Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews Pink's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ awp/ hebrews-6.html.
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
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Infancy and Maturity.
(Hebrews 6:1-3 )
The interpretation which we shall give of the above verses is not at all in accord with that advanced by the older writers. It differs considerably from that found in the commentaries of Drs. Calvin, Owen and Gouge, and more recently, those of A. Saphir, and Dr. J. Brown. Much as we respect their works, and deeply as we are indebted to not a little that is helpful in them, yet we dare not follow them blindly. To "prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ) is ever our bounden duty. Though it is against our natural inclination to depart from the exposition they suggested (several, with some diffidence), yet we are thankful to God that in later years He has granted some of His servants increased light from His wondrous and exhaustless Word. May it please Him to vouchsafe us still more.
The writers mentioned above understood the expression "the principles of the doctrine of Christ," or as the margin of the Revised Version more accurately renders "the word of the beginning of Christ," to refer to the elementary truths of Christianity, a summary of which is given in the six items that follow in the second half of verse 1 and the whole of verse 2; while the "Let us go on unto perfection," they regarded as a call unto the deeper and higher things of the Christian revelation. But for reasons which to us seem conclusive, such a view of our passage is altogether untenable. It fails to take into account the central theme of this Epistle, and the purpose for which it was written. It does not do justice at all to the immediate context. It completely breaks down when tested in its details.
As we have repeated so often in the course of this series of articles, the theme of our Epistle is the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Unless the interpreter keeps this steadily in mind as he proceeds from chapter to chapter, and from passage to passage, he is certain to err. This is the key which unlocks every section, and if attempt be made to open up any portion without it, the effect can only be strained and forced. The importance of this consideration cannot be overestimated, and several striking exemplifications of it have already been before us in our survey of the previous chapters. Here too it will again stand us in good stead, if we but use it. The apostle is not contrasting two different stages of Christianity, an infantile and a mature; rather is he opposing, once more, the substance over against the shadows. He continues to press upon the Hebrews their need of forsaking the visible for the invisible, the typical for the antitypical.
That in taking up our present passage it is also of first importance to study its connection with the immediate context, is evident from its very first word, "Therefore." The apostle is here drawing a conclusion from something said previously. This takes us back to what is recorded in Hebrews 5:11-14 , for a right understanding of which depends a sound exposition of what immediately follows. In these verses the apostle rebukes the Hebrews for their spiritual sloth, and likens them to little children capacitated to receive nothing but milk. He tells them that they have need of one teaching them again "which be the first principles of the oracles of God," which denoted they had not yet clearly grasped the fact that Judaism was but a temporary economy, because a typical one, its ordinances and ceremonies foreshadowing Him who was to come here and make an atonement for the sins of His people. Now that He had come and finished His work the types had served their purpose, and the shadows were replaced by the Substance.
The spiritual condition in which the Hebrew saints were at the time the Holy Spirit moved the apostle to address this Epistle to them, is another important key to the opening of its hortatory sections. As we showed in our last article, the language of Hebrews 5:11-14 plainly intimates that they have gone backward. The cause of this is made known in the 10th chapter, part of which takes us back to a point in time prior to what is recorded in chapter 5. First in Hebrews 10:32 we read, "But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great flight of afflictions." This "great flight of afflictions" they had, as verse 34 tells us, taken "joyfully." Very remarkable and rare was this. How was such an experience to be accounted for? The remainder of verse 34 tells us, "Knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance."
But this blessed and spiritual state which characterized the Hebrews in the glow of "first love" had not been maintained. While affections were set upon things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, whilst faith was in exercise, they realized that their real portion was on High. But faith has to be tested, patience has to be tried, and unless faith be maintained "hope deferred maketh the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12 ). Alas, their faith had wavered, and in consequence they had become dissatisfied to have nothing down here; they became impatient of waiting for an unseen and future inheritance. It was for this reason that the apostle said to them, "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:35 , Hebrews 10:36 ).
Now it was this discontented and impatient condition of soul into which they had fallen, which accounts for the state in which we find them in Hebrews 5:11 , Hebrews 5:12 . So too it explains the various things referred to in chapter 6. That is why the apostle was moved to set before them the most solemn warning found in verses 4-6. That is why we find "hope" so prominent in what follows: see verses 11, 18, 19. That is why reference is made to "patience" in verse 12. That is why Abraham is referred to, and why his "patience" is singled out for mention in verse 15. And that is why in our present passage the Hebrews are urged to "go on unto perfection," and why the apostle interposes a doubt in the matter: "This will we do, if God permit" (verse 3), for there was good reason to believe that their past conduct had provoked Him. Thus we see again how wondrously and how perfectly Scripture interprets itself, and how much we need to "compare spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Corinthians 2:13 ).
The sixth chapter of Hebrews does not commence a new section of the Epistle, but continues the digression into which the apostle had entered at Hebrews 5:11 . In view of the disability of those to whom he was writing receiving unto their edification the high and glorious mysteries which he desired to expound, the apostle goes on to set before them various reasons and arguments to excite a diligent attention thereunto. First, he declares his intention positively: to "go on unto perfection" (verse 1). Second, he names, what he intended to "leave," namely, "the word of the beginning of Christ" (verses 1-3). Third, he warns of the certain doom of apostates (verses 4-8). Fourth, he softens this warning in the case of the converted Hebrews (verses 9-14). Fifth, he gives an inspiring encouragement to faith, taken from the life of Abraham (verses 15-21).
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ" (verse 1). As already pointed out, the first word of this verse denotes that there is a close link between what has immediately preceded and what now follows. This will appear yet more clearly if we attend closely to the exact terms here used. The word "principles" in this verse is the same as rendered "first" in Hebrews 5:12 . The word "doctrine" is found in its plural form and is translated "oracles" in Hebrews 5:12 . The word "perfection" is given as "of full age" in Hebrews 5:14 . Thus it is very evident that the apostle is here continuing the same subject which he began in the previous chapter.
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ." The rendering of the A.V. of this clause is very faulty and misleading. The verb is in the past tense, not the present. Bagster’s Interlinear correctly gives "Wherefore having left." This difference of rendition is an important one, for it enables us to understand more readily the significance of what follows. The apostle was stating a positive fact, not pleading for a possibility. He was not asking the Hebrews to take a certain step, but reminding them of one they had already taken. They had left the "principles of the doctrine of Christ," and to them he did not wish them to return.
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ." More accurately, "Wherefore having left the word of the beginning of Christ." Bagster’s Interlinear, which gives a literal word for word translation of the Greek, renders it, "Wherefore, having left the of the beginning of the Christ discourse." This expression is parallel with the "first principles of the oracles of God" in Hebrews 5:12 . It has reference to what God has made known concerning His Son under Judaism. In the Old Testament two things are outstandingly prominent in connection with Christ: first, prophecies of His coming into the world; second, types and figures of the work He should perform. These predictions had now received their fulfillment, those shadows had now found their substance, in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. This, the "holy brethren" (Hebrews 3:1 ) among the Jews had acknowledged. Thus they had "left" the ABC’s, for the Word Himself, the pictures for the Reality.
"Let us go on unto perfection." There is the definite article in the Greek, and "The Perfection" is obviously set in apposition to "The word of the beginning of Christ:" note, not of "the Lord Jesus," but of "Christ," i.e., the Messiah. It is the contrast, once more, between Judaism and Christianity. That which is here referred to as "The Perfection" is the full revelation which God now made of Himself in the person of His incarnate Son. No longer is He veiled by types and shadows, His glory is seen fully in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6 ). The only begotten Son has "declared" Him here on earth (John 1:18 ); but having triumphantly finished the work which was given Him to do, He has been "received up into glory" (1 Timothy 3:16 ), and upon an exalted and enthroned Christ the affection of the believer is now to be set (Colossians 3:1 ).
"Wherefore having left . . . let us go on unto perfection." The first word looks back to all that the apostle had said. It is a conclusion drawn from the contents of the whole preceding five chapters. Its force is: In view of the fact that God has now spoken to us in His Son; in view of who He is, namely, the appointed Heir of all things, the Maker of the worlds, the Brightness, of God’s glory, and the very Impress of His substance, the One who upholds all things by the word of His power; in view of the fact that He has by Himself "purged our sins," and, in consequence, has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having been made so much better than angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they; in view of the further fact that He was made in all things like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things God-ward, to make propitiation for the sins of the people, and having, in consequence of His successful prosecution of this stupendous work been "crowned with glory and honor;" and, seeing that He is immeasurably superior to Moses, Joshua and Aaron; let us give Him His due place in our thoughts, hearts and lives.
"Let us go on unto perfection" has reference to the apprehension of the Divine revelation of the full glory of Christ in His person, perfections, and position. It is, from the practical side, a "perfection" of knowledge, spiritually imparted by the Holy Spirit to the understanding and heart. It refers to the mysteries and sublime doctrine of the Gospel. It is a perfection of knowledge in revealed truth. Yet, of course, it is only a relative "perfection," for an absolute apprehension of the things of God is not attainable in this life. Now "we know in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9 ). "If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2 ). Even the apostle Paul had to say, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13 , Philippians 3:14 ).
"Let us go on unto perfection." Students are not agreed as to the precise force of the plural pronoun here. Some consider it to be the apostle linking on the Hebrews to himself in the task immediately before him; others regard the "us" as the apostle graciously joining himself with them in their duty. Personally, we think that both these ideas are to be combined. First, "let us go on:" it was his resolution so to do, as the remaining chapters of the Epistle demonstrate; then let them follow him. Thus considered it shows that the apostle did not look upon the condition of the Hebrews as quite hopeless, notwithstanding their "dullness" (Hebrews 5:11 ) I shall therefore go on to set before you the highest and most glorious things concerning Christ. Second, the apostle condescends to unite himself with them in their responsibility to press forward. "Wherefore:" in view of the length of time we have been Christians, let us be diligent to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was, thus, a call to stir them up.
"Let us go on" is passive, "be carried on." It is a word taken from the progress which a ship makes before the wind when under sail. Let us, under the full bent of our will and affections be stirred by the utmost endeavors of our whole souls, be borne onwards. We have abode long enough near the shore, let us hoist our sails, pray to the Spirit for His mighty power to work within us, and launch forth into the deep. This is the duty of God’s servants, to excite their Christian hearers to make progress in the knowledge of Divine truth, to urge them to pass the porch and enter the sanctuary, there to behold the Divine glories of the House of God. Though the verb is passive, denoting the effect "Let us be carried on" yet it included the active use of means for the producing of this effect. "All diligence" is demanded of the Christian (2 Peter 1:5 ). Truth has to be "bought" (Proverbs 23:23 ). That which God has given us must be put into practice (Luke 8:18 ).
"Let us go on unto perfection." What, we may ask, is the application of this to Christians today? To the Hebrews it meant abandoning the preparatory and earthly system of Judaism, (which occupied their whole attention before believing in Christ as the sent Savior) and, by faith, laying hold of the Divine revelation which has now been made in and through Him: set your affection on an ascended though invisible Christ, who now serves in the Heavenly Sanctuary on your behalf. For Christians it means, Turn away from those objects which absorbed you in the time of your unregeneracy, and meditate now on and find your joy and satisfaction in things above. Lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets, and run with perseverance the race that is set before us, "looking off unto Jesus" the One who while here left us an example to follow, the One who is now enthroned on High because of the triumphant completion of His race.
To the Hebrews, this much-misunderstood exhortation of Hebrews 6:1 was exactly parallel with the word which Christ addressed to the eleven immediately prior to His death: "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me" (John 14:1 ): Ye have long avowed your faith in "God," whom, though invisible, ye trust; now "believe also in Me," as One who will speedily pass beyond the range of your natural vision. I am on the point of returning to the Father, but I shall still have your interests at heart, yea, I am going to "prepare a place for you;" therefore, trust Me implicitly: let your hearts follow Me on high: walk by faith: be occupied with an ascended Savior. For us today, the application of this important word signifies, Be engaged with your great High Priest in heaven, dwell daily upon your portion in Him (Ephesians 1:3 ). By faith, behold Christ, now in the heavenly sanctuary, as your righteousness, life, and strength. See in God’s acceptance of Him, His adoption of you, that you have been reconciled to Him, made nigh by the precious blood. In the realization of this, worship in spirit and in truth; exercise your priestly privileges.
Thus, the "perfection" of Hebrews 6:1 is, strictly speaking, scarcely doctrinal or experimental, yet partakes of both. "The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did" (Hebrews 7:19 ). It is Christ who has ushered in that which is "perfect." It is in Him we now have a full revelation and manifestation of the eternal purpose and grace of God. He has fully made known His mind (Hebrews 1:2 ). And, by His one all-sufficient offering of Himself, He has "perfected forever" (Hebrews 10:14 ), them whom God set apart in His everlasting counsels. Christ came here to fulfill the will of God (Hebrews 10:9 ). That will has been executed; the work given Him to do, He finished (John 17:4 ). In consequence, He has been gloriously rewarded, and in His reward all His people share. This is all made known to us for "the hearing of faith."
"Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works" (verse 1). It is most important to see that the contents of the second half of verse 1. and the whole of verse 2 are a parenthesis. The "Let us be carried on to perfection" is completed in "this will we do if God permits" in verse 3. That which comes in between is a definition or explanation of what the apostle intended by his "Having left the word of the beginning of Christ." The six items enumerated "repentance from dead works," etc. have nothing to do with the "foundations of Christianity," nor do they describe those things relating to the elementary experiences of a Christian. Instead, they treat of what appertained to Judaism, considered as a rudimentary system, paving the way for the fuller and final revelation which God has now made in and by His beloved Son. Unless the parenthetical nature of these verses is clearly perceived, interpreters are certain to err in their exposition of the details.
"Not laying again the foundation," etc. It is to be remarked that there is no definite article in the Greek here, so it should be read, "a foundation," which is one of several intimations that it is not the "fundamentals of Christianity" which are here in view. Had these verses been naming the basic features of the new and higher revelation of God, the Holy Spirit had surely said, "the foundation;" that He did not, shows that something less important was before Him. As said above, this "foundation" respects Judaism. Now there are two properties to a "foundation," namely, it is that which is first laid in a building; it is that which bears up the whole superstructure. To which we may add, it is generally lost to sight when the ground floor has been put in. Such was the relation which Judaism sustained to Christianity. As the "foundation" precedes the building, so had Judaism Christianity. As the "foundation" bears the building, so the truth of Christianity rests upon the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, of which the New Testament revelation records the fulfillment. As the "foundation" is lost to sight when the building is erected on it, so the types and shadows of the earlier revelation are superseded by the substance and reality.
"Not laying again a foundation," etc. This is exactly what the Hebrews were being sorely tempted to do. To "lay again" this foundation was to forsake the substance for the shadows; it was to turn from Christianity and go back again to Judaism. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, who were being harassed by Judaisers, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Heb. 3:24). To which he at once added, "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." Thus, under a different figure, he was here in Hebrews 6:1 simply saying, Let us be carried on to maturity, and not go back again to the things which characterized the days of our childhood.
"Not laying again a foundation," etc. It will be noted that the apostle here enumerates just six things, which is ever the number of man in the flesh. Such was what distinguished Judaism. It was a system which appertained solely to man in the flesh. Its rites and ceremonies only "sanctified to the purifying of the flesh" (Hebrews 9:13 ). Had the fundamentals of Christianity been here in view, the apostle had surely given seven, as in Ephesians 4:3-6 . The first which he specifies is "repentance from dead works." Observe that it is not "repentance from sins." That is not what is in view at all. This expression "dead works" is found again in Hebrews 9:14 (and nowhere else in the New Testament), where a contrast is drawn from what is said in verse 13: the blood of bulls and goats sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, then much more should the blood of Christ cleanse their conscience from dead works. Where sins are in question the New Testament speaks of them as "wicked works" (Titus 1:16 ), and "abominable works" (Colossians 1:21 ). The reference here was to the unprofitable and in-efficacious works of the Levitical service: cf. Hebrews 10:1 , Hebrews 10:4 . Those works of the ceremonial law are denominated "dead works" because they were performed by men in the flesh, were not vitalized by the Holy Spirit, and did not satisfy the claims of the living God.
"And of faith toward God." Of the six distinctive features of Judaism here enumerated, this one is the most difficult to define with any degree of certainty. Nevertheless, we believe that if due attention be given to the particular people to whom the apostle was writing all difficulty at once vanishes. The case of the Jew was vastly different from that of the Gentiles. To the heathen, the one true God was altogether "unknown" (Acts 17:23 ). They worshipped a multitude of false gods. But not so was it with Israel. Jehovah had revealed Himself to their fathers, and given to them a written revelation of His will. Thus, "faith toward God" was a national thing with them, and though in their earlier history they fell into idolatry again and again, yet were they purified of this sin by the Babylonian captivity. Still, their faith was more of a form than a reality, a tradition received from their fathers, rather than a vital acquaintance with Him: see Matthew 15:8 , Matthew 15:9 , etc.
Israel’s national faith "toward God" had, under the Christian revelation, given place to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A few references from the New Testament epistles will establish this conclusively. We read of "the faith of Jesus Christ," and "the faith of the Son of God" (Galatians 2:16 , Galatians 2:20 ); "your faith in the Lord Jesus" (Ephesians 1:15 ); "by faith of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:9 ); "your faith in Christ" (Colossians 2:5 ); "the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:13 ). As another has said, "All the blessings of the gospel are connected with ‘faith,’ but it is faith which rests in Christ. Justification, resurrection-life, the promises, the placing of sons, salvation, etc., are all spoken of as resulting from faith which rests upon Christ... ‘Hebrews’ reveals Christ as the ‘one Mediator between God and men.’ It reveals Christ as ‘a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,’ and urges the divine claim of the Son of God. The apostle is directing his readers to look away from self to Christ, the Center, the Sum of all blessing. This is not merely ‘faith toward God,’ but it is faith which comes to God by the way of the mediation and merits of His Son."
"Of the doctrine of baptisms" (verse 2). Had the translators understood the scope and meaning of this passage it is more than doubtful if they had given the rendering they did to this particular clause.
It will be observed that the word "baptism" is in the plural number, and if scripture be allowed to interpret scripture there will be no difficulty in ascertaining what is here referred to. It is neither Christian baptism (Matthew 28:19 ), the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5 ), nor the baptism of suffering (Matthew 20:23 ), which is here in view, but the carnal ablutions which obtained under the Mosaic economy. The Greek word is "baptismos." It is found but four times on the pages of the New Testament: in Mark 7:4 , Mark 7:5 and Hebrews 6:2 ; Hebrews 9:10 . In each of the other three instances, the word is rendered "washings." In Mark 7:0 it is the "washing of cups and pans." In Hebrews 9:10 it is "meats and drinks and divers washings and carnal (fleshly) ordinances," concerning which it is said, they were "imposed until the time of reformation."
It is to be noted that our verse speaks of "the doctrine of baptisms." There was a definite teaching connected with the ceremonial ablutions of Judaism. They were designed to impress upon the Israelites that Jehovah was a holy God, and that none who were defiled could enter into His presence. These references in Hebrews 6:2 and Hebrews 9:10 look back to such passages as Exodus 30:18 , Exodus 30:19 ; Leviticus 16:4 ; Numbers 19:19 , etc. Typically, these "washings" denoted that all the defiling effects of sin must be removed, ere the worshipper could approach unto the Lord. They foreshadowed that perfect and eternal cleansing from sin which the atoning blood of Christ was to provide for His people. They had no intrinsic efficacy in themselves; they were but figures, hence, we are told they sanctified only "to the purifying of the flesh" (Hebrews 9:13 ). Those "washings" effected nought but an external and ceremonial purification; they "could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience" (Hebrews 9:9 ).
"And of laying on of hands." The older commentators quite missed the reference here. Supposing the previous clause was concerned with the Christian baptisms recorded in the Acts, they appealed to such passages as Acts 8:17 ; Acts 19:6 , etc. But those passages have no bearing at all on the verse before us. They were exceptional cases where the supernatural "gifts" of the Spirit were imparted by communication from the apostles. The absence of this "laying on of hands" in Acts 2:41 ; Acts 8:38 ; Acts 16:33 , etc., shows plainly that, normally, the Holy Spirit was given by God altogether apart from the instrumentality of His servants. The "laying on of hands" is not, and never was, a distinctive Christian ordinance. In such passages as Acts 6:6 ; Acts 9:17 ; Acts 13:3 , the act was simply a mark of identification, as is sufficiently clear from the last reference.
"And of laying on of hands." The key which unlocks the real meaning of this expression is to be found in the Old Testament, to which each and all of the six things here mentioned by the apostle look back. Necessarily so, for the apostle is here making mention of those things which characterized Judaism, which the Hebrews, upon their profession of their personal faith in Christ had "left." The "laying on of hands" to which the apostle refers is described in Leviticus 16:21 , "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness." This was an essential part of the ritual on the annual Day of Atonement. Of this the Hebrews would naturally think when the apostle here makes mention of the "doctrine (teaching) . . . of laying on of hands."
"And of resurrection of the dead." At first glance, and perhaps at the second too, it may appear that what is here before us will necessitate an abandonment of the line of interpretation we are following. Surely, the reader may exclaim, you will not ask us to believe that these Hebrews had "left" the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead! Yet this is exactly what we do affirm. The difficulty which is seemingly involved is more imaginary than real, due to a lack of discrimination and failure to "rightly divide the Word of Truth." The resurrection of the dead was a clearly revealed doctrine under Judaism; but it is supplanted by something far more comforting and blessed under the fuller revelation God has given in Christianity. If the reader will carefully observe the preposition we have placed in italic type, he will find it a valuable key to quite a number of passages. "We make a great mistake when we assume that the resurrection as taught by the Pharisees, held by the Jews, believed by the disciples, and proclaimed by the apostles, was one and the same" (C.H.W.). The great difference between the former and the latter may be seen by a comparison of the scriptures that follow.
"After the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:14 , Acts 24:15 ). That was the Jewish hope: "Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24 ). Now in contrast, note, "He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mark 9:9 , Mark 9:10 ). It is this aspect of resurrection which the New Testament epistles emphasize, an elective resurrection, a resurrection of the redeemed before that of the wicked: see Revelation 20:5 , Revelation 20:6 ; 1 Corinthians 15:22 , 1 Corinthians 15:23 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 .
"And of eternal judgment." In the light of all that has been before us, this should occasion no difficulty. The Jewish church, and most of Christendom now, believed in a General Judgment, a great assize at the end of time when God would examine every man’s life, "For God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14 ). This is described in fullest detail in the closing verses of Revelation 20:0 . It is the Great White Throne judgment.
Let us now, very briefly, summarize what has just been engaging our attention. The Hebrews had confessed their faith in Christ, and by so doing had forsaken the shadows for the Substance. But hope had been deferred, faith hath waned, persecutions had cooled their zeal. They were being tempted to abandon their Christian profession and return to Judaism. The apostle shows that by so doing they would be laying again "a foundation" of things which had been left behind. Rather than this, he urges them to be carried forward to "perfection" or "full growth." That meant to substitute "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18 ), for "repentance from dead works;" trust in the glorified Savior, for a national "faith toward God;" the all-cleansing blood of the Lamb, for the inefficacious "washings" of the law; God’s having laid on Christ the iniquities of us all, for the Jewish high-priest’s "laying on of hands;" a resurrection "from the dead," for "a resurrection of the dead;" the Judgment-seat of Christ, for the "eternal judgment" of the Great White Throne. Thus, the six things here mentioned belonged to a state of things before Christ was manifested.
"And this will we do if God permit" (verse 3). Here we learn of the apostle’s resolution as to the occasion before him, and the limitation of his resolution by an express subordination of it to the good pleasure of God. The "this will we do" has reference to "Let us go on unto perfection." The use of the plural pronoun is very blessed. Though a spiritual giant when compared with his fellow Christians, the apostle Paul never imagined he had "attained" (Philippians 3:12 ). "This will we do" means, I in teaching, you in learning. In the chapters that follow, we see how the apostle’s resolution was carried out. In Hebrews 5:10 he had said, "an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, of whom we have many things to say." By comparing Hebrews 6:3 with Hebrews 5:11 ,Hebrews 5:12 we learn that no discouragement should deter a servant of God from proceeding in the declaration of the mystery of Christ, not even the dullness of his hearers.
"And this will we do, if God permit." This qualifying word may have respect unto the unknown sovereign pleasure of God, to which all our resolutions must submit: "I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit" (1 Corinthians 16:7 and cf. James 4:13-15 ). Probably the apostle also had before him the sad state into which the Hebrews had fallen (Hebrews 5:11-14 ), in view of which this was a solemn and searching word for their conscience: because of their sloth and negligence there was reason to fear they had provoked God, so that He would grant them no further light (Luke 8:18 ). Finally, we believe the apostle looked to the Divine enablement of himself; were He to withdraw His assistance the teacher would be helpless: see 2 Corinthians 3:5 . To sum up in all things we must seek God’s glory, bow to His will, and recognize that all progress in the Truth is a special gift from Him (John 3:27 ).
(Hebrews 6:4-6 )
The passage which is now to occupy our attention is one of the most solemn in the Hebrews’ epistle, yea, to be met with anywhere in the New Testament. Probably few regenerate souls have read it thoughtfully without being moved to fear and trembling. Careless professors have frequently been rendered uneasy in conscience as they have heard its awe-inspiring language. It speaks of a class of persons who had been highly privileged, who had been singularly favored, but who, so far from having improved their opportunities, had wretchedly perverted them; who had brought shame and reproach on the cause of Christ; and who were in such a hopeless condition that it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance." Well does it become each one of us to earnestly lift up his heart to God, beseeching Him to prevent us making such a shipwreck of the faith.
As perhaps the majority of our readers are aware, the verses before us have proved one of the fiercest theological battlegrounds of the centuries. It is at this point that the hottest fights between Calvinists and Arminians have been waged. Those who believe that it is possible for a real Christian to so sin and backslide as to fall from grace and be lost eternally, have confidently appealed to these verses for proof of their theory. It is much to be feared their theory prejudiced them so much, that they were incapable of examining impartially and weighing carefully its varied terms. With their minds so biased by their views of apostasy, they have rather taken it for granted that this passage describes a true child of God, who, through turning his back upon Christ, ultimately perishes. But Scripture bids us "Prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ), and this calls for something more than a superficial and hurried investigation of what is, admittedly, a difficult passage.
If on the one hand, Arminians have been too ready to read into this passage their unscriptural dogma of the apostasy of a Christian, it must be confessed that many Calvinists have failed to grapple successfully with and interpret satisfactorily the most knotty points in these verses. They are right in affirming that Scripture teaches, most emphatically and unequivocably the Divine preservation and the human perseverance of the saints, as they have also wisely pointed out that the Word of God does not and cannot contradict itself. If our Lord asserted that His sheep should "never perish" (John 10:28 ), then certainly Hebrews 6:0 will not teach that some of them do. If through the apostle Paul the Holy Spirit assures us that nothing can separate the children from the love of their Father (Romans 8:35-39 ), then, without doubt, the portion now before us does not declare that something will. It may not always be easy to discover the perfect consistency of one scripture with another, yet we must hold fast to the unerring harmony and integrity of God’s Truth.
The chief difficulty connected with our passage is to make sure of the class of persons who are there in view. Is the Holy Spirit here describing regenerated or unregenerated souls? The next thing is to ascertain what is meant by, "If they shall fall away." The last, what is denoted by "It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance." Anticipating our exposition, we are fully assured that the "falling away" which is here spoken of signifies a deliberate, complete and final repudiation of Christ a sin for which there is no forgiveness. So too we understand the "impossible" to renew them again to repentance, announces that their condition and case is beyond hope of recovery. Because of this, Calvinists have, generally, affirmed that this passage is treating of mere professors. But over against this there are two insuperable objections: first, mere professors have nothing from which to "fall away"; second, mere professors have never been "renewed" unto repentance.
In addition to the controversy which these verses have occasioned, not a few have turned them unto an unwarrantable use. "Misapprehension of this passage has also, I believe, in many cases occasioned extreme distress of mind to two classes of persons, to nominal professors, who, after falling into gross sin, have been awakened to serious reflection; and to real Christians, on their falling under the power of mental disease, sinking into a state of spiritual languor, or being betrayed into such transgressions of the Divine law as David and Peter were guilty of: and this has thrown all but insurmountable obstacles in the way of both ‘fleeing for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them’ in the Gospel. All this makes it the more necessary that we should carefully inquire into the meaning of the passage. When rightly understood, it will be found to give no countenance to any of the false conclusions which have been drawn from it, but to be like every other part of inspired Scripture, ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’, well-fitted to produce caution, no way calculated to induce despair" (Dr. J. Brown).
Before attempting an elucidation of the above-mentioned difficulties, and to prepare the way for our exposition of these verses, the contents of which have so sorely puzzled many, let us recall, once more, the condition of soul into which these Hebrew Christians had fallen. They had "become dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11 ), "unskillful in the Word of Righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13 ), unable to masticate "strong meat" (Hebrews 5:14 ). This state was fraught with the most dangerous consequences. "The Hebrews had become lukewarm, negligent, and inert; the gospel, once dearly seen and dearly loved by them, had become to them dull and vague; the persecutions and contempt of their countrymen a grievous burden, under which they groaned, and under which they did not enjoy fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Darkness, doubt, gloom, indecision, and consequently a walk in which the power of Christ’s love was not manifest, characterized them. Now, if they continued in this state, what else could be the result but apostasy? Forgetfulness, if continued, must end in rejection, apathy in antipathy, unfaithfulness in infidelity.
"Such was their danger. And if they succumbed to it their state was hopeless. No other gospel remains to be preached, no other power to rescue and raise them. They had heard and known the voice which saith, ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest’. They had professed to believe in the Lord who died for sinners, and to have chosen Him as their Savior and Master. And now they were forgetting and forsaking the Rock of their Salvation. If they deliberately and wilfully continued in this state, they were in danger of final impenitence and hardness of heart.
"The exhortation must be viewed in connection with the special circumstances of the Hebrews. After the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, the gospel had been preached unto the Jews by the apostles, and the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit had been manifested among them. The Hebrews had accepted the gospel of the once crucified and now glorified Redeemer, who sent down from heaven the Spirit, a sign of His exaltation, and a pledge of the future inheritance. Having thus entered into the sphere of new covenant manifestation, any one who willfully abandoned it could only relapse into that phase of Judaism which crucified the Lord Jesus. There was no other alternative for them, but either to go on to the full knowledge of the heavenly priesthood of Christ, and to the believer’s acceptance and worship through the Mediator in the sanctuary above, or fall back into the attitude, not of the godly Israelites before Pentecost, such as John the Baptist and those who waited for the promised redemption, nor even into the condition of those for whom the Savior prayed, ‘for they know not what they do’; but into a state of willful conscious enmity against Christ, and the sin of rejecting Him, and putting Him to an open shame" (Adolph Saphir).
"The danger to which this spiritual inertness exposed the Hebrews was such as to justify the strongest language of expostulation and reproof. Apostasy from Christ was a step more easy and natural to a Jewish than to a Gentile believer, because the way was always open and inviting them, as men, to return to those associations which once carried with them the outward sanctification of Jehovah’s name, and which only the power of grace had enabled them to renounce. When heavenly realities became inoperative in their souls, the visible image was before them still, and here was the danger of their giving it the homage of their souls. If there were not an habitual exercise of their spiritual senses, the power of discernment could not remain: they would call evil good, and good evil. The ignorance which springs from spiritual neglect begins its own punishment of apathetic dullness on the once clear mind, and robs the spirit of its power to detect the wily methods of the Devil. It is in the presence of God alone that the Christian can exert his spiritual energies with effect. Abiding in Christ, maintains us in that presence. A more unhappy error cannot befall a believer than to separate, in the habit of his mind, acquired knowledge from the living Christ. Faith dies at once when separated from its object. Knowledge indeed is precious, but the knowledge of God is a progressive thing (Colossians 1:10 ), whose end is not obtained this side of the glory (1 Corinthians 8:2 ). The extreme experience of an advancing Christian is that of continual initiation. With a prospect ever-widening he has a daily deepening apprehension of the grace wherein he stands, and in which he is more and more established, by the word of righteousness . . .
"A clear and growing faith, in heavenly things was needed to preserve Jewish Christians from relapse. To return to Judaism was to give up Christ, who had left their house ‘desolate’ (Matthew 23:38 ). It was to fall from grace, and place themselves not only under the general curse of the law, but that particular imprecation which had brought the guilt of Jesus’ blood on the reprobate and blinded nation of His murderers" (A. Pridham). It should be pointed out, however, that it is just as easy, and the attraction is just as real, for a Gentile Christian to return to that world out of which the Lord has called him, as it was for a Jewish Christian to go back again to Judaism. And just in proportion as the Christian fails to walk with God daily, so does the world obtain power over his heart, mind and life; and a continuance in worldliness is fraught with the most direful and fatal consequences.
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened" etc. (verse 4). Here the apostle continues the digression which he began at Hebrews 5:11 . The parenthesis has two divisions: the first, Hebrews 5:11-14 is reprehensible; the second, Hebrews 6:1-20 is hortatory. In chapter 6 he exhorts the Hebrews unto two duties: to progress in the Christian course (verses 1-11); to persevere therein (verses 12-20). The first exhortation is proposed in verses 1,2 and qualified in verse 3. The motive to obedience is drawn from the danger of apostasy (verses 4-6). The opening "For" of verse 4 intimates the close connection of our present passage with that which immediately precedes. It draws a conclusion from what the apostle had been saying in Hebrews 5:11-14 . It amplifies the "if" in verse 3. It points a most solemn warning against their continuance in their present sloth. It draws a terrible contrast from the possibility of verse 3. "The apostle regards the retrogression of the Hebrews with dismay. He sees in it the danger of an entire, confirmed, wilful, and irrecoverable apostasy from the truth. He beholds them on the brink of a precipice, and he therefore lifts up his voice, and with vehement yet loving earnestness he warns them against so fearful an evil" (Adolph Saphir).
Three things claim our careful attention in coming closer to our passage: the persons here spoken of, the sin they commit, the doom pronounced upon them. In considering the persons spoken of it is of first importance to note that the apostle does not say, "us who were once enlightened", nor even "you", instead, he says "those". In sharp contrast from them, he says to the Hebrews, "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you".
"Afterwards, when the apostle comes to declare his hope and persuasion concerning these Hebrews that they were not such as those whom he had before described, nor such as would fall away unto perdition, he doth it upon three grounds whereon they were differenced from them as: 1 . That they had such things as did ‘accompany salvation’; that is, such as salvation is inseparable from. None of these things therefore had he ascribed unto those whom he describeth in this place (verses 4-6); for if he had so done, they would not have been unto him an argument and evidence of a contrary end, that these should not fall away and perish as well as those. Wherefore he ascribes nothing to these here in the text that doth peculiarly ‘accompany salvation’. 2 . He describes them by their duties of obedience and fruits of faith. This was their ‘work and labor of love’ towards the name of God, verse 10. And hereby, also, doth he differentiate them from those in the text, concerning whom he supposeth that they may perish eternally, which these fruits of saving faith and sincere love cannot do. 3 . He adds, that, in the preservation of those there mentioned, the faithfulness of God was concerned: ‘God is not unrighteous to forget’. For they were such he intended as were interested in the covenant of grace, with respect whereunto alone there is any engagement on the faithfulness or righteousness of God to preserve men from apostasy and ruin; and there is so with an equal respect unto all who are so taken into the covenant. But of those in the text he supposeth no such thing; and thereupon doth not intimate that either the righteousness or faithfulness of God was anyway engaged for their preservation, but rather the contrary" (Dr. John Owen).
It is scarcely accurate to designate as "mere professors" those described in verses 4,5. They were a class who had enjoyed great privileges, beyond any such as now accompany the preaching of the Gospel. Those here portrayed are said to have had five advantages, which is in contrast from the six things enumerated in verses 1, 2, which things belong to man in the flesh, under Judaism. Five is the number of grace, and the blessings here mentioned pertain to the Christian dispensation. Yet were they not true Christians. This is evident from what is not said. Observe, they were not spoken of as God’s elect, as those for whom Christ died, as those who were born of the Spirit. They are not said to be justified, forgiven, accepted in the Beloved. Nor is anything said of their faith, love, or obedience. Yet these are the very things which distinguish a real child of God. First, they had been "enlightened". The Sun of righteousness had shone with healing in His wings, and, as Matthew 4:16 says, "The people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up". Unlike the heathen, whom Christ, in the days of His flesh, visited not, those who came under the sound of His voice were wondrously and gloriously illumined.
The Greek word for "enlightened" here signifies "to give light or knowledge by teaching". It is so rendered by the Septuagint in Judges 13:8 , 2 Kings 12:2 , 2 Kings 17:27 . The apostle Paul uses it for "to make manifest", or "bring to light" in 1 Corinthians 4:5 , 2 Timothy 1:10 . Satan blinds the minds of those who believe not, lest "the light of the gospel should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4 ), that is, give the knowledge of it. Thus, "enlightened" here means to be instructed in the doctrine of the gospel, so as to have a clear apprehension of it. In the parallel passage in Hebrews 10:26 the same people are said to have "received the knowledge of the truth", cf. also 2 Peter 2:20 , 2 Peter 2:21 . It is, however, only a natural knowledge of spiritual things, such as is acquired by outward hearing or reading; just as one may be enlightened by taking up the special study of one of the sciences. It falls far short of that spiritual enlightenment which transforms (2 Corinthians 3:18 ). An illustration of a unregenerate person being "enlightened", as here, is found in the case of Balaam; Numbers 24:4 .
Second, they had "tasted" of the heavenly gift. To "taste" is to have a personal experience of, in contrast from mere report. "Tasting does not include eating, much less digesting and turning into nourishment what is so tasted; for its nature being only thereby discerned it may be refused, yea, though we like its relish and savor, on some other consideration. The persons here described, then, are those who have to a certain degree understood and relished the revelation of mercy; like the stony-ground hearers they have received the Word with a transcient joy" (John Owen). The "tasting" is in contrast from the "eating" of John 6:50-56 .
Opinion is divided as to whether the "heavenly gift" refers to the Lord Jesus or the person of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is not possible for us to be dogmatic on the point. Really, the difference is without a distinction, for the Spirit is here to glorify Christ, as He came from the Father by Christ as His ascension "Gift" to His people. If the reference be to the Lord Jesus, John 3:16 , John 4:10 , etc., would be pertinent references: if to the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:38 , Acts 8:20 , Acts 10:45 , Acts 11:17 . Personally, we rather incline to the latter. This Divine Gift is here said to be "heavenly" because from Heaven, and leading to Heaven, in contrast from Judaism cf. Acts 2:2 , 1 Peter 1:12 . Of this "Gift" these apostates had "tasted", or had an experience of: compare Matthew 27:34 where "tasting" is opposed to actual drinking. Those here in view had had an acquaintance with the Gospel, as to gain such a measure of its blessedness as to greatly aggravate their sin and doom. An illustration of this is found in Matthew 13:20 , Matthew 13:21 .
Third, they were "made partakers of the Holy Spirit". First, it should be pointed out that the Greek word for "partakers" here is a different one from that used in Colossians 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:4 , where real Christians are in view. The word here simply means "companions", referring to what is external rather than internal. It is to be observed that this item is placed in the center of the five, and this because it describes the animating principle of the other four, which are all effects. These apostates had never been "born of the Spirit" (John 3:6 ), still less were their bodies His "temples" (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Nor do we believe this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit had, at any time, wrought within them, otherwise Philippians 1:6 would be contravened. It means that they had shared in the benefit of His supernatural operations and manifestations: "The place was shaken" (Acts 4:31 ) illustrates. We quote below from Dr. J. Brown:
"It is highly probable that the inspired writer refers primarily to the miraculous gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit by which the primitive dispensation of Christianity was administered. These gifts were by no means confined to those who were ‘transformed by the renewing of their minds’. The words of our Lord in Matthew 7:22 , Matthew 7:23 and of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1 , 1 Corinthians 13:2 seem to intimate, that the possession of these unrenewed men was not very uncommon in that age; at any rate they plainly show that their possession and an unregenerate state were by no means incompatible".
Fourth, "And have tasted the good Word of God". "I understand by this expression the promise of God respecting the Messiah, the sum and substance of all. It deserves notice that this promise is by way of eminence termed by Jeremiah ‘that good word’ (Jeremiah 33:14 ). To ‘taste’, then, this ‘good Word of God’, is to experience that God has been faithful to His promise to enjoy, so far as an unconverted man can enjoy the blessings and advantages which flow from that promise being fulfilled. To ‘taste the good Word of God’, seems, just to enjoy the advantages of the new dispensation" (Dr. J. Brown). Further confirmation that the apostle is here referring to that which these apostates had witnessed of the fulfillment of God’s promise is obtained by comparing Jeremiah 29:10 , "After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place".
Observe how studiously the apostle still keeps to the word "taste", the better to enable us to identify them. They could not say with Jeremiah, "Thy words were found and I did eat them" (Jeremiah 15:16 ). "It is as though he said, I speak not of those who have received nourishment; but of such as have so far tasted it, as that they ought to have desired it as ‘sincere milk’ and grown thereby" (Dr. John Owen). A solemn example of one who merely "tasted" the good Word of God is found in Mark 6:20 : "for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly".
Fifth, "And the powers of the world to come," or "age to come." The reference here is to the new dispensation which was to be ushered in by Israel’s Messiah according to Old Testament predictions. It corresponds with "these last days" of Hebrews 1:2 , and is in contrast from the "time past" or Mosaic economy. Their Messiah was none other than the "mighty God" (Isaiah 9:0 ), and wondrous and glorious, stupendous and unique, were His miraculous works. These "powers" of the new Age are mentioned in Hebrews 2:4 , to our comments on which we would refer the reader. Of these mighty "powers" these apostates had "tasted", or had an experience of. They had been personal witnesses of the miracles of Christ, and also of the wonders that followed His ascension, when such glorious manifestations of the Spirit were given. Thus they were "without excuse". Convincing and conclusive evidence had been set before them, but there had been no answering faith in their hearts. A solemn example of this is found in John 11:47 , John 11:48 .
"If they shall fall away". The Greek word here is very strong and emphatic, even stronger than the one used in Matthew 7:27 , where it is said of the house built on the sand, "and great was the fall thereof". It is a complete falling away, a total abandonment of Christianity which is here in view. It is a wilful turning of the back on God’s revealed truth, an utter repudiation of the Gospel. It is making "shipwreck of the faith" (1 Timothy 1:19 ). This terrible sin is not committed by a mere nominal professor, for he has nothing really to fall away from, save an empty name. The class here described are such as had had their minds enlightened, their consciences stirred, their affections moved to a considerable degree, and yet who were never brought from death unto life. Nor is it backsliding Christians who are in view. It is not simply "fall into sin", this or that sin. The greatest "sin" which a regenerated man can possibly commit is the personal denial of Christ: Peter was guilty of this, yet was he "renewed again unto repentance". It is the total renunciation of all the distinguishing truths and principles of Christianity, and this not secretly, but openly, which constitutes apostasy.
"If they shall fall away". "This is scarcely a fair translation. It has been said that the apostle did not here assert that such persons did or do ‘fall away’; but that if they did a supposition which, however, could never be realized then the consequence would be they could not be ‘renewed again unto repentance’. The words literally rendered are, ‘And have fallen away’, or, ‘yet have fallen’. The apostle obviously intimates that such persons might, and that such persons did, ‘fall away’. By ‘falling away’, we are plainly to understand what is commonly called apostasy. This does not consist in an occasional falling into actual sin, however gross and aggravated; nor in the renunciation of some of the principles of Christianity, even though those should be of considerable importance; but in an open, total, determined renunciation of all the constituent principles of Christianity, and a return to a false religion, such as that of unbelieving Jews or heathens, or to open infidelity and open godlessness" (Dr. J. Brown).
"It is impossible . . . if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance". Four questions here call for answer. What is meant by "renewed unto repentance"? What is signified by "renewed again unto repentance"? Why is such an experience "impossible"? To whom is this "impossible"? Repentance signifies a change of mind: Matthew 21:29 , Romans 11:29 establish this. It is more than a mental act, the conscience also being active, leading to contrition and self-condemnation (Job 42:6 ). In the unregenerate, it is simply the workings of nature; in the children of God it is wrought by the Holy Spirit. The latter is evangelical, being one of the things which "accompany salvation". The former is not so, being the "sorrow of the world", which "worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10 ). This kind of "repentance" or remorse receives most solemn exemplification in the case of Judas: Matthew 27:3 , Matthew 27:5 . Such was the repentance of these apostates. The Greek verb for "renew" here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Probably "restore" had been better, for the same word is used in the Sept., for a Hebrews verb meaning to renew in the sense of restore: Psalms 103:5 ; Psalms 104:30 ; Lamentations 5:21 . Josephus applies it to the renovation of the Temple!
But what is meant by "renewing unto repentance"? "To be ‘renewed’ is a figurative expression for denoting a change, a great change, and a change for the better. To be ‘renewed’ so as to change a person’s mind is expressive of an important and advantageous alteration of opinion, and character and service. And such an alteration the persons referred to had undergone at a former period. They were once in a state of ignorance respecting the doctrines and evidences of Christianity, and they had been ‘enlightened’. They had once known not of the excellency and beauty of Christian truth, and they had been made to ‘taste of the heavenly gift’. They once misunderstood the prophecies respecting the Messiah, and were unaware of their fulfillment, and, of course, were strangers to that energetic influence which the New Testament revelation puts forth; and they had been made to see that that ‘good word’ was fulfilled, and had been made partakers of the external privileges and been subjected to the peculiar energies of the new order of things. Their view, and feelings, and circumstances, were materially changed. How great the difference between an ignorant, bigoted Jew, and the person described in the preceding passage! He had become as it were a different man. He had not, indeed, become, in the sense of the apostle, a ‘new creature’, His mind had not been so changed as unfeignedly to believe ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’; but still, a great and so far as it went, a thorough change had taken place" (Dr. J. Brown).
Now it is impossible to "renew again unto repentance" those who have totally abandoned the Christian revelation. Some things are "impossible" with respect unto the nature of God, as that He cannot lie, or pardon sin without satisfaction to His justice. Other things which are possible to God’s nature are rendered "impossible" by His decrees or purpose: see 1 Samuel 15:28 , 1 Samuel 15:29 . Still other things are "possible" or "impossible" with respect to the rule or order of all things God has appointed. For example, there cannot be faith apart from hearing the Word (Romans 10:13-17 ). "When in things of duty God hath neither expressed command thereon, nor appointed means for the performance of them, they are to be looked upon then as impossible [as, for instance, there is no salvation apart from repentance, Luke 13:3 . (A.W.P.)]; and then, with respect unto us, they are so absolutely, and so to be esteemed. And this is the ‘impossibility’ here principally intended. It is a thing that God hath neither commanded us to endeavor, nor appointed means to attain it, nor promise to assist us in it. It is therefore that which we have no reason to look after, attempt, or expect, as being not possible by any law, rule, or constitution of God.
"The apostle instructs us no further in the nature of future events but as our own duty is concerned in them. It is not for us either to look or hope, or pray for, or endeavor the restoration of such persons unto repentance. God gives a law unto us in these things, not unto Himself. It may be possible with God, for aught we know, if there be not a contradiction in it unto any of the holy properties of His nature; only He will not have us to expect any such thing from Him, nor hath He appointed any means for us to endeavor it. What He shall do we ought trustfully to accept; but our own duty toward such persons is absolutely at an end. And indeed, they put themselves wholly out of our reach" (Dr. John Owen).
It needs to be carefully observed that in the whole of this passage from Hebrews 5:11 onwards the apostle is speaking of his own ministry. In God’s hands, His servants are instruments by which He works and through whom He accomplishes His evangelical purpose. Thus Paul could properly say "I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:15 ). And again, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19 ). So the servants of God had, through the preaching of the Gospel, "renewed unto repentance" those spoken of in Hebrews 6:4 . But they had apostatised; they had totally repudiated the Gospel. It was therefore "impossible" for the servants of God to "renew them again unto repentance", for the all-sufficient reason that they had no other message to proclaim to them. They had no other Gospel in reserve, no further motives to present. Christ crucified had been set before them. Him they now denounced as an Imposter. There was "none other name" whereby they could be saved. Their public renunciation of Christ rendered their case hopeless so far as God’s servants were concerned. "Let them alone" (Matthew 15:19 ) was now their orders: compare Jude 1:22 . Whether or not it was possible for God, consistently with His holiness, to shame them, our passage does not decide.
"Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh" (verse 6). This is brought in to show the aggravation of their awful crime and the impossibility of their being renewed again unto repentance. By renouncing their Christian profession they declared Christ to be an Imposter. Thus they were irreclaimable. To attempt any further reasoning with them, would only be casting pearls before swine. With this verse should be carefully compared the parallel passage in Hebrews 10:26-29 . These apostates had "received the knowledge of the truth", though not a saving knowledge of it. Afterward they sinned "wilfully": there was a deliberate and open disavowal of the truth. The nature of their particular sin is termed a "treading under foot the Son of God (something which no real Christian ever does) and counting (esteeming) the blood of the covenant an unholy thing", that is, looking upon the One who hung on the Cross as a common malefactor. For such there "remaineth no more sacrifice for sins". Their case is hopeless so far as man is concerned; and the writer believes, such are abandoned by God also.
"Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame". "They thus identify themselves with His crucifiers they entertained and avowed sentiments which were He on earth and in their power, would induce them to crucify Him. They exposed Him to infamy, made a public example of Him. They did more to dishonor Jesus Christ than His murderers did. They never professed to acknowledge His divine mission; but these apostates had made such a profession they had made a kind of trial of Christianity, and, after trial, had rejected it" (Dr. J. Brown).
Such a warning was needed and well calculated to stir up the slothful Hebrews. Under the Old Testament economy, by means of types and prophecies, they had obtained glimmerings of truth as to Christ, called "the word of the beginning of Christ". Under those shadows and glimmerings they had been reared, not knowing their full import till they had been blessed with the full light of the Gospel, here called "perfection". The danger to which they were exposed was that of receding from the ground where Christianity placed them, and relaxing to Judaism. To do so meant to re-enter that House which Christ had left "desolate" (Matthew 23:38 ), and would be to join forces with His murderers, and thus "crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh", and by their apostasy "put Him to an open (public) shame". We may add that the Greek word here for "crucify" is a stronger one than is generally used: it means to "crucify up". Attention is thus directed to the erection of the cross on which the Savior was held up to public scorn.
Taking the passage as a whole, it needs to be remembered that all who had professed to receive the Gospel were not born of God: the parable of the Sower shows that. Intelligence might be informed, conscience searched, natural affections stirred, and yet there be "no root" in them. All is not gold that glitters. There has always been a "mixt multitude" (Exodus 12:38 ) who accompany the people of God. Moreover, there is in the real Christian the old heart, which is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked", and therefore is he in constant need of faithful warning. Such, God has given in every dispensation: Genesis 2:17 ; Leviticus 26:15 , Leviticus 26:16 ; Matthew 3:8 ; Romans 11:21 ; 1 Corinthians 10:12 .
Finally, let it be said that while Scripture speaks plainly and positively of the perseverance of the saints, yet it is a perseverance of saints, not unregenerate professors. Divine preservation is not only in a safe state, but also in a holy course of disposition and conduct. We are "kept by the power of God through faith". We are kept by the Spirit working in us a spirit of entire dependency, renouncing our own wisdom and strength. The only place from which we cannot fall is one down in the dust. It is there the Lord brings His own people, weaning them from all confidence in the flesh, and giving them to experience that it is when they are weak they are strong. Such, and such only, are saved and safe forever.
The Twofold Working of the Spirit
(Hebrews 6:4-6 )
In our last article we attempted little more than an explication of the terms used in Hebrews 6:4-6 . Lack of space prevented us from throwing upon these verses the light which other portions of God’s Word affords, yet this is necessary if we are to form anything like a true and adequate conception of the particular characters which are there in view. One chief reason why students of Scripture continue to experience difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of any verse therein, is because they fail to prayerfully and patiently compare "spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Corinthians 2:13 ). All of us are in far too much a hurry, and for this reason miss the best of what God has provided true both of temporal and spiritual things. Probably few of our readers considered that we had succeeded in clearing away all the difficulties raised by this solemn passage, therefore the need of a further article thereon.
On the present occasion we propose to take up our passage more from a topical viewpoint than an expository, seeking (as God may be pleased to graciously enable) to open up more fully that in it which has caused the most trouble, namely, the precise relation of the Holy Spirit to the characters therein mentioned. They who "fall away" and whom it is "impossible to renew again unto repentance", are said to have been "made partakers of the Holy Spirit". We ask now, On what has the Spirit wrought? What was the character of His work toward them? How had they been made "partakers" of Him? To what extent? This leads us to point out that Scripture reveals a twofold working of God’s Spirit with men: with the elect, and with the non-elect. It is of the latter we shall here treat.
Concerning the Spirit’s work with the non-elect, we begin by enquiring, Upon what does He work? We answer, Upon the faculties of men’s souls. First, He works upon the understanding. There are in all men natural faculties of understanding, will, and affection. A man could not love God unless he had in him the faculty of affection a stone could never love God! So a man could never understand spiritual things unless he had the faculty of understanding. With the elect, the Holy Spirit "renews" the understanding (Romans 12:2 compared with Titus 3:5 ); but with the non-elect, He only enlightens or educates it. The understanding of fallen and unregenerate men, which is enlightened by the Spirit, is capable of knowing, in some measure, both the Godhead, and parts of His law. Let us give Scripture proof of this.
In Romans 1:18 we read of men who "hold the truth in unrighteousness", and what is there referred to is explained in what follows: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power and Godhead" (verses 19, 20). The reference there, as the later verses show, is to the Heathen. Now what we would press upon the attention of the reader is, that in addition to poor fallen nature, God has granted to men a manifestation of Himself; that which "may be known of God", which He "hath showed unto them". It is not merely that creation reveals a Creator, but that the Creator has revealed Himself "when they knew God" (verse 21), and that must have been by the Spirit’s enlightening their natural understanding.
Again, in Romans 2:14 , Romans 2:15 we read, "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness". The Holy Spirit is speaking here of men according to "nature", not grace. In his natural heart there is written "the work of the law" by whom but by the finger of God! Except for this, man would be destitute of moral light, for the Fall robbed him of all light.
The understanding in man, or the principle of reason, may, by education and contact with others, be developed to a considerable extent, so that a man may become exceeding wise; nevertheless, his knowledge and wisdom is only natural, even though his understanding be exercised upon supernatural objects. But let now the light of reason and the light of conscience be brought to the Scriptures for instruction, and man’s knowledge will be much further increased, yet still his light is but natural, it rises not to the level of what grace produces. Proof of this is seen in the case of the Jews: "Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God; and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and are confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness" (Romans 2:17-19 ). How like thousands of unregenerate souls in Christendom today!
From the last-quoted passage we learn what is the effect of the light of nature (reason) being brought to the law of God: it is increased and improved. As we have seen above, a man has some light by nature that there is a God; let that light be brought to Scripture, and he becomes "confident" there is. A man by nature has some light about the duties which God requires of him; let him bring that light to the Scriptures and he will have "the form (systematized) of knowledge, and of the truth in the law" (Romans 2:20 ). When the understanding of the natural man is illumined by the Scriptures, his light is both ratified and added unto, yet is it still natural light which he has; it is but the educating of his natural reason.
Second, the Holy Spirit works upon the affections of the natural man. There is in fallen man a natural devotion to a deity. This is evidenced by the fact that practically all of the heathen worship some god or other. In Acts 13:50 we read of "devout women" being stirred up against Paul and Barnabas: they had a devotion in them which is common to mankind. Now let men bring their natural devotion to the Scriptures and they will come to know of the true God, and learn to reverence Him too; yet is that only nature improved. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit may (usually, does) convince its reader that the Maker of heaven and earth is the true God, and therefore worthy of honor and homage. The fact is, though very few indeed recognize it, the identical principle which causes a Hindu to worship Buddha, causes the Anglo-Saxon to worship the Father of Jesus Christ.
Again; there is in every sinner the natural recognition that his sins deserve eternal death, and that God, unless He be appeased, will punish him. Doubtless many of our readers will feel inclined to call into question this last statement; let our appeal again be to the Word of Truth. There we read, "Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they might commit such things are worthy of death" (Romans 1:32 ). That, be it noted, is said of the heathen. No bring one having such knowledge to the law of God, and what will follow? This, "But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things" (Romans 2:2 ). There it is the Jews speaking. The natural man enlightened from the Word has his conviction deepened.
Again, if a man is conscious of his sins, and realizes that the justice of God calls for their punishment, is it not natural for him to think next of a mediator, to desire someone to intercede for him with God? Such a concept is by no means a sure evidence of regeneration. This too is found in mere nature. Every heathen religion, with the propitiatory offerings which are brought to their gods, exemplifies it. Romanism with its mediating priests demonstrates the same fact in this land. Illustrations are also to be found in the Holy Scriptures. When Pharaoh was convicted of his sins, he entreated Moses to intercede for him (Exodus 10:16 , Exodus 10:17 ). So too wicked Simon Magus desired Peter to pray for him (Acts 8:24 ).
Once more; there is in the heart of every natural man a desire for happiness, and for a greater happiness than this poor world can provide. It is plainly evident that man rests not in anything down here, for like a bee which goes from one flower to another, so the heart of man cannot be satisfied with any earthly object. When Balaam saw the blessedness of God’s people, he exclaimed, "Let me die the death of the righteous" (Numbers 23:10 ). The most abandoned wretch does not want to go to hell, and to the very end he hopes that he will be taken to heaven.
So, likewise, is the matter of believing that a man really is a child of God. There is such self-love and self-flattery in the fallen heart that if an unregenerate man hears, out of the Word of God, the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, he at once concludes that he is the man God will honor, as wicked Haman imagined that he was the man king Ahasuerus would honor. So when the Holy Spirit has terrified a man’s conscience, by giving it a sight of sin before a holy God, when he learns about remission of sins through Christ, he at once fondly imagines that his own sins are pardoned. Alas, in the vast majority of cases it has to be said, "the pride of thine heart hath deceived thee" (Obadiah 1:3 ).
Now let us take note of how the Holy Spirit may work upon there natural principles of the human soul, mightily raising them, and yet not changing a man’s heart. Just as the rays of the sun shining upon plants in a garden adds no new nature to them, but serves to aid their best development, so the Holy Spirit when He deals with the reprobate communicates nothing new to them, yet raises their natural faculties to their highest point. The principles or faculties of man’s soul are capable of being wrought upon without the impartation of regenerating grace. As we have seen, man’s understanding is illuminated by the light of conscience, but let the Holy Spirit without imparting a new eye still further enlighten that conscience, bring before it the exalted claims of the thrice holy God, and its knowledge will be greatly increased. Nevertheless, this educated conscience falls far below the level of the spiritual discernment possessed by one who has been brought out of death into life. Let us particularize:
1. The Spirit restrains the Corruptions of men.
In Genesis 20:6 we read of how God bound the lust of Abimeleck when Sarah was at his mercy, "I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her". So in 2 Peter 2:20 we read of some "having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ", yet from what follows in the next two verses it is clear they were never regenerated. There the apostle uses the similitude of a sow being washed from her filth, and being kept for a while, after she is washed, from going back again into the mire; yet is there no changing or "renewing" of the swine’s nature.
Contrast now what is said of the Lord’s people in 2 Peter 1:3 , 2 Peter 1:4 , "According as His Divine power hath given unto us all things pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust". In 2 Peter 2:20 , the Greek word for the "pollutions" of the world, signifies the gross and outward defilements into which the irreligious run; but in 2 Peter 1:4 , the regenerated are said to have escaped "the corruption" that is in the world through lust or "desire", i.e. the inward disposition toward evil. Moreover, the Lord’s people are made "partakers of the Divine nature", which means, the Divine image is stamped upon them: "life and godliness" are seen in them.
Again; in the similitude used in 2 Peter 2:20 , the apostle likens those who have known "the way of righteousness" to a dog that has been made sick, but which turns to its own vomit again. The figure is very striking and forcible. When the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to bear upon an unregenerate man’s conscience, he is made sick at heart. Of Christians it is said, "For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear" (Romans 8:15 ), but to the non-elect He often becomes a Spirit of "bondage" by binding their sins upon their conscience. Whereas before they had a glimmering light that the judgment of God is against sinners, their conscience now is set on fire, and the temporary consequence is that sins are refused with loathing, vomited out. Yet, like a dog, such a one loves them still, and ultimately returns thereto.
2. The Spirit causes men to turn naturally toward the Redeemer.
When conscience is wrought upon by a few sparks of God’s wrath falling upon it, what saith the soul next? This, O for a physician! There is, as we have pointed out above, a natural principle in men which causes them to make use of a mediator unto God a witch-doctor, a priest, or a preacher, as the case may be. Now a man who has lived under the sound of the Gospel learns that Christ is the one Mediator. Scriptural education has taught him this, just as the heathen education teaches a Turk that Mahomet is the one mediator. And, by the same principle that Agrippa believed Moses and the prophets, the unregenerate "Christian" (?) believes in Christ. Nay further, the light of the Spirit shining upon him, as the sun on the plants, develops his natural understanding and causes him to now remember that Redeemer which before he ignored.
A scripture clearly to the point of what we have just said above is Psalms 78:34 , Psalms 78:35 , "When He slew them, then they sought Him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their Rock, and the high God their Redeemer". Yet what immediately follows? This, "Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth". And what signifies this "flattering"? Why, they sought Him merely out of self-love, simply because they felt their very lives were in imminent danger. There is a seeking out of friendship, out of love to the object. But if one seek unto an enemy because he hath need of him, that is but "flattery" or self-love. So if sinful man feels he is in extremity, if his conscience remains sick, mere nature will call for the Physician.
Self-love is the predominant principle in the natural man: he loves himself more than he loves God; it is this which lies at the root of depravity and sin. Now when a man’s conscience is convicted so that he perceives his need of a physician, and recognizes that happiness comes from Christ, such good news appeals to his self-love. Satan, who knows human nature so well was right when he said, "skin for skin yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life" (Job 2:4 ). Make the self-love of the natural man conscious of the wrath of God, and he is ready to "accept Christ", or do anything else which the preacher bids him; yet that is only the workings of nature, he is still unregenerate.
When the storm arose and threatened to sink the ship in which Jonah lay asleep we read, "Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god"; then the captain awoke Jonah and said. "Arise, call upon thy God, if so be God will think upon us that we perish not" (Hebrews 1:5 ,Hebrews 1:6 ). So a conscience terrified by the prospect of Hell, will cause a man to seek Christ after a natural way. It is but the instinct of self-preservation at work. Add to this, the craving for happiness which self-love ever seeks, and hearing that such happiness is to be found only in Christ, little wonder that multitudes seek Him now for what they can get from Him, as of old they sought Him for the sake of the loaves and fishes.
In John 6:33 , we are told that Christ announced, "For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world". What was their response? This, "Then they said unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread". Yet their eager request sprang not from a renewed heart, but from the corrupt spring of self-love. Proof of this is found in the immediate sequel. In verse 36 the Lord tells them plainly, ye "believe not". In verse 41 we are told that they "murmured at Him". Yet that very same people said to the Lord, "Evermore give us this Bread"! Ah, all is not gold that glitters.
An enlightened understanding, moved by self-love, is prepared to take up Divine duties never practiced before, yea, to walk in the commandments of God. This was demonstrated plainly at Sinai. When Jehovah appeared before Israel in His awesome majesty, and their conscience was smitten by His manifested holiness, they said to Moses, "Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear and do". They were prepared to receive and obey the Lord’s statutes. Yet mark what God said of them, "Oh, that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always". They still lacked the principle of regeneration!
3. The Spirit elevates the natural faculties of man.
Just as the shining of the sun causes plants to grow higher and fruits to be sweeter than would be the case were the heavens to remain cloudy and overcast, so the Spirit works upon the faculties of the unregenerate and causes them to bring forth that which left to themselves they would not produce. Or, just as fire will raise the temperature and level of water, causing it to bubble up and ascend in steam, though the principle of heat is in the fire and not in the water, for when the fire is withdrawn the water returns to its natural coldness again; so the Spirit enlightens the understandings of the non-elect, stirs their affections, and moves their wills to action, without communicating a new principle to them, without regenerating them.
He elevates the understanding. In Numbers 24:2 we read that the Spirit of God came upon Balaam, the consequence of which he has told us: "The man who had his eyes shut, but now opened, hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling but having his eyes opened: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy tabernacles, O Israel!" (verses 3-5). Thus Balaam had a vision of the Almighty, and perceived the blessed estate of His people; yet was he still unregenerate!
He elevates the affections. In 1 Samuel 11:1-3 we read of how the enemies of Jehovah insulted His people. Then we are told, "And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard these tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly" (verse 6). That was holy indignation, yet it proceeded from a reprobate! As the winds blowing upon the sea will, at times, raise its waters to a great height, so the Spirit, under a faithful sermon, will blow upon the affections of the unregenerate, and elevate them to nobler objects and occupations. Yet, He stops short of making them new creatures in Christ Jesus.
Again; as we have seen, there is in man a natural desire for real happiness, hence, when Christ is presented in the Gospel, many receive Him "with joy"; yet, are they, for the most part, but stony-ground hearers, destitute of any root of vital godliness (Matthew 13:20 , Matthew 13:21 ). Nature may be so raised by the light which the Holy Spirit brings to it, that unregenerate men may taste of the heavenly gift, Christ, see John 4:10 . So too they are enabled to taste of the "powers of the world to come". As in their conscience, they get a taste of Hell, and so know for a certainty that there is a Hell, the same natural principle which desires a happiness which is beyond this world, is confirmed and comforted when they have a "taste" of what belongs to the world to come.
He elevates the will and sets it to work in the way of obedience to God. The Holy Spirit is the Author of all moral and civil righteousness which there is in the world. The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to issue a proclamation for the building of His house (Ezra 1:1 , Ezra 1:2 ); and He also moved Caiaphas to prophesy of Christ (John 11:51 ). Of wicked Herod we read that, when he heard John "he did many things, and heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20 ). And God will be no man’s Debtor: every act of obedience, performed by him in obedience to His Word, shall be rewarded: a temporary joy shall be the portion of such. The tragic thing is that so many conclude from such an experience that they are in a state of grace, and therefore become loud in their professions of assurance, being fully persuaded that they are really born-again persons.
Now we trust that what has been said will enable some of our readers to understand the better what is found in Hebrews 6:4-6 . One eminent commentator suggested that these verses describe neither the regenerate nor the unregenerate, but a third condition, midway between; because there must be a third state between that of mere nature and that of supernatural grace. Nor are we at all surprised that he arrived at this conclusion. Few indeed have perceived the force of 1 Corinthians 12:6 , "And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all".
There are operations of the Spirit upon men’s hearts which are above nature, which are works of Divine power, which produces that in and from unregenerate men which leads multitudes of them to fondly imagine that they have been actually born again, and yet this work of the Spirit falls far short of that "exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe" (Ephesians 1:19 ). Hebrews 6:4-6 supplies a most striking example of this, for there we have men who are made "partakers of the Holy Spirit". There we see a work which is above nature, for they taste of the "heavenly Gift". It is a work of power, for they taste of the "powers of the world to come". As 1 Corinthians 12:4 tells us, "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit". And why is this? 1 Corinthians 12:11 answers, "But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will": He proportions His power as He pleases, to an inferior or a superior work. Note carefully, there are "good gifts" from above, as well as "perfect gifts" (James 1:17 )!
Of old Jehovah said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Genesis 6:3 ). There we find the Spirit putting forth power upon man, for He "strives" with him; yet, not in the fullness of His power, or it had not been resisted. In other cases He puts forth power and men yield thereto (as did Balaam), yet is that power simply directed to the winding up of man’s natural faculties to their greatest height, and comes far short of regenerating them. This is clearly illustrated in the parable of the Sower. There is the stony-ground hearer, who received the Word with joy, yet falls away in time of persecution. There is also the thorny-ground hearer, who withstands persecution, and brings forth fruit, yet not "to perfection". And both of them represent unregenerate souls.
And why does God put forth His power upon the reprobate, yet not the "exceeding greatness" of His power? God has seen well to test men in various ways. First, He gave them the light of nature, the work of the law written in their hearts, augmented by the light of conscience a light which enabled men to know there was a God and of their duties toward Him. And Socrates, who knew nothing of the Scriptures, went so far as to die for the truth that there was One God. But this light of nature did not regenerate men, nor enable them to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Again; He tried the Jews with His Law. He would make it evident how far the light of nature, improved by the light of His Law, would go. And let it not be forgotten that of Israel under the Law it is said. "Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20 ). Nevertheless, the law was "weak through the flesh" (Romans 8:3 ): it could not bring forth that which was truly spiritual. And just as God gave Socrates as the highest product of what the light of nature could produce, so He gave Saul of Tarsus a man who walked blamelessly (Philippians 3:6 ) as the highest product under the Law.
But now He is trying men with the Gospel, to show how far human nature as such can go. That Gospel is accompanied with the Spirit, and Hebrews 6:4-6 shows us the highest point which can be attained under it, by man in the flesh. He may be enlightened, renewed unto repentance, enjoy the Word of God, be made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, and yet apostatize and perish forever. So too the same characters are said to have "done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:26 ). The tragic thing is that the vast majority in Christendom look upon these inferior workings of the Spirit as evidence of His new-creating grace.
And what, we may enquire, is God’s purpose in these secondary operations of His Spirit? It is manifold. We can barely mention the leading designs. First, it is to exhibit the excellency of Grace. Every thing in nature hath either its counterfeit or counterfoil. If there are stationary stars, there are also shooting stars. If there are precious stones, there are pebbles which closely resemble yet differ widely from them. The one serves to set off the other. So there is a natural faith "Many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them" (John 2:23 , John 2:24 ); "The demons believe" (James 2:19 ) and there is a supernatural faith, "the faith of God’s elect" (Titus 1:1 ), called "precious faith" (2 Peter 1:1 )! So there are common operations of the Spirit, and special operations; inferior workings upon the flesh, and superior workings that beget "spirit" (John 3:6 ). By virtue of this contrast, God says to each of His elect, See how much I have wrought on mere nature in the reprobate! yet it was not grace; I might have done no more for you, but I showed the "exceeding greatness of My power" (Ephesians 1:19 ) toward you.
Second, to show the depravity of human nature. No matter under what trial God places man, that which is born of the flesh remains naught but flesh. The Law was weak through the flesh; so too is the Gospel, notwithstanding the shining of God’s Spirit upon men. The conscience may be convicted, the understanding enlightened, the affections raised, and the will moved, yet it still remains true that "every man at his best state is altogether vanity" (Psalms 39:5 ). Men may be instructed in the truth, believe in the living God, "accept Christ as their personal Savior", contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and pass among men for devout Christians, yet be no better than "whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones".
Third, to place bounds upon sin. The general workings of God’s Spirit upon the reprobate serve to curb the risings of man’s corrupt nature. As it is His presence here upon earth which hinders the full manifestation of the mystery of iniquity in the appearing of the anti-Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:0 ), so His operations upon the non-elect prevent many outbursts of wickedness. In the time of Israel’s apostasy the Holy Spirit (the "glory") withdrew gradually, stage by stage (Ezekiel 11:0 ), so as the apostasy of Christendom increases, the restraining operations of the Spirit are decreasing and hence the rising tide of lawlessness.
Fourth, to afford protection for the elect. God’s flock is only "the little" one (Luke 12:32 ), very, very much smaller than is commonly supposed. Christ Himself declared that only "FEW" are in the Narrow Way which leadeth "unto life" (Matthew 7:14 ). Nor must Revelation 7:9 be made to contradict these clear passages; instead, the "great multitude which no man could number" is to be compared with and interpreted by the expressions found in Judges 6:5 , Judges 6:7 :12; 2 Chronicles 12:3 ; Joel 1:6 . Now suppose that only the elect had been reformed by the Gospel, and all the rest of the world had remained in utter enmity against it, then the fruits of the Gospel had been too bare, being without leaves. The leaves of a tree, though not fit for the table, are serviceable to the fruit, and ornamental to the tree, for without them the fruit would be exposed to ripen on bare twigs.
An acknowledgement of the doctrine of the Gospel, where it is not accompanied by regeneration of heart, may indeed be suitably compared to the leaves of a tree which shelter and protect the fruit. Thus they are serviceable, though not valuable in God’s account. The leaf of the vine does more good to the grapes against a scorching sun, than the leaf of any other fruit tree how much we may learn from God’s creatures if only we have eyes to see! So God’s elect have been outwardly shaded by the multitude of nominal Christians around them. For this we may well thank the kind providence of our Lord. Moreover, God has rewarded the doctrinal faith of the great crowd of unregenerate professors by preserving our public liberties, which the little handful of the regenerate could never, humanly speaking, have enjoyed, without the others.
Again; the operations of the Spirit upon the reprobate have shamed the wicked, increased sobriety, promoted morality, and caused nominal professors to support externally the preaching of the Gospel, the carrying on of the ministry, and thus providing for the benefit of common hearers. This is all useful in its season, but will reap no reward in eternity. The writer most seriously doubts if there be a single church on earth today, having in it sufficient of God’s elect to support a preacher, were all the unregenerate in it excluded. Yea, most probably, most of God’s own sent-servants, would be so completely dismayed if they could but see into the hearts of those who have a name to live and are dead, that they would be in despair. Yet though we cannot see into the hearts of professors, we can form an accurate idea of what is in them, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh". And the worldliness and emptiness of the ordinary speech of the majority shows plainly Who is not in their hearts.
We sincerely trust and earnestly pray that it may please our God to strike terror into the souls of many who read this article, that their false peace may be disturbed, and their worthless profession be exposed. Should some of the more thoughtful exclaim with the apostles, "Who then can be saved"? we answer in the words of our Lord, "With men this is impossible" (Matthew 19:26 ). Conclusive proof is this, my reader, that no sinner can be saved by any act of his own; and faithfulness requires us to tell you frankly that if your hope of Heaven is resting upon your act of "accepting Christ", then your house is built upon the sand. But blessed be His name, the Redeemer went on to say, "But with God all things are possible". "Salvation is of the Lord" (John 2:9 ), not of the creature (Romans 9:16 ). Then marvel not that Christ said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3 ).
The Two Classes of Professors
(Hebrews 6:7 ,Hebrews 6:8 )
Our preceding article was entitled "The Twofold Working of the Spirit". This was suggested by the contents of the first six verses of Hebrews 6:0 . In them we find persons belonging to two entirely different classes are spoken of. The former, one in whom a work of Divine grace had been wrought, effectually applying to them the "great salvation" of God. The latter, one upon whom a work of Divine grace was also wrought, transforming its objects to a considerable degree, yet falling short of actually regenerating them. "The Lord is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalms 145:9 ), but the richness of His "mercy" is reserved for the objects of His great love (Ephesians 2:4 ). So too God puts forth His power in varying degrees, proportioned to the work which He has before Him. Thus, Christ referred to His casting out of demons "with the finger of God" (Luke 11:20 ). Speaking to Israel, Moses said, "With a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:9 ). When referring to the amazing miracle of the Divine incarnation Mary said, "He hath showed strength with His arm" (Luke 1:51 ). But when Paul prayed that God would enlighten His saints to apprehend His stupendous miracle of grace in salvation, it was that they might know "the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward".
God’s power was put forth and is displayed in the natural creation (Romans 1:20 ). It will be made known in Hell, upon the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans 9:22 ). It is exercised upon the reprobate in this life (in some more than in others, according to His sovereign pleasure) in subduing their corruptions, restraining their sins, reforming their characters, causing them to receive the doctrine of the Gospel. But the greatest excellency and efficacy of His power is reserved for His beloved people. His power toward them is such that it exceedeth all our thoughts: "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20 ).
The recognition of only one of the two distinct operations of God’s Spirit upon men has divided theologians into two opposing camps. On the one hand, are the Arminians, who insist that Scripture teaches a common grace of God toward all men, a grace which may be despised. So far they are right, for Jude 1:4 expressly speaks of a class who turn "the grace of our God into lasciviousness". But they err when they teach there is no special grace, which is always efficacious upon those in whom it works. On the other side, the majority of modem Calvinists (the older ones did not) deny a common grace of God to all men, and insist in distinguishing grace to the elect only. In this they are wrong, and hence their unsatisfactory interpretations of Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26.
Now as we have shown in our last article, James 1:17 tells us "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" etc. Two distinct "gifts" are here referred to. Scripture draws a clear line of distinction between that which God calls "good", and that which He designates "perfect". The main difference between them being that, usually, "good" is applied to something which is temporal, "perfect" to that which is spiritual. The operations of the Spirit upon the non-elect produces that which is "good", that which accomplishes a useful purpose in time, that which is serviceable to God’s elect. But His operations upon the children of God produces that which is "perfect", i.e. spiritual, supernatural, eternal. The difference between these two classes and their relation to God in time, was clearly foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The commonwealth of Israel was the type of Christendom as a whole; the "remnant according to the election of grace" in Israel (Romans 11:5 ), represented the regenerated people of God now. Hence in both the Tabernacle and the Temple there were two distinct grades of worshippers; so there are today. Those who are merely nominal Christians are the outer-court worshippers; the regenerated Christians, who have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6 ), worship in the holy place (Hebrews 10:19 ). Both classes are contemplated in Hebrews 6:0 .
In the short passage which is to be before us on this present occasion, the apostle sums up and makes a searching application of all that he has been writing about in the preceding verses, and this in the form of a parable or similitude. In the context two different classes of people are viewed, though at first it is by no means easy to distinguish between them, the reason for this being that they have so much in common. They had both enjoyed the same external privileges, had been enlightened under the same Gospel ministry, had alike been made "partakers of the Holy Spirit", and had all made a good profession. Yet, of the second class it had to be said, as Christ said to the young ruler, "One thing thou lackest", namely, the shedding abroad of God’s love in their hearts, evidenced by leaving all and following Christ.
The first class is addressed in the opening verses of our chapter, where the apostle bids the truly regenerated people of God "Go on unto perfection", i.e. having left the temporal shadows, seek to apprehend that for which they had been apprehended live in the power and enjoyment of the spiritual, supernatural, and eternal. This, the apostle had said, "will we do, if God permit" (verse 3). Divine enablement was needed if they were to "possess their possessions" (Obadiah 1:17 ), for the regenerate are just as dependent upon God as are the unregenerate. The second class are before us in verses 4-6, where we have described the principal effects which the common operations of the Spirit produce upon the natural faculties of the human soul. Though those faculties be wound up to their highest pitch, yet the music which they produce is earthly not heavenly, human not Divine, fleshly not spiritual, temporal not eternal. Consequently, they are still liable to apostatize, and even though they should not, they are certain to perish eternally.
The apostle’s design in this 6th chapter was to exhort the Hebrews to progress in the Christian course (verses 1-3), and to persevere therein (verses 12-20). The first exhortation is presented in verse 1 and qualified in verse 3. The motive to obedience is drawn from the danger of apostacy: (verses 4-6, note the opening "for"). His purpose in referring to this second class (of unregenerate professors, who apostatize) was, to warn against the outcome of a continuance in a state of slothfulness. Here in the similitude found in verses 6,7, he continues and completes the same solemn line of thought, showing what is the certain and fearful doom of all upon whom a regenerating work of grace is not wrought. First, however, he describes the blessedness of the true people of God.
"For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned" (verses 7,8). In taking up these verses we shall endeavor to give, first, an interpretation of them; second, make an application of their contents. The interpretation respects, in its direct and local reference the Jews, or rather, two classes among the Jews; the application belongs to all who come under the sound of the Gospel.
The two verses quoted above are designed to illustrate and confirm the solemn admonition found in the six preceding verses, therefore are they introduced with the word "for". In the context two classes of people are in view, both of which were, according to the flesh, Jews. This we have sought to establish in our previous expositions. With the first class the apostle identified himself, note the "we" in verse 3; from the second class Paul dissociates himself, note the words "those" in verse 4 and "they" in verse 6. So, too, two different pieces of ground are now described: first, fruitful ground, which depicts those who have been truly regenerated, and who in consequence, had received the Word into good and honest hearts. Second, unfruitful ground, which represents that class against whose sin and doom the apostle was warning the Hebrews; namely, those who, however great their privileges and fair their professions, bring forth only thorns and briers, who, being rejected by God, are overtaken with swift and terrible destruction.
"For the earth which drinketh in the rain". The prime reference is to the Jewish nation. They were God’s vineyard (see Isaiah 5:7 ,Isaiah 5:8 ; Jeremiah 2:21 etc.). It was unto them God had sent all His servants, the prophets, and last of all His Son (see Matthew 21:35-37 ). The "rain" here signifies the Word, or Doctrine which the Lord sent unto Israel: "My doctrine shall drop as the rain" (Deuteronomy 32:2 and cf. Isaiah 55:10 , Isaiah 55:11 ). Note how when Ezekiel was to prophesy or preach, his message would "drop" as the rain does (Ezekiel 21:2 and cf. Amos 7:16 ). The figure is very beautiful. The rain is something which no man can manufacture, nor is the Word of human origin. Rain comes down from above, so is the Gospel a heavenly gift. The rain refreshes vegetation, and causes it to grow, so too the Doctrine of God revives His people and makes them fruitful. The rain quickens living seeds in the ground, though it imparts no life to dead ones; so the Word is the Spirit’s instrument for quickening God’s elect (John 3:5 ; James 1:18 ), who previously had (federal) life in Christ.
There is nothing in nature that God assumes the more into His own prerogative than the giving of rain. The first reference to it in Scripture is as follows, "For the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth" (Genesis 2:5 ). All rain is from God, who gives or withholds it at His pleasure. The sending of rain He appeals to as a great pledge of His promises and goodness: "Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven" etc. (Acts 14:17 ). Whatever conclusions men may draw from the commonness of it, and however they may imagine they are acquainted with its causes, nevertheless God distinguishes Himself from all the idols of the world in that none of them can give rain: "Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain?" (Jeremiah 14:22 ). Hence the prophet said, "Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain" (Jeremiah 5:24 ).
The high sovereignty of God is also exhibited in the manner of His bestowal and non-bestowal of rain: "Also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereon it rained not withered" (Amos 4:7 ). Thus it is absolutely in connection with His providential sending of the Gospel to nations, cities, and individuals: it is of God’s disposal alone, and He exercises a distinguishing authority thereon. "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts 16:6 , Acts 16:7 ). God sends His Gospel to one nation and not to another, to one city and not to another there are many large towns both in England and the United States where there is no real Gospel preached today and at one season and not at another.
The natural is but a shadowing forth of the spiritual. What a contrast was there between Egypt (figure of the world), and Canaan (type of the Church)! "For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and waterest with thy foot, as a garden of herbs. But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year unto the end of the year... I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain" (Deuteronomy 11:11 , Deuteronomy 11:12 , Deuteronomy 11:14 ). Thus, there were two special wet seasons: the first in October (the beginning of Israel’s year), when their seed was cast into the ground: the other in March when their corn was nearly grown. Hence we read, "Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest" (Joshua 3:15 , and cf. 1 Chronicles 12:15 ). Besides these, were many "showers" (Psalms 65:10 ).
"The rain that cometh oft upon it". The reference is to the repeated and frequent ministerial showers with which God visited Israel. To them He had called, "O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!" (Jeremiah 22:29 ). It was looking back to these multiplied servants which Jehovah had sent to His ancient people that Christ said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together" (Matthew 23:37 ). This then was the "earth" in which were the plants of God’s husbandry.
In what follows to the end of the passage the apostle distributes the plants into two classes: "herbs" (verse 7), "thorns and briers" (verse 8). The former, represent those who, having believed and obeyed the Gospel, brought forth the fruits of practical godliness. These constituted that "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5 ), which obtained mercy, when the rest of their brethren according to the flesh were blinded. These still continued to be the vineyard of the Lord, a field which He cared for. They formed the first Gospel church, gathered out from the Hebrews, which brought forth fruit to the glory of God, and was blessed by Him. The latter, were made up of obstinate unbelievers on the one hand, who persistently rejected Christ and His Gospel; and on the other hand, of those who embraced the profession of the Gospel, but after a season returned again to Judaism. These were rejected of God, fell under His curse and perished.
"And bringeth forth herbs". Several have noted the close resemblance which our present passage bears to the parable of the Sower, recorded in the Gospels. There are some notable parallels between them; the one of most importance being, to observe that in both places we have men looked at, not from the standpoint of God’s eternal counsels (as for example, Ephesians 1:3-11 ), but according to human responsibility. The earth which receives the rain, is a figure of the hearts and minds of the Jews, to whom the Word of God had been sent, and to whom, in the days of Christ and His apostles, the Gospel had been preached. So our Lord compared His hearers unto several sorts of ground into which the seed is cast observe how the word "dressed" or "tilled" presupposes the seed. What response, then, will the earth make to the repeated rains? or, to interpret the figure, What fruit is brought forth by those who heard the Gospel? That is the particular aspect of truth the Holy Spirit here has before Him.
"And bringeth forth herbs". The verb here properly signifies the bringing forth of a woman that hath conceived with child, cf. Luke 1:31 . So here the earth is said to bring forth as from a womb impregnated, the rains causing the seeds to issue in fruit. The Greek word for "herbs" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It appears to be a general term for vegetables and cereals. It is found frequently in the Sept. as the equivalent of the Hebrews "eseb", which has the same extensive meaning. Now just as the cultivator of land has a right to expect that, under the providential blessings of God, his toils shall be rewarded, that the seed he has sown and the ground he has tilled, should yield an increase, so had Jehovah the right to expect fruit from Israel: "And He looked that it (His vineyard) should bring forth grapes" (Isaiah 5:4 ).
"Meet for them by whom it is dressed". The Greek may be rightly rendered thus: equally so, as in the margin, "for whom" it is dressed: either makes good sense. "By whom" would look to the actual cultivator; "for whom," the proprietor. The apostle’s design here is to show the importance of making a proper use of receiving God’s Word: a "meet" or suitable response should be forthcoming. The ministry of the Gospel tests the state of the hearts of those to whom it comes, just as the fallen rain does the ground which receives it; tests it by exhibiting its character from what is brought forth by it. As it is in nature, so it is in grace; the more frequently the rain falls, and the more the ground be cultivated, the better and heavier should be the yield. Thus it is with God’s elect. The more they sit under the ministry of the Word, and the more they seek grace to improve what they hear, the more fruit will they yield unto God. Thus it had been with the godly in Israel.
"Receiveth blessing from God." The "blessing" here is not antecedent in the communication of mercies, for that we have at the beginning of the verse; rather is it a consequent upon the bringing forth of "herbs" or fruit. What we have here is God’s acceptation and approbation, assuring His care unto a further improvement: "A vineyard of red wine: I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day" (Isaiah 27:2 , Isaiah 27:3 ). Three things then are included in God’s blessing of this fruitful field: First , His owning of it: He is not ashamed to acknowledge it as His. Second , His watch-care over it, His pruning of the branches that they may bring forth more fruit (John 15:2 ). Third , His final preservation of it from evil, as opposed to the destruction of barren ground. All this was true of that part of Israel spoken of in Romans 11:5 .
"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected" (verse 8). It is important to note that in the similitude there is a common subject of the whole, which is then divided into two parts, with very different events ascribed unto each. The common subject is "the earth," of the nature whereof both parts are equally participant. Originally, and naturally, they differ not. On this common subject, on both parts or branches of it, the "rain" equally falls. And too both are equally "dressed." The difference between them lies, first, in what each part of "the earth" (Israel) produced; and secondly, God’s dealings with each part. As we have seen, the one part brought forth "herbs" meet for the dresser or owner: a suitable response was made to the rain given and the care expended upon it. The other, which we are now to look at, is the very reverse.
"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected." Everything here is in sharp antithesis from the terms of the preceding verse. There, the good ground, "bringeth forth", the Greek word signifying a natural conception and production of anything in due order and season. But the evil ground "beareth" thorns and briers, the Greek verb signifying an unnatural and monstrous production, a casting out in abundance of that which is not only without the use of means, but actually against it. As God said of His Israelitish vineyard, "He looketh that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes" (Isaiah 5:2 ). The Greek for "thorns and briers" is identical with the Sept. rendering of Genesis 3:18 , which, in our Bibles, is rendered, "thorns and thistles". Three thoughts seem suggested by the term here given to the product of this evil ground. First , it brought forth that which was of no profit to its owner, that which promoted not the glory of God. Second , "thorns and briers" are of a hurtful and noxious nature: see Ezekiel 28:24 , etc. Third , these terms tell us that all which is brought forth by the natural man is under the curse of God: Genesis 3:18 , Genesis 3:4 :11, Genesis 3:12 .
"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected". Land which, after cultivation, brings forth only such products, is abandoned by the farmer as worthless. The Greek word here for "rejected", signifies the setting aside as useless after trial has been made of a thing. The application of it here is to by far the greater part of the Jewish people. First , Christ had warned them "the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43 ). Second , after their full and open rejection of Himself and His Gospel, Christ told them, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38 ). Third , proof that the Nation as a whole had been "rejected" by God, is found in Acts 2:40 , when, on the day of Pentecost, Peter bade the believing remnant, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation".
"And is nigh unto cursing". This is in sharp contrast from what was said of the good ground: "receiveth blessing from God". The word "cursing" here, means, "given over to execration", or "devoted to destruction". It was given over to be "burned", which, according to the analogy of faith, means, it would be visited with Divine judgment. Israel had become a barren tree, a cumberer of the ground, and the word had gone forth, "Cut it down"(Luke 12:7 , Luke 12:9 ). Further proof that Israel as a nation was given over to "execration", is found in the solemn incident of Christ’s cursing of the "fig tree" (Matthew 21:19 ), figure of the Jews, see Matthew 24:32 . True, a short respite had been granted another "year" (Luke 13:8 ) hence the "nigh unto cursing".
"Whose end is to be burned". In Eastern lands, when a husbandman discovers that a piece of ground is worthless, he neglects it, abandons it. Next, he breaks down its fences, that it may be known it is outside the bounds of his possession. Finally, he sets fire to its weeds, to prevent their seeds being blown on to his good ground. Thus it was with Israel. In the last chapter of Acts we see how the apostle Paul warned the Jews how that God had set them aside (Acts 28:25-28 ), and shortly after, the solemn words of Christ in Matthew 22:7 were fulfilled, "He sent forth His armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city".
The contents of Hebrews 6:7 , Hebrews 6:8 are not to be restricted to the regenerated and unregenerated Jews, for "as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man" (Proverbs 27:19 ). "This is a similitude most appropriate to excite a desire to make progress in due time; for as the earth cannot bring forth a good crop in harvest except it causes the seed as soon as it is sown to germinate, so if we desire to bring forth good fruit, as soon as the Lord sows His Word, it ought to strike roots in us without delay; for it cannot be expected to fructify, if it be either choked or perish. But as the similitude is very suitable, so it must be wisely applied to the design of the apostle.
"The earth, he says, which be sucking in the rain produces a blade suitable to the seed sown, at length by God’s blessing produces a ripe crop; so they who receive the seed of the Gospel into their hearts and bring forth genuine shoots, will always make progress until they produce ripe fruit. On the contrary, the earth, which after culture and irrigation, brings forth nothing but thorns, affords no hope of a harvest; nay, the more that grows which is its natural produce, the more hopeless is the case. Hence the only remedy the husbandman has is to burn up the noxious and useless weeds. So they who destroy the seed of the Gospel, either by their indifference or by corrupt affections, so as to manifest no sign of good progress in their life, clearly show themselves to be reprobates, from whom no harvest can be expected. The apostle then, not only speaks here of the fruit of the Gospel, but also exhorts us promptly to embrace it, and he further tells us, that the blade appears presently after the seed is sown, and that grain follows the daily irrigations". (Dr. John Calvin).
The Lord Jesus completed His parable of the Sower by saying, "Take heed therefore how ye hear" (Luke 8:18 ): how you profit by it, what use you make of it; be sure that you are a good-ground hearer. Such, are those in whom, first, the Word falls, as into "an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15 ), i.e., they bow to its authority, judge themselves by it, are impartial and faithful in applying it to their own failures. Second, they "receive" the Word (Mark 4:20 ): they make personal appropriation of it, they take it home to themselves, they apply it to their own needs. Third, they "understand" it (Matthew 13:23 ): they enter into a spiritual and experimental acquaintance with it. Fourth, they "keep" it (Luke 8:15 ): they retain, heed, obey, practice it. Fifth, they "bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15 ), they persevere, overcome all discouragements, triumph over temptations, and walk in the paths of obedience. Upon such the "blessing" of God rests.
Now in contrast from the good-ground hearer, are the wayside, stony, and thorny-ground hearers. These, we believe, are they who come under the common or inferior operations of the Holy Spirit, spoken of in our last article. Let it be carefully noted, First , that even of the wayside hearer (the lowest grade of all) Christ said the Seed was "sown in his heart" (Matthew 13:19 ). Second , that of the stony-ground hearers it is said, "the same is he that heareth the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it" (Matthew 13:20 ), and "for a while believeth, and in time of temptation falls away" (Luke 8:13 ). Third , that of the stony-ground hearer Christ said, "Which when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection" (Luke 8:14 ). Yet none of them had been born of the Spirit. All that they had brought forth, under His gracious operations, was but the works of the flesh "thorns and briers".
Above, in our interpretation, we called attention to the difference between the "bringeth forth" of herbs in verse 7, and the "beareth" thorns in verse 8. There is a like producing, but an unlike manner and measure. The former "Bring forth in their lives what was before conceived and cherished in their hearts. They had the root in themselves of what they bring forth. So doth the word here used signify, viz., to bring forth the fruit of an inward conception. The doctrine of the gospel as cast into their hearts, is not only rain but seed also. This is cherished by grace, as precious seed, and as from a spiritual root or principle in their hearts, bringeth forth precious fruit. And herein consists the difference between the fruitbearing of the true believers, and the works of hypocrites or false professors. These latter bring forth fruit like mushrooms, they come up suddenly, have oft-times great bulk and goodly appearance, but are merely a forced excrescence, they have no natural seed or root in the earth. They do not proceed from a living principle in the heart". (Dr. John Owen).
Thus, it should be most carefully borne in mind that the "thorns and briers" of verse 8 have reference not to sins and wickedness as men view things, but to the best products of the flesh, as cultivated by "religion", and that, as instructed out of the Scriptures, and "enlightened" by the Holy Spirit. This is evident from the fact that the thorns and briers, equally with the "herbs", are occasioned by the same "rain" which had come oft upon the earth, and from which they sprang. However fair the professions of the unregenerate may appear in the eyes of their fellows, no matter what proficiency they may reach in an understanding of the letter of Scripture, nor what their zeal in contending for the faith, loyalty to their church, self-sacrifice in their service; yet, in the sight of Him who searcheth the heart and taketh note of the root from which things spring, all is worthless. These products or works are only the fruits of a nature which is under the curse of a holy God.
"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected" i.e., of God. Little did the Jews believe this when Paul penned those words. Their great boast was that they were God’s people, that He preferred them above all others. Nevertheless, though He yet withheld His wrath for a little space, He had disowned them. The sad analogy to this is found everywhere in Christendom today. Countless thousands who bear the name of Christ, and who have no doubts but that they are among the true people of God, are yet "rejected" by Him. Are you, my reader, among them?
What need is there for every professing Christian to heed that word in 2 Peter 1:10 , "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure"! Those who sit under the ministry of God’s Word are upon trial, and it is high time that many of us who have been so long privileged, should call on ourselves to a strict account with respect to our improvement thereof. What are we bringing forth? Are we producing "the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:11 )? If so, all praise to Him who has made us fruitful. Or are we, though not notoriously wicked persons, yet so far as fruit for God is concerned, cumberers of the ground? If upon inquiry we find ourselves at a loss to be sure of which sort of ground we belong unto, and this because of our barrenness and leanness, unless we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, we shall give ourselves no rest until we have better evidences of our bearing spiritual fruit.
O let these solemn words search our hearts: "And is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned". Such is the awful fate confronting multitudes of professing Christians in the churches today, who resist all exhortations to produce the fruit of godly living. Corrupt desires, pride, worldliness, covetousness, are as plainly to be seen in their lives, as are thorns and briers on abandoned ground. O what a thought! professing Christians, "nigh unto cursing"! Soon to hear their last sermon. Soon to be cut off out of the land of the living. Afterwards to hear from the lips of Christ the fearful sentence, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41 ).
Two Christians Described
(Hebrews 6:9-11 )
The passage which is to be before us is in strong and blessed contrast from what we found in verses 4-6. There we beheld a class of people highly favored, blest with grand external privileges, richly gifted, and wrought upon by the Holy Spirit. There we see the faculties of the natural man’s soul wound up to their highest pitch: the conscience searched, the understanding enlightened, the affections drawn out, and the will moved to action. There we have described the character of a class which constitutes a very large proportion of those who profess the name of Christ. Yet, though they have never been born again, though they are unsaved, though their end is destruction, nevertheless, it is by no means an easy matter for a real child of God to identify them. Oftentimes their head-knowledge of the truth, their zeal for religion, their moral qualities, put him to shame. Still, if he weigh them in the balances of the sanctuary, they will be found wanting.
The careful reader of the four Gospels, will discover that in the days of His flesh, the Lord Jesus healed those concerning whom nothing is recorded of their faith. The blessings which He dispensed were not restricted to His disciples. Temporal mercies were bestowed upon natural men as well as upon spiritual. And, be it carefully noted, this was something more, something in addition to, the providential goodness of the Creator, which is extended to all of Adam’s race: "He maketh His sun to rise, on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45 ). Rather did those gracious acts of Christ unto the unbelieving, foreshadow that which we designated in the preceding article, the inferior operations of His Spirit. On a few Christ bestowed spiritual blessings, saving mercies; to others, He imparted temporal blessings, mercies which came short of saving their recipients.
In our last article we made reference to James 1:17 : "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above". We believe that, in keeping with the character, theme and purpose of that epistle, those words have reference to two distinct classes of gifts, for two different classes of people: the "good" referring to those bestowed, under Gospel-ministry on the non-elect; the "perfect" imparted to God’s own people. A scripture which we believe supplies strong corroboration of this is found in Psalms 68:18 . There, in a Messianic prophecy concerning the ascension of Christ, we read, "Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also": gifts are bestowed by Christ on two distinct classes. It is to be particularly observed that a part of this verse is quoted by the Spirit in Ephesians 4:8 ; part of it we say, for its closing words, "the rebellious also" are there omitted. And why? Because in Ephesians it is the elect of God (see Hebrews 1:3 , Hebrews 1:4 etc.) who are in view. Yet, in addition to them, Christ has received "gifts" for the "rebellious also"; that is, for the non-elect too.
Few indeed have perceived that there is a double work of GOD being prosecuted under the ministry of the Gospel. Plain intimation of this is found in the words of Christ in Matthew 22:14 , "For many are called, but few chosen." Half of the human race has never heard the Gospel; those who have, are divided into four classes, as Christ has taught us in His parable of the Sower. The "wayside" hearers are those upon whom the preaching of the Gospel produces no effect. The "stony" and the "thorny" ground hearers are they which form a very large percentage of "church members" or who are "in fellowship" with those known as "the Brethren". Of these it is said that they "for a while believe" (Luke 8:13 ); nor are they unproductive, yet they "bring no fruit to perfection" (Luke 8:14 ). In them the "enmity" of the carnal mind is, to a considerable extent, subdued; yet it is not vanquished. There is a work of the Spirit upon them, yet it falls short of the new creation. They are "called" but not "chosen".
Only as due attention is paid to the distinction just noted, are we really able to appreciate the point and meaning of the qualifying language which the Spirit of God has used when speaking of the saving call of God’s elect. For example, in Romans 8:28 , they are denominated the called "according to His purpose", which notes a distinction from others who receive an inferior "call" according to His providence, under the general proclamation of the Gospel. So too in 2 Timothy 1:9 we read of those "called with a holy calling... according to His own purpose and grace", which is the language of discrimination, signifying there are others called yet not with "a holy calling". So again in 1 Peter 5:10 , "The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory", is in antithesis from the many who are only called unto a temporal righteousness in this world.
It needs to be very carefully noted that the "us" of the Epistles is frequently used with a far narrower discrimination than from all the rest of the world: very often the "us" is in contrast from the great crowd of lifeless professors which ever surrounds the little handful of God’s true people professors which, though spiritually lifeless, are yet to be distinguished from the vast multitudes of non-professors; distinguished by a real work of the Holy Spirit upon them, but still an abortive work. Of this class the Epistle of James has much to say. Concerning them John, in his first Epistle, declares "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us" (Heb. 2:19). A work of "calling" must have been wrought upon them, for they had once separated from the world, and united themselves with the true people of God. Moreover, that work of "calling" must have produced such a change in them that they had been accounted real Christians, or otherwise they had not been admitted among such.
The occasion of Christ’s uttering those words "For many are called, but few chosen" (Matthew 22:14 ) is exceedingly solemn and searching. The context records the parable of the wedding-feast of the King’s Son. First, the invitation to it had been given to the Jews, but they despised it, mistreated God’s servants, and, in consequence, their city was destroyed. Then God’s servants are sent forth into the Gentile highways to bring in others. But when the King inspects the guests, He sees a man "which had not on a wedding-garment". The awful sentence goes forth, "Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness." Immediately after, Christ said, "For many are called, but few chosen".
Now in sharp and blessed contrast from the many professing the name of Christ who have received only the inferior call of God through the Gospel a call which, yet, leads them to assent to the doctrine of His word, which brings them to espouse the outward cause of Christ in this world, which produces a real reformation in their ways, so that they become respectable and useful members of their community, as well as provide a measure of protection to the few of God’s "chosen" from the openly antagonistic world; our present passage treats of "the remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5 ). This is clear from its opening words, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you." The "But" sets these "beloved" ones in opposition from those mentioned in verse 8. The "better things" also points an antithesis. "Better" is an adjective in the comparative degree, set over against something which is merely "good". Those described in verses 4, 5 had good things, yet these possessed something far better. Mark how this confirms what we have said on James 1:17 !
In verses 9-12 we find the apostle doing three things: first, he expresses his good will towards the Hebrew saints; second, he declares his judgment concerning their state; third, he gives the grounds upon which his judgment was based. His aim was that they should make a proper use of what he had set before them in the first eight verses, so that on the one hand they might not be discouraged, and on the other hand not become careless. We subjoin Dr. J. Brown’s summary of our passage. "The general meaning of this paragraph, all the parts of which are closely connected together, plainly is: The reason why I have made these awful statements about apostates, is not because I consider you whom I am addressing as apostates for your conduct proves that this is not your character, and the promise of God secures that this doom shall not be yours; but that you may be stirred up to persevering steadiness in the faith, and hope, and obedience of the truth, by a constant continuance in which alone you can, like those who have gone before you, obtain in all their perfections the promised blessings of the Christian salvation."
"But, beloved" (verse 9). This term testified to the apostle’s good will toward and affection in the Hebrew saints. Such an expression was more than the formal language of courtesy; it revealed the warmth of Paul’s heart for God’s people. Though he had spoken severely to them in Hebrews 5:11-14 , it was not because he was unkindly disposed toward them. Love is faithful, and because it seeks the highest good of its objects, will reprove, rebuke, admonish, when occasion calls for it. Spiritual love is regulated not by impulse, but by principle. Herein it differs from the backboneless amiability and affability of the flesh, and from the maudlin sentimentality of the day. "We hence conclude, that not only the reprobates ought to be reproved, severely, and with sharp earnestness, hut also the elect themselves, even those whom we deem to be children of God" (John Calvin).
"The apostle hastens to comfort and encourage, lest the Hebrews should be overwhelmed with fear and sorrow, or lest they should think that their condition was regarded by him as hopeless. The affection of the writer is now eager to inspire hope, and to draw them with the cords of love. The word ‘beloved’ is introduced here most appositely, a term of endearment which occurs frequently in other epistles, but only once in ours; not that the apostle was not filled with true and fervent love to the Hebrew Christians, but that he felt obliged to restrain as it were his feelings, by reason of the prejudices against him. But here the expression bursts forth, as in a moment of great danger or of anxious suspense the heart will speak out in tender language (Adolph Saphir).
"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you". In these words the apostle sets forth his judgment concerning the spiritual state of the Hebrews (cf. Hebrews 3:1 ). The "persuasion" here did not amount to an infallible certitude, but was a strong confidence based on good grounds. It is similar to what we find in Romans 15:14 , "I myself also am persuaded of you my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another". So again in 2 Timothy 1:5 , "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." However low the spiritual condition of these Hebrews (Hebrews 5:11-14 ), there had been, and still was found in them, fruit, such as manifested them to be truly regenerated souls. It ever holds good that a tree is known by its fruits, hence, the genuineness of my Christian profession is evidenced by what I bring forth, or its worthlessness by what I fail to produce. There may be a "form of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5 ), but if the power thereof be "denied" by my works (Titus 1:16 ) then is it profitless and vain.
"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you." It is the bounden duty of every pastor to ascertain the spiritual condition of his people: "Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks" (Proverbs 27:23 ). This is very necessary if the servant of God is to minister suitably and seasonably. While he is ignorant of their state, he knows not when or how to rebuke or console, to warn or encourage. A general preaching at random is little more than a useless formality. A physician of bodies must acquaint himself with the condition of his patients, otherwise he cannot prescribe intelligently or effectually. Equally so it is with a physician of souls. The same principle holds good in the fellowship of Christians one with another. I cannot really love a brother with the Gospel-love which is required of me, unless I have a well-grounded persuasion that he is a brother.
"And things that accompany salvation" (verse 9). The word "accompany" signifies "conjoined with", or inseparable from, that which has a sure connection with "salvation". The principal things that "accompany salvation" are sorrow for and hatred of sin, humility or self-abnegation, the peace of God comforting the conscience, godly fear or the principle of obedience, a diligent perseverance in using the appointed means of grace and pressing forward in the race set before us, the spirit of prayer, and a joyous expectation of being conformed to the image of Christ and spending eternity with Him. True Gospel faith and sincere obedience are far "better things" than the most dazzling gifts ever bestowed on unregenerate professors.
To believe on Christ is very much more than my understanding assenting and my will consenting to the fact that He is a Savior for sinners, and ready to receive all who will come to Him. To be received by Christ, I must come to Him renouncing all my righteousness (Romans 10:3 ), as an empty-handed beggar (Matthew 19:21 ). But more; to be received by Christ, I must come to Him forsaking my self-will and rebellion against Him (Psalms 2:11 , Psalms 2:12 ; Proverbs 28:13 ). Should an insurrectionist and seditionist come to an earthly king seeking his sovereign favor and pardon, then, obviously, the very law of his coming to him for forgiveness requires that he should come on his knees, laying aside his hostility. So it is with a sinner who comes to Christ for pardon; it is against the law of faith to do otherwise.
An "unfeigned faith" (2 Timothy 1:5 ) in Christ, is one which submits to His yoke and bows to His authority. There is no such thing in Scripture as receiving Christ as Savior without also receiving Him as Lord: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6 ). If it be an honest and genuine faith, it is inseparably connected with a spirit of obedience, a desire to please Him, a resolve to not henceforth live unto self, but unto Him which died for me (2 Corinthians 5:15 ). The man who really thinks he has a saving faith in Christ, but yet has no concern for His glory and no heart for His commandments, is blinded by Satan. There are things which "accompany salvation", that have a certain connection therewith. As light is inseparable from the shining of the sun, as heat is inseparable from fire, so good works are inseparable from a saving faith.
"Though we thus speak" (verse 9). The reference is to what the apostle had said about apostates in verses 6, 8, and which had been written to these Hebrews as a solemn and searching warning for them to take to heart. "In the visible professing church, all things outwardly seemed to be equal. There are the same ordinances administered unto all, the same profession of faith is made by all, the same outward duties are attended unto, and scandalous offenses are by all avoided. But yet things are not internally equal. In a great house, there are vessels of wood and stone, as well as of gold and silver. All that eat outwardly of the bread of life, do not feed on the hidden manna. All that have their names enrolled in the church’s book, may yet not have them written in the Lamb’s book. There are yet better things than gifts, profession, participation of ordinances and whatever is of the like nature. And the use hereof in one word is to warn all sorts of persons, that they rest not in, that they take not up with an interest in, or participation of the privileges of the church, with a common profession, which may give them a name to live; seeing they may be dead or in a perishing condition in the meantime" (Dr. John Owen).
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work" (verse 10). Here the apostle makes known the ground on which his "persuasion" rested, and that was, the unchanging faithfulness of God toward His covenant promises unto His people, and why he believed that these Hebrews were numbered among them. The foundation on which confidence should rest concerning my own security unto eternal glory, as that of my fellow-Christians, is nothing in the creature. "It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed" (Lamentations 3:22 ). The believer’s perseverance is not the cause but the consequence of God’s preservation.
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work". A scripture which enables us to understand the force of these words 1 John 1:9 , "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins". God is "faithful" to His covenant engagements with us in the person of His Son; "just", to the full satisfaction which He rendered unto Him. The very justice of God is engaged on the behalf of those whom Christ redeemed. His veracity towards us is pledged: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2 ). And because God is immutable, without variableness or shadow of turning, He cannot go back on His own oath: "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6 ). Therefore have we the absolute assurance that "He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it" (Philippians 1:6 ).
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work". Some have found a difficulty here, because these words seem to teach that heaven is a reward earned by good works. But the difficulty is more seeming than real. What God rewards is only what He Himself hath wrought in us: it is the Father’s recognition of the Spirit’s fruit. "The act of a benefactor in entering into engagements with his beneficiary may be wholly gratuitous, and yet, out of his act, rights may grow up to the beneficiary. The advantages thus acquired are not the less gracious, because they have become rights; for they originated in free grace" (Dr. Sampson, 1857). It may look now as though God places little value on sincere obedience to Him, that in this world the man who lives for self gains more than he who lives for Christ; yet, in a soon-coming day it shall appear far otherwise.
"For God is not unrighteous to forget your works". "God does not pay us a debt, but performs what He has of Himself freely promised, and not so much on our works, as on His own grace in our works; nay, He looks not so much on our works, as on His own grace in our works. And this is to be ‘righteous’, for He cannot deny Himself . . . God is righteous in recompensing works, because He is true and faithful; and He has made Himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us, but, as Augustine says, by freely promising all things" (John Calvin). They who imagine there is an inconsistency between the God of all grace "rewarding" His people, will do well to ponder carefully the Reformer’s words.
"Your work". We believe the reference here is to their faith. First , because he is here speaking of the "things that accompany salvation", and faith is inseparable therefrom. Second , because faith "worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6 ), and the very next thing mentioned in our verse is their "labor of love". Third , because in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 we read of the "work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope", and in Hebrews 6:11 , we have their "hope" mentioned. Should it be inquired, Why did the apostle omit the express mention of "faith" here? We answer, Because their faith was so small and feeble. To have commended their faith directly, would have weakened the force of his repeated exhortations in Hebrews 3:12 , Hebrews 3:4 :1, Hebrews 3:2 , Hebrews 3:6 :12, Hebrews 3:12 :1 etc. "Your work" refers not to any single work, but to a course of working, i.e., the whole course of obedience to God, of which faith is the principle moving thereunto. Evangelical obedience is thus denominated "your work" because this is what they had been regenerated unto (see Ephesians 2:10 ), and because such a course calls for activity, pains, toil; cf. "all diligence" (2 Peter 1:5 ).
A living faith is a working faith (James 2:17 ). Two things are plainly and uniformly taught throughout the New Testament. Justification is by faith, and not by works, (Romans 4:0 , etc.). Yet, such justifying faith is a living, operative, fruitful faith, evidencing itself by obedience to the commands of God (1 John 2:4 , etc.). Christ gave Himself for us that "He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14 ). This greatly needs emphasizing today and pressing repeatedly upon those professing to be believers in the Lord Jesus, for multitudes of these have a name to live, but "art dead" (Revelation 3:1 ). Their faith is not that of God’s elect (Titus 1:1 ), but nothing better or different than that which the demons have (James 2:19 ).
"Your faith and the labor of love", for so the Greek reads. These were the evidences upon which the apostle grounded his confidence concerning the Hebrew saints. Five things are to be noted. First this distinguishing grace, their "labor of love": let the reader turn to and ponder carefully 1 John 3:16-19 ; 1 John 4:7-12 . "Mutual love among believers is a fruit of the Spirit of holiness, and an effect of faith, whereby being knit together in the bond of entire spiritual affection, on the account of their joint interest in Christ; and participation of the same, new, divine, spiritual nature from God, they do value, delight and rejoice in one another, and are mutually helpful in a constant discharge of all those duties whereby their eternal, spiritual and temporal good may be promoted" (Dr. John Owen). Note "labor of love": a lazy love, like that of James 2:15 , James 2:16 , is no evidence of saving faith. True love is active, diligent, untiring.
"Which ye have showed". This gives us the second feature of their love. It was not a secret and un-manifested love: but one that had been plainly evidenced in a practical way. In James 2:18 the professor is challenged to "show" his faith, today it would also be pertinent to ask many of those who bear the name of Christ to "show" their love, especially along the line of 1 John 5:2 . "Which ye have showed toward His name," defines, third, the end before them in the exercise of their ardent love in ministering to the saints. The words last quoted have a threefold force. Objectively, because God’s name is upon His people (Ephesians 3:15 ). It is both blessed and solemn to know that whatever is done unto the people of God, whether it be good or evil, is done toward the name of Christ: Matthew 25:34-45 . Formally: they ministered to the saints as the people of God. This it is which gives spiritual love its distinctive character: when it is exercised to souls because God’s name is on them. Efficiently: the "name of God" stands for His authority. God requires His people to love one another, and when they do so out of obedience to Him, it is, necessarily, done "toward His name", having respect to His will.
"In that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister". This tells us, fourth, the manner in which their love had been exercised: in an untiring service. Fifth, it announces, the objects of their love, God’s "saints". Many of God’s people are in various kinds of temporal distress, and one reason why their loving Father permits this is, that their brethren and sisters in Christ may have the holy privilege of ministering to them: see Romans 15:25-27 , 2 Corinthians 8:21 , 2 Corinthians 9:11-15 . But let such ministry be rendered not from sentimental considerations, nor to satisfy an uneasy conscience, still less with the object of vain glory, to gain a reputation for benevolence; rather let it be "shown toward His name". It is the owning of His authority, the conscious performance of His will, which alone gives life, spirituality and acceptance unto all those duties of love which we are able to perform to others.
In summing up the teaching of verses 9, 10, let us observe how the apostle justified the Hebrews according to his Master’s rule in Matthew 7:15-20 . Genuine Christians give plain evidence that their profession of the Gospel is accompanied by transforming grace. The obedience of faith and the labor of love toward the saints not from human instincts, but out of submission to the revealed will of God both in the past and in the present, were the visible ground of Paul’s good persuasion concerning them. It is important to note what were the particular graces singled out for mention. The apostle says nothing about their clear views of the truth, their missionary activities, zeal for "their church" which are the things that many formal professors boast in.
"And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (verse 11). The apostle looks back to the exhortation of v. 1 and also the solemn warning pointed in verses 4-8. His purpose had been to excite them unto a diligent persevering continuance in faith and in love, with the fruits thereof. All he had said was unto this end. The closer connection of this verse with the preceding one is: having expressed his conviction about their spiritual state, and having assured them of a blessed issue of their faith from the fidelity of God, he now presses upon them their responsibility to answer to the judgment he had formed of them, by diligent progress unto the end.
In this verse (11) the apostle, with heavenly wisdom, makes known the proper use and end of Gospel threatenings (verses 6-8), and Gospel promises (verses 9, 10): either may be, and often are, abused. Many have looked upon threatenings as serving no other purpose than a terrifying of the minds of men, causing them to despair; as if the things threatened must inevitably be their portion. Few have known how to make a right application of them to their consciences. On the other hand, many have abused the promises of God: those who had no title to such have suffered themselves to be deceived, and to be so falsely comforted by them to lie down in a carnal security, imagining that no evil could befall them. But here the apostle reveals the proper end of each, both to believers and unbelievers: the threatenings should stir up to earnest examination of the foundation of our hope; the promises should encourage unto a constant and patient diligence in all the duties of obedience. What wisdom is needed by a minister of the Gospel to make a proper and due use of both upon his hearers!
"And", or rather (Greek) "But we desire". In verses 9,10 the apostle had told them what was not his object in making to them the statements of verses 4-8; now he tells them what it was. The word "desire" here signifies an intense longing; without this, preaching is cold, formal, lifeless. "That every one of you": the loving care and untiring efforts of the minister should be extended to all the members of his flock. The oldest, as much as the youngest, is in need of constant exhortation. "Do show the same diligence... unto the end". Unless this be done, our profession will not be preserved nor God glorified. Paul knew nothing of that half-heartedness and sluggish neglect of the means of grace which today satisfies the generality of those bearing the name of Christ. "Give thyself wholly to them" (1 Tim. 4 15).
Many are very "diligent" in their worldly business, still more are most punctual in prosecuting their round of pleasure and fleshly gratification; but there are very few indeed who exercise a godly concern for their souls. To an earnest endeavor after personal holiness, the work of faith and labor of love, the vast majority of professors are strangers, nor can they be persuaded that any such things are required or expected from them. They may be regular attenders of "church" from force of custom; they may perform certain acts of charity for the sake of their reputation; but to be really exercised in heart as to how they may please and honor God in the details of their lives, they know nothing and care still less. Such are destitute of those things which "accompany salvation"; they are deluded and lost souls. Make no mistake, my reader, unless there is in you a work of faith in keeping God’s commandments, and a labor of love toward His saints as such, then "the root of the matter" (Job 19:28 ) is not in you. This is the test of profession, and the rule whereby each of us shall be measured.
Nor can this work of faith and labor of love be persisted in without studious diligence and earnest endeavor. It calls for the daily searching of the Scriptures, and that, not for intellectual gratification, but to learn God’s will for my walk. It calls for watchfulness and prayer against every temptation which would turn me aside from following Christ. It requires that I should rightly abstain from "fleshly lusts that war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11 ), yielding myself unto God as one that is passed from death unto life, and my members "as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13 ). It requires that I "lay aside every weight" (whatever hinders vital godliness) and the sin which doth so easily beset (the love of self), and run (which calls for the putting forth of all our energies) the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1 , Hebrews 12:2 ),and that race is a fleeing from the things of this doomed world, with our faces set steadfastly towards God. Those who despise, or even continue to neglect such things, are only nominal Christians.
This "diligence" is to be shown "to the full assurance of hope". Full assurance here signifies a firm conviction or positive persuasion. "Hope" in the New Testament means an ardent desire for and strong expectation of obtaining its object. Faith looks to the Promiser, hope to the things promised. Faith begets hope. God has promised His people perfect deliverance from sin and all its troubles, and full enjoyment of everlasting glory with Himself. Faith rests on the power and veracity of God to make good His word. The heart ponders these blessings, and sees them as yet future. Hope values and anticipates the realization of them. Like faith, "hope" has its degrees. "Full assurance of hope" signifies a steady prevailing persuasion, a persuasion which issues from faith in the promises made concerning "good things to come". The "diligence" before mentioned, is God’s appointed means toward this full assurance: compare 2 Peter 1:10 , 2 Peter 1:11 . To cherish a hope of Heaven while I am living to please self is wicked presumption. "Unto the end": no furloughs are granted to those called upon to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12 ); there is no discharge from that warfare as long as we are left upon the field of battle. No spiritual state is attainable in this life, where "reaching forth unto those things which are before" (Philippians 3:13 ) becomes unnecessary.
(Hebrews 6:12-15 )
Two exhortations were set before the Hebrew Christians in the 6th chapter of this epistle· First, they were bidden to turn their backs upon Judaism and go on unto a full embracing of Christianity (verse 1). The application to God’s people today of the principle contained in this exhortation is, Abandon everything which enthralled your hearts in your unregenerate days, and find your peace, joy, satisfaction in Christ· In contemplating the peculiar temptation of the Hebrews to forsake the Christian position and path for a return to Judaism, let us not lose sight of the fact that a danger just as real menaces the believer today. The flesh still remains within him, and all that Satan used in the past to occupy his heart, still exists in the present· Though Israel came forth from the House of Bondage, passed through the Red Sea, and started out joyfully (Exodus 15:1 ) for the promised land, yet it was not long ere their hearts went back to Egypt, lusting after its fleshpots (Exodus 16:3 ).
It is worse than idle to reply to what has been pointed out above by saying, Real Christians are in no "danger", for God has promised to preserve them. True, but God has promised to preserve His people in a way of holiness, not in a course of sinful self-will and self-gratification. Those whom Christ has declared shall "never perish" are they who "hear His voice and follow Him" (John 10:27 , John 10:28 ). The apostles were not fatalists, neither did they believe in a mechanical salvation, but one that required to be worked out "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12 ). Therefore Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, did not hesitate to refer to the Israelites who were "overthrown" in the wilderness, and say, "Now these things were our examples to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted· Neither be ye idolators, as were some of them;... Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents . . . Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition . . . Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:6-12 ).
The second exhortation of Hebrews 6:0 is found in verses 11, 12, the first part of which was before us at the close of our last chapter. There the apostle says, "And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence". This, together with the verses that follow, is a call to perseverance in the path of godliness. To a church which had left its "first love" Christ said, "Repent, and do the first works" (Revelation 2:4 , Revelation 2:5 ). What are these "first works"? A submitting of ourselves unto God, an humbling of ourselves before Him, a throwing down of the weapons of our hostility against Him. A turning unto Christ as our only hope, a casting of ourselves upon Him, a trusting in the merits of His precious blood. A taking of His yoke upon us, bowing to His Lordship, owning His authority, earnestly seeking grace to do His commandments.
Now the Christian is to continue as he began. He is to daily own his sins before God. He is to daily renew the same acts of faith and trust in Christ which he exercised at the first. Instead of counting upon some experience in the past, he is to maintain a present living upon Christ. If he continues to cast himself upon the Redeemer, putting his salvation wholly in His hands, then He will not, cannot, fail him. But in order to cast myself upon Christ, I must be near Him; I cannot do so while I am following Him afar off. To be near Him, I must be in separation from all that is contrary to Him. Communion is based upon an obedient walk: the one cannot be without the other. For the maintenance of this, I must "show the same diligence" I did when I was first convicted of my lost estate, saw Hell yawning at my feet ready to receive me, and fled to Christ for refuge.
This same diligence which marked my state of heart and regulated my actions when I first sought Christ, is to be continued "unto the end". This means persevering in a holy living, and unto this the servants of God are to be constantly urging their hearers. "Ministerial exhortation unto duty, is needful even unto them who are sincere in the practice of it, that they may abide and continue therein. It is not easy to be apprehended how God’s institutions are despised by some, neglected by others, and by how few, duly improved; all for want of taking right measures for them. Some there are, who, being profoundly ignorant, are yet ready to say, that they know as much as the minister can teach them, and therefore, it is to no purpose to attend unto preaching. These are the thoughts, and this is too often the language, of persons profane and profligate, who know little, and practice nothing of Christianity. Some think that exhortations unto duty, belong only unto them who are negligent and careless in their performance; and unto them, indeed they do belong, but not unto them only, as the whole Scripture testifieth. And some, it may be, like well to be exhorted unto what they do, and do find satisfaction therein, but how few are there (it was the same then! A.W.P.) who look upon it as a means of God whereby they are enabled for, and kept up unto their duty, wherein, indeed, their use and benefit doth consist. They do not only direct unto duty, but through the appointment of God, they are means of communicating grace unto us, for the due performance of duties" (Dr. John Owen, 1680).
"Do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end". Hope is a spiritual grace quite distinct from faith or love. Faith casts me upon God. Love causes me to cleave to and delight in pleasing Him. Hope sustains under the difficulties and discouragements of the way. It supports the soul when the billows of trouble roll over it, or when we are tempted to despair, and give up the fight. That is why, in the Christian’s armor, Hope is called "the helmet"(1 Thessalonians 5:8 ), because it wards off the sharp blows or bears the weight of those strokes which befall the saint in trials and afflictions. Hope values the things promised, looks forward to the clay of their realization, and thus is nerved to fresh endeavor. Hope views the Promised Land, and this gives alacrity to the weary pilgrim to continue pressing forward. Hope anticipates the welcome and the glorious fare awaiting us at the Heavenly Port, and this gives courage to go on battling against adverse winds and waves. There is the test.
Many pretend to the possession of a good hope who yet have no faith. Others make a profession of faith who yet have no real hope. But real faith and real hope are inseparable. A spiritual faith eyes the Promiser, and is assured that He cannot lie. A spiritual hope embraces the promises, esteems them above all silver and gold, and confidently anticipates their fulfillment. But between the present moment and the actual realization of our hope lies a rugged path of testing, in which we encounter much that wearies, disheartens and retards us. If we are really walking in the path of God’s appointment, there will be oppositions to meet, fierce persecutions to be endured, grievous troubles to be borne. Yet, if our valuation of God’s promises be real, if our anticipation of their fulfillment be genuine, the comfort and joy they afford will more than offset and over-balance the effects of our trials. The exercise of hope will alone deliver from fainting and despondency under continued afflictions.
Now to be in the enjoyment of "the full assurance of hope unto the end", the Christian must continue giving "the same diligence" to the things of God and the needs of his soul, as he did at the beginning. When the terrors of God first awakened him from the sleep of death, when he was made to feel his own awful danger of being cast into the eternal burnings, when he learned that Christ was the only Refuge, no half-hearted seeker was he. How diligently he searched the Word! How earnestly he cried unto God! How sincere was his repentance! How gladly he received the Gospel! How radical was the change in his life! How real did Heaven seem unto him, and how he longed to go there! How bright was his "hope" then! Alas, the fine gold has become dim; the manna has lost much of its sweetness, and he has become as one who "cannot see afar off" (2 Peter 1:9 ). Why? Ah, cannot the reader supply the answer from his own experience?
But we dare not stop short at the point reached at the close of the preceding paragraph. Backsliding is dangerous, so dangerous that if it be persisted in, it is certain to prove fatal. If I continue to neglect the Divine means of grace for spiritual strength and support, if I go back again into the world and find my delight in its pleasures and concerns, and if I am not recovered from this sad state, then that will demonstrate that I was only the subject of the Holy Spirit’s inferior operations, that I was not really regenerated by Him. The difference between thorny-ground and the good-ground hearers is, that the one brings forth no fruit "to perfection" (Luke 8:14 ), whereas the other brings forth fruit "with patience" or perseverance (Luke 8:15 ). It is continuance in Christ’s word which proves us His disciples indeed (John 8:31 ). It is continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, and being "not moved away from the hope of the Gospel" (Colossians 1:23 ) which demonstrates the reality of our profession.
"He said to the end that they might know they had not yet reached the goal, and were therefore to think of further progress. He mentioned diligence that they might know they were not to sit down idly, but to strive in earnest. For it is not a small thing to ascend above the heavens, especially for those who hardly creep on the ground, and when innumerable obstacles are in the way. There is, indeed, nothing more difficult than to keep our thoughts fixed on things in heaven, when the whole power of our nature inclines towards, and when Satan by numberless devices draws us back to earth" (John Calvin).
Once more would we press upon our hearts that it is only as "diligence" in the things of God is continually exercised that a scriptural "hope" is preserved, and the full assurance of it attained. First, because there is an inseparable connection between these two which is of Divine institution: God Himself has appointed "diligence" as the means and way whereby His people shall arrive at this assurance: cf. 2 Peter 1:10 , 2 Peter 1:11 . Second, because such "diligence" has a proper and necessary tendency unto this end. By diligence our spiritual faculties are strengthened, grace is increased in us, and thereby we obtain fuller evidence of our interest in the promises of the Gospel. Third, by a faithful attention to the duties of faith and love we are preserved from sinning, which is the principal evil that weakens or impairs our hope.
"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (verse 12). These words confirm what we have said above concerning the force of the exhortation found in verse 11. There the apostle, is giving a call to perseverance in the path of practical holiness. But there are multitudes of professing Christians that cherish a hope of heaven, who nevertheless continue in a course of self-will and self-pleasing. "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness" (Proverbs 30:12 ). Christ came here to save His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21 ) not in them. No presumption is worse than entertaining the idea that I am bound for Heaven while I live like a child of Hell.
"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises". This verse forms the connecting link between the preceding section and the closing one of this chapter. The apostle here warns against any evil, indolence and inertia, which stands opposed to giving "diligence": they are the opposite virtue and vice. Slothfulness persisted in would effectually prevent the performance of the duty just enjoined. In Hebrews 5:11 Paul had charged the Hebrews with being "dull (slothful the same Greek word) of hearing", not absolutely, but relatively; they were not as industrious in heeding "the word of righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13 ) as they ought to have been. Here he bids them be not slothful in good works, but emulators of the saints who had gone before.
"That ye be not slothful". "He knew that the utmost intention of our spirits, the utmost diligence of our minds, and endeavors of our whole souls, are required unto a useful continuance in our profession and obedience. This, God requireth of us; this, the nature of things themselves about which we are conversant, deserveth; and necessary it is, unto the end which we aim at. If we faint or grow negligent in our duty, if careless or slothful, we shall never hold out unto the end; or if we do continue in such a formal course as will consist with this sloth, we shall never come unto the blessed end which we expect or look for. The oppositions and difficulties which we shall assuredly meet with, from within and without, will not give way unto feeble and languid endeavors. Nor will the holy God prostitute eternal rewards unto those who have no more regard unto them, but to give up themselves unto sloth in their pursuits. Our course of obedience is called running in a race, and fighting as in a battle, and those who are slothful on such occasion will never be crowned with victory. Wherefore, upon a due compliance with this caution, depends our present perseverance, and our future salvation" (Dr. John Owen).
The slothfulness against which the apostle warns, is in each of us by nature. The desires of the "old man" are not toward, but away from the things of God. It is the "new man" which is alone capacitated to love and serve the Lord. But in addition to the two natures in the Christian, there is the individual himself, the possessor of those natures, the "I" of Romans 7:25 , and he is held responsible to "make not provision for the flesh" (Romans 13:14 ) on the one hand, and to "desire" the sincere milk of the Word that he may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2 ) on the other. It is the consciousness of this native sloth, this indisposition for practical holiness, which causes the real saint to cry out, "Draw me, we will run after Thee" (Song of Solomon 1:4 ); "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight"; "Order my steps in Thy Word, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me" (Psalms 119:35 , Psalms 119:133 ). It is this which distinguishes the true child of God from the empty professor his wrestling with God in secret for grace to enable him to press forward in the highway of holiness.
"But followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises". The reference here is to the believing forefathers of the Hebrews, who, by continuing steadfast in faith and persevering in hope amidst all the trials to which they were exposed, had now entered into the promised blessings Heaven. Dr. J. Brown has pointed out that there is no conflict between this declaration and what is said in Hebrews 11:13 . Though during their lives they had "not received the promises", yet at death, they had entered into their rest, and are among "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23 ). The word "inherit" denotes their right thereto.
The example which the apostle here sets before the Hebrews was that of the Old Testament patriarchs. Just as in the 3rd chapter he had appealed to one portion of the history of their fathers in warning, so now he makes reference to another feature of it in order to encourage. Two things are here to be taken to heart: the happy goal reached by the patriarchs and the path of testing which led thereto. Two things were required of them: faith and patience. Their faith was something more than a general faith in God and the inerrancy of His Word (James 2:19 ); it was a special faith which laid hold of the Divine promises concerning the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus. Nor was this a mere notional faith, or bare mental assent to the Truth: it was marked by a practical and influential acknowledgement that they were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" see Hebrews 11:13 . Such is the faith which God requires of us today.
The second grace ascribed unto the patriarchs is their "patience" or "longsuffering" as the word is usually rendered. A different word is employed in Hebrews 10:36 and Hebrews 12:1 , where an active grace is in view. Here it is more of a passive virtue, hence it is used of the "longsuffering" of God in Romans 9:22 , 1 Peter 3:20 etc. "It is a gracious sedate frame of soul, a tranquility of mind on holy grounds with faith, not subject to take provocation, not to be wearied with opposition" (Dr. John Owen). It is a spirit which refuses to be daunted by the difficulties of the way, which is not exasperated by trials and oppositions encountered, so as to desert the course or flee from the path of duty. In spite of man’s hatred, and of the seeming slowness of God’s deliverance, the soul is preserved in a quiet waiting upon Him.
"These were the ways whereby they came to inherit the promises. The heathen of old fancied that their heroes, or patriarchs, by great, and, as they were called, heroic actions, by valor, courage, the slaughter and conquest of their enemies, usually attended with pride, cruelty and oppression, made their way into heaven. The way of God’s heroes unto their rest and glory, unto the enjoyment of the Divine promises, was by faith, longsuffering, humility, enduring persecution, self-denial, and the spiritual virtues generally reckoned in the world unto pusillanimity, and so despised. So contrary are the judgments and ways of God and men even about what is good and praiseworthy" (Dr. John Owen).
As reasons why the apostle was moved to set before the Hebrews the noble example of their predecessors, we may suggest the following. First, that they might know he was exhorting them to nothing but what was found in those who went before them, and whom they so esteemed and admired. This, to the same end, he more fully confirms in chapter 11. Second, he was urging them to nothing but what was needful to all who shall inherit the promises. If "faith and patience" were required of the patriarchs, persons who were so high in the love and favor of God, then how could it be imagined that these might be dispensed with as their observance! Third, he was pressing upon them nothing but what was practicable, which others had done, and which was therefore possible, yea, easy for them through the grace of Christ.
Ere turning from this most important verse, we will endeavor to anticipate and dispose of a difficulty. Some of our readers who have followed attentively what has been said in the last few paragraphs, may be ready to object, but this is teaching salvation by works; you are asking us to believe that Heaven is a wage which we are required to earn by our perseverance and fidelity. Observe then how carefully the Holy Spirit has, in the very verse before us, guarded against such a perversion of the gospel of God’s grace. First, in the preposition He used: it is not "who for faith and patience inherit the promises", but "through". Salvation is not bestowed because of faith and patience, in return for them; yet it does come "through" them as the Divinely appointed channel, just as the sun shines into a room through its windows. The windows are in no sense the cause of the sun’s shining; they contribute nothing whatever to it; yet are they necessary as the means by which it enters.
Another word here which precludes all ground of human attainment and completely excludes the idea of earning salvation by anything of ours, is the verb used. The apostle does not say "purchase" or "merit", but "inherit". And how come we to "inherit"? By the same way as any come to an inheritance, namely, by being the true heirs to it. And how do we become "heirs" of this inheritance? By God’s gratuitous adoption. "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs"
(Romans 8:15-17 ). God, by an act of His sovereign will, made us His children (Ephesians 1:4 , Ephesians 1:5 ). This Divine grace, this free assignment, is the foundation of all; and God’s faithfulness is pledged to preserve us unto our inheritance (verse 10). Yet, we are such heirs as have means assigned to us for obtaining our inheritance, and we are required to apply ourselves thereunto.
"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could sware by no greater, He sware by Himself" (verse 13). The opening "For" denotes that the apostle is here giving a reason why he had appealed to the example of the patriarchs, as those who "through faith and patience inherit the promises": that they really did so, he now proves by a most illustrious instance. Paul here cites the case of one whom he knew would be most notable and forcible. God made promise to Abraham, but he did not obtain the fulfillment thereof until after he had "patiently endured" (verse 15).
The one to whom God made promise was Abraham. He was originally called "Abram", which signifies "an exalted father". Upon Jehovah’s renewal of the covenant to him, his name was changed to Abraham, God giving as the reason "for a father of many nations have I made thee" (Genesis 17:5 ). The reference was not only to those nations which should proceed naturally from him the descendants of Ishmael (Genesis 17:20 ) and of Keturah’s sons (Genesis 25:1-4 ) but to the elect of God scattered throughout the world, who should be brought to embrace his faith and emulate his works. Therefore is he designated "the father of all them that believe", and "the father of us all" (Romans 4:11 , Romans 4:16 ).
"Because he could sware by no greater, He sware by Himself". The assurance which was given to Abraham was the greatest that Heaven itself could afford: a promise and an oath. We say the greatest, for in verse 16 the apostle declares that amongst men an "oath" is an end of strife; how much more when the great God Himself takes one! Moreover, observe He swear "by Himself": He staked Himself; it was as though He had said, I will cease to be God if I do not perform this. The Lord pledged His veracity, declared the event should be as certain as His existence, and that it should be secured by all the perfections of His nature. Dr. J. Brown has rightly pointed out, "The declaration was not in reality made more certain by the addition of an oath, but so solemn a form of asseveration was calculated to give a deeper impression of its certainty".
"Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee" (verse 14). It seems strange that almost all of the commentators have quite missed the reference in the preceding verse. There we read, "God made promise to Abraham". Some have regarded this as pointing back to the first promise Jehovah made to the patriarch in Genesis 12:2 , renewed in Genesis 15:5 ; others have cited Genesis 17:2 , Genesis 17:6 ; still others, the promise recorded in Genesis 17:15 ,Genesis 17:16 ; and thus they limit the "patiently endured" (Hebrews 6:15 ) to a space of twenty-five years, and regard the "he obtained the promise" as finding its fulfillment at the birth of Isaac. But these conjectures are completely set aside by the words of our present verse, which are a direct quotation from Genesis 22:17 , and that was uttered after Isaac was born.
That which God swore to was to bless Abraham with all blessings, and that unto the end: "Surely, blessing I will bless thee". The phrase is a Hebrew mode of expression, denoting emphasis and certainty. Such reduplication is a vehement affirmation, partaking of the nature of an oath: where such is used, it was that men might know God is in earnest in that which He expressed. It also respects and extends the thing promised or threatened: I will do without fail, without measure, and eternally without end. It is indeed solemn to note the first occurrence in Scripture of this mode of expression. We find it in the awful threat which the Lord God made unto Adam: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt die" (Genesis 2:17 ).
It is Genesis 2:17 which supplies the first key that unlocks the meaning of Genesis 22:17 . These are the first two occurrences in Holy Writ of this unusual form of speech. They stand in direct antithesis the one to the other. The first concerned the curse, the second respected the blessing. The one was the sentence of irrevocable doom, the other was the promise of irreversible bliss. Each was uttered to an individual who stood as the head and representative of a family, upon whose members the curse and the blessing fell. Each head sustained a double relationship. Adam was the head of the entire human family, and the condemnation for his sin has been imputed to all his descendants (Romans 5:12 , Romans 5:18 , Romans 5:19 ). But in a narrower sense Adam was the head of the non-elect, who not only share his condemnation, partake of his sinful nature, but also suffer his eternal doom. In like manner, Abraham was the head of a natural family, that is, all who have descended from him; and they share in the temporal blessings which God promised their father. But in a narrower sense Abraham (type of Christ as the "everlasting Father" Isaiah 9:6 and cf. Isaiah 53:10 , "His seed", and His "children" in Hebrews 2:13 ) was the head of God’s elect, who are made partakers of his faith, performers of his works, and participants of his spiritual and eternal blessings.
It was through their failing to look upon Abraham as the type of Christ as the Head and Father of God’s elect, which caused the commentators to miss the deeper and spiritual significance of God’s promise and oath to him in Genesis 22:0 . In the closing verses of Hebrews 6:0 the Holy Spirit has Himself expounded the type for us, and in our next article (D.V.) we shall seek to set before the reader some of the supporting proofs of what we have here little more than barely asserted. The temporal blessings wherewith God blessed Abraham "God hath blessed Abraham in all things" (Genesis 24:1 and cf. Hebrews 5:35) were typical of the spiritual blessings wherewith God has blessed Christ. So too the earthly inheritance guaranteed unto Abraham’s seed, was a figure and pledge of the Heavenly inheritance which pertains to Christ’s seed. Let the reader ponder carefully Luke 1:70-75 where we find the type merging into the antitype.
"Surely, blessing I will bless thee" is further interpreted for us in Galatians 3:14 , where we read, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ". Thus, in blessing Abraham, God blessed all the heirs of promise, and pledges Himself to bestow on them what He had sworn to give unto him: "If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29 ). That the deeper and ultimate signification of Genesis 22:17 had reference to spiritual and future "blessing" is not only established, unequivocally, by Romans 9:7 , Romans 9:8 , but also by the fact that otherwise there had been no relevancy in Paul’s setting before the Hebrews, and us, the example of Abraham.
That with which God promised to bless Abraham and his seed was faith, holiness, perseverance, and at the end, salvation (Galatians 3:14 ). That which God pledged Himself unto with an oath was that His power, His long-suffering, should be engaged to the uttermost to work upon the hearts of Abraham and his spiritual children, so that they would effectually attain unto salvation. Abraham was to live on the earth for many long years after God appeared unto him in Genesis 22:0 . He was to live in an adverse world where he would meet with various temptations, much opposition, many discouragements; but God undertook to deliver, support, succor, sustain him unto the end, so that His oath should be accomplished. Proof of this is given in our next verse.
"And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (verse 15). This means that, amid all the temptations and trials to which he was exposed, Abraham studiously persevered in believing and expecting God to make good His word. The emphatic and all-important word here is "And so" which joins together what was said in verses 13, 14 and what follows here in verse 15. It was in this way and manner of God’s dealing with him; it was in this way of conducting himself. He "patiently endured", which covers the whole space from the time that God appeared to him in Genesis 22:0 until he died, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years (Genesis 25:7 ). It is this exercise of hope unto the end which Paul was pressing upon the Hebrews. They professed to be Abraham’s children, let them, then, manifest Abraham’s spirit.
"He obtained the promise": by installments. First, an earnest of it in this life, having the blessing of God in his own soul; enjoying communion with Him and all that that included peace, joy, strength, victory. By faith in the promise, he saw Christ’s day, and was glad (John 8:56 ). Second, a more complete entering into the blessing of God when he left this world of sin and sorrow, and departed to be with Christ, which is "far better" (Philippians 1:23 ) than the most intimate fellowship which may be had with Him down here. Abraham had now entered on the peace and joy of Paradise, obtaining the Heavenly Country (Hebrews 11:16 ), of which Canaan was but the type. Third, following the resurrection, when the purpose of God shall be fully realized in perfect and unending blessing and glory.
The Anchor of the Soul
(Hebrews 6:16-20 )
In our last article we saw that the Holy Spirit through Paul exhorted the people of God to "be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (verse 12). This declaration was illustrated and exemplified from the history of one who has been highly venerated both by Jews and believing Gentiles, namely, Abraham, of whom it is here declared, "after he had patiently endured, he received the promise" (verse 16). We cannot but admire again the heavenly wisdom given to the apostle, inspiring him to bring in Abraham at this particular point of his epistle. In chapter 3 we saw how that, before he set forth the superiority of Christ over Moses, he first made specific mention of the typical mediator’s faithfulness (verse 5); so here, ere setting forth the superiority of Christ over Abraham (which is done in Hebrews 7:4 ), he first records his triumphant endurance. How this shows that we ought to use every lawful means possible in seeking to remove the prejudices of people against God’s truth!
The mention of Abraham in Hebrews 6:0 should occasion real searchings of heart before God on the part of all who claim to be Christians. Abraham is "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11 ), but as Christ so emphatically declared to those in His day who boasted that Abraham was their father, "If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do (not merely "ye ought to do"!) the works of Abraham" (John 8:39 ), and as Romans 4:12 tells us, Abraham is "the father of circumcision (i.e., spiritual circumcision: Colossians 2:11 ) to those who are not of the (natural) circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of their father Abraham". In his day (1680) John Owen said, "It is a sad consideration which way and by what means some men think to come to Heaven, or carry themselves as if they think so. There are but Jew who deem more than a naked profession to be necessary thereunto, but living in all sorts of sins, they yet suppose they shall inherit the promises of God. This was not the way of the holy men of old, whose example is proposed to us. True, some think that faith at least be necessary hereunto, but by faith they understand little more than a mere profession of true religion".
It behooves us, if we value our souls, to examine closely the Scriptural account of the nature and character of Abraham’s faith. It was far more than a bare assenting to the veracity of God’s Word. It was an operative faith, which caused him to separate himself from the world (Hebrews 11:8 ,Hebrews 11:9 ), which led him to take the place of a stranger and pilgrim down here (Hebrews 11:13 ), which enabled him to patiently endure under severe trials and testings. In the light of other scriptures, the words, "patiently endured" (Hebrews 6:15 ) enable us to fill in many a blank in the Genesis history. Patiently "endured" what? Mysterious providences, the seeming slowness of God to make good His promises, that which to sight and sense appeared to repudiate His very love (Genesis 22:2 ). Patiently "endured" what? The attacks of Satan upon his faith, the insinuations of the Serpent that God had ceased to be gracious, the temptation of the Devil to be enriched by the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:21 ). Patiently "endured" what? The cruel sneers, the biting taunts, the persecution of his fellow-men, who hated him because his godly walk condemned their ungodly ways. Yes, like his Redeemer afterwards, and like each one of his believing children today, "he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself".
But the Holy Spirit had another design here in referring to the case of Abraham. Having so faithfully warned us of the danger of apostasy, having so earnestly set before us the imperative need of faithful perseverance, He now closes this lengthy parenthesis with a most glorious message of comfort, which is designed to set the hearts of God’s children at perfect rest, allay their fears of uncertainty as to their ultimate issue, strengthen their faith, deepen their assurance, and cause them to look forward to the future with the most implicit confidence. It is ever God’s way to wound before He heals, to alarm the conscience before He speaks peace to it, to press upon us our responsibility ere He assures of His preserving power. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure", is preceded by "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12 , Philippians 2:13 ).
And what is it that the Holy Spirit here uses to comfort the hearts of God’s tried and troubled and trembling people? Why, the wondrous and glorious Gospel of His grace. This He does by now making known the deeper design and significance of His reference to Abraham. He shows that the promise which God made to "the father of all that believe", to which promise He designed to add His oath, concerned not Abraham alone, but is, without fail, to be made good to all his spiritual seed. Yea, He shows how God’s dealings with Abraham in time, were but a shadowing-forth on this earth-plane of His covenant-transactions with Christ and His seed in Heaven ere time began. May the Lord grant the much-needed wisdom, guidance and grace, that both the writer and reader may be led to a fight and clear apprehension of this most blessed subject.
Ere turning to verse 16 let us attempt to show the connection of our present passage with its context, by giving a brief analysis of the verses which were before us in the preceding article. 1. Abraham is set before us as an example: verse 12 and the opening "For" of verse 13. 2. God made promise to Abraham: verse 13. 3. That promise had immediate reference to Christ and the benefits of His mediation: Galatians 3:16 . Galatians 3:4 . In addition to His promise, God placed Himself on oath to Abraham: verse 13. 5. The peculiar nature of that oath: God sware by Himself: verse 13. 6. God sware by Himself because there was none greater to whom He might appeal: verse 13. 7. Abraham’s faith, resting on the ground of God’s promise and oath, patiently endured and obtained the promise: verse 15.
The emphatic and important words of verse 15 are its opening "And so", or "And thus", the reference being to the absolute faithfulness of the divine promise, followed by the divine oath, namely "Surely, blessing I will bless thee" (verse 14). In other words, God’s oath to Abraham was the guarantee that He would continue to effectively work in him and invincibly preserve him to the end of his earthly course, so that he should infallibly enter into the promised blessing. Though Abraham was to be left in the place of trial and testing for another seventy-five years, his entrance was not left contingent upon his own mutable will. Though it is only through "faith and patience" any inherit the promises (verse 12), yet God has solemnly pledged Himself to sustain these graces in His own unto the end of their wilderness journey and right across Jordan itself, until entrance into Canaan is secured: "These all died in faith" (Hebrews 11:13 ).
"For men verily sware by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife" (verse 16). The design of this verse is to give us an explanation of why it is that the great God has placed Himself on oath. When we consider who He is and what He is, we may well be amazed at His action. When we remember His exalted majesty, that he "humbles" Himself to so much as "behold" the things that are in heaven (Psalms 113:6 ), there is surely cause for wonderment to find Him "swearing" by Himself. When we remember that He is the God of Truth, who cannot lie, there is reason for us to enquire why He deemed not His bare word sufficient.
"For men verily sware by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife". The opening "for" looks back to God "sware by Himself" of verse 13. The apostle here appeals to a custom which has obtained among men in all ages. When one party avers one thing, and another, another, and each stands firmly by what he says, there is not only mutual contradiction, but endless strife. Where matters of interest and importance are concerned between two or more men, the difference between them can only be settled by them being placed on oath. In such cases an oath is necessary for the governing and peace of mankind, for without it strife must be perpetual, or else ended by violence. Thus, the purpose or design of oaths among men is to place bounds upon their contradictions and make an end of their contentions.
Strikingly has Dr. John Owen pointed out in his remarks upon verse 16: "As these words are applied to or are used to illustrate the state of things between God and our souls, we may observe from them: First, that there is, as we are in a state of nature (looking at the elect as the descendants of fallen Adam A.W.P.), a difference and strife between God and us. Second, the promises of God are gracious proposals of the only way and means for the ending of that strife. Third, the oath of God interposed for the confirmation of these promises (better, "in addition to" the promises A.W.P.) is every way sufficient to secure believers against all objections and temptations in all straits and trials, about peace with God through Jesus Christ".
"Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by oath" (verse 17). The relative "wherein" or "wherefore" has, we believe, both an immediate connection with verse 16, and a more remote one to what has been declared in verse 13. Regarding it, first, as a conclusion drawn from the general principle enunciated in the preceding verse, its force is this: since an oath serves to establish man’s words among his fellows, the great God has condescended to employ this means and method to confirm the faith of His people. Because an oath gives certainty among men unto the point sworn to, God has graciously deigned that the heirs of promise shall have the comfort of a Divine dual certainty. The more remote connections with verse 13 will appear in the course of our exposition: it is to here give assurance that what God so solemnly pledged Himself to do for and give unto Abraham, is equally sure and certain to and for all his children the "wherein" signifies "in which" oath.
God’s design in swearing by Himself was not only that Abraham might be fully persuaded of the absolute certainty of His blessing, but that the "heirs of promise" should also have pledge and proof of the immutability of His counsel concerning them; for the mind and will of God was the same toward all of the elect as it was toward the patriarch himself. Though we are lifted to a much greater height in these closing verses of Hebrews 6:0 , yet the application which the apostle is here led to make of God’s dealings with Abraham, is identical in principle with what we find in Romans 4:0 . There we read of Abraham believing God and that it was counted unto him for (better "unto") righteousness, and in verse 16 the conclusion is drawn: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed"; while in verses 23, 24 we are told, "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be reckoned, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" cf. Galatians 3:29 .
We come now to enquire, What is the "immutability of His counsel" which God determined to show the more abundantly unto the heirs of promise? To ascertain this, we need first to consider God’s "counsel". Like the expression the "will of God", His "counsel" has a double reference and usage in the New Testament. There is the revealed "will" of God, set forth in the Scriptures, which defines and measures human responsibility (1 Thessalonians 4:3 , e.g.,), but which "will" is perfectly done by none of us; there is also the secret and invincible will of God (Romans 9:19 , etc.,), which is wrought out through each of us. So we read, on the one hand, that "the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves" (Luke 7:30 ); while on the other hand, it is said of the crucifiers of Christ, they "were gathered together for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:27 , Acts 4:28 ). The "immutability of His counsel" declares plainly in which of the two senses the term is to be taken in Hebrews 6:0 .
The "counsel" of God in Hebrews 6:17 signifies His everlasting decree or eternal purpose. It is employed thus of Christ’s death in Acts 2:23 , "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel, and foreknowledge of God". It bears the same meaning in Ephesians 1:0 , as is abundantly clear if verse 9 be compared with verse 11: in the former we read, "Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself"; in the latter it is said, "being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will". Both of those verses take us back to the Divine determination before this world was created; equally plain is it that both of them are treating of the eternal resolutions of God concerning the salvation of His people: cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 .
Still more specially the "counsel" of God in Hebrews 6:17 concerns the holy and wise purpose of His will to give His Son Jesus Christ to be of the seed of Abraham for the salvation of all the elect, and that, in such a way, and accompanied by such blessings, as would infallibly secure their faith, perseverance, and entrance into Glory. In other words, the "counsel" of God respects the agreement which He entered into with Christ in the Everlasting Covenant, that upon His fulfillment of the stipulated conditions, the promises made to Him concerning His seed should most certainly be fulfilled. Proof of this is found in comparing Luke 1:72 , Luke 1:73 , with Galatians 3:16 , Galatians 3:17 . In the former we read of Zacharias prophesying that God was "to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He sware to our father Abraham". In the latter, the Holy Spirit brings out the hidden meaning of God’s dealings with the patriarch: "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ".
Referring to the covenants made by Jehovah with the patriarchs, as affording so many types of that Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20 ) made with Christ, Mr. Hervey (1756) when refuting the terrible heresies of John Wesley, wrote: "True, it is recorded that God made a covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, with Jacob, and with David: but were they in a capacity to enter into a covenant with their Maker? to stand for themselves or be surety for others? I think not. The passages mean no more than the Lord’s manifesting, in an especial manner, the grand Covenant to them, ratifying and confirming their personal interest in it, and further assuring them that Christ, the great Covenant-Head, should spring from their seed. This accounts for that remarkable and singular mode of expression which often occurs in Scripture: ‘I will make a covenant with them’. Yet there follows no mention of any conditions but only a promise of unconditional blessings".
Now what is particularly important to note here is, that God was "willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise, the immutability of His counsel", and therefore, "confirmed it by (or as the margin much more accurately renders it "interposed Himself by") an oath". This leads us to call attention to the distinction between God’s "counsel" and His "promise". His "counsel" is that which, originally, was a profound and an impenetrable secret in Himself; His "promise" is an open and declared revelation of His will. It is most blessed to perceive that God’s promises are but the transcripts of His eternal decrees; His promises now make known to us in words the hitherto secret counsels of His heart. Thus, "the immutability of His counsel" is that from which His sure promises proceed and by which it is expressed.
But in addition to His promise, God was willing "more abundantly" to "show", or reveal, or make known to His people, the unchangeableness of His counsel. All proceeds from the will of God. He freely purposed to give unto the elect, while they are in this world, not only abundant, but "more abundant" proofs of His everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3 ), His gracious concern for their assurance, peace and joy. This He did by "interposing Himself by an oath". The Greek word which the A.V. has rendered in the text "confirmed", has for its prime meaning "to mediate" or "intervene". This at once directs our thoughts to the Mediator, of whom Abraham was the type. It was to Christ that the original Promise and Oath were made. Hence, in Titus 1:2 we read, "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began": as the elect were not then in existence, the promise must have been made to their Head. Concerning God’s oath to Christ we read, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4 ).
Now it is not unto all mankind, but only unto a certain number of persons to whom God designs to manifest the immutability of His counsel, and to communicate the effects thereof. These are here denominated "the heirs of promise" which includes all the saints of God both under the Old and New Testament. They are called "heirs of promise" on a double account: with respect unto the promise itself, and the thing promised. They are not yet the actual possessors, but waiting in expectation (cf. Hebrews 1:14 ): proof of this is obtained by comparing Hebrews 11:13 , Hebrews 11:17 , Hebrews 11:19 . In this the members are conformed to their Head, for though Christ is the "Heir of all things" (Hebrews 1:2 ), yet He, too, is "expecting" (see Hebrews 10:13 ). The "heirs of promise" here are the same as "the children of promise" in Romans 9:8 .
"That by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (verse 18). In order to simplify our exposition of this verse, we propose taking up its contents in their inverse order, and doing so under a series of questions. First, what is "the hope set before us?" Where is it thus "set before us", What is meant by "fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope"? What is the "strong consolation"? How do the "two immutable things" supply this strong consolation?
In seeking to ascertain the character of "the hope" of verse 18 it needs to be carefully distinguished from the "strong consolation", which at once intimates that it is not the grace of hope within the heart of the believer. Further corroboration of this is found in the words, "set before us", which clearly speaks of what is objective rather than subjective; and too, it is to be "laid hold of". Moreover, what is said of this "hope" in verse 19 excludes the idea of an internal expectation. The needed help is found in 7-19 where of the "better hope" it is said, "by the which we draw nigh unto God": John 14:6 , Ephesians 2:18 , etc. In 1 Timothy 1:1 , the Lord Jesus Christ is distinctly designated "our Hope", and is He not the One whom God hath "set before" His people? Is not "that blessed Hope" for which we are to be "looking" (Titus 2:13 ), Christ Himself?
Where is it that Christ is "set before us" as "the hope"? Surely, in the Gospel of God’s grace. It is there that the only hope for lost sinners is made known. The Gospel of God is "the Gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16 ), for it exhibits the excellencies of His glorious person and proclaims the efficacy of His finished work. Therefore in Romans 3:25 , it is said of Christ Jesus, "Whom God hath set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood"; while to the Galatians Paul affirmed, "before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently (openly) set forth among you crucified". In the Gospel, Christ is presented both as an Object of Faith and an Object of Hope. As an Object of Faith it is what He has done for the elect, providing for them a perfect legal standing before God: this is mainly developed in Romans. As an Object of Hope it is what Christ will yet do for His people, bring them out of this wilderness into the Promised Land. In Hebrews we are seen as yet in the place of trial, moving toward the Inheritance.
What is meant by "fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us"? It expresses that which the Gospel requires from those who hear it appropriating it unto one’s self. Saving faith is explained under various figures. Sometimes as "believing", which means the heart resting upon Christ and His finished work. Sometimes as "coming to Christ", which means a turning from every other refuge and closing with Him as He is set forth in the Gospel. Sometimes as a "setting to our seal that God is true" (John 3:33 cf. Isaiah 44:5 ), which means ratifying His testimony by our receiving it. Sometimes as the committal of our soul and its eternal interests into the hands of the Lord (2 Timothy 1:12 ). Sometimes as a "submitting ourselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3 ), which means repudiating our own works and resting upon the vicarious obedience and sacrifice of Christ. Here, it is pictured as a "fleeing for refuge", the figure being taken from an Old Testament type.
Under the Law, God made merciful provision for the man who had unintentionally slain another: that provision was certain cities appointed for refuge for such. Those cities are spoken of in Numbers 35:0 , Deuteronomy 19:0 , Joshua 20:0 . Those cities were built on high hills or mountains (Joshua 20:7 ), that those seeking asylum there, might have no difficulty in keeping them in sight. So the servants of Christ who hold Him up, are likened unto "a city which is set upon a hill" (Matthew 5:14 ). They were a refuge from "the avenger of blood" (Joshua 20:3 ): cf., "flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7 ). They had a causeway of stones approaching them as a path to guide thereto (Deuteronomy 19:3 ): so in the Gospel a way of approach is revealed unto Christ. Those who succeeded in entering these cities secured protection and safety (Numbers 35:15 ): so Christ has declared "him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37 ).
Now the particular point to be noted in the above type is that the one who desired shelter from the avenger of blood had to personally flee to the city of refuge. The figure is very impressive. Here was a man living in peace and comfort, fearing none; but having now slain another at unawares, everything is suddenly changed. Fear within, and danger without, beset on either hand. The avenger of blood threatens, and nothing is left but to flee to the appointed place of refuge, for there alone is peace and safety to be found. Thus it is with the sinner. In his natural condition, a false serenity and comfort are his. Then, unawares to him, the Holy Spirit convicts him of sin, and he is filled with distress and alarm, till he cries, "What must I do to be saved"? The Divine answer is, "Flee for refuge and lay hold of the hope set before us".
But let us not fail to note here the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism as seen in the vast difference between the "refuge" under the Law, and that made known in the Gospel. The cities of refuge were available only for those who had unintentionally killed a person. But we have been conscious, deliberate, lifelong rebels against God; nevertheless Christ says, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest". Again, the manslayer in the city was safe, yet his very refuge was a prison: it is the very opposite with the believer Christ opened for him the prison-door and set him at liberty (Isaiah 61:2 ), Christ "makes free" (John 8:36 ). Again, in entering the city of refuge he turned away from his inheritance, his land and cattle; but the one who lays hold of Christ obtains an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4 ). For the manslayer to return to his inheritance meant death; for the Christian, death means going to his inheritance.
Those who have fled to Christ to "lay hold on eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:12 ), are entitled to enjoy "strong consolation". On this the Puritan Manton said, "There are three words by which the fruits and effects of certainty and assurance is expressed, which imply so many degrees of it: peace, comfort, and joy. Peace, denotes rest from accusations of conscience. Comfort, a temperate and habitual confidence. Joy, an actual feeling, or high-tide of comfort, an elevation of the saints". Strong consolation is a firm and fixed persuasion of the love of God toward us, and the assurance that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17 ). "David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 30:6 ).
It remains for us now to consider what it is which supplies and supports the "strong consolation" in the believer. This is stated at the beginning of our verse: "That by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie". These are, His promise and His oath. The assurance of the believer rests upon the unchanging veracity of God. Were He influenced by His creatures, God would be constantly changing His plans (as we do), willing one thing today and another tomorrow; in such case who could confide in Him? None, for no one would know what to expect; thus, all certainty would be at an end. But, blessed be His name, our God is "without variableness or shadow of turning" (James 1:17 ), and therefore the immutability of His counsel is the very life of our assurance.
For the stay of our hearts and the full assurance of our faith, God has graciously given to us an irrevocable deed of settlement, namely, His promise, followed by His oath, whereby the whole inheritance is infallibly secured unto every heir of promise. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but God’s words never shall (Luke 21:33 ). All the promises recorded in Scripture are but copies of God’s assurances made to Christ for us from everlasting, so that the Divine oaths and covenants mentioned in Holy Writ are but transcripts of the original Covenant and Oath between God and Christ before the foundation of the world. Note how the words "impossible for God to lie", link up with "in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2 )!
Near the close of the previous article we pointed out how that the deeper and spiritual significance of God’s promise and oath to Abraham in Genesis 22:0 has been missed by most of the commentators, through their failure to see in him a type of Christ as the Head and Father of God’s elect. There we find God swearing to the patriarch, "Blessing I will bless thee." The application of these words to Christ as the Representative of His people is clearly seen in Psalms 45:2 , where God says to Him who is Fairer than the children of men, "God hath blessed Thee forever". Let it also be pointed out that God’s promise and oath to David in Psalms 89:0 also gives an adumbration of His transactions with the Mediator before the world began: "My Covenant will I not break... His seed shall endure forever" (verses 34-36). Thus, our "strong consolation" issues from the implicit assurance that God has bound Himself in Christ to "bless" His people. "For all the promises of God in Him (Christ) are Yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Corinthians 1:20 )!
"Which (hope) we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil" (verse 19). We deeply regret that we feel obligated to part company with every commentator that we have consulted on this verse. Owing to the general mistake of making the "hope" of verse 18 a subjective one, hardly any two are agreed upon the meaning of the "anchor" here. Some regard it as God’s promise; others, His oath; others, Christ’s priesthood; others, the believer’s assurance; and so on. The only point upon which there is common consent is, that the figure is dropped in the very next clause! "entereth into that within the veil". Below we give the literal rendering of Bagster’s Interlinear.
"Which as an anchor we have of the soul both certain and firm, and entering into that within the veil". Now an anchor is used for securing a ship, particularly in times of storm, to prevent it from drifting. It is an invisible thing, sinking down beneath the waters and gripping firmly the ground beneath. The winds may roar and the waves lash the ship, but it rides them steadily, being held fast by something outside itself. Surely the figure is plain. The "anchor" is Christ Himself, sustaining His people down here in this world, in the midst of the wicked, who are likened unto "the troubled sea, when it cannot rest" (Isaiah 57:20 ). Did He not declare, "Neither shall any pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28 )? Certainly there is nothing in us "both sure and steadfast": it is the love (John 13:1 ), power (Matthew 28:18 , Matthew 28:20 ), and faithfulness (Hebrews 7:25 ) of Christ which is in view.
"Whither the Forerunner is for us entered, Jesus, made an High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 20). Surely this explains for us the previous verse: it was the entrance of Christ into Heaven which settles fast the "Anchor" within the veil! It was for us Christ has gone on High! A "forerunner" is one who has already traversed every step of the race which is set before us (Hebrews 12:1 ,Hebrews 12:2 ), and who has entered into possession of that toward which he ran. Because Christ has been where we now are, we shall soon be where He now is. Thus, the force of this figurative title of our Redeemer is not only designed to give assurance of our security, but to show us where that security lies entirely outside of ourselves: held fast by a triumphant and ascended Christ. Hence the force of His name here: "Jesus", who "shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21 ).
Condensing from Dr. Owen’s excellent remarks: Christ is a "Forerunner" for us, First, by way of declaration. It belongs unto a forerunner to carry tidings and declare what success has been obtained in the affair of which he is to render account. So when the Lord Christ entered Heaven, He made an open declaration of His victory by spoiling principalities and leading captivity captive: see Psalms 45:4-6 , 68:18, 24-26. Second, by way of preparation. This He did by opening the way for our prayers and worship: 10:19-22 and making ready a place for us, John 14:2 , John 14:3 . Third, by way of occupation. He has gone into Heaven, in our name, to take possession and reserve it for us: Acts 26:18 , 1 Peter 1:4 .
"Made an high priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek". Having warned us of our danger (Hebrews 5:11-8 ), having exhorted us to continue pressing forward (Hebrews 6:11-15 ), having assured our hearts of infallible preservation (Hebrews 6:16-19 ), the apostle now returns to the very point he had dropped at Hebrews 5:10 . This final clause of Hebrews 6:0 forms a pertinent and perfect transition between the apostle’s digression at Hebrews 5:11 and onwards, and the description of Christ’s priesthood which follows in chapter 7, etc. He now declares who and what that "Forerunner" was, who for us has gone on High, even Jesus, our great High Priest. The apostle has led us on to the "perfection" which he mentioned at the beginning of this chapter (Hebrews 6:1 , Hebrews 6:3 ) Christ within the veil!