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Simeon's Horae Homileticae Horae Homileticae
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ shh/ hebrews-6.html. 1832.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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GOING ON TO PERFECTION
Hebrews 6:1-3. 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. And this will we do, if God permit.
IN arts and sciences of every kind, the greatest proficients feel a need of improvement: their very advancement only serves to shew them how little they know, and to increase their zeal in the pursuit of higher attainments. But in religion, every one thinks he knows enough, and is content with the progress he has already made. What we learned in our early youth serves, for the most part, as a sufficient stock to carry us on through life; and the habits which we have acquired in our place and station satisfy our minds, so that we are ready to ask, “What lack I yet?” But surely this is not right. If, as the Apostle John informs us, there are diversities of age and stature in the Christian life, and in the Church there are little children, young men, and fathers, it surely does not become us to remain all our days in a state of infantine weakness and ignorance, as if that were the full measure that God had authorized us to expect. St. Peter expressly tells us, that we should “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” And in the preceding context, the Apostle complains of his Hebrew converts, that “whereas, from the time since their conversion, they should have been qualified for teachers, they had need to be taught again the very first principles of the oracles of God; and were become such, as still had need of milk, rather than of strong meat [Note: Hebrews 5:12.].” But, as there were some of them who were no longer “babes, but had attained to full age, and by reason of use had their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” he would, for their instruction, “leave,” as it were unnoticed, “the first principles” of the Gospel, and, by a fuller statement of its mysteries, “lead them on unto perfection [Note: Hebrews 5:13-14. with the text.].” Now, “this will we also do, if God permit.” My endeavour at this time shall be to shew,
What those principles are, the developement of which we shall at present wave—
The first of these is, “Repentance from dead works”—
[This is so plain a duty, that no one who has ever heard the Gospel can entertain a doubt respecting it. Sin of every kind must be mourned over, as deserving of death; and must be utterly forsaken, as an object of our most unfeigned abhorrence.]
The second is, “Faith towards God”—
[This also is required, as indispensably necessary to salvation. Not only must we “believe that God is, and is a rewarder of all who diligently seek him;” but we must believe that he is reconciled to man through the Son of his love; and that “of those who come to him in his Son’s name, he will never cast out one.” This is God’s promise in the Gospel: and we must believe “Him faithful who has promised.”]
The two which are next specified, namely, “Baptisms, and the Laying on of hands,” are not additional principles; but rites of the Jewish law, by which the two foregoing principles were prefigured—
[Commentators have tried to explain these two as additional principles; and have represented the “baptisms” as signifying the baptisms of John and of Christ; and “the laying on of hands,” as referring to the imposition of the Apostles’ hands on men, for the purpose of communicating to them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or of ordaining them to the blessed office of the ministry. But they are no principles; nor should we attempt to explain them as such. They are explanatory of the preceding words. By “baptisms,” we understand the “divers washings” which were observed under the law [Note: Hebrews 9:10.]; which shadowed forth a cleansing from sin and dead works by repentance, or, as the Apostle expresses it, “the washing of regeneration:” and by “laying on of hands,” we understand the offerers of sacrifices laying their hands upon the head of their victim, in order to transfer to it their guilt, and express their hope of acceptance through it [Note: Leviticus 4:4; Leviticus 4:15; Leviticus 4:24; Leviticus 4:33; Leviticus 16:21.]. It was in this way that they exercised their “faith towards God.” Now, then, put these two into a parenthesis, as being only illustrative and explanatory of the former two, and all the difficulties, in which commentators have involved the passage, will vanish.]
The third principle is, “the Resurrection of the dead “—
[This, also, is an essential part of “the doctrine of Christ.” It was indeed, though not very fully, revealed under the law: but under the Gospel it is declared with the utmost possible clearness and certainty; so that it may well be said, that “life and immortality are brought to light by the Gospel [Note: 2 Timothy 1:10.].” The resurrection of our blessed Lord is indeed the one foundation of all our hopes: and it has assured to us, beyond a possibility of doubt our own resurrection; seeing that Christ was the first-firsts” of the harvest that shall in due season be gathered in [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:20.].]
The last is, “Eternal judgment”—
[Temporal rewards and punishments were chiefly insisted on under the law; but under the Gospel, we are taught to look forward to a day of future retribution, when “God will judge the world by that blessed Jesus, whom he has ordained” to that office; and will separate the wicked from the just; consigning the one to everlasting misery, and exalting the other to everlasting blessedness and glory [Note: Matthew 25:32; Matthew 25:40.].]
The consideration of these principles we shall at the present wave—
[The importance of them cannot be doubted: for the Apostle speaks of them as a “foundation which he had laid.” And every minister must inculcate them, with all possible earnestness. In truth, unless his mind be continually under the influence of these principles, a man has not the smallest right to call himself a Christian. He may have been baptized; but he is no other than a baptized heathen, that has no part or lot in the Gospel salvation.]
Having, times without number, enforced these things on your attention, I now pass them over; and proceed to the more immediate object of my discourse; which is, to shew,
What are those sublimer views which it is our high privilege to contemplate—
Of course, we cannot in one discourse enter at all fully into this subject: we can only give some faint outline of it; some hints, which may afford matter for your further meditation in secret.
By “going on unto perfection,” the Apostle meant that he would unfold to them the deeper mysteries of the Gospel, which it was of great importance to them to comprehend. These mysteries he unfolds in all the remaining part of this epistle. We shall comprehend them under two heads:
The “perfection” of Christ’s priestly office—
[The priesthood under the Mosaic dispensation was confined to the tribe of Levi. Of this our blessed Lord could not partake, because he was of the tribe of Judah. But a new order of priesthood was to arise, after the order of Melchizedec: and this was the priesthood to which Jesus was called. In all its offices it resembled the Levitical priesthood; by which it was, in fact, shadowed forth, in all its parts.
Our blessed Lord, as our great High-priest, offered himself a sacrifice to God. He was to expiate the sins of all mankind. Not all the cattle on a thousand hills were sufficient for that. But “a body was prepared for him” for that end; a body “like, indeed, unto sinful flesh,” but altogether “without sin.” This body he offered upon the cross; as the Apostle says, “He offered himself without spot to God.” In reference to this, the Baptist pointed him out as “The Lamb of God that should take away the sins of the world:” and even in heaven he appears “as a Lamb that has been slain,” and receives the adorations of all his redeemed people, on a perfect equality with the Father: “they sing, day and night, salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.”
The high-priest, having offered the sacrifice, carried its blood within the vail, and there sprinkled it on the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat. Now, our blessed Lord was both the Sacrifice and the Priest who offered it: and having offered his own blood as an atonement upon the cross, he rose from the dead, and “entered with his own blood into the heaven of heavens,” there to present it unto God in our behalf [Note: Hebrews 9:12.]. With that blood he sprinkles, as it were, the mercy-seat of the Most High; and God the Father, beholding it, is pacified towards us; or, as St. Paul expresses it, “He is reconciled towards us by the blood of the cross [Note: Colossians 1:20-22.].”
Whilst within the vail, the high-priest covered the mercy-seat with clouds of incense: and this also our blessed Saviour does, by his continual intercession. “He appears in the presence of God for us,” as our all-prevailing Advocate and Intercessor: and by his intercessions, founded on the merit of his own sacrifice, he obtains for us all those supplies of grace and peace which our daily necessities require: for “Him the Father heareth always.”
Having fulfilled these offices within the vail, the high-priest came forth, clad in all his splendid garments, to bless the people. And so will our great High-priest come forth, in his own glory, and in all the glory of his Father, to complete the blessedness of his redeemed people. To all of them he will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”]
The “perfection” of our privileges, as secured by it—
[This also the Apostle unfolds, though, alas! we have only time to specify one or two particulars. But through our great High-priest we receive a full and perfect and everlasting remission of all our sins. The forgiveness obtained by the Levitical sacrifices was only temporary. The very services by which it was obtained were only “a remembrance of sins” still unforgiven. But, “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, we are sanctified once for all;” yea, “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified [Note: Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:14.].” God himself engages, by covenant, and by oath, that “our sins and iniquities he will remember no more [Note: Hebrews 10:17. compared with Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 8:12.].”
Through him, too, we are admitted into the immediate presence of our God. Not a soul was admitted into the holy of holies, except the high-priest; nor he, except on one day in the year. But “into the holiest of all have we access by the blood of Jesus, by that new and living way which he hath consecrated for us through the vail: and having him as our High-priest over the house of God, the Apostle says, “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:19-22.].” There is not a sinner in the universe who may not thus come to the very mercy-seat of our God, where he shines forth in all his glory, provided only he come in the name of Jesus, and pleading the merit of the Redeemer’s blood.
The highest possible elevation, too, of which our nature is capable, is vouchsafed unto us through the intervention of our great High-priest. We are every one of us made both kings and priests: for in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female: all are on a level in this respect: all are partakers of the same privileges: all are now “a royal priesthood [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]:” and all shall ere long join in that triumphant song, “To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.].”]
What now shall I say, as an improvement of this subject? I will say,
Press forward for higher attainments in knowledge—
[Do not imagine that you know enough of the Gospel: there are in it unfathomable depths, which even the angels in heaven are continually “desiring to look into.” See what was St. Paul’s prayer in behalf of the saints at Ephesus, whom he speaks of as eminent for their “faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love to all the saints:” “I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints; and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead [Note: Ephesians 1:15-20.].” Let this be your prayer for yourselves, my beloved brethren, however advanced ye be in faith and love. In truth, it is by your increase in knowledge that you are to increase in grace: for it is by your “comprehending with augmented clearness the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, by comprehending this, I say, ye are to be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].”]
Press forward for higher attainments in holiness—
[“This I wish, brethren, even your perfection [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:9.].” Rest not satisfied with any thing short of a perfect transformation into “the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness.” Make this the ultimate object of your knowledge; and employ your knowledge for the production of it. St. Paul’s prayer for his brethren at Colosse will serve you as a model for your prayers, and as a standard for your endeavours: “Since the day I heard of your love,” says he, “I do not cease to pray for you, and to desire, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: Colossians 1:9-12.].” You will scarcely think yourselves so advanced as the Apostle Paul: yet what does he say of himself? “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting the 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. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded [Note: Philippians 3:12-15.].” Mark, I pray you: it is to those who are perfect, that he gives this advice. What advice, then, must be given to those who are so far from perfection as we are? Will it become us to stand still? I charge you, brethren, to indulge no listless habits, no self-complacent thoughts. Take this holy Apostle for your example: “Let your conversation be in heaven, whither your Lord and Saviour is gone before [Note: Philippians 3:17; Philippians 3:20.];” and rest not till you are changed into his image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of your God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].]
THE DANGER OF APOSTASY
Hebrews 6:4-6. It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
IT is of great importance, in interpreting the Scriptures, to lay aside human systems, and to attend carefully to the connexion of any passage with the context; because a just view of the general scope of the passage will throw the best light upon any particular expressions contained in it. The words before us are confessedly difficult to be understood: but, if we adopt the mode of interpretation now proposed, we shall not err very materially in our explanation of their import. The Apostle has been reproving the Hebrews for the little progress which they had made in the divine life, considering the length of time since they were first initiated into the knowledge of the Gospel. He complains that, on account of their inability to comprehend him, he scarcely knows how to open to them the deeper mysteries of our religion [Note: Hebrews 5:11-14.]; which however he must do, for the benefit of those who could digest strong meat, and make a due improvement of the truths he should set before them [Note: Hebrews 6:1-3.]. But, in the meantime, he warns them, that the neglecting to advance in religion is the surest road to apostasy; and that apostasy, after such attainments as they had made, would in all human probability issue in their eternal ruin [Note: ver. 4–6.]. Then, illustrating that point by an apt simile [Note: ver. 7, 8.], he proceeds to exhort them to put away sloth, and with all diligence to follow those who through faith and patience were now inheriting their promised reward [Note: ver. 11, 12.]. Hence it appears, that the attainments mentioned in the text are such as were found in persons recently converted and of doubtful character; especially because they are contrasted with other attainments which accompany and manifest a state of salvation [Note: ver. 9, 10.].
In our further illustration of the text, we shall shew,
How far men may go in religion, and yet apostatize from it—
Confining ourselves to the words before us, we observe, that unstable persons may possess many enviable gifts—
[Their minds may be “enlightened” with the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus [Note: Compare Numbers 24:3-4. with Hebrews 10:26.]. There is not any thing which the most eminent saint can know, but it may be known by a hypocrite: the difference between them is not in the matter known, but in the manner of knowing it; the one assenting to it with his head; and the other feeling it in his heart.
Their affections may be moved by hearing and reading “the word of God,” and by considering the mysteries of the Christian dispensation, or the realities of “the invisible world [Note: “The world to come” may be taken in either of these senses. See Hebrews 2:5.].” Their hope, fear, joy, and sorrow may be called forth successively in a very powerful manner, according as they apprehend themselves to be interested in the promises of the Gospel, or obnoxious to its threatenings [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.Matthew 13:20-21; Matthew 13:20-21. Joh 5:35.Mark 6:20; Mark 6:20. Acts 24:25.].
Their powers may be enlarged, as well for the discharging of duties which their unassisted nature would be unequal to perform, as for the working of miracles, to which no created power is competent. By “the heavenly gift,” or the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, they may make some considerable advances in the divine life [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.]: and through his miraculous agency, “of which they may also be partakers,” they may do wonders that shall astonish all who behold them [Note: Matthew 7:22. with 1 Corinthians 12:11.].
It is observable, however, that the Apostle expresses himself in terms calculated to convey rather a low idea of the attainments of these persons: he speaks of their “tasting of the heavenly gift,” and “tasting of the good word of God;” designedly intimating thereby, that they never lived upon the word as the food of their souls, or made religion their great solace and support, but contented themselves with a slight, transient, and superficial taste of both.]
Such persons may certainly become apostates from the truth—
[That they may “fall away” from the practice of religion, is evident from the instances of David and others, who, after a long experience of “the power of godliness,” have grievously departed from the path of duty. But they may also apostatize from even the profession of the truth. How many are there who “for awhile believe, and, in a time of temptation, fall away [Note: Luke 8:13.].” The instance of Demas [Note: Col 4:14 and Philem. ver. 24. with 2 Timothy 4:10.], if there were no other, is very sufficient to prove, that men may possess, not only gifts, but graces too, and yet “return with the dog to his vomit,” and “draw back unto perdition [Note: 2 Peter 2:22.Hebrews 10:38-39; Hebrews 10:38-39.].”]
Miserable, indeed, will their situation then become, on account of,
The extreme difficulty of renewing them again unto repentance—
To “renew them to repentance,” is a great and arduous work—
[If repentance were no more than a slight conviction of their folly in renouncing the truth, we might hope that a very little experience of the fatal change would bring them to it. But it implies a total renovation both of the heart and life — — — which is a work at all times difficult; but peculiarly so under their circumstances. It is said to be “impossible;” by which we are to understand, not that it is an absolute, but only a moral, impossibility. When our Lord declared that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he explained himself by saying, “With man this is impossible; but with God all things are possible [Note: Matthew 19:24-26.].” Thus, the recovery of such apostates is quite contrary to all reasonable expectation; nor can any thing but a most extraordinary interposition of the Deity effect it.]
What reason is there to hope that it should ever be accomplished in them?
The dishonour they do to Christ—
[They who renounce Christianity do, in fact, proclaim Christ an impostor: they declare their approbation of the Jews who crucified him; and thus, as far as in them lies, they “crucify him afresh.” But we must not confine this to avowed infidels: the same is true respecting those who decline from the ways of God, and return to a worldly and carnal life: “they put Christ to an open shame:” they proclaim to all around them, ‘I once thought that it was my highest interest and happiness to serve Christ: but I was quite mistaken: I made the experiment; I became his follower; I loved him, served him, glorified him; but I found, after all, that I had given up a greater good for a less: I now am assured that Christ cannot make us happy; and, therefore, I have again returned to the world, and chosen it as the better portion: and, whoever would be wise or happy, let him follow my example; let him renounce religion as a needless restraint, and despise it as an enthusiastic delusion: let him lend all his powers and faculties to the pursuits of time, and the enjoyments of sense; and let him cast off the yoke of Christ as an intolerable burthen.’
Who can suppose that a man, after having cast such dishonour upon Christ, should ever be brought again to embrace and honour him? While he continues to reject the Saviour, his restoration to repentance is absolutely impossible; because, there is no way to repent, but by returning to Christ [Note: Hebrews 10:26-27.]. And that he should return unfeignedly to Christ is morally impossible; because his way to Christ is barred up by shame, and fear, and almost every consideration that can influence the human mind — — —]
The despite they do to the Holy Spirit—
[This, though not adverted to in the text, is necessary to a just view of the subject, and is expressly mentioned in the same connexion in a subsequent part of this epistle [Note: ver. 28, 29.]. It is not possible but that such apostates must have experienced on many occasions “the strivings of the Holy Spirit” with them; they must have felt many secret checks and remonstrances of conscience; all of which they must have resisted, before they could prevail upon themselves to throw off their profession of religion, and to “make shipwreck of their faith.” In short, they must have altogether “quenched the Spirit,” and “seared their consciences as with a hot iron.” What prospect then is there that such persons should be renewed unto repentance? If they could not maintain their ground when they had the assistances of the Holy Spirit, how shall they recover it when he is departed from them? And what reason is there to hope that the Holy Spirit, whom they have so “grieved,” and “vexed,” by their misconduct, should again dwell in them, and increase his gracious communications in proportion as they have accumulated their transgressions? If the contempt which they pour upon this Divine Agent amount to what is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, their damnation is sure; it is decreed in heaven, and sealed by their own act and deed. And, though it fall short of this unpardonable sin, still is their case almost hopeless: they are like “the earth, which, bearing only thorns and briers, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned [Note: ver. 8.].”]
This awful subject must not be concluded without a few words of advice—
Guard against the means and occasions of apostasy—
[He that would not fall must take heed to his steps, and be careful on what ground he treads. Now we are told by God himself, that worldly cares, worldly pleasures, worldly company are the bane of religion; and that we must guard against them all, if we would be steadfast in the faith. We quite mistake, if we think that nothing but what is palpably sinful in itself is dangerous: almost all apostasy arises from secret neglects of duty, and from a want of necessary self-denial. By going to the utmost boundaries of what is lawful, we are easily and imperceptibly drawn into what is unlawful. Therefore watch: watch against error; watch against temptation; watch against the cares and pleasures of life; watch against secret declensions: in short, “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”]
Be not satisfied with low attainments—
[It was to enforce this idea that the warning in the text was introduced by the Apostle: and therefore it demands our peculiar attention. Persons who, like “babes,” are weak in the faith, are of course more liable to be turned from it: and if they do not grow towards an adult state, they will certainly decline. “Press forward then, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before” — — —]
Under any backsliding, apply instantly to Christ for grace and mercy—
[The warning in the text is not to discourage the humble, but to alarm the careless, and quicken the remiss. The Apostle does not say that repenting sinners, however they may have apostatized, shall not be forgiven; the danger is, that they will not repent; and not that, if they repent, they shall not be pardoned. Let not any then say, “I have fallen away, and therefore cannot hope for mercy;” but rather, “I have departed, and must return instantly to God in his appointed way.” God himself addresses us, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely.” Let a hope of acceptance aid your fears of final apostasy: so shall the end of God’s warnings be best accomplished, and the fulfilment of his promises secured.]
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FRUITFUL AND BARREN PROFESSORS
Hebrews 6:7-8. The earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by 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.
COMPARISONS, when just, have the double effect of illustrating, and of confirming, any truth, which they set before us. They have not indeed the force of demonstration, when considered as arguments: but they are peculiarly calculated to impress the mind; and, in that view, have often a stronger effect than the clearest statements, or most logical deductions. Of this kind is the comparison in the text, which is adduced to illustrate the guilt and danger of apostasy. It exhibits figuratively, in a way of contrast,
The benefit of ordinances when duly improved—
What is that improvement which God expects us to make of divine ordinances?
[Every one knows what benefit the cultivator of any land expects from showers which water the earth; he expects, whether in his field or garden, an increased production of those fruits which he has been labouring to obtain. And what does the great Husbandman labour to produce in the enclosures of his Church? Surely he looks for augmented penitence and contrition as of primary and indispensable importance — — — He desires that every child of man be brought to a more simple affiance in his dear Son, and to a more unreserved devotedness of heart and life to his service — — — He desires an increased mortification of all sin, and a progressive fruitfulness in all the fruits of righteousness, and a more perfect transformation into the Divine image — — —]
Where his ordinances are made subservient to this end, he will bestow the richest blessings—
[There is a peace which passeth all understanding, which God will confer in rich abundance — — — He will shed abroad his love in the heart of him who thus profitably waits upon him, and will give him such testimonies of his adoption into God’s family, as shall dissipate all doubt or fear either of his present acceptance with God, or of his future fruition of the heavenly glory; yea, such testimonies as shall be a foretaste of that glory, a very beginning of heaven in his soul. In fact, whatever the devoutest worshipper in the universe can wish for, it shall be given him in answer to his prayer [Note: John 15:7.].]
But it is not to all that divine ordinances are thus blessed, as we shall see from,
The sad result of them when habitually misimproved—
As in barren lands, so in the Church of God, the showers descend on many in vain—
[How many are there who, after years of culture under the richest ordinances, remain as earthly in their minds, as sensual in their habits, and as devilish in their tempers, as the very heathen, who have never once had the means of grace vouchsafed unto them — — — Their hearts are yet sealed up in impenitence and unbelief, as much as if they had never heard of the Saviour’s love, or received the offers of a free salvation — — —]
And what can these expect, but the curse of God upon them?
[A man will not always cultivate a field that requites all his labours with nothing but “thorns and briers:” neither will God always bestow his care on those who hold fast their iniquities, and continue unchanged under all the efforts that are made for their salvation. He has told us that “his Spirit shall not alway strive with man [Note: Genesis 6:5.],” and that, “if his word be not a savour of life to the life of any soul, it shall become a savour of death to his death and condemnation [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].” To this effect God warned his Church of old [Note: Isaiah 5:4-6.] — — — And our blessed Lord has told us that a similar misimprovement of his Gospel will render our state worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrha [Note: Matthew 10:15.] — — —]
See then, brethren,
What matter here is for diligent inquiry—
[You see, and all around you see, the effects produced on the earth by fertilizing showers [Note: Isaiah 55:10-11.]: and should not similar effects be found on you? See then whether you have, both in your heart and life, an evidence of the change which the Gospel produces on all who receive it aright, and to whom it comes with power? I must warn you of your responsibility to God for all the means of grace. You do not depart from the house of God the same persons that you were when you came into it. If you are not softened by the word of God, you are hardened by it: and if you are not brought nearer to God by it for the remission of your sins, you are driven farther from him, to your everlasting confusion [Note: James 1:23-25.] — — —]
What reason here is for watchfulness and care—
[When you come to the house of God, remember that you come into the more immediate presence of the Deity; and that every word you hear, wings its way to heaven to record the manner in which it was heard. Pray therefore to God before you go thither, and whilst you are there under the ministry of the word, and when you depart thence, that the word preached may be accompanied with a divine energy, and prove “the power of God to the salvation of your souls.” And, if at any time a favourable impression be made upon you, beware that you do not lose it. It is in that particular view that the Apostle suggests the comparison in my text: and I wish very particularly to put you on your guard, that you do not convert the blessing of God into a curse, and render the very means which he has bestowed for the salvation of your souls, into an occasion of deeper and heaver condemnation.]
THE THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION
Hebrews 6:9-11. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
WHOMSOEVER we address, it is needful that we use at times the language of warning and admonition. For in a mixed assembly all are not alike upright: there will always be found some tares amongst the wheat: and even the most upright may derive benefit from counsels faithfully administered. Hence, in addressing the believing Hebrews, St. Paul warned them against the danger of apostasy; declaring, that, if they did not make a just improvement of the privileges they enjoyed, they would bring upon themselves an aggravated condemnation. But did he therefore conceive of them as hypocrites? No; he had a good opinion of their state: “he was persuaded better things concerning them,” notwithstanding he thus addressed them: yet, whilst he acknowledged with gratitude their active piety, he urged them to abound in it more and more.
Under a similar persuasion in respect to many of you, and with similar desires in reference to all, we proceed to point out,
What are those things which accompany salvation—
Many things there are which are common both to the hypocrite and the true believer: but some things there are which belong to the true believer exclusively, and which will assuredly issue in his everlasting happiness. Wherever there is genuine love to the saints for Christ’s sake, there is salvation.
But to speak more particularly—
It must be a love to the saints as saints—
[There may be a strong attachment both to individuals and collective bodies, without any thing beyond the workings of nature. A great variety of considerations may give rise to the emotions of love, and the heart be as far from God as ever. Of course the bare existence of this feeling towards our fellow-creatures can be no just ground for concluding ourselves to be in a state of grace. Even love to the saints may exist on grounds which do not prove it to be of divine origin. We may love them because they are amiable in themselves, or kind to us, or an ornament of the party to which they belong. But when we love them purely because they are beloved of the Lord, and belong to him; when we love them as members of our own body; as partakers of the same divine nature with ourselves; and as heirs of the same glory; then we possess a grace which no hypocrite ever did possess; and which is inseparably connected with the salvation of the soul.]
But this love must be operative and laborious—
[Our love must “not be in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth:” it must be such as “works and labours in ministering” to the welfare of the objects beloved. Love of any kind is regarded as a mere pretence, if it exert not itself in such a way as to evince its reality by a corresponding practice: and much more will our pretensions to so high a principle as Christian love be deemed nugatory, if we labour not to display its efficacy by a suitable conversation. The temporal and spiritual comfort of the saints must be promoted by us to the uttermost. We are not to be indifferent to the welfare of any: but, whilst we “do good unto all men, we must do it especially unto the household of faith.” Nor must we do it merely occasionally, when more urgent circumstances arise to remind us of our duty: we must make it, as it were, our business to promote to the uttermost the edification of the body of Christ in general, and of all its members in particular. Nor must we shrink back from any “labour” that may be conducive to this end; or any sacrifice that may be requisite to the attainment of it. And it is only when our love is thus operative, that it approves itself to be a sure evidence of grace, and a certain pledge of glory.]
There is yet one more ingredient in this love, namely, that it must be exercised towards the saints for Christ’s sake—
[It must be “shewed towards the name of our God” as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus. It is this which gives to love its chief excellence. Though the saints are ostensible objects towards whom it is exercised, yet it must in reality terminate on God in them. It is to him that every thing must be done: but as he personally is out of our reach, we are to do it to them as his representatives. He is to be the one great object in whom all our affections centre: and not being able to pour out our ointment upon his head, we must, in testimony of the desires of our souls, pour it out, as we are able, upon all his members.]
This principle so operating, most assuredly “accompanies salvation”—
[It is declared by our blessed Lord to be that whereby we may know to a certainty our own conversion [Note: 1 John 3:14.], and may be distinguished for his people by all who behold us [Note: John 13:35.]. Moreover, if we live in the exercise of this principle, we are assured by God himself, that “we shall never fall, but that an abundant entrance shall be ministered unto us into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].” And so infallibly is the final salvation of the soul connected with it, that every exercise of it shall be remembered, “not so much as a cup of cold water given to a disciple in the name of a disciple, ever falling short of its reward.” Indeed, God would consider himself as “unrighteous, if he were to forget” to recompense these things in the eternal world. Not that any works of ours can claim any recompence on the ground of merit: but, on the ground of God’s promises, we may be assured that salvation shall be given to us, if we live under the influence of this love: and we may expect it from him as a merciful, a faithful, and a “righteous Judge [Note: 2 Timothy 4:8.].”]
Such being “the things that accompany salvation,” we proceed to shew,
Our duty in relation to them—
It is the duty of all to abound in them—
[It is supposed in the text that the believing Hebrews had both possessed and exercised this love: indeed, it was from a persuasion of this that St. Paul was so well satisfied of their being in a state of acceptance with God. And we too must live under the habitual influence of this gracious principle, taking every occasion to manifest it towards the saints in acts of kindness both to their bodies and their souls. “We must walk in love, as Christ has loved us.”]
It is yet further our duty to persevere in these labours even “to the end”—
[We are “never to be weary of well doing:” never to think that we have done enough; or rather, never to think we have done any thing, as long as any thing remains to be done. We are not to be deterred by difficulties, nor to draw back on account of disappointments. In extending our labours of love to all the saints, we shall sometimes find that we mistake the characters of those whom we have endeavoured to serve: but we must not on this account neglect or intermit our duty. We may take the more care to discriminate between the different characters of men; but must on no account refuse to give the children their meat, because some portions of our bounty have been unwittingly wasted upon dogs. If any have abused our kindness, the loss is their own: but if we neglect to shew kindness, the loss is ours. We must never lay down the habit, but with our lives.]
In so acting we benefit ourselves no less than others—
[The exercise of love is, as has been observed, an evidence of grace, and as such, a foundation of hope. And the more the acts of love are formed into a habit, the livelier our hope becomes, till at last it grows into a “full assurance of hope.” We must again say, that it is not on our actions as meritorious, that our hopes are founded, but only as evidences of a true faith, and as evincing a state which God has promised to reward. But, having these evidences, we may as assuredly hope for glory, as if we saw the holy angels ready to bear our souls to the realms of bliss. “God is love: and, if we resemble him in this world, we may well have boldness in reference to the day of judgment [Note: 1 John 4:16-17.].” “We know by it infallibly that we are of the truth; and therefore may on safe grounds assure our hearts before him [Note: 1 John 3:19.].”]
Let me now, in applying this subject to ourselves, tell you,
What is my “persuasion” respecting you—
[Of many “I am persuaded,” that they have these “things that accompany salvation.” Many manifest it in the whole of their life and conversation; and many more would manifest it, if they had the same opportunities as are offered to others. There can be no doubt but that the principle of love is deeply implanted in the hearts of many, who from various circumstances are unable to display it as they could wish. And we are assured, that God, who searcheth the heart, will bear witness to them in the last day, as well as to those who were able to carry into effect their good desires.
But, in reference to many, we have no such persuasion. Many do not even possess those things which hypocrites and apostates may have; and much less “the things which accompany salvation.” How many of you are there who have never “been enlightened, never tasted of the heavenly gift, never been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, never tasted of the good word of God, or the powers of the world to come [Note: ver. 4, 5.].” Alas! beloved, what hope can ye enjoy? Your confidence is altogether delusive, and will deceive you to your eternal ruin. But, where these specious appearances have been found, there is in too many instances an entire lack of that gracious principle of which the text speaks. The love that has been exercised has been essentially defective in all its most distinguishing points: it has not been to the saints as saints, but on account of some accidental circumstance that has attended them: it has not been laborious and persevering, but has displayed itself only in easier services, and on more partial or particular occasions: and, above all, it has not originated altogether in love to God; or been exercised simply for the glory of his name. What then must be my persuasion respecting you? Must it not rather be, that, so far from possessing the things that accompany salvation, you have as yet “no part or lot in this matter; but are yet in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Beloved brethren, think of your danger ere it be too late; and beg of God that you may rest in nothing short of true conversion, and of that “hope which shall never make you ashamed.”]
What is my “desire” for you—
[Truly this accords with that of the Apostle Paul. On behalf of “every one of you,” I would desire, that you should shew all diligence in the exercise of this grace; and that you should continue in the exercise of it even “to the end:” like him also I would desire it with all earnestness [Note: ἐπιθυμοῦμεν.].
I desire it, first, on your own account: for truly the exercise of love is a heaven upon earth. “Love is of God; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Look at the Christians that are full of doubts and fears; and you will almost invariably find, that they are comparatively selfish, indolent, unprofitable servants, and greatly defective both in love to man and in zeal for God. On the other hand, look at the laborious and self-denying Christians, and you will find almost invariably that they are happy in their own souls, and happy in their prospects of the eternal world. For your own sakes therefore I would say, Live in the constant exercise of love, and spare no pains to honour God and to benefit his Church and people.
Next, I would desire it for the Church’s sake. How happy must that Church be, where such is the employment of all its members! What peace, and love, and harmony will prevail among them! What mutual edification will be found in all their social intercourse! and with what joy will they go up together to the house of God! Nor will the odour of their graces refresh themselves only; it will be fragrant also in the nostrils of many who have never experienced any such emotions in their own souls, and will cause them to say, We will go with you; for we perceive that God is with you of a truth.
But, above all, I would desire it for the Lord’s sake, that he may be glorified; for in comparison of this all other motives are weak and of no account [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:11-14.]. If it be true that “herein is the Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit,” it must be most eminently true, when that fruit is such as is described in our text. Has the Lord Jesus Christ said, that “what we do unto the least of his Disciples, we do it unto him;” what delight must he not feel in a Church where all the members are vying with each other in the exercises of love? “When the spices of his garden thus flow out, our Beloved will surely come into it, and eat his pleasant fruits [Note: Song of Solomon 4:16.].”
To all then of every description I say, “Walk in love: and, if ye have already begun this heavenly course, labour to abound more and more [Note: If this be a Charity Sermon, the particular object of the Charity may here be stated; and if it be not to benefit saints, yet if it be to make saints, it will be no less pleasing in the sight of God.].”]
EXHORTATION TO DILIGENCE
Hebrews 6:12. Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
IN the general course of God’s providence, we perceive that blessings are dispensed in proportion to men’s exertions in the pursuit of them: and though the Disposer of all events sees fit, on some occasions, to vary his dispensations, loading the slothful with opulence, and suffering the industrious to be in want, yet for the most part we behold diligence rewarded, and indolence put to shame. In spiritual things none are disappointed; labour is invariably attended with success: no one asks without receiving, or seeks without finding: God uniformly shews himself a rewarder of such as diligently seek him. “To him that studies to improve his talent, more is uniformly given; and he is made to possess abundance.” The experience of the saints in all ages fully corresponds with this. No one ever suffered loss, but in consequence of his own remissness: nor did ever any one devote himself unfeignedly to God, without receiving grace sufficient in the time of need. The author of this epistle confirms these observations: for, having spoken of those who apostatize from the truth, he tells the Hebrews, that he was persuaded better things of them, and things that accompany salvation; for that they were active in every labour of love; which was to him a convincing evidence of their conversion to God. He then takes occasion to exhort them all to use the same diligence; and recommends them, if they would possess an assurance of hope, and enjoy it to the end, to press forward in the way which the patriarchal saints had trodden with such success. In his words we see,
What we must guard against in our Christian course,
There is scarcely any evil more universally prevalent than spiritual sloth—
[In worldly concerns, sloth is often overcome by the force and influence of other propensities: the predominant affection of the mind, whatever it be, will often gain such an ascendency, as to subdue the workings of less powerful corruptions: yea, to such a degree will interest or ambition lead us to mortify our love of ease, that we shall scarcely be sensible of the existence of sloth in our hearts. But, when once we turn our attention to spiritual things, this evil disposition will discover itself, and prove, that notwithstanding it has hitherto been concealed from our view, it had taken deep root in our souls. In temporal things, our exertions are all on the side of nature. And, though we may feel some reluctance from contrary principles within us, we shall on the whole not find it so difficult to surmount their opposition. But, in spiritual things, we do not advance one step without conquering the united force of all our natural inclinations. Hence the evil, against which the Apostle cautions us, extends its empire over the whole world, and is to be resisted by every individual of mankind.]
As Christians, we have very abundant reason to mortify and subdue it—
It is repugnant to our duty—
[A life of godliness is represented as a race, and a warfare, in order to convey to us some idea of the activity and perseverance necessary for a right discharge of our duty. Do persons in a race find time to loiter? Have they their attention diverted by every trifle around them? Do they not press forward with unremitting ardour, and exert themselves the more as they approach the goal? Do they not bear in mind the prize, and strain every nerve to gain it? Look at those who are engaged in war, and arrived upon the field of battle; do they indulge security? Do they not watch the motions of the enemy, and animate one another to the combat, and endure almost insupportable fatigues, and expose themselves to the most imminent dangers, to defeat their enemies? If these then be fit images to represent the Christian’s duty, what must we think of sloth? What propriety is there in these images, as applied to those who live regardless of eternity? Surely they rather form the strongest contrast to the whole life and conduct of such persons.]
It is inconsistent with our profession—
[Every one who calls himself a Christian professes to value his soul, to serve his God, to be seeking heaven. But what value has he for his soul, who prefers every vanity before it, and cannot be prevailed upon to seek its interests? What regard has he for God, who will not put forth all his powers to please and honour him? What desire after heaven has he, who will not renounce his sins, and fulfil his duties to secure it? And how absurd is it to call ourselves Christians, when the whole of our conduct so flagrantly contradicts our profession!]
It is subversive of our welfare—
[Let the effects of sloth be viewed in those, who, in the judgment of charity, are not altogether destitute of true religion: how little victory have they over the world and their own corruptions, in comparison of what is attained by more diligent Christians! How little do they know of heavenly consolations! For the most part they are full of doubts and fears; and instead of enjoying that peace which passeth all understanding, they are harassed with the accusations of a guilty conscience. Their lamps being but seldom trimmed, they afford but a dim light to the world around them, and experience but little of the light of God’s countenance in their souls. Moreover, at the close of their day, they frequently set as the sun behind a cloud; and instead of having “an abundant entrance into the kingdom of their Lord,” they leave the world, uncertain whither they are going, and what shall he the issue of the future judgment. If we inquire into the cause of all this, we shall find it was sloth: they too often slumbered and slept, when they should have been watching unto prayer with all perseverance. If such then be the effects of sloth, where it gains only an occasional ascendency, what must be the consequence of an habitual subjection to its dominion? Alas! its willing captives can expect nothing, but to perish under the wrath of an offended God [Note: Matthew 25:26.].]
Having given us this salutary caution, the Apostle tells us,
What line we should pursue—
He proposes to our imitation the patriarchs and saints of old—
These are described as “inheriting the promises”—
[They had not indeed received the promised Messiah [Note: Hebrews 11:39.], having died long before he came into the world; but they had partaken in all the fruits and benefits, which he was in due time to purchase with his blood. When on earth, they, like minors, had enjoyed as much of the inheritance as had been judged proper for them; but now they were of full age, and had attained the full possession of all the promises: having been adopted into the family of God, and been begotten by his word and Spirit, they were heirs of God, and had God himself, together with all the glory of heaven, as their unalienable portion.]
The way by which they attained to this inheritance was “by faith and patience”—
[They had no claim whatever to it upon the ground of their own merit: they all looked to that “Lamb of God that was slain from the foundation of the world.” They all lived and “died in faith.” “To their faith they added patience.” They, no doubt, as well as we, had “fightings without, and fears within;” and sustained many sore conflicts, both with the world around them, and with their own hearts. But they “ran their race with patience,” and “endured unto the end.”]
These therefore we should propose to ourselves as patterns.
We should imitate,
[If we begin not here, we can never stir one step in the way to heaven. We must “have like precious faith with them,” renouncing all dependence on ourselves, and “making Christ our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption.”]
[“If we set ourselves to seek the Lord, we must prepare our hearts for temptation.” Cain and Ishmael have their followers in every age. We must not be offended and turn aside on account of persecution, but must “possess our souls in patience.” Nor must the love of this present world, or the difficulties of our spiritual warfare, be permitted to divert us from the path of duty: having “put our hand to the plough, we must never look back,” “lest, having a promise left us of entering into God’s rest, we should come short of it” at last.]
[It is in this view more especially that we are called to follow them; “Be not slothful, but imitate them.” Even those amongst them, who, like Moses and David, had a kingdom to govern, were yet exceeding diligent in every duty of religion, devoting themselves entirely to the service of their God. Let us then tread in their steps: let us “walk, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Let us “give all diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end;” and “whatever our hand findeth to do, let us do it with all our might.”]
If any motives be wanting to enforce the Apostle’s advice, consider further,
The effects of diligence in this life—
[The more earnest we are in serving God, the more will our hearts be comforted, our fellow-creatures benefited, and God glorified. Let us place ourselves more especially on a death-bed, and look back from thence, not with pride and self-complacency, but with gratitude and thanksgiving, on a life devoted to God: and let us contrast our state with that of one who has never done any thing but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, or one, who, though on the whole, pious, has filled his dying pillow with thorns by his remissness; and surely we shall want no other motive to fight a good fight, and war a good warfare.]
The consequences of it in the world to come—
[There can be no doubt but that the greater our labour here, the richer will be our reward hereafter: and “one star will differ widely from another star in glory.” It is true, the most eminent saint might well be satisfied, and magnify the Divine goodness, if he be admitted to the lowest place in God’s kingdom: but if our capacity for happiness will be enlarged by all that we do for God, and every man will be filled according to his capacity, should we not be encouraged to exert ourselves? Should we not “forget what is behind, and reach forward unto that which is before?” Should we be contented to suffer loss in heaven, merely because we do not lose heaven altogether [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:15.]? “Let us look to ourselves then, that we lose not the things that we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].”]
THE CITY OF REFUGE
Hebrews 6:17-18. God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 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.
THE multiplying of oaths is a dreadful snare to the consciences of men; and a light method of administering and of taking them is amongst the most heinous of our national sins. But they run to a contrary extreme who affirm all oaths to be sinful: on many occasions they were prescribed to the Jews by God himself: the most eminent saints also, under the Christian dispensation, as well as under that of the Jews, have, on many occasions, appealed in the most solemn manner unto God. In the passage before us God sanctions the use of oaths in concerns which are of great moment, and which cannot be settled in any other way. We are even assured that God himself has condescended to adopt this very method of confirming and establishing the minds of his people. From the Apostle’s account of this astonishing transaction, we shall be led to consider,
The description here given us of God’s people—
They are described by,
[They once “were, like others, children of wrath [Note: Ephesians 2:3.]:” but they have been regenerated by God’s Spirit, and adopted into his family. “Being thus his sons, they are also heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ [Note: Romans 8:17.].” The promises, temporal, spiritual, eternal, are their inheritance. Hence they are justly called, “the heirs of promise.” To this happy state they have been brought in consequence of God’s eternal counsels [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.]. But they have nevertheless attained to it in the use of means [Note: Ezekiel 36:37.].]
[Eternal life has been set before them in the Gospel; and Christ has been declared to be the only way in which that life can be found [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.]. This record they have believed: and, feeling their utter need of mercy, they have sought it in Christ [Note: Galatians 2:16.]. They have regarded him as the city of refuge, in which the man-slayer found protection from the avenger of blood; and have fled to him with holy earnestness as their only hope [Note: Numbers 35:11-12.]. In this way they have “laid hold” of God’s promised mercy; and have attained to that state in which they may assuredly expect it.]
That these are the most highly favoured of all people will appear, if we consider,
The regard which God manifests towards them—
He wills that they should enjoy “strong consolation”—
[He would not that they should be held in doubtful suspense, or be harassed by fluctuations of hope and fear. He wishes rather that they should enjoy the privileges of their high station. Though they have in themselves much cause to fear, yet in HIM they have reason to exult and triumph. They should “know in whom they have believed, and that he is both able and willing to keep what they have committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].”]
In order to this he would have them persuaded of “the immutability of his counsel”—
[Nothing more contributes to the comfort of God’s people than a view of every thing as subjected to his unchanging will and irresistible controul. If only they learn to refer every thing to his overruling agency or righteous permission, all cause for disquietude will cease. Do the dispensations of his providence appear dark? the soul will be satisfied when it can say, This hath God done [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.]. If events seem to contradict the promises, the reflection that God’s ways are unsearchable will silence every murmur, and dispose us to trust God, till he shall be pleased to unfold his purposes to our view [Note: Hebrews 11:17-19. Abraham’s faith as described in these verses will admirably illustrate the subject.] — — — “Who shall separate me from the love of God?” is the triumphant challenge that will be given to all our enemies, as soon as ever we see God appointing every thing with immutable and unerring wisdom [Note: Romans 8:33.].]
For this purpose God confirms his promise with an oath—
[His promise could not be made more sure. But we are prone to unbelief. On this account he condescends to consult our weakness, and to swear by himself, that we may be the more firmly persuaded of his veracity. Even though God had not sworn, he never could have receded from his engagements, seeing “it is impossible for God to lie.” But his oath is calculated to satisfy the most fearful mind; and must convince us, beyond a possibility of doubt, that he will never leave us nor forsake us [Note: Hebrews 13:5.].]
How astonishing is the condescension of God!
[That God should voluntarily lay himself under any obligations at all to us, may well excite our astonishment. But that he should so far indulge those who doubt his veracity, as to confirm his promises with an oath, with a view to their more abundant consolation and encouragement, is a condescension of which we could have formed no idea. In this He has cast a reflection, as it were, upon his own character, in order that he might silence their unreasonable doubts. But he is God and not man, and therefore He could submit to such a degradation. O let all of us admire and adore him! And let us be careful that we “receive not this grace of God in vain [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:1.].”]
How great is the sin of unbelief!
[Unbelief says, in fact, not only that “it is possible for God to lie,” but that He is indeed “a liar [Note: 1 John 5:10.].” How would such an indignity be borne by us, especially if we had never given. the slightest occasion for it, but had fulfilled every promise that we had ever made? No doubt then God must be displeased whenever we cast such a reflection upon him. And if now, after that he has confirmed his promise with an oath, we disbelieve him, the affront will be aggravated in a tenfold degree, and our guilt be proportionably increased. Let us know then, that “not one jot or tittle of his word can fail;” and rest assured, that, if we trust in him, we shall never be confounded [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].]
How wide is the difference between God’s people and the world at large!
[There may be but little visible difference between them: but they do differ very widely; nor is the difference the less real because it is invisible. The godly have fled for refuge to Christ as their only hope: they make the promises of God in Christ their boast, and their inheritance: and, while God regards them as his heirs, he fills them with a peace that passeth all understanding. But what hope have the careless and ungodly world? What consolation have they from the immutability of God? All their comfort is founded on the hope that God may lie — — — Hence, instead of children and heirs of God, they are children of the wicked one, and inheritors of his portion. Let these awful truths sink deep into our minds. And “let us not be of those who turn back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of their souls [Note: Hebrews 10:39.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S ANCHOR
Hebrews 6:19-20. Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail; whither the Forerunner is for us entered.
THIS life, we know, is but a passage to a better world; a wilderness state, leading to the heavenly Canaan. In it we meet with trials, which are necessary for the exercise of our faith and patience: but in the midst of trials, we are favoured with consolations and supports, perfectly adequate to our necessities, and sufficient for our wants. The lives of Abraham and the patriarchs are very instructive to us, in this view. They had promises in abundance; but did not actually possess the things promised. They were called to endure much, before their course was run; and “through faith and patience they inherited the promises [Note: ver. 12.].” Thus are we also to “walk by faith, and not by sight;” and “patiently to endure” our destined trials, in the assured expectation of “obtaining in due season the promised blessings [Note: ver. 15.].” In the mean time, like mariners, we have “an anchor” provided for us, which shall hold us fast amidst the storms and tempests with which we are assailed, and secure our ultimate arrival at the desired haven. This is declared in the words which we have just read; and which will lead me to shew you,
What is “the anchor” here spoken of—
The universal voice of commentators has, together with our English version, determined it to be “hope;” and from such an host it seems the greatest presumption to differ. Nor indeed would we be guilty of such presumption, if we could by any means acquiesce in the general sentiment. But the word “hope” is printed in italics, to shew that it is not in the original; and, consequently, the only question is, What is the word which should have been supplied from the foregoing context? or, What is the antecedent to which the relative in our text refers? I will, with the diffidence that becomes me, state my view of this question: and leave every one to adopt, or reject, my alteration, as he shall see fit.
I will first, then, state my reasons why I think the word “hope” is not the word to be supplied.
The word “hope,” in the preceding context, must unquestionably mean the object of hope; but in the text it is put for the grace of hope: for it is something within ourselves which we have as “an anchor,” and which is to he cast by us on something that is without. But to use the relative in a sense so essentially different from that in which its antecedent is used, is a construction that should never be admitted, without an absolute and indispensable necessity.
If it be said, that in the text it may be used for the object of hope, I answer, that it cannot with any propriety; for it can scarcely be made sense. Moreover, if taken in that sense, it will be the same as the Forerunner, who is said to have entered where that is.
The true antecedent, I conceive, and consequently the proper word to have been inserted, is, the word “consolation:” and this will appear from a minute consideration of the context. It is true, the word “hope” occurs in the last member of the preceding sentence, whilst the word “consolation” is more remote; but the member of the sentence immediately preceding the text is nothing but a periphrasis for “we,” or a description of the persons spoken of; and if the word “we” be taken without that particular description annexed to it, the connexion between the relative and antecedent will be perfectly clear: “God has confirmed his promise with an oath, that we might have strong consolation; which consolation we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” The remarkable parallelism also between the words—a parallelism sufficiently observable in the translation, but still more marked in the original—renders this construction yet more obvious. God designed “that we should have consolation; which consolation we have:” he designed that we should have strong consolation; and strong it is, even an “anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast [Note: ἰσχυρὰν παράκλησιν ἔχωμεν, ἣν ὡς ἄγκυραν ἔχομεν ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν.].” Thus, to say the least, there is nothing forced in this construction; but, on the contrary, it is plain and simple, and such as could not possibly have been avoided, if that member, which is a mere periphrasis, or description of the persons possessing that consolation, had not intervened.
But can “consolation” properly be called “an anchor of the soul?” Most assuredly it may: for where consolation is wanting, the soul is liable to be tempest-tost, and driven to and fro by every wind of temptation; but where consolation abounds, there the soul is kept firm and immoveable; agreeably to what God himself has said, “The joy of the Lord is our strength [Note: Nehemiah 8:10.].” And hence St. Paul unites the two, in his prayer for the Thessalonian converts: “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.].”
I say then, that the word “consolation” should, if my view of it be right, have been here supplied; even the consolation arising from a view of “the immutability of God’s counsels,” which are made over to us in express promises, and confirmed to us with an oath: it is this consolation, I say, which is indeed “the anchor of the soul” spoken of in our text. And it is remarkable, that in other parts of this same epistle, the Apostle speaks of his consolation in precisely the same view: “We,” says he, “are Christ’s house, if we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of the hope, firm unto the end:” and again; “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14. βεβαίανκατάσχωμεν, in both places.]:” and again; “Cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward [Note: Hebrews 10:35.].”
That “hope” may be fitly represented as an anchor, there can be no doubt; but the doubt is, what is the anchor here spoken of: and that, I say again, is the consolation arising from an assured confidence in the promise and oath of an unchanging God.
Let us now proceed to consider,
On what ground it must be cast—
It is said to “enter into that within the vail.” Other anchors descend into the deep: this ascends to the highest heavens, and lays hold on the very throne of God.
We might here speak of the things which were within the vail; as the mercy-seat, on which abode the bright cloud, the Shechinah, the symbol of the Deity; and the ark, which contained the law, and which was covered by the mercy-seat: and we might shew how this anchor of the soul fixes on them, even on a reconciled God and Father, and on the Lord Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the law for us. But it will be better to adhere more simply to the preceding context, and to speak of the anchor as fixing on the immutability of a promise-keeping God. This is a proper foundation for it to rest upon: nor can we by any means lay too fast hold upon it. For, God has from all eternity entered into covenant with his only-begotten Son; engaging, if he would assume our nature, and “make his soul an offering for sin, he should see a seed who should prolong their days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hand [Note: Isaiah 53:10.].” To this the Son consented: and, having taken our nature upon him, he has fulfilled every part of his engagement; never ceasing from his work till he could say, “It is finished.” Now, will the Father recede from his engagements? Assuredly not: for “He is not a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent [Note: Numbers 23:19.].” Having confirmed “his promise with an oath, it is impossible for him to lie;” since “both the one and the other are absolutely immutable [Note: ver. 18.].” On this covenant, then, we may lay hold; and on it we may rest, as “ordered in all things, and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.].” In it, every thing is provided for us that we can stand in need of, whether for time or for eternity: it engages to impart to every one that has been given to Christ, pardon and peace, and holiness and glory.
On nothing short of this must our anchor fix. It must rest on nothing that is in us; no frames, no feelings, no experiences, no attainments. From God’s covenant all our hopes flow; and on that must they all rest. We, alas! are changeable; and on us can no confidence be placed: but God is unchangeable, in all his purposes, which are unalterably fixed, “according to the counsel of his own will [Note: Ephesians 1:11.];” in all “his promises, which are all yea, and amen, in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.];” and in all his gifts, for “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].” This is a foundation which will hold us fast; as it is said, “The foundation of God standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are his [Note: 2 Timothy 2:19.].”
But, as this anchor is said to be sure and steadfast, it will be proper for me to shew,
From whence it derives its power and tenacity—
In order that a tempest-tossed vessel may be preserved in safety, it is necessary that the anchor itself should be of a good quality, and that the anchorage should be firm. And both these are requisite for the establishing of the soul: the “consolation” must be, not like “that of the hypocrite, which is but for a moment [Note: Job 20:5.];” or that of the novice, which will give way on the very first assault of temptation [Note: Matthew 13:20-21.]: it must be far more solid; but it must be formed in us by God, even by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter: and it must lay hold on God himself, and derive all its efficacy from him.
But still, it is not from the strength of the anchor that our stability will be derived; but from the Lord Jesus Christ, who will render it effectual for its desired end.
It is not obvious, at first sight, why the Forerunner should be mentioned: for what has Jesus, as our Forerunner, to do with our anchor entering within the vail? But, on a closer inspection, it will be found, that though there is an apparent change in the figure, there is a perfect unity in the subject; the whole power and tenacity of our anchor being derived from Him, who is entered into the very place where that anchor is cast: for it is by means of the very same anchor that he himself has entered there, even as all the saints before him did [Note: Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:14; Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 11:26; Hebrews 11:35.]: and he is entered there expressly “for us,” that he may secure to us the very same issue as he himself has attained.
Let us enter a little more distinctly into this. I say, that it was by means of the very same anchor that Jesus himself rode out the storms with which he was assailed, and is now at rest in the desired haven. See him in the midst of all his storms: hear his reply to the most powerful of all his adversaries: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above [Note: John 19:11.].” Here his perfect confidence in an unchanging God is the manifest source of his stability. But to see this anchor in full operation, mark it as described by the Prophet Isaiah: “The Lord God will help me: therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me: who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me: who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old, as doth a garment: the moth shall eat them up [Note: Isaiah 50:7-9.].” And was this an empty boast? No: this anchor held him fast, through all the storms that earth and hell could raise against him; as St. Paul informs us, saying, that “for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].”
It may still however be asked, what are his triumphs to us? I answer, He is not entered within the vail for himself only, but “for us;” that he may “appear in the presence of God for us [Note: Hebrews 9:24.],” and secure to us the same blessed rest which he himself has attained. Whilst we are casting our anchor within the vail, he, by his grace, enables us to do it, and keeps the anchor itself from losing its hold. And, whilst we are confiding in the promises of God, and pleading them at a throne of grace, he is pleading for us, as our Advocate, before the throne of glory: he is pleading the covenant which the Father has made with him, in behalf of all the members of his mystical body. Thus is he there engaged, on God’s part, as it were, to afford us all needful support; and on our part, to remind the Father of his engagements, and to see them all fulfilled.
But there is yet a further connexion between these things, which must by no means be overlooked. The Lord Jesus is entered into heaven, not as our Advocate merely, but as our Head and Representative: so that we may be not unfitly said to be already “sitting with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus [Note: Ephesians 2:6.].” We are one with him, as our federal head [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:22.]; yea, we are one with him also by a vital union, as members of his body [Note: John 15:1-2.]: we are even “one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.]:” “our life is hid with Christ in God:” he is “our very life” itself: and hence it is that neither earth nor hell can ever prevail against us; according as it is written, “Our life is hid with Christ in God; and therefore when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also shall appear with him in glory [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.].”
Now this subject may well shew us,
What is the proper and legitimate use of the deeper doctrines of our holy religion.
Whilst, by some, the doctrines of predestination and election are made for the display of their controversial skill, and are brought forward on all occasions as if they were the very milk of the Gospel, fit indiscriminately for the contemplation of all; to others, the very mention of the words sounds almost as blasphemy. But these doctrines are true, and capable of the most valuable improvement; though, if entered upon with an unhallowed and contentious spirit, they may prove as injurious as they are to the humble mind truly beneficial. “The godly consideration of them,” as our Seventeenth Article states, “is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons; ….. as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation, to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: but, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them, either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.” The true use of them, is to compose the mind with a humble affiance in God, as unbounded in mercy and unchangeable in his promises. They lead us to refer every mercy to God, as “the Author,” and to look to him for the continuance of it, as “the Finisher,” of our salvation [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]. A just view of these doctrines, at the same time that it teaches to put away all carnal hopes, tends to raise us also above carnal fears. It shews us, that, in the whole work of man’s salvation, the creature is nothing, and God is all: it furnishes us with a consolation which nothing can destroy, and with a strength which nothing can overcome. In a word, it is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” It is quite a mistake to imagine that the possession of this anchor supersedes the necessity of care on our part: we must be as diligent in the use both of the chart and compass, as if we had no such means of safety on board. It will never justify us in running needlessly amidst rocks and quicksands; nor do we ever find such an use made of it amongst the saints of God. Its use is, to keep us steadfast in a time of need: and, if improved to that end, it will be found of incalculable advantage to the believing soul.
The advantage which the Christian has over all other people upon earth—
A man that knows not God as a merciful and unchanging God, knows not where to look in a time of trial. He may, indeed, comfort himself with some general notions of God’s mercy; but he has no solid ground of hope; nor can he ever know what is meant by “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.” But the truly enlightened Christian can glory in the midst of tribulations: for he refers all to God, who is too wise to err, too mighty to be foiled, too faithful to forsake his people: he views God as presiding in every storm, and as “ordering all things for the good of his own people [Note: Romans 8:28.]. He regards not the various circumstances which occur, as though they were accidental: whatever their aspect be, he considers them as parts of one great whole; and, whether the steps which he is constrained to take in this wilderness appear, in the eye of sense, to be progressive or retrograde, he still bears in mind, that they are leading him “in the right way,” to the city of habitation, the heavenly Jerusalem [Note: Psalms 107:7.]. Behold this illustrated in the Apostle Paul. What storms and tempests he had to sustain, you well know: but was he appalled by them? No: “he knew in whom he had believed; and that He was able to keep that which he had committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].” “Who,” says he, “is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again; who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Romans 8:34-39.].” Here you see the anchor in the full discharge of its office; and here you behold a stability which no created power could impart. This shews the Christian in his true light. I pray God we may all have an ever-increasing measure of that confidence in God which so mightily upheld his soul; and that we may thus be “kept in safety for that inheritance, which we know to be reserved in heaven for us [Note: 1 Peter 1:4-5.].”