John Owen: The Lord’s Day (Hebrews 4)

19. First, the apostle showeth that there was a great work of God, and that finished, for the foundation of the whole. This he had made way for, chap. 3:4, 5, where he both expressly asserts the Son to be God, and shows the analogy that is between the creation of all things and the building of the church,—that is, the works of the old and new creation. As, then, God wrought in the creation of all, so Christ, who is God, wrought in the setting up of this new church-state. And upon his finishing of it he entered into his rest, as God did into his, whereby he limited a certain day of rest unto his people. So he speaks, “There remaineth therefore a sabbatism for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his works, as God did from his own.” A new day of rest, accommodated unto this new church-state, ariseth from the rest that the Lord Christ entered into upon his ceasing from his works. And as to this day, we may observe,—(1.) That it hath this in common with the former days, that it is a sabbatism, or one day in seven, which that name in the whole Scripture use is limited unto; for this portion of time to be dedicated unto sacred rest, having its foundation in the light and law of nature, was equally to be observed in every state of the church. (2.) That although both the former states of the church had one and the same day, though varied in some ends of it, now the day itself is changed, as belonging to another covenant, and having its foundation in a work of another nature than what they had respect unto. (3.) That the observation of it is suited unto the spiritual state of the church under the gospel, delivered from the bondage frame of spirit wherewith it was observed under the law. And these things must be further confirmed from the context.

20. The foundation of the whole is laid down, verse 10, “For he that hath entered into his rest, is ceased from his works, as God from his own.” Expositors generally apply these words unto believers, and their entering into the rest of God; whether satisfactorily to themselves and others, as to their design, coherence, scope, or signification of particular expressions, I know not. The contrary appears with good evidence to me; for what are the works that believers should be said here to rest from? Their sins, say some; their labours, sorrows, and sufferings, say others. But how can they be said to rest from these works as God rested from his own? for God so rested from his as to take the greatest delight and satisfaction in them,—to be “refreshed” by them: “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed,” Exod. 31:17. He so rested from them as that he rested in them and blessed them, and blessed and sanctified the time wherein they were finished. We have showed before that the rest of God was not only a cessation from working, nor principally so, but the satisfaction and complacency that he had in his works. But now if those mentioned be the works here intended, men cannot so rest from them as God did from his; but they cease from them with a detestation of them so far as they are sinful, and joy for their deliverance from them so far as they are sorrowful. This is not to rest as God rested. Again; when are believers supposed to rest from these works? It cannot be in this world: for here we rest not at all from temptations, sufferings, and sorrows; and in that mortification of sin which we attain unto, yet the conflict is still continued, and that with severity, unto death, Rom. 7:24. It must therefore be in heaven that they thus rest; and so it is affirmed accordingly. But this excludes the rest in and of the gospel from the apostle’s discourse, which renders it altogether unsuitable to his purpose. This I have so fully demonstrated in the exposition of the chapter, as that I hope it will not be gainsaid. Thirdly, There is no comparison in the whole discourse between the works of God and the works of men, but between the works of God in the creation and under the law on the one side, and those in and under the gospel on the other; and the whole comparison is summed up and closed in this verse.

21. It appears, therefore, that the subject of the apostle’s proposition in this place hath been mistaken. It is another who is intended, even Christ himself, the Son of God, and his rest from his works, which is here compared with the rest of God from his at the foundation of the world, to which end alone the mention of them was introduced, Heb. 4:3, 4; for,—
(1.) The conjunction γὰρ, “for,” whereby he brings in his assertion, manifests that the apostle in these words gives an account whence it is that there is a new sabbatism remaining for the people of God: “There remaineth a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God; for he that is entered into his rest is ceased from his works.” Had there not been a work laying the foundation of the gospel church-state, and a rest of God in it and ensuing thereon, there could have been no such sabbatism for believers, for these things are required unto a Sabbath. He had proved before that there could be no such rest but what was founded in the works of God, and his rest that ensued thereon; such a foundation, therefore, he saith, this new rest must have, and it hath it. This must be, and is, in the works and rest of him by whom the church was built; that is Christ, who is God, as it is expressly argued, chap. 3:3, 4. For as that rest which all the world was to observe was founded in his works and rest who made the world and all things in it, so the rest of the church under the gospel is to be founded in his works and rest by whom the church was built,—that is Jesus Christ; for he, on the account of his works and rest, is also “Lord of the Sabbath,” to abrogate one day of rest, and to institute another.
(2.) The apostle here changeth the manner of his expression from the plural absolutely, “We who believe,” or virtually in the name of a multitude, “The people of God,” into that which is absolutely singular, Ὁ εἰσελθὼν, “He that is entered.” A single person is here expressed, with respect unto whom the things mentioned are asserted; and of this change of phrase there can be no other reason given.
(3.) The rest which this person is said to enter into is called “his rest” absolutely. As God, speaking of the former rest, calls it “My rest,” so this is the “My rest” of another,—namely, the rest of Christ: whereas when the entering of believers into rest is spoken of, it is called either God’s rest, “They shall enter into my rest,” or rest absolutely, “We that believe do enter into rest,” but not their rest, or our rest; for it is not our own absolutely, but God’s rest whereinto we enter and wherein we rest. But the rest here is the rest of him whose it is, and who is the author of ours.
(4.) There is a direct parallel in the words between the works of the old creation and those of the new, which are compared by the apostle; for,—
[1.] There are the authors of them; which on the one side is said to be God, “As God did from his own,”—that is, God the Creator, or God as Creator; on the other, “He,” αὐτός, the same with οὗτος, chap. 3:3,—that is, he of whom we speak, as the apostle declares himself, chap. 4:13, for in these words a transition is made unto his treating of the person of Christ.
[2.] The works of the one and the other are expressed. The works of the Creator are ἴδια ἔργα, “his proper works,” “his own works,”—the works of the old creation, ὥσπερ ἀπὸ τῶν ἰδίων ὁ Θεὸς. And there are the works of him of whom he speaks, τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ, “his works,” those which he wrought in like manner as God did his own at the beginning; that is, the work of building the church: for these works must answer each other, and have the same respect unto their authors. They must be good and complete in their kind, and such as rest and refreshment may be taken in and on them. To compare the sins and sufferings of men with the works of God, our apostle did not intend.
[3.] There is the rest of the one and the other; and these also have their mutual proportion. Now, God rested from his own works of creation,—1st. By ceasing from creating, only continuing all things by his power in their order, and propagating them unto his glory. 2dly. By his respect unto them and refreshment in them, as those which expressed his excellencies and set forth his praise, and so satisfied his glorious design. So also must he rest who is spoken of. 1st. He must cease from working in the like kind of works. He must suffer no more, die no more, but only continue the work of his grace and power in the preservation of the new creature, and the orderly increase and propagation of it by his Spirit. 2dly. He takes delight and satisfaction in the works that he hath wrought; for he sees of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied, and is in the possession of that glory which was set before him whilst he was engaged in this work.

And these things sufficiently clear the subject here spoken of, namely, that it is Jesus Christ, the mediator.

22. The works that the rest mentioned respects have been sufficiently intimated, and I have so fully insisted on them in the exposition of the third and fourth verses of the third chapter of this Epistle, that I shall not here again repeat them. In brief, all that he did and suffered, in and from his incarnation to his resurrection, as the mediator of the covenant, with all the fruits, effects, and consequences of what he so did and suffered, whereby the church was built and the new creation finished, belongs unto these works. His rest that ensued on these works hath two parts;—(1.) A cessation from his works, which was eminent, and answered God’s rest from his own; (2.) Satisfaction in his works, and the glorious product of them, as those which had an impression on them of his love and grace, Ps. 16:7.

23. It remains only that we inquire into his entrance into his rest, both how and when he did so, even as God entered into his on the seventh day; for this must limit and determine a day of rest to the gospel church. Now, this was not his lying down in the grave. His body, indeed, there rested for a while, but that was no part of his mediatory rest, as he was the founder and builder of the church: for,—(1.) It was a part of his humiliation. Not only his death, but his abode and continuance in the state of death, was so, and that a principal part of it; for after the whole human nature was personally united unto the Son of God, to have it brought into a state of dissolution, to have the body and soul separated from each other, was a great humiliation. And every thing of this nature belonged unto his works, and not his rest. (2.) This separation of body and soul under the power of death was penal, a part of the sentence of the law which he underwent; and therefore Peter declares that the pains of death were not loosed but in his resurrection: Acts 2:24, “Whom God,” saith he, “hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Whilst he was held of it, he was under it penally. This, therefore, could not be his rest, nor any part of it; nor did he in it enter into his rest, but continued in his work. Nor, secondly, did he first enter into his rest at his ascension. Then, indeed, he took actual possession of his glory, as to the full, public manifestation of it. But to enter into rest is one thing, and to take possession of glory another; and it is placed by our apostle as a consequent of his being “justified in the Spirit” when he entered into rest, 1 Tim. 3:16. But this his entrance into rest was in, by, and at his resurrection from the dead; for,—(1.) Then and therein was he freed from the sentence, power, and stroke of the law, being discharged of all the debts of our sins, which he had undertaken to make satisfaction for, Acts 2:24. (2.) Then and therein were all types, all predictions and prophecies fulfilled, which concern the work of our redemption. (3.) Then, therefore, his work was done,—I mean that which answereth God’s creating work; though he still continues that which answers his work of preservation. Then was the law fulfilled and satisfied, Satan subdued, peace with God made, the price of our redemption paid, the promise of the Spirit received, and the whole foundation of the church of God gloriously laid on his person, in his works and rest. (4.) Then and therein was he “declared to be the Son of God with power,” Rom. 1:4; God manifesting unto all that this was he concerning and unto whom he said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,” Acts 13:33.

24. Thus did the author of the new creation, the Son of God, the builder of the church, having finished his works, enter into his rest. And this was, as all know, on the morning of the first day of the week. And hereby did he limit and determine the day for a sacred sabbatical rest under the new testament; for now was the old covenant utterly abolished, and therefore the day which was the pledge of God and man’s rest therein was to be taken away, and was so accordingly, as we have showed. As the rest from the beginning of the world had its foundation from the works of God, and his rest which ensued thereon, which was determined unto the seventh day, because that was the day wherein God ceased from those works, which day was continued under the legal administration of the covenant by Moses; so the rest of the Lord Christ, the Son of God, is the foundation of our rest; which, changing the old covenant and the day annexed unto it, he hath limited unto the first day of the week, whereon he ceased from his works and entered into his rest. And hereby the apostle completes the due analogy that is between the several rests of God and his people, which he hath discoursed of in this chapter. For as in the beginning of the world, there was, first, the work of God and his rest thereon; which made way unto a rest for his people in himself and in his worship, by the contemplation of his works that he had made, on whose finishing he rested; and a day designed, determined, blessed, and sanctified, to express that rest of God,—whence mention is made of those works in the command for the observation of that day, seeing the worship of God in and on it consisted principally in the glorifying of him by and for those works of his, as also to be a means to further men in their entrance into eternal rest, whereunto all these things do tend: and as at the giving of the law there was a great work of God, and his rest thereon, in his establishing his worship in the land of Canaan; which made way for the people’s entering into his rest in that worship and country; who had a day of rest enjoined unto them, to express the one and the other, as also to help them to enter finally into the rest of God: so now, under the gospel, there is a rest answering all these, in and by the instances which we have given.

25. And this is that which the apostle affirms, as the substance of all which he hath evinced, namely, that there is a sabbatism for the people of God, Heb. 4:9, σαββατισμός. The word is framed by our apostle from a Hebrew original, with a Greek termination. And he useth it as that which is comprehensive of his whole sense, which no other word could be; for he would show that there is a sabbatical rest, founded in the rest of God, remaining for the church, and therefore makes use of that word whereby God expressed his own rest when he sanctified the seventh day for a day of rest thereon. That day of rest being removed, and another on a new foundation, namely, the rest of Christ upon his works, introduced, he calls it a “sabbatism,” or a “sabbath-keeping.” He doth not do this only and separately, averring the necessity of a Sabbath observation in the first place, distinctly from a spiritual rest in Christ, with an eternal rest ensuing thereon, but in the manner and order before laid down, wherein the necessity of such a day is included. And besides the evidence that ariseth from the consideration of the whole context, there are two things which make it undeniably evident that our apostle asserts an evangelical Sabbath, or day of rest, to be constantly observed in and for the worship of God under the gospel. For, first, without this design there can be no tolerable reason assigned why he should mention the works of God from the foundation of the world, with his rest that ensued thereon, and refer us to the seventh day, which, without respect unto another day to be introduced, doth greatly involve his whole discourse. Again, his use of this word, σαββατισμός, “a sabbatism,”—which is framed, and as it were coined on purpose, that it might both comprise the spiritual rest aimed at, and also a sabbath-keeping, or observation of a sabbath rest,—manifests his purpose. When he speaks of our rest in general, he still doth it by κατάπαυσις, adding that there was an especial day for its enjoyment. Here he introduceth σαββατισμός, “a sabbatism;” which his way of arguing would not have allowed had he not designed to express the Christian Sabbath. Add hereunto that he subjoins the especial reason of such a day’s observation in the next verse, as we have declared. And here do we fix the foundation and reason of the Lord’s day, or the holy observation of the first day of the week, the obligation of the fourth commandment unto a weekly sacred rest being put off from the seventh day to the first, on the same ground and reason whereon the state of the church is altered from what it was under the law unto what it is now under the gospel. And the covenant itself also is changed; whence the seventh day is now of no more force than the old covenant and the old law of institutions contained in ordinances, because the Lord Christ hath ceased from his works and entered into his rest on the first day.

Owen, J. (1862). An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 19, pp. 416–422). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

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