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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Hebrews 6

Verse 1

CHARACTER BUILDING

‘The principles of the doctrine of Christ.’

Hebrews 6:1

In building any great structure, the first thing which the builder sees to is to lay, firm and strong, his foundation, and then when he has done that he is limited in two ways: he must not build where there are no foundations, and he must cover the foundations which he has laid. Everything which follows is ruled by the foundation. Even the ornament will be governed by the foundation.

I. The building.—Now the greatest building, the most worthy, is one not being made with hands: it is character. Any worthy character has all the great properties of a great structure, and more. Long after the greatest building in the world has fallen back into its original clay, a well-built character will be adorning the paths of heaven. There is no building which is so distinctly, so spiritually, and so constantly dwelt in by God, consecrated by the Divine presence, than a really properly built character.

II. God’s foundations adopted.—Because character is all these things, God Himself has given the foundations on which the building is laid. We are building with our finite mind, our finite wisdom, our finite power, something which is not to be finite but infinite in its power, its beauty, its glory, its holiness. And just as we need foundations in a great building in order to make it a wonderful structure, so we need foundations for character which are given us by God. And if we want that character to be worthy, if we want it to be lasting, if we want it to be great, we must build on the foundations God has laid: ‘The principles of Christ,’ or, if you like to take the old version: ‘The principles of the doctrine of Christ,’ that great teaching which comes not only from His lips, but from what He was and what he is. On that and by that we must stand.

III. God’s foundations ignored.—And yet how very few people rule their life according to any principle, even in regard to those matters to which we should imagine principle would most apply.

( a) Almsgiving. There should be some principle, some following of rule, some building on a foundation; yet it is one of the rarest things to find it.

( b) Church work. How often it happens that you find a person very busy, very eager, and interested in Church work, with a club, or a class, or something else, and then a year or two later, without any change in his life, with no other duties which make it right or proper to abandon these things, he gives it all up. He was not building on a foundation; there never was any principle at the bottom of it.

( c) Use of intellect. If that be true of religious things, how much more true it is of things we withdraw from the religious sphere. Take our intellect: Why did God give you your mind? Was it only that you might be able to make exact calculations in regard to business matters? Was it not meant that first of all, and before all else, there should be that in you which could lay hold of Him, which could walk with Him, which could be enlightened by Him?

( d) Matters of opinion. Take the average opinion of-the ordinary Christian man or woman as exemplified, for example, in the correspondence of a newspaper, or the statements that you hear in a train or on the top of an omnibus, and it is clear that they have no idea of the principles of the doctrine of Christ.

( e) Training of children. One would have thought, seeing the beauty, the mystery, the holiness which surround a child, that there would have been something which would have been most carefully built upon the foundation principle. But it is not so. In house after house religion is repudiated. Every and any aspect of the child’s future is considered except that which ‘the principles of the doctrine of Christ’ say should come first. Do look and see about this character of yours which you are building, whether it is being built on the foundation.

Rev. Canon J. H. Greig.

Illustration

‘A gentleman said to a friend who asked him where he was going, “To such and such a church, and afterwards I am going to have tea with the parson and hear some music.” Very little principle about a good deal of church-going, if that is a specimen of it. There was no effort to build on the foundation of the “principles of the doctrine of Christ.” With regard to worship, or the observance of Sunday, or our assembling together, witnessing before men of our belief in God—tea with some one, and good music! What a poor building, what a miserable little unfounded shanty it is!’

Verses 1-2

FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIANITY

‘Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.’

Hebrews 6:1-Exodus :

Christianity has its fundamental doctrines, the fundamental doctrines on which a great system is based. Not the mere precepts which, from their beauty and simplicity, captivate the imagination. For it must be sorrowfully admitted that if these represent fundamental Christianity, then Christianity has been a lamentable failure, and is barely in evidence. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that fundamental Christianity has this as its permanent characteristic—the doctrine of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God: the need of Christ’s blood, that is, to cleanse even those works which we think to be good; how much more those which are palpably evil.

I. Here is a foundation of Christianity.—Here is something which we must ever keep before us if we would go on unto perfection, and that is the necessity of dealing with sin. Repentance has to be taught in preference to human excellence. Repentance from sin, and from the pride of life, which thinks it can do without Christ, and perfect itself without reference to Him.

II. It is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity that every Christian should know what sin is, and that he must flee from selfishness and repent of sin. To teach children the doctrine of self-sufficiency, respectable pride, laudable ambition, self-interest, and self-respectability, is to preach an inadequate and deceptive Gospel. No account has been taken of sin, what it means, its power, its malignity, and what has been done to meet it, and how it may be resisted and overcome. The Christ of Christianity is not first of all a Teacher; He is a Saviour, the Saviour of mankind. It is degrading to Christian intelligence, and futile in view of the extreme power and malignity of evil, to put Christ before the people as an amiable philanthropist, and to be silent about Him as the Saviour of mankind.

III. Whatever we may think of the Atonement in its strange mystery, at least we learn this from the contemplation of the Crucified—that it never has been and never will be an easy thing to be good. Aristotle discovered this, as he told us: ‘It is a work to be good.’ The Bible, used as a poetry book, or as a study in comparative religions, or as a stimulus to the imagination, may add to the frivolous self-sufficiency of the human prig, but it will never give that foundation of repentance on which the perfect life is reared. It will never enable the child to answer that longing cry, ‘How can a man be just with God?’ or enable him to stand firm when the powers of evil deliver their deadly assault.

Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Illustration

‘The very walls of a modern school are eloquent of a change which is passing over us, and which it is now sought to intensify and deepen. There we see maps, pictures of industry, things to brighten, cheer, and ornament; we look in vain for that which the great Dean Colet ordered for his scholars: a picture of the Child Jesus, which might serve as an example and a help to his scholars in the school; from which he looked, as he tells us, for the intercession of children, who should put up their white hands in supplication to Almighty God for him a sinner.’

Verse 2

ETERNAL JUDGMENT

‘Of eternal judgment.’

Hebrews 6:2

In the incarnate life of the Son of God we have been allowed to see once for all what a perfect life might be, lived under the conditions of a world like this, such as we know it.

I. Who, then, is so capable of judging as He Who knows what man is, and what he can attain unto, how a man is tempted, and how a man is helped? If He Who knew what was in man, because He was Man, left us the Catholic Church, it surely is only fitting that with this knowledge He should ascend the Judgment Seat and pass the final judgment, not only on what we are, but on what we might have been. God be thanked, we may count on His sympathy. We do not need to erect a throne of compassion over against the throne of justice. For who so compassionate as He Who in all points has been tempted like as we are, yet without sin? But, if we may count on His sympathy, we feel, too, that we must reckon with His justice. We must not be for ever calling out, ‘poor human nature!’ We must not be for ever saying, ‘Man is frail and God is merciful.’

II. It cannot be a matter of indifference whether we accept or reject the estimate which God has made of our nature, the revelation which He has vouchsafed of our destiny, and the provision which He has made for our salvation. There are certain conditions in which neglect is the most serious fault which can be committed.

III. The sense of a judgment to come is a doctrine of present importance to all of us. So important is it that God seems to have provided within each of us that organ of self-consciousness which we call conscience, whereby we can look at God’s law, and look at our actions, and say of each of them whether they are good or bad.

Fundamental Christianity is Christianity as Christ taught it, where there is nothing superfluous, nothing which we can regard as negligible. And among the doctrines which take their place as absolutely essential to a right view of Christian life and character, is that highest sanction for human responsibility, which invests our simplest thoughts and actions with the importance which is enshrined in the certainty of eternal judgment, which every child is taught to anticipate, as he says in the simple word of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.’

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Verse 2

ETERNAL JUDGMENT

‘Of eternal judgment.’

Hebrews 6:2

In the incarnate life of the Son of God we have been allowed to see once for all what a perfect life might be, lived under the conditions of a world like this, such as we know it.

I. Who, then, is so capable of judging as He Who knows what man is, and what he can attain unto, how a man is tempted, and how a man is helped? If He Who knew what was in man, because He was Man, left us the Catholic Church, it surely is only fitting that with this knowledge He should ascend the Judgment Seat and pass the final judgment, not only on what we are, but on what we might have been. God be thanked, we may count on His sympathy. We do not need to erect a throne of compassion over against the throne of justice. For who so compassionate as He Who in all points has been tempted like as we are, yet without sin? But, if we may count on His sympathy, we feel, too, that we must reckon with His justice. We must not be for ever calling out, ‘poor human nature!’ We must not be for ever saying, ‘Man is frail and God is merciful.’

II. It cannot be a matter of indifference whether we accept or reject the estimate which God has made of our nature, the revelation which He has vouchsafed of our destiny, and the provision which He has made for our salvation. There are certain conditions in which neglect is the most serious fault which can be committed.

III. The sense of a judgment to come is a doctrine of present importance to all of us. So important is it that God seems to have provided within each of us that organ of self-consciousness which we call conscience, whereby we can look at God’s law, and look at our actions, and say of each of them whether they are good or bad.

Fundamental Christianity is Christianity as Christ taught it, where there is nothing superfluous, nothing which we can regard as negligible. And among the doctrines which take their place as absolutely essential to a right view of Christian life and character, is that highest sanction for human responsibility, which invests our simplest thoughts and actions with the importance which is enshrined in the certainty of eternal judgment, which every child is taught to anticipate, as he says in the simple word of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.’

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Verse 2

ETERNAL JUDGMENT

‘Of eternal judgment.’

Hebrews 6:2

In the incarnate life of the Son of God we have been allowed to see once for all what a perfect life might be, lived under the conditions of a world like this, such as we know it.

I. Who, then, is so capable of judging as He Who knows what man is, and what he can attain unto, how a man is tempted, and how a man is helped? If He Who knew what was in man, because He was Man, left us the Catholic Church, it surely is only fitting that with this knowledge He should ascend the Judgment Seat and pass the final judgment, not only on what we are, but on what we might have been. God be thanked, we may count on His sympathy. We do not need to erect a throne of compassion over against the throne of justice. For who so compassionate as He Who in all points has been tempted like as we are, yet without sin? But, if we may count on His sympathy, we feel, too, that we must reckon with His justice. We must not be for ever calling out, ‘poor human nature!’ We must not be for ever saying, ‘Man is frail and God is merciful.’

II. It cannot be a matter of indifference whether we accept or reject the estimate which God has made of our nature, the revelation which He has vouchsafed of our destiny, and the provision which He has made for our salvation. There are certain conditions in which neglect is the most serious fault which can be committed.

III. The sense of a judgment to come is a doctrine of present importance to all of us. So important is it that God seems to have provided within each of us that organ of self-consciousness which we call conscience, whereby we can look at God’s law, and look at our actions, and say of each of them whether they are good or bad.

Fundamental Christianity is Christianity as Christ taught it, where there is nothing superfluous, nothing which we can regard as negligible. And among the doctrines which take their place as absolutely essential to a right view of Christian life and character, is that highest sanction for human responsibility, which invests our simplest thoughts and actions with the importance which is enshrined in the certainty of eternal judgment, which every child is taught to anticipate, as he says in the simple word of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.’

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.

Verse 9

THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION

‘Things that accompany salvation.’

Hebrews 6:9

It would seem that the things mentioned before were not necessarily marks of salvation. There was no love or faith. Out of the many biographies in the Bible, there is not one of an individual who was certainly once a child of God, and who afterwards fell away, and was as certainly lost. Sometimes a shoal or sandbank lies near the entrance to a port. So a lighthouse is created on or near the spot to warn the mariner of his danger. Hebrews 6, 10 are like two lighthouses near the entrance of the harbour of eternal safety. Their language is ‘Beware: there are gifts without grace; there is a form without the power: it is possible to have a name to live and yet to be dead.

I will mention three ‘things which accompany salvation.’

I. A sense of need.—Esau was a man of the world ( Hebrews 12:16): his character was essentially worldly. He had no sense of any need of spiritual things. Though Jacob liked the good things of this world, like the rest of us, he knew there were better things still, and he set his heart on them, and even dreamed of them. Jacob knew his need of spiritual blessings, and that is always a thing which accompanies salvation.

II. A simple trust in Christ.—Faith invariably accompanies salvation.

III. A Christ-like life.—‘Let your light so shine.’ To ‘repent and turn to God’ is right, but there are also ‘works meet for repentance’ ( Acts 26:20). The imitation of Christ is sure to be poor and feeble and imperfect, marred and stained with sin, yet the great point is that it should be sincere.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘Remember the story of the drummer-boy in one of the English regiments, who was captured by the French in one of the Napoleonic wars. They brought him before the general, and the general made him go through his various drum exercises. “Beat the charge,” said the general, and the boy banged his drum with great enthusiasm. “Call a halt,” said the general, and again the drummer-boy obeyed. “Sound a retreat,” said the general, but the boy laid his sticks across his drum and said, “In the British army we never learn to beat a retreat.” ’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

SALVATION AND FELLOWSHIP

It is quite right to be interested in a salvation that is central; that is essential, but salvation is not solitude. Salvation represents a great sociality. Salvation is the heart of a noble fellowship.

Amongst the ‘things that accompany salvation,’ we find:—

I. Purity of character.—But does purity of character mean perfection? It does not. There is no perfect man. This cold space, this cage of time, could not hold him. Perfect man can only bloom in heaven, where the climate is pure and where the day has no night. By purity of character let us mean a real, honest motive, a just and noble desire, a wish to be, not in heaven, but heavenly in mind, thought, life, speech.

II. Unselfishness of service.—The service that does never look at itself in the Church mirror; the service that never dresses itself to go out into public service; the service that is crowned with self-unconsciousness; the service that does good things by stealth and blushes to find them fame; the service that does things as a monarch does them, not knowing that they are being done without any sense of taxation, and sacrifice, and painfulness. There is a doing that would rather do than not do. There is an action that must take place because the not doing it would be not only unreasonable but intolerable. Love must serve.

III. Evangelistic zeal.—What is the meaning of evangelistic? It means that some soul has a truth, a gospel, which he says he must go and tell everybody all over the world. That is the meaning of evangelistic. The truth burns him until he tells it. The gospel that fills his soul is the gospel for every creature.

Illustration

‘Many men are saved who do not know it. I have known so-called bad men whose disposition I have coveted. I have known them more largely than they have known themselves, though their breath is burned with unholy suggestion. I have known that their souls have been fruitful in noble and kindly thoughts. Let God say who is saved. “Lord, are there few that be saved?” No answer. Christ takes the statistics, but He does not publish them. He says in reply rather than in answer, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” ’

Verse 19

ANCHORED

‘An anchor of the soul.’

Hebrews 6:19

It is a strange and bold metaphor which connects what is so spiritual with what is so material and so substantial—‘An anchor of the soul.’ It would be difficult to conceive that any image could be so appropriate and so comforting.

Look at some of the consequences of this wonderful connection of the ‘soul’ with that ‘anchor within the veil.’

I. How perfectly safe that soul must be.—God’s eternal counsel, God’s very being, and God’s oath passing into Christ. A Christ unseen; wearing a body Himself, in heaven; Who secures and seals your pardon. Your strength, your peace, your life, your glory. He has said, ‘Where I am, there shall My servant be.’ Your Substitute in punishment, your Representative in love and happiness, your ‘hope’; all that is beautiful, joyous, holy, and happy in the future concentrated in Him for you. Your hope ‘within the veil.’

II. How restful should your soul so ‘anchored’ be!—What mean all these doubts and fears? What though you be tossed about, you are held as by chains of adamant, and your soul shall never perish. You cannot be lost! There cannot be any shipwreck to a soul that is ‘anchored’ within the veil.

III. And by that token that you are ‘anchored,’ you cannot be very far from shore.—You may not see the land of promise; you may not yet hear the songs of its inhabitants; but there is no anchorage out in the mid-sea, you must be near the coast, nearer perhaps than you guess now, in this dark night; but you will be surprised to find how close you are all the while when the morning breaks. Therefore you must make haste to be ready to go ashore, for the voyage may be nearly done, and you only wait the order to step out, and be at home.

IV. Meanwhile, remember this, a ship always drops towards her anchor.—And, before you land, you must be nearing and nearing Christ and heaven: your thoughts there, your focus there, your tastes and your desires there; and your ‘hope’ must become more real and more perfect every day. There must be more realisation of the land you are about to touch; more affections there; more appreciation of its loveliness; more familiarity with its language and love and praise. You must be practising what you will have to do when you arrive.

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘ “I have no hope in what I have been or done,” said Dr. Doddridge, on his dying bed, “yet I am full of confidence; and this is my confidence: There is a hope set before me. I have fled, I still fly, for refuge to that hope. In Him I trust, in Him I have strong consolation, and shall assuredly be accepted in this beloved of my soul.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/hebrews-6.html. 1876.