Adam Clarke Commentary
We must proceed from the first principles of the doctrine of Christ unto perfection, and not lay the foundation a second time, Hebrews 6:1-3. Those who were once enlightened, and have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost and the various blessings of the Gospel, if they apostatize from Christ, and finally reject him as their Savior, cannot be renewed again to repentance, Hebrews 6:4-6. The double similitude of the ground blessed of God, and bearing fruit; and of that ground which is cursed of God, and bears briers and thorns, Hebrews 6:7, Hebrews 6:8. The apostle‘s confidence in them, and his exhortation to diligence and perseverance, Hebrews 6:9-12. God‘s promise and oath to Abraham, by which the immutability of his counsel is shown, in order to excite our hope, Hebrews 6:13-18. Hope is the anchor of the soul, and enters within the veil, Hebrews 6:19, Hebrews 6:20.
Therefore - Because ye have been so indolent, slow of heart, and have still so many advantages.
Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ - Ceasing to continue in the state of babes, who must be fed with milk - with the lowest doctrines of the Gospel, when ye should be capable of understanding the highest.
Let us go on unto perfection - Let us never rest till we are adult Christians - till we are saved from all sin, and are filled with the spirit and power of Christ.
Laying again the foundation of repentance - The phrase νεκρα εργα , dead works, occurs but once more in the sacred writings, and that is in Hebrews 9:14 of this epistle; and in both places it seems to signify such works as deserve death - works of those who were dead in trespasses, and dead in sins; and dead by sentence of the law, because they had by these works broken the law. Repentance may be properly called the foundation of the work of God in the soul of man, because by it we forsake sin, and turn to God to find mercy.
Faith toward God - Is also a foundation, or fundamental principle, without which it is impossible to please God, and without which we cannot be saved. By repentance we feel the need of God‘s mercy, by faith we find that mercy.
Of the doctrine of baptisms - “There were two things,” says Dr. Owen, “peculiar to the Gospel, the doctrine of it and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Doctrine is called baptism, Deuteronomy 32:2; hence the people are said to be baptized to Moses, when they were initiated into his doctrines, 1 Corinthians 11:2. The baptism of John was his doctrine, Acts 19:3; and the baptism of Christ was the doctrine of Christ, wherewith he was to sprinkle many nations, Isaiah 52:15. This is the first baptism of the Gospel, even its doctrine. The other was the communication of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts 1:5; and this alone is what is intended by the laying on of hands; and then the sense will be the foundation of the Gospel baptisms, namely preaching and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.”
Laying on of hands - Was also frequent, especially in sacrifices: the person bringing the victim laid his hands on its head, confessed his sins over it, and then gave it to the priest to be offered to God, that it might make atonement for his transgressions. This also had respect to Jesus Christ, that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
1.Repentance, unto life.
2.Faith in God through Christ, by whom we receive the atonement.
6.The doctrine of the eternal or future judgment, which is to take place at the bar of Christ himself, God having committed all judgment to his Son, called here κριμα αιωνιον , eternal or ever during judgment, because the sentences then pronounced shall be irreversible.
Some understand the whole of the initiation of persons into the Church, as the candidates for admission were previously instructed in those doctrines which contained the fundamental principles of Christianity. The Hebrews had already received these; but should they Judaize, or mingle the Gospel with the law, they would thereby exclude themselves from the Christian Church, and should they be ever again admitted, they must come through the same gate, or lay a second time, παλιν , this foundation. But should they totally apostatize from Christ, and finally reject him, then it would be impossible to renew them again to repentance - they could no more be received into the Christian Church, nor have any right to any blessing of the Gospel dispensation; and, finally rejecting the Lord who bought them, would bring on themselves and their land swift destruction. See the 4th and following verses, and particularly the notes on Hebrews 6:8-9 (note).
And this will we do - God being my helper, I will teach you all the sublime truths of the Gospel; and show you how all its excellences were typified by the law, and particularly by its sacrificial system.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened - Before I proceed to explain the different terms in these verses, it is necessary to give my opinion of their design and meaning:
1.I do not consider them as having any reference to any person professing Christianity.
2.They do not belong, nor are they applicable, to backsliders of any kind.
4.And to those of them only who join with the blaspheming Jews, call Christ an impostor, and vindicate his murderers in having crucified him as a malefactor; and thus they render their salvation impossible, by wilfully and maliciously rejecting the Lord that bought them. No man believing in the Lord Jesus as the great sacrifice for sin, and acknowledging Christianity as a Divine revelation, is here intended, though he may have unfortunately backslidden from any degree of the salvation of God.
The design of these solemn words is evidently, First, to show the Hebrews that apostasy from the highest degrees of grace was possible; and that those who were highest in the favor of God might sin against him, lose it, and perish everlastingly. Secondly, to warn them against such an awful state of perdition, that they might not be led away, by either the persuasions or persecutions of their countrymen, from the truth of the heavenly doctrine which had been delivered to them. And, Thirdly, to point out the destruction which was shortly to come upon the Jewish nation.
Tasted of the heavenly gift - Having received the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, through the Day Spring which from on high had visited them; such having received Christ, the heavenly gift of God‘s infinite love, John 3:16; the living bread that came down from heaven, John 6:51; and thus tasting that the Lord is gracious; 1 Peter 2:3, and witnessing the full effects of the Christian religion.
Partakers of the Holy Ghost - The Spirit himself witnessing with their spirits that they were the children of God, and thus assuring them of God‘s mercy towards them, and of the efficacy of the atonement through which they had received such blessings.
And have tasted the good word of God - Have had this proof of the excellence of the promise of God in sending the Gospel, the Gospel being itself the good word of a good God, the reading and preaching of which they find sweet to the taste of their souls. Genuine believers have an appetite for the word of God; they taste it, and then their relish for it is the more abundantly increased. The more they get, the more they wish to have.
The powers of the world to come - Δυναμεις τε μελλοντος αιωνος . These words are understood two ways:
1.The powers of the world to come may refer to the stupendous miracles wrought in confirmation of the Gospel, the Gospel dispensation being the world to come in the Jewish phraseology, as we have often seen; and that δυναμις is often taken for a mighty work or miracle, is plain from various parts of the gospels. The prophets had declared that the Messiah, when he came, should work many miracles, and should be as mighty in word and deed as was Moses; see Deuteronomy 18:15-19. And they particularly specify the giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame, and speech to the dumb; Isaiah 35:5, Isaiah 35:6. All these miracles Jesus Christ did in the sight of this very people; and thus they had the highest evidence they could have that Jesus was this promised Messiah, and could have no pretense to doubt his mission, or apostatize from the Christian faith which they had received; and hence it is no wonder that the apostle denounces the most awful judgments of God against those who had apostatized from the faith, which they had seen thus confirmed.
2.The words have been supposed to apply to those communications and foretastes of eternal blessedness, or of the joys of the world to come, which they who are justified through the blood of the covenant, and walk faithfully with their God, experience; and to this sense the word γευσαμενους have tasted, is thought more properly to apply. But γευομαι , to taste, signifies to experience or have full proof of a thing. Thus, to taste death, Matthew 16:28, is to die, to come under the power of death, fully to experience its destructive nature as far as the body is concerned. See also Luke 9:27; John 8:52. And it is used in the same sense in Hebrews 2:9 of this epistle, where Christ is said to taste death for every man; for notwithstanding the metaphor, which the reader will see explained in the note on the above place, the word necessarily means that he did actually die, that he fully experienced death; and had the fullest proof of it and of its malignity he could have, independently of the corruption of his flesh; for over this death could have no power. And to taste that the Lord is gracious, 1 Peter 2:3, is to experience God‘s graciousness thoroughly, in being made living stones, built up into a spiritual house, constituted holy priests to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God; see 1 Peter 2:5. And in this sense it is used by the purest Greek writers. See several examples in Schleusner.
It seems, therefore, that the first opinion is the best founded.
If they shall fall away - Και παραπεσοντας And having fallen away. I can express my own mind on this translation nearly in the words of Dr. Macknight: “The participles φωτισθεντας , who were enlightened, γευσαμενους , have tasted, and γενηθεντας , were made partakers, being aorists, are properly rendered by our translators in the past time; wherefore, παραπεσοντας , being an aorist, ought likewise to have been translated in the past time, Have fallen away. Nevertheless, our translators, following Beza, who without any authority from ancient MSS. has inserted in his version the word si, if, have rendered this clause, If they fall away, that this text might not appear to contradict the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But as no translator should take upon him to add to or alter the Scriptures, for the sake of any favourite doctrine, I have translated παραπεσοντας in the past time, have fallen away, according to the true import of the word, as standing in connection with the other aorists in the preceding verses.”
To renew them again unto repentance - As repentance is the first step that a sinner must take in order to return to God, and as sorrow for sin must be useless in itself unless there be a proper sacrificial offering, these having rejected the only available sacrifice, their repentance for sin, had they any, would be nugatory, and their salvation impossible on this simple account; and this is the very reason which the apostle immediately subjoins: -
Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God - They reject him on the ground that he was an impostor, and justly put to death. And thus they are said to crucify him to themselves - to do that in their present apostasy which the Jews did; and they show thereby that, had they been present when he was crucified, they would have joined with his murderers.
And put him to an open shame - Παραδειγματιζοντας· And have made him a public example; or, crucifying unto themselves and making the Son of God a public example. That is, they show openly that they judge Jesus Christ to have been worthy of the death which he suffered, and was justly made a public example by being crucified. This shows that it is final apostasy, by the total rejection of the Gospel, and blasphemy of the Savior of men, that the apostle has in view. See the note on Hebrews 6:4 (note).
For the earth which drinketh in the rain - As much as if he had said: In giving up such apostates as utterly incurable, we act as men do in cultivating their fields; for as the ground, which drinketh in the rain by which the providence of God waters it, brings forth fruit to compensate the toil of the tiller, and continues to be cultivated, God granting his blessing to the labors of the husbandman; so,
That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected - That is: The land which, notwithstanding the most careful cultivation, receiving also in due times the early and latter rain, produces nothing but thorns and briers, or noxious weeds of different kinds, is rejected, αδοκιμος , is given up as unimprovable; its briers, thorns, and brushwood burnt down; and then left to be pastured on by the beasts of the field. This seems to be the custom in husbandry to which the apostle alludes. The nature of the case prevents us from supposing that he alludes to the custom of pushing and burning, in order to farther fertilization. This practice has been common from very early times: -
But this, I say the circumstances of the case prevent us from supposing to be intended.
Is nigh unto cursing - It is acknowledged, almost on all hands, that this epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This verse is in my opinion a proof of it, and here I suppose the apostle refers to that approaching destruction; and perhaps he has this all along in view, but speaks of it covertly, that he might not give offense.
But, beloved - Here he softens what he had before said; having given them the most solemn warning against apostasy, he now encourages them to persevere, commends the good that is in them, and excites them to watchfulness and activity.
Better things of you - Than that you shall resemble that unfruitful ground that can be improved by no tillage, and is thrown into waste, and is fit only for the beasts of the forests to roam in.
Things that accompany salvation - Τα εχομενα σωτηριας· Things that are suitable to a state of salvation; you give proofs still that you have not, whatever others have done, departed from the living God. Several of your brethren have already apostatized, and the whole nation is in a state of rebellion against God; and, in consequence of their final rejection of Christ and his Gospel, are about to be finally rejected by God. They must meet with destruction; they have the things that are suitable to, and indicative of, a state of reprobation; the wrath of God will come upon them to the uttermost; but, while they meet with destruction, you shall meet with salvation. It is worthy of remark, that no genuine Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem; they all, previously to the siege by Titus, escaped to Pella, in Coelosyria; and it is as remarkable that not one Jew escaped! all either fell by the sword, perished by famine, or were led into captivity! According to their own imprecation, His blood be upon us and our children, God visited and avenged the innocent blood of Christ upon them and upon their posterity; and they continue to be monuments of his displeasure to the present day.
God is not unrighteous - God is only bound to men by his own promise: this promise he is not obliged to make; but, when once made, his righteousness or justice requires him to keep it; therefore, whatever he has promised he will certainly perform. But he has promised to reward every good work and labor of love, and he will surely reward yours; God‘s promise is God‘s debt.
Ministered to the saints - Have contributed to the support and comfort of the poor Christians who were suffering persecution in Judea. As they had thus ministered, and were still ministering, they gave full proof that they had a common cause with the others; and this was one of the things that proved them to be in a state of salvation.
We desire - Επιθυμουμεν , We earnestly wish, that each person among you may continue ενδεικνυσθαι , to manifest, exhibit to full view, the same diligence. There might be reason to suspect that some, through fear of man, might not wish the good they did to be seen, lest they also should suffer persecution. This would not comport with the generous, noble spirit of the Gospel; the man who is afraid to let his decided attachment to God be known, is not far from backsliding. He who is more afraid of man than he is of God Almighty, can have very little religion. As the Church of Christ required all those who in these times embraced the Gospel to be publicly baptized, those who submitted to this rite gave full proof that they were thoroughly convinced of the truths of Christianity; and they gave this as a public pledge that they would be faithful.
The same diligence - They had an active faith and a labouring love, and the apostle wishes them to persevere in both. They were diligent, very diligent, and he desires them to continue so.
To the full assurance of hope - Προς την πληροφοριαν της ελπιδος “The full assurance of faith,” says Mr. Wesley, “relates to present pardon; the full assurance of hope, to future glory: the former is the highest degree of Divine evidence that God is reconciled to me in the Son of his love; the latter is the same degree of Divine evidence, wrought in the soul by the same immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, of persevering grace, and of eternal glory. So much as faith every moment beholds with open face, so much, and no more, does hope see to all eternity. But this assurance of faith and hope is not an opinion, not a bare construction of Scripture, but is given immediately by the power of the Holy Ghost, and what none can have for another, but for himself only.” We must not misapprehend these excellent sayings of this eminent man.
1.The person who has this full assurance of hope is he who not only knows and feels that his sins are forgiven through Christ Jesus, but also that his heart is purified from all unrighteousness, that the whole body of sin and death is destroyed, and that he is fully made a partaker of the Divine nature. As without holiness, complete, entire holiness, no man can see God: so, without this, none can scripturally or rationally hope for eternal glory; it being a contradiction to profess to have the full assurance of hope to enjoy a state and place for which the soul is conscious it is not prepared.
2.All that is said here must be understood as still implying the absolute necessity of continuing in the same degree of grace from which this full assurance of hope is derived. This full assurance, therefore, does not imply that the man will absolutely persevere to the end; but that, if he do persevere in this same grace, he shall infallibly have an eternal glory. There is no unconditional perseverance in the Scripture, nor can there be such in a state of probation.
That ye be not slothful - This shows how the full assurance of hope is to be regulated and maintained. They must be diligent; slothfulness will deprive them both of hope and faith. That faith which worketh by love will maintain hope in its full and due exercise.
Followers of them - Μιμηται δε - κληρονομουντων τας επαγγελιας· That ye be mimics or imitators of them who are inheriting the promises. And they inherited these promises by faith in him who is invisible, and who, they knew, could not lie; and they patiently endured, through difficulties and adversities of every kind, and persevered unto death. “The promises made to Abraham and to his seed were,
1.That Abraham should have a numerous seed by faith as well as by natural descent.
2.That God would be a God to him and to his seed in their generations, by being the object of their worship and their protector.
1.They were become Abraham‘s seed by faith.
All these blessings were bestowed upon them through Christ. By observing that the believing Gentiles were actually inheriting the promises; i.e. the four promised blessings above mentioned, the apostle appealed to an undeniable fact, in proof that the believing Gentiles, equally with the believing Jews, were heirs of the promises made to Abraham and his seed.” See Dr. Macknight. The promises may be considered as referring to the rest of faith here, and the rest of glory hereafter.
When God made promise to Abraham - The promise referred to is that made to Abraham when he had offered his son Isaac on the altar, Genesis 22:16-18: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Of this promise the apostle only quotes a part, as is generally the case, because he knew that his readers were well acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and particularly with the law.
He sware by himself - He pledged his eternal power and Godhead for the fulfillment of the promise; there was no being superior to himself to whom he could make appeal, or by whom he could be bound, therefore he appeals to and pledges his immutable truth and Godhead.
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee - I will continue to bless thee.
Multiplying I will multiply thee - I will continue to increase thy posterity. In the most literal manner God continues to fulfill this promise; genuine Christians are Abraham‘s seed, and God is increasing their number daily. See the notes on Genesis 22:12-18 (note); and Genesis 23:1 (note).
He obtained the promise - Isaac was supernaturally born; and in his birth God began to fulfill the promise: while he lived, he saw a provision made for the multiplication of his seed; and, having continued steadfast in the faith, he received the end of all the promises in the enjoyment of an eternal glory. And the inference from this is: If we believe and prove faithful unto death, we shall also inherit the promises; and this is what is implied in the apostle‘s exhortation, Hebrews 6:12: Be not slothful, but followers of them, etc.
Men verily swear by the greater - One who has greater authority; who can take cognizance of the obligation, and punish the breach of it.
An oath for confirmation - “This observation teaches us,” says Dr. Macknight, “that both promissory oaths concerning things lawful and in our power, and oaths for the confirmation of things doubtful, when required by proper authority, and taken religiously, are allowable under the Gospel.”
The heirs of promise - All the believing posterity of Abraham, and the nations of the earth or Gentiles in general.
The immutability of his counsel - His unchangeable purpose, to call the Gentiles to salvation by Jesus Christ; to justify every penitent by faith; to accept faith in Christ for justification in place of personal righteousness; and finally to bring every persevering believer, whether Jew or Gentile, to eternal glory.
That by two immutable things - The promise and oath of God: the promise pledged his faithfulness and justice; the oath, all the infinite perfections of his Godhead, for he sware by himself. There is a good saying in Beracoth on Exodus 32:13, fol. 32: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self. “What is the meaning of by thine own self? Rab. Eleazar answered, Thus said Moses to the holy blessed God, Lord of all the world. If thou hadst sworn to them by the heavens and the earth, then I should have said, As the heavens and the earth shall pass away, so may thy oath pass away. But now thou hast sworn unto them by thy great name, which liveth, and which endureth for ever, and for ever and ever; therefore thy oath shall endure for ever, and for ever and ever.”
We might have a strong consolation - There appears to be an allusion here to the cities of refuge, and to the persons who fled to them for safety. As the person who killed his neighbor unawares was sure if he gained the city of refuge he should be safe, and had strong consolation in the hope that he should reach it, this hope animated him in his race to the city; he ran, he fled, knowing that, though in danger the most imminent of losing his life, yet, as he was now acting according to an ordinance of God, he was certain of safety provided he got to the place.
Which hope we have as an anchor - The apostle here changes the allusion; he represents the state of the followers of God in this lower world as resembling that of a vessel striving to perform her voyage through a troublesome, tempestuous, dangerous sea. At last she gets near the port; but the tempest continues, the water is shallow, broken, and dangerous, and she cannot get in: in order to prevent her being driven to sea again she heaves out her sheet anchor, which she has been able to get within the pier head by means of her boat, though she could not herself get in; then, swinging at the length of her cable, she rides out the storm in confidence, knowing that her anchor is sound, the ground good in which it is fastened, and the cable strong. Though agitated, she is safe; though buffeted by wind and tide, she does not drive; by and by the storm ceases, the tide flows in, her sailors take to the capstan, wear the ship against the anchor, which still keeps its bite or hold, and she gets safely into port. See on Hebrews 6:20 (note).
Whither the forerunner - The word προδρομος , (prodromos), does not merely signify one that goes or runs before another, but also one who shows the way, he who first does a particular thing; also the first fruits. So in the Septuagint, Isaiah 28:4, προδρομος συκου signifies the first fruits of the fig tree, or the first ripe figs.
After the order of Melchisedec - After a long digression the apostle resumes his explanation of Psalm 110:4, which he had produced, Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 5:10, in order to prove the permanency of the high priesthood of Christ.
1.We have in this chapter a very solemn warning against backsliding and apostasy, and that negligence and sloth which are their forerunners. A man cannot be careless about God and heaven, till he has lost his relish for sacred things; and this relish he cannot lose while he is diligent and faithful. The slightest departure from truth and purity may ultimately lead to a denying, and even reviling, of the Lord who bought him.
2.Every obedient believer in Christ Jesus has both the oath and promise of God that he will make all grace abound towards him, for in blessing God will bless him; he may be greatly agitated and distressed, but, while he continues in the obedience of faith, he will ride out the storm. His anchor is within the veil while his heart is right with God. Jesus is gone before to prepare a place for him; and where the first fruits are, there will soon be the whole lump. He who perseveres unto death shall as surely see God as Jesus Christ now does. God‘s oath and promise cannot fail.
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