Like other poems by George Herbert, this poem is based around a central conceit that adds so much to the meaning of the poem and what the poet is trying to convey. The poem basically talks about the way in which God chose to shower us with all forms of blessing when he created us, but held back from giving us everything, choosing to not give us the gift of "Rest." He supports this decision by saying:
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
If man was given the gift of Rest, God believes, he would be perfectly content in what he had and would not need to look up to God for true rest and blessing. The poem is based on a famous saying from St. Augustine, who said:
Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.
The conceit of the pulley comes in in the final stanza, in which the imagery of the pulley comes in to describe the way in which God showers man with blessing and how, ironically, not having rest will help man to come closer to God on the other side of the pulley:
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodness leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.
We are not given rest, but our restlessness will drag us down on one rope, causing us to rise on the other rope, towards God, who has wisely withheld rest so we need to go up to Him to receive it.