Today’s hymns have titles that seem at first sight rather contradictory: “Go labour on: spend and be spent…”, and “I heard the voice of Jesus say, come unto me and rest”. Both are great hymns by Horatio Bonar, a Scottish writer of wonderful hymns in the 19th century , and are focused around two great themes: labour, and rest.
It struck me that often as Christians we tend to major on one or the other. Some are very strong in their focus on doing the work that God requires, but so much so that the reality of Christ’s work for us gets neglected. Others emphasis the rest and completeness of Christ’s work, and give the impression that all the Christian is required to do is more deeply focus on what Christ has done – no more striving or effort is required. Some practice a Christian life based around “work”, others around “rest”.
The reality is that both are true parts of the Christian life. We are placed in Christ, given a new status in him, and as such we rest in his work, and his accomplishments for us. In addition when we come to be in Christ, his life is placed in us, and we work out that life in our lives. We work hard at doing the will of Christ.
That seems to be the pattern all through the Bible. Israel are saved by God’s mercy and compassion from Egypt, and given a new land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But to live out life in that land they are given careful instructions. In a letter such as Ephesians there is a focus in the first half on what Christ has done for us, and then in the second on how we are to live it out. If it all just happened automatically it would seem a little pointless to write in such detail what the new life looks like.
These hymns provide us with the clue to how we are to look at rest and work. With respect to knowing God, and enjoying his salvation we rest. It is done for us. With respect to a world that needs Christ, and needs Christians to live authentic lives of discipleship, we need to work – yes in the strength of God, but the struggle is still ours – as Paul writes in Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Furthermore the result of resting in Christ’s work for us is a desire to work hard in his service, and to make every effort to be holy – sometimes that desire burns more strongly than at others, and sometimes it is only the desire to desire, but it will always surface.
And indeed when that desire lapses, when our work fails, when we fall into sin or we choose to sin the process of rekindling that desire to work hard for Christ does not come from us, from our gritted teeth and fixed grin. Instead it comes from going back to the cross each day and making a new start in the light of all that has been done for us.
So read both hymns and be encouraged to live out the dual reality of rest and work in and for Christ.
Go, labour on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go, labour on! ’tis not for naught
Thine earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?
Go, labour on! enough, while here,
If He shall praise thee, if He deign
The willing heart to mark and cheer:
No toil for Him shall be in vain.
Go, labour on! Your hands are weak,
Your knees are faint, your soul cast down;
Yet falter not; the prize you seek
Is near—a kingdom and a crown.
Go, labour on while it is day:
The world’s dark night is hastening on;
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.
Men die in darkness at thy side,
Without a hope to cheer the tomb;
Take up the torch and wave it wide,
The torch that lights time’s thickest gloom.
Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray,
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.
Toil on, and in thy toil rejoice!
For toil comes rest, for exile home;
Soon shalt thou hear the Bridegroom’s voice,
The midnight peal, “Behold, I come!”
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.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.