, helpless and hopeless, and insensible of your danger! Look forward to what he has provided for you—a crown of life, and a kingdom that cannot be shaken. "For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!" (1 Peter 1:4) Think of the love, the sufferings, the glory of him to whom you owe these blessings—and let these considerations animate you to run with patience (Hebrews 12:1) and thankfulness, the race that is set before you.
Happy likewise are you whose hearts are fixed upon this rest, and this Savior, though as yet you are in heaviness through manifold temptations. The Lord will give you REST! Doubt it not, he cannot deny himself; wait his hour patiently; though he seems to tarry long, yet maintain your confidence in his promise. Redouble your prayers, cry mightily to him—he will not (as perhaps many around you do) rebuke your importunity, and charge you to hold your peace. Look at the generations of old, and see—did ever any sincerely trust in the Lord—and was confounded? or did any abide in his fear—and was forsaken? Or whom did he ever despise—who sincerely called upon him?
And you who are yet strangers to God's rest, are thus far happy that you are still spared; and have the Gospel continued to you. The Lord is still waiting to be gracious! He says to all, "Come unto me—and you shall find rest for your souls!" Do you not see this rest as desirable? What rest, either here or hereafter, can you expect, if you remain, in the service of sin? Why may not you obtain your liberty? You are no worse than others who have already attained this rest, either by nature or practice. Though you have been transgressors from the womb, you are not excluded, if you do not exclude yourselves! Though your sinful habits and inclinations are exceedingly strong—he is able to subdue them. There is a power in his blood, and in his Spirit which he is exalted to bestow, sufficient to make the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard its spots! (Jer. 13:23) His power can soften the hardest heart, pardon the most aggravated guilt, and to enable those to do good, who have been accustomed to do evil.
Arise, he calls you! O may he accompany the outward call of his Word, with the effectual power of his grace—that you may this instant obey his voice, and flee to him for refuge! Where else can you flee? Who, but Jesus, can save you from the wrath to come? Be wise—and delay no longer! "But, if you will not hear—my eye shall weep for you in secret places." (Jer. 13:17) If you will not come to Jesus for life—you must eternally perish in hell! If you are outside of Christ—God is angry with you every day. The curse of his broken law lies heavy upon you, whether you are asleep or awake, abroad or at home, at the market or in the church. The wrath of God on you! "If a person does not repent, God will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He will prepare his deadly weapons and ignite his flaming arrows! (Psalm 7:12) He has bent his bow, and made it ready; he has prepared the instruments of death to smite you; he has ordained the arrows of his vengeance against you! And can you, dare you—go on in your sins, and say, "I shall have peace"? O may be wise in time! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31) "Consider this, you who forget God—or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue you!" (Psalm 50:22)