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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Hebrews 6

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Hebrews 6:1-2. Therefore — Seeing that most of you have continued so ignorant, although you have been so long favoured with the light of the gospel, and various means of edification, it is high time for you to labour for more knowledge and grace, and for me to instruct you further; leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ — That is, saying no more for the present, of those things in which those who embrace Christianity are wont to be first instructed. The original expression, τον της αρχης του χριστου λογον, is, literally, the word of the beginning of Christ, as in the margin; and signifies those parts of the Christian doctrine which men were usually and properly first instructed in; and which the apostle immediately enumerates. They are the same with the first principles of the oracles of God, mentioned Hebrews 5:12. But it must be observed that the signification of the words must be limited to the present occasion; for if we consider the things here spoken of absolutely, they are never to be left, either by teachers or hearers. There is a necessity that teachers should often insist on the rudiments, or first principles, of religion; not only with respect to them who are continually to be trained up in knowledge from their infancy, but also those who have made a further progress in knowledge. And this course we find our apostle to have followed in all his epistles. Nor are any hearers so to leave these principles, as to forget them, or not duly to make use of them. Cast aside a constant regard to them, in their proper place, and no progress can be made in knowledge, no more than a building can be carried on when the foundation is taken away.

Let us go on unto perfection — Unto a perfect acquaintance with the more sublime and difficult truths, and the high privileges and duties of Christianity; not laying again — What has been laid already; the foundation of repentance from dead works — That is, from the works done by those who are dead in sin, or who, through sin, are under condemnation to the second death, are alienated from the life of God, and carnally minded, which is death, Romans 8:6. See note on Ephesians 2:1-2. Not only are known and wilful sins, which proceed from spiritual death, and if not pardoned and taken away, end in death eternal, here intended; but even all works, though apparently moral, charitable, and pious, are but dead works, before the living God, if they do not proceed from spiritual life in the soul, or from living faith, even the faith which worketh by love, (Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:3,) as their principle, and be not directed to the glory of God as their end.

And faith toward God — Looking to, and confiding in him for pardon, holiness, and eternal life, through Christ. Of the doctrine of baptisms — The apostle does not speak of the legal washings in use among the Jews, whether by immersion, ablution, or sprinkling; (for why should those who believed in Christ be instructed concerning these?) but John’s baptism and that of Christ, which were distinct from each other, and were subjects of disputation with many among the Jews, Mark 7:3-4; John 3:22-26. John admitted the penitent to the baptism of water; and, in obedience to the command of Christ, (Matthew 28:19,) the apostles baptized all that professed to believe in him, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Or, as Whitby thinks, the apostle is here to be understood of the double baptism “of which John spake, when he said, I baptize you with water, but he that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, Matthew 3:11; and of which Christ spake to Nicodemus, (John 3:5,) saying, Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. For this, in order, followed the doctrine of repentance, and of faith in God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And the laying on of hands — The imposition of hands was used by the apostles and first Christian ministers in the healing of diseases, and in setting persons apart for the work of the ministry; but neither of these were common to all Christians, nor joined with baptism; nor were they reckoned among the principles of the doctrine of Christ, or the initiatory doctrines of the Christian faith. We must therefore understand this of that imposition of the apostles’ hands which was wont to be used, after baptism, to confer upon the persons baptized the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost. See Acts 8:14-17; Acts 19:6. And this was a matter wherein the glory of the gospel and its propagation were highly concerned; indeed, next to the preaching of the word, it was the great means used by God for bringing both Jews and Gentiles over to the faith of the gospel, or for establishing them therein.

And the resurrection of the dead — Namely, of the bodies of the dead; and of eternal judgment — The future and general judgment, called eternal, because the sentence then pronounced will be irreversible, and the effects of it remain for ever. In which two last-mentioned articles, the penitent and believing, that had been admitted to baptism, were more fully instructed, as being most powerful motives to engage them herein to exercise themselves to have always consciences void of offence toward God and toward all men. “Interpreters observe,” says Whitby, “that the doctrine of Origen, touching the period of the torments of the damned, is here condemned; and indeed the primitive father’s not Origen himself excepted, taught the contrary. ‘If we do not the will of Christ,’ says Clemens Romanus, ‘nothing will deliver us from eternal punishment.’ ‘The punishment of the damned,’ says Justin Martyr, ‘is endless punishment and torment in eternal fire.’ In Theophilus it is, ‘eternal punishment.’ Irenæus, in his symbol of faith, makes this one article, ‘that God would send the ungodly and unjust into everlasting fire.’ Tertullian declares, ‘that all men are appointed to torment or refreshment, both eternal.’ And ‘if any man,’ says he, ‘thinks the wicked are to be consumed and not punished, let him remember that hell-fire is styled eternal, because designed for eternal punishment; and their substance will remain for ever whose punishment doth so.’ St. Cyprian says, ‘The souls of the wicked are kept with their bodies to be grieved with endless torments.’ ‘There is no measure nor end of their torments,’ says Minutius. Lastly, Origen reckons this among the doctrines defined by the church; ‘That every soul, when it goes out of this world, shall either enjoy the inheritance of eternal life and bliss, if its deeds have rendered it fit for bliss; or be delivered up to eternal fire and punishment, if its sins have deserved that state.’”


Verses 3-5

Hebrews 6:3-5. And this we will do — We will go on to perfection; if God permit — That is, afford assistance and opportunity. And we will do this the rather, and the more diligently, because it is impossible for those who were once enlightened — With the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, (Ephesians 4:21,) and have been made free thereby from the bondage of sin and Satan, John 8:31-36; and have tasted the heavenly gift — The gift of righteousness imputed to them, Romans 5:17; faith counted for righteousness; or the remission of sins through faith in Christ, sweeter than honey to the taste; and have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost — Of the witness and fruits of the Spirit of God; and have tasted the good word of God — Have had a relish for and delight in the doctrine of the gospel, have fed upon it, and been nourished by it; and the powers of the world to come ΄ελλοντος αιωνος, of the future age, as the Christian dispensation was termed by the Jews, the Messiah being called by the LXX. in their interpretation of Isaiah 9:6, (instead of the everlasting Father, which is our translation of the clause,) πατηρ του μελλοντος αιωνος, the Father of the age to come. If the expression be thus taken, by the powers, here spoken of, we are to understand the privileges and blessings of the gospel dispensation in general, including, at least with regard to some, the miraculous gifts conferred on many of the first Christians. But as the future state, or future world, may be meant, the expression may be understood of those earnests and anticipations of future felicity which every one tastes who has a hope full of immortality. “Every child that is naturally born, first sees the light, then receives and tastes proper nourishment, and partakes of the things of this world. In like manner the apostle, comparing spiritual with natural things, speaks of one born of the Spirit as seeing the light, tasting the sweetness, and partaking of the things of the world to come.” — Wesley.


Verse 6

Hebrews 6:6. If they fall away — Literally, and have fallen away. The preceding participles, φωτισθεντας, γευσαμενους, and γενηθεντας, being aorists, says Macknight, “are rightly rendered by our translators in the past time; who were enlightened, have tasted, were made partakers; wherefore παραπεσοντας, being also an aorist, ought 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 the word in the past time, have fallen away, according to its true import, as standing in connection with the other aorists in the preceding verses.” “Two things,” says Pierce, “are here to be observed: 1st, That he speaks of such only as fell away from the very profession of Christianity. This appears from what he presently adds, to set forth the aggravations of their guilt, that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame” — That is, show themselves to be of the same mind with those that did crucify him, and would do it again were it in their power; and do all they can to make him contemptible and despised. “It is therefore very unreasonable for persons to give way to despair themselves, or to drive others to it, by applying to other sins this text, which only relates to total apostacy. 2d, As the same thing is spoken of again, Hebrews 10:26, &c., it cannot be improper to compare the two places together, in order to our fully understanding his design. And therefore, from the other place, I would explain this, If they shall, εκουσιως, wilfully, fall away. But it may be inquired why our author speaks so severely of the condition of such apostates. Now the reason of this may be taken partly from the nature of the evidence which they rejected. The fullest and clearest evidence which God ever designed to give of the truth of Christianity, was these miraculous operations of the Spirit; and when men were not only eye-witnesses of these miracles, but were likewise themselves (probably) empowered by the Spirit to work them, and yet after all rejected this evidence, they could have no further or higher evidence whereby they should be convinced; so that their case must, in that respect, appear desperate. This may be partly owing to their putting themselves out of the way of conviction. If they could not see enough to settle them in the Christian religion, while they made a profession of it, much less were they like to meet with any thing new to convince and reclaim them, when they had taken up an opposite profession, and joined themselves with the inveterate enemies of Christianity. And finally, this may be resolved into the righteous judgment of God against such men for the heinous and aggravated wickedness of which they are guilty.”


Verse 7-8

Hebrews 6:7-8. For the earth which drinketh in the rain, &c. — Thus they to whom the gospel is preached, and who believe and embrace it, bring forth the fruits of repentance, faith, and new obedience, and are accepted and blessed by God with further measures of grace, according to Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29, where see the notes. But that which beareth thorns and briers — Only or chiefly; is rejected — No more labour is bestowed upon it; and is nigh unto cursing — As in the blessing mentioned in the former verse, there is an allusion to the primitive blessing, whereby the earth was rendered fruitful, Genesis 1:11; so in the curse, here mentioned, there is an allusion to the curse pronounced on the earth after the fall, Genesis 3:17. Whose end is to be burned — A principal part of the eastern agriculture consists in leading rills of water from ponds, fountains, and brooks to render the fields fruitful. When this is neglected, the land is scorched by the heat and drought of the climate, and so, being burned up, is altogether sterile. Or, he may refer to the custom of husbandmen’s burning up the thorns and briers produced by barren ground. The apostle’s meaning is, that as land, which is unfruitful under every method of culture, will at length be deserted by the husbandmen, and burned up with drought; so those that enjoy the means of grace, and yet bring forth nothing but evil tempers, words, and works, must expect to be deprived of the means they enjoy, and exposed to utter ruin. And the apostle particularly referred in these words to the Jewish nation, the generality of whom rejected the gospel, while many others, who had received it, apostatized from it; and who therefore, in a peculiar sense, were exposed to the divine malediction, as was signified by Christ’s cursing the barren fig-tree, mentioned Mark 11:13; Mark 11:20. The consequence of which was the burning of their city and temple, and the slaughter of many hundreds of thousands of them shortly after this epistle was written, together with the awful state of spiritual barrenness in which the remnant of them have long lain.


Verses 9-11

Hebrews 6:9-11. But, beloved — In this one place he calls them so. He never uses this appellation but in exhorting; we are persuaded better things of you — Than those intimated verges 4-6. This is exactly in St. Paul’s manner of softening the harsh things he found himself obliged to write. See Ephesians 4:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:13. And things that accompany salvation — Which argue you to be in a state of salvation, and will in the end, if you persevere, bring you to eternal salvation; namely, sincere faith in Christ and his gospel, love to God and one another, and obedience to his will; though we thus speak — Declare the danger of apostacy to warn you, lest you should fall from your present steadfastness. For God is not unrighteous to forget, &c. — You give plain proof of your faith and love, which the righteous God will surely reward; and, or rather, but, we desire that every one of you do continue to show the same diligence — Which you have used hitherto; and therefore we thus speak; to the full assurance of hope — That you may be fully confirmed in your hope of eternal felicity; unto the end — As long as you live; which you cannot expect if you abate of your diligence. “The full assurance of faith 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 us 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, and no more, as faith every moment beholds with open face, so much 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.” — Wesley.


Verse 12

Hebrews 6:12. That ye be not slothful νωθροι, careless and negligent, or dull, sluggish, and indolent, namely, in the use of the means of grace, or in those works of piety and virtue which are the proper fruits of faith and love; but followers μιμηται, imitators; of them who through faith — In God, and in the truths and promises of his holy word; and patience — Or, long-suffering, as ΄ακροθυμιας rather signifies, enduring long in the constant exercise of faith, hope, and love, notwithstanding any or all opposition, and the bearing all trials and troubles, of whatever kind, with composure of mind and resignation to the divine will; inherit the promises — Dr. Whitby would render it, inherited the promises, supposing that the expression refers to the promises made to Abraham and the other patriarchs respecting the multiplication of their seed, their being put in possession of Canaan, and the various other promises made to them, the accomplishment of which they afterward received. But the participle, κληρονομουντων, being in the present tense, will hardly bear to be so rendered, signifying literally, are inheriting, namely, the promises. Pierce and Macknight, therefore, understand it of the believing Gentiles, who at the time when the apostle wrote were inheriting those promises made to Abraham concerning all nations of the earth being blessed in him and his seed. But, as Dr. Doddridge observes, if this were intended as a hint to stir up the Jews to emulation, as is supposed, “it was indeed a very obscure one; for, comparatively, it is a low sense in which Christians, in this imperfect state, can be said to inherit the promises. It seems rather to refer to all good men, who were departed out of our world, whether in former or latter days, and under whatever dispensation they died. Taking it in this view, it is a conclusive argument against the soul’s continuing in a state of sleep during the intermediate period between death and the resurrection.” This certainly seems the most natural interpretation of the verse, namely, that “the apostle meant to lead his readers to meditate on the happiness of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Job, and all those who had on earth lived by faith in the promises of God, especially the great promise of a Saviour, and eternal salvation by him; and had patiently waited, laboured, and suffered in the obedience of faith; and in consequence were at the time, when the apostle wrote this, inheriting the promises of God, of eternal blessings, through Christ, to all believers.” — Scott.


Verses 13-15

Hebrews 6:13-15. For when God made promise, &c. — As if he had said, And it appears that this is the way to partake of mercies promised, because Abraham was obliged to exercise faith and long-suffering before he obtained the accomplishment of the promise made to him. The promise here referred to, is that which God made to Abraham after he had laid Isaac on the altar, Genesis 22:16-17. For on no other occasion did God confirm any promise to Abraham with an oath. To Abraham — Whose spiritual as well as natural seed you believing Hebrews are, and therefore shall partake of the same promises and blessings which were ensured to him. Because he could swear by no greater person, he sware by himself — By his own sacred and divine name; saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee — And all believers in thee; and multiplying I will multiply thee — Both thy natural and thy spiritual seed. The apostle quotes only the first words of the oath; but his reasoning is founded on the whole; and particularly on the promise, (Genesis 22:18,) And in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. They shall be blessed by having their faith counted to them for righteousness, through thy seed, Christ. And so after he had patiently endured ΄ακροθυμησας, after he had waited, or suffered long: he waited about thirty years before Isaac was born, after he was promised; he obtained the promise — Here, by a usual figure of speech, the promise is put for the thing promised. “In the birth of Isaac, Abraham obtained the beginning of the accomplishment of God’s promise concerning his numerous natural progeny. Moreover, as the birth of Isaac was brought about supernaturally by the divine power, it was both a proof and a pledge of the accomplishment of the promise concerning the birth of his numerous spiritual seed. Wherefore, in the birth of Isaac, Abraham may truly be said to have obtained the accomplishment of the promise concerning his numerous spiritual seed likewise. In any other sense, Abraham did not obtain the accomplishment of that promise.”


Verse 16-17

Hebrews 6:16-17. For men verily swear by the greater — By persons greater than themselves, whose vengeance they imprecate if they swear falsely; and particularly by Him who is infinitely greater than themselves; and an oath for confirmation — To confirm what is promised or asserted; is to them an end of all strife πασης αντιλογιας περας, usually puts an end to all contradiction. This shows that an oath taken in a religious manner, is lawful, even under the gospel: otherwise the apostle would never have mentioned it with so much honour, as a proper means to confirm the truth. Wherein — In which business of confirming his promise; God, willing more abundantly — Beyond what was absolutely necessary, and out of his superabundant love to and care for us; to show unto the heirs of promise — To Abraham’s spiritual seed, whose faith is counted for righteousness, and who partake of the blessings promised; the immutability of his counsel — Of his purpose, which is accompanied with infinite wisdom; confirmed it — Greek, εμεσιτευσεν, interposed, or came between the making of the promise and its accomplishment. The expression, says Macknight, “literally signifies, he mediatored it with an oath: he made an oath, the mediator, surety, or ratifier of his counsel.” This sense of the word merits attention, because it suggests a fine interpretation of Hebrews 9:15, where see the note. What amazing condescension was this of God! He, who is greatest of all, acts as if he were a middle person; as if, while he swears, he were less than himself, by whom he swears.


Verse 18-19

Hebrews 6:18-19. That by two immutable things in either, much more in both, of which it was impossible for God to lie — To alter his purpose and disappoint our expectation; we might have a strong consolation — A powerful argument to believe the promise with a confidence excluding all doubt and fear, and might receive a great comfort thereby; who have fled for refuge — Who, under a consciousness of our sinfulness and guilt, depravity, weakness, and wretchedness, have betaken ourselves for safety from deserved wrath; to lay hold on the hope — The promise (so confirmed by an oath) which is the ground of our hope; set before us in Christ — Through whom alone we can have salvation, present and eternal; which hope — In and through Christ, our righteousness and sanctification; we have as an anchor of the soul — The apostle here alludes to an anchor, which when cast, both preserves the vessel from losing the ground she has gained, and keeps her steady amid the winds and waves, when the art and skill of the mariners are overcome, and they cannot steer the ship in its right course, nor could otherwise preserve it from rocks, shelves, or sand- banks; both sure — ασφαλη, safe, that will not fail, or may with confidence be trusted to, the matter of which it is formed being solid, and the proportion of it suited to the burden of the ship; and steadfast βεβαιαν, firm against all opposition, which no violence of winds or storms can either break or move from its hold; and which entereth into that within the veil — He alludes to the veil which divided the holy place of the Jewish tabernacle or temple from the most holy: and thus he slides back to the priesthood of Christ. But he does not speak of that which was within the veil, namely, the ark and mercy-seat, the tables of stone, and cherubim, the work of men’s hands, but of the things signified by them; God himself on a throne of grace, and the Lord Christ, as the high-priest of the church, at his right hand: or the Father as the author, the Lord Jesus as the purchaser, and the covenant as the conveyer of all grace; which were all typically represented by the things within the veil. And the apostle makes use of this allusion to instruct the Hebrews in the nature and use of the old tabernacle institutions; and from thence in the true nature of the priesthood of Christ, to which he is now returning. The meaning is, that the believer’s hope lays hold on God himself, on a throne of grace and on Christ as the High-Priest of the church, who is in heaven itself, the place of God’s presence, typified by the holy of holies.


Verse 20

Hebrews 6:20. Whither the forerunner προδρομος, a forerunner, is one who goes before to do some service for another who is to follow: in which sense also the Latin word ante-cursor is used. A forerunner uses to be less in dignity than those that are to follow him: but it is not so here; for Christ, who is gone before us, is infinitely superior to us; is for us entered — Namely, for our good. 1st, To prepare a place for us, John 14:2. 2d, To make continual intercession for us. 3d, To make us partakers of his own glory, John 17:24; Revelation 3:21. 4th, To take possession of heaven for us, John 14:3. What an honour is it to believers to have so glorious a forerunner now appearing in the presence of God for them! Made a High-Priest for ever — Christ ascended to heaven, 1st, To open it to us by the sacrifice of himself, and to plant our hope of eternal life there as an anchor of the soul. 2d, Because having opened heaven, he remains there as the High-Priest of that holy place, to introduce all believers into the presence of God. This shows in what sense Jesus is a High-Priest for ever. He is so, not by offering sacrifice for ever in behalf of his people, but by interceding for them always, Romans 8:34; and by introducing them into the presence of God by the merit of the one sacrifice of himself, which he offered to God without spot.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/hebrews-6.html. 1857.


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Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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