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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Hebrews 6

Verses 1-20

( Heb_6:1-3 ). The apostle proceeds to show the hindrances to spiritual growth. The saints at Corinth were hindered by the wisdom and philosophy of man (1 Corinthians 1-3). These Hebrew believers were hindered by clinging to their traditional religion. One has truly said, “There is no greater hindrance to progress in spiritual life and intelligence than attachment to an ancient form of religion which, being traditional and not simply personal faith in the truth, consists always in ordinances, and is consequently carnal and earthly” (J.N.D.).

As with these Hebrew believers, so in Christendom nowhere is the darkness and ignorance of God's Word greater than among those who cling to tradition and religious ritual. Occupied with mere forms and dazzled by a sensuous religion that stirs the emotions and ministers to the natural mind, people are blinded to the Gospel of the grace of God unfolded in the Word of God.

To meet this snare the apostle's exhortation is, “Wherefore, leaving the word of the beginning of the Christ, let us go on to what belongs to full growth.” He then refers to certain fundamental truths known in Judaism before the cross, and suited to a state of spiritual infancy. In contrast with these truths the apostle presents the full truth of the Person and work of Christ now revealed in Christianity, which he speaks of as perfection. By clinging to truths which were for the time before Christ's coming, these believers hindered their growth in the full revelation of Christ in Christianity.

The apostle speaks of repentance from dead works, faith in God, of the doctrine of washings, of imposition of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. These things were all known before the incarnation of Christ. The faith he speaks of is faith in God, not personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The washings refer to Jewish purifications, not Christian baptism. The laying on of hands refers to the way by which the Israelite identified himself as the offerer with the victim he offered. Resurrection is of the dead, not “from among the dead”, as in Christianity. Martha, in the Gospel story, believed in the resurrection of the dead; she found it difficult to believe in the Christian truth that one could be raised from among the dead while others were left in death.

The apostle does not ask us to deny any of these Old Testament truths, but to leave the partial light and go on to the full light of Christianity - perfection. This, he says, we will do, if God permit. To go back to these things would be laying again “a foundation”; not, indeed, “the foundation”, as if it were the foundation of Christianity, but rather “a foundation” of Jewish things.

The Danger of Apostasy

( Heb_6:4-8 )

(Vv. 4-6). Having sought to meet the difficulties occasioned by their dull spiritual condition, the apostle passes on to warn these believers of the serious danger to which they were exposed. The fact that they were clinging to the forms and ceremonies of Judaism might indicate that some who were enlightened by the truths of Christianity, and had tasted its privileges, had given up their profession and had returned to Judaism. For such there would be no recovery. This “falling away”, of which the apostle speaks, is not the backsliding of a true believer, but the apostasy of a mere professor.

The passage speaks of enlightenment, not of new birth, nor of eternal life. It speaks of the outward privileges of Christianity, the presence of the Spirit, the preciousness of the Word of God, and the outward display of power in the Christian circle. All this could be felt and known by those brought in among Christians, even where there was no spiritual life. Such partook in an outward way of the privileges of the Christian circle, and yet could give up their profession and return to Judaism. So doing, they returned to a system that had ended in the crucifixion of the Messiah. They virtually, for themselves, crucified the Son of God and put Him to an open shame, for, by their action, they practically avowed that they had tried Christ and Christianity, and found Judaism better.

It removes all difficulty from the passage when we clearly see that the apostle is not supposing the possession of divine life, or a divine work in the soul, but merely tasting the outward privileges of the Christian circle.

(Vv. 7, 8). The illustration used by the apostle makes his meaning clear. The herbs and the briars equally partake of the blessing of the rain which comes from heaven, but the herbs bring forth fruit, while the briars end by being burned.

Comfort and Encouragement

(Vv. 9-20)

(Vv. 9-12). Having met the difficulty of their low condition, and warned them of the danger of apostasy, the apostle now encourages these believers by expressing his confidence and hope concerning them. Though he has warned them, he does not apply to them what he has been saying as to falling away. On the contrary, he is persuaded better things of them, and things that accompany salvation. He thus clearly shows that the outward privileges of the Christian circle, of which he has been speaking in verses 4-8, can be known in measure by those who are not saved.

The things that accompany salvation are things which give evidence of divine life in the soul. They are “love”, and “hope”, and “faith”. That they possessed love was proved by their continual service to the Lord's people. God will not forget service of which love to Christ is the motive. The full reward for such service is in the day to come. This leads the apostle to speak of the “hope” that lies before us. He desired that these believers should diligently pursue their service of love in the full assurance of hope that looks on to the rest and reward of all labour.

The apostle does not suggest that the prospect of reward is a motive for service. This, he clearly states, is love “to His Name”. But, as ever, reward is brought in to encourage in the face of difficulties. To continue to the end, however, calls for faith and patience. We are exhorted to be imitators of men of God “who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Their faith looked on to the future blessing and enabled them to endure with patience their wilderness trials.

(Vv. 13-15). Faith, however, requires some absolute authority upon which to rest. The apostle turns to the history of the patriarch Abraham to show that the Word of God is the solid ground on which faith acts. In the case of Abraham, this word was confirmed by an oath. In the fullest way God pledged His Word to bring Abraham into blessing, the result being that he was enabled to endure patiently all the privations of a wilderness journey.

(Vv. 16-18). Moreover, it was not for Abraham's sake only that God gave this twofold guarantee, His Word and His oath. Thus the principles on which God acted towards the fathers of old are applied to the children of faith now that “we might have a strong encouragement.” God, in His condescending grace, to convince the heirs of promise of the unchangeable character of His Word, confirmed His promise with an oath, even as men do in their dealings with one another. As He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself. Thus, by two immutable things, His Word and His oath, in which it was impossible for God to lie, He gives strong encouragement to all those who have fled to Christ for refuge from judgment, to lay hold on the hope set before them, instead of turning back by reason of the difficulties on the way. The allusion is to the city of refuge for the manslayer. The Jews had murdered their own Messiah and brought themselves under judgment. The believing remnant, separating themselves from the guilty nation, fled for refuge to the living Christ in glory.

(Vv. 19, 20). The believer that flees to Christ has a hope that is sure and stedfast, as Jesus, our great High Priest, has entered within the veil of heaven. Christ appears before the face of God for us as the Forerunner and as our High Priest. The Forerunner implies that there are others coming after. We have therefore not only the Word of God, but Jesus, a living Person in the glory, as the everlasting witness of the glory to which we are going, and the guarantee that we shall be there. Until we reach the rest of heaven, Christ is our great High Priest to sustain us by the way. Thus again, as in the end of Hebrews 4 , the apostle keeps the Word of God and the living Christ before our souls. Here it is the Word of God as the firm foundation of our faith, and the living Christ as the anchor of our soul, the One who links us with heaven and holds the soul in calmness amidst all the storms of life.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/hebrews-6.html. 1832.