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"I Will Give You Rest"

H A Barnes, Westhoughton


Amidst the unavoidable toil, trouble and turmoil of everyday life (see Job 5.7, 14.1, Eccl 1.8), many believers have expressed the same yearning for rest as did David, "the sweet psalmist of Israel", when he wrote "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest" (Ps 55.6).

The Lord Jesus perfectly appreciated the need for His disciples to enjoy physical and mental rest; on at least one occasion telling them to "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while" (Mk 6.31). The reason on that occasion was that "there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure [opportunity] so much as to eat." Mark's Gospel especially displays the Lord Jesus as the Perfect Servant who, while not seeking rest for Himself, completely appreciated the needs of others (Phil 2.4-5). Even when the disciples had failed Him by falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane, He said "Sleep on now, and take your rest" (Mk 14.41). By one means or another, at appropriate times, the Lord wants us also to value such physical and mental rest, by sensibly coming apart from the hustle and bustle of life and resting for "a while". However, the Lord Jesus has also fully provided spiritual rest for believers. Uniquely "among the special treasures of Matthew's Gospel"¹ (the Gospel with a Jewish emphasis), the Lord Jesus is recorded as offering rest. Then, in the epistle to the Hebrews, where we have a similar Jewish emphasis, rest is also promised (Heb 3.11, 18; 4.1, 3-5, 8-11). Taken together, these passages tell us that there is a present spiritual rest to be greatly enjoyed, as well as a future rest to be eagerly anticipated.

Rest Given

Matthew chapter 11 describes the rejection of the Lord Jesus in Galilee, a place that had been most privileged: "Then began he [Jesus] to upbraid [reproach] the cities [Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum] wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not" (v 20). They were quite self-satisfied, and saw no reason to change their minds about themselves, seeing as they thought themselves "wise and prudent" (v 25). It was then that the Lord Jesus issued the great general invitation "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (v 28). Although so many had turned away from Him, He still invited others! Those who thought of themselves as "wise and prudent" had the truth hidden from them, while those who might be looked upon as "babes" had the truth revealed (v 25). The invitation, although addressed to all, would only be seen as necessary by those joyless individuals who were toiling and feeling burdened. In the context, no doubt those addressed were struggling to perform "deeds of the law" (Rom 3.20), "works of righteousness" (Titus 3.5) and good "works" (Eph 2.9), which could bring neither salvation nor rest. "If it was the sense of sin which burdened them, so much the better. Every way the world no longer satisfied their hearts; they were miserable, and therefore the objects of the heart of Jesus."²

To those who come to the Lord Jesus under such circumstances, He promises the free gift of rest. Scholars tell us that the "I" in the Lord's promise is emphatic, highlighting that He, and only He, can give such rest. He did not clarify immediately how He would give them rest; that would come later, as the truth of justification by faith and the finished work of His cross would be unveiled in the Gospel. The experience of those who enjoy this truth was summed up by Horatius Bonar of Kelso, "the prince of Scottish hymn writers", who wrote in 1846:

I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

Rest Discovered

While this promised gift of rest in salvation is to be enjoyed, there is, nevertheless, work to be done. His offered yoke is the symbol of subjection to Him, and shared labour with Him. Those who take it upon themselves have then to learn something new from the Lord Jesus: "learn from me, because I am meek and humble in heart" (Mt 11.29, YLT³). This exercise is "to learn by observation",4 and the learning from such observation yields even more rest: "ye shall find rest unto [for] your souls." This is soul rest, found in lowly, Christ-like service.

The lesson to be learned from such observation of Him is that the proper attitude to service is to perform it with a meek and humble heart. Those who do so will find present rest for their souls, in contrast to the weary, burdensome efforts of following the law. The Lord explained why this is true: "For [because] my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (v 30). Before they came to Christ, they laboured and were burdened, but they found, in complete contrast, that His shared yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Robertson expands on the meaning of the word "easy" as "useful, good, and kindly." What better service is there, and what better motivation for service could one have? The Lord's humility was in keeping with His total submission to His Father's will as a burnt offering (Jn 4.34; 5.30; 6.38; 8.29; 14.31; 17.4). John and Peter, who had been with the Lord Jesus, encouraged the believers to be like Him: "He that saith he abideth in him [Christ] ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 Jn 2.6), even in His suffering "leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet 2.21). We should be imitators of Christ (1 Cor 11.1, JND5; 1 Thess 1.6, JND), the One who said "I have given you an example" (Jn 13.15). This progression from salvation to self-imposed, happy service is exemplified by the Thessalonian believers, who "turned to God … to serve" (1 Thess 1.9). Lying in the dust of the Damascus road, Paul likewise enquired "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9.6).


The total "rest" experience offered by the Lord Jesus to those who come to Him may be summed up in the verbs He used: "come"; "take"; "learn". Of these, Marvin R Vincent usefully commented:

Compare I will give you and ye shall find. The rest of Christ is twofold - given and found. It is given in pardon and reconciliation. It is found under the [taken and shared] yoke and the burden, in the development of Christian experience, as more and more the 'strain passes over' from self to Christ.6

Rest is to be received from Him in salvation, and discovered in learning from Him thereafter. Learning from Him is yet another way in which we "may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph 4.15).

1 Archibald Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1927.

2 J N Darby, Synopsis of the Bible.

3 Robert Young, Robert Young's Literal Translation (Revised Edition), 1889.

4 W E Vine & G C Benoit, Reflections on Words of the New Testament, Nelson, 2011.

5 J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures – A New Translation from the Original Languages.

6 Marvin R Vincent, New Testament Word Studies, Scribner, New York, 1887.


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