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In these words of the apostle, he seems to allude to the building of an house: as in that we first lay a good and sure foundation, but do not rest there, but proceed in raising up the fabric; in like manner, it is neither satisfactory nor sufficient to advance no further in the Christian religion, than the knowledge of the first principles of it; but endeavours must be used to attain a more perfect degree and measure of knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel. Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, he means not leaving them by going beyond them and advancing further and higher in the knowledge of Christianity.
Learn hence, 1. That in Christianity, and other sciences, there are certain rudiments and fundamental principles, which must and ought to be carefully taught.
2. That it is a necessary and useful practice, in the church of God, to teach the doctrine of Christianity, in the first principles of it, plainly and summarily to young beginners.
Learn, 3. That when the ministers of the gospel have laid a good foundation of Scripture knowledge in the understanding of their hearers, they must excite them by all pressing considerations to make a further progress in their knowledge, and leaving the doctrine of the beginning of Christ, go on unto perfection.
Still our apostle pursues his metaphor, in comparing Christianity to a building, and the first rudiments of principles of the Christian religion to a foundation which supports the superstructure. Next he summarily declares what these fundamental doctrines, and first principles of the Christian religion are, namely, these six.
1. Repentance, or a turning from all singul works, called dead works, because they end in death; dead, because deadly; they proceed from death spiritual, and end in death eternal.
2. Faith towards God, or faith in God; that is, in the whole Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Particularly, faith in the first original promise of God, to send Christ into the world to save us from our sins, and granting remission of sins by him.
Here not, How closely repentance and faith are united and knit together; where the one is, there is the other; and where either is not, there is neither. He repenteth not, who hath not faith towards God, who repenteh not.
3. The doctrine of baptisms: that is, of both the Christian sacraments, as also of the covenant of grace, of which the sacraments are seals. Persons admitted into the church by baptism, ought to be well instrusted, as soon as capable of it, in the nature, use, and end of the sacraments; acquainting them not only with the nature of the outward sign, but with the necessity of the inward grace.
4. The doctrine of laying on of hands, to confirm the baptized persons in the faith, and to oblige and enable them to keep the covenant they entered into with God, when they were baptized; which was done before their admission to the Lord's table.
Imposition, or laying on of hands, was on ancient and veverable rite, used in the primitive church upon several occasions; particularly, in ordination, in absolution of penitents, in healing the sick, in conferring the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:17.
And lastly, in confirmation, when baptized persons were brought before the church to acknowledge, confirm, and renew their baptismal covenant with God; and to receive the benefit of public prayer and episcopal benediction, in order to the further endowments of grace to perform their vows, adorn their profession, and be admitted to the Lord's table, as complete members of the visible church of Christ.
5. The ressurection of the dead, a doctrine denied by the Sadducees, derided by the Athenian phiposophers, and perverted by heretics; but is a fundamental principle of the gospel; the faith whereof is indispensibly necessary unto our consolation, and has a peculiar influence upon our obedience. This is the animating principle of gospel-obedience, because we are assured that our services shall not only be remembered, but rewarded also.
6. The eternal judgement, which wiil doom men to everlasting rewards and punishments in a future state. The ministers of the gospel ought to dwell much upon this fundamental principle of religion, to represent the dread and terror of that eternal day to all men, to the intent they may be excited and stirred up to take effectual care that they fall not under the vengeance of that fatal day.
These six principles being laid down by the apostle, he tells them his resolution, to endeavour the carrying of them on to a more perfect degree and measure of knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel; in order to their becoming skillful in the word of righteousness; "Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; which we will do, if God permit."
By the enlightened here, understand those that were baptized and embraced Christianity: The ancients called baptism illumination, and baptized persons the enlightened; because of that divine illumination which was conveyed to the minds of men by the knowledge of Christianity.
By tasting the heavenly gift, and being made partakers of the Holy Ghost, understand such as had not only heard of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, but had some experience of them themselves; as also of the spiritual benefits conferred upon them in baptism, by the Holy Spirit. By tasting the good word of God understand some relish of the truth and goodness of the gospel, some pleasure in entertaining it, by reason of the gracious promises of eternal life and happiness contained in it.
The gospel that proclaimed remission of sins, was a good word; this good word they saw confirmed by miracles, tongues, and prophecy, and so could not but be convinced of the truth of it, which is here called a tasting it; who have tasted the good word of God; it follows, and the powers of the world to come; that is, the power of the gospel-age; for the "world to come," in the language of the prophets, doth signify the times of the Messiah: And thus, the powers of the world to come, are the miraculous powers of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon men, in order to the propagation of the gospel; such were the gifts of healing, casting out devils, woking miracles. Others, by tasting the powers of the world to come, understand some apprehensions of the resurrection and furture judgement, with affections suitable thereunto.
Now concerning these, says our apostle, if they fall away; that is, if they shall, after all this apostatize from this profession, out of love to this present world, or from fear of persecution and sufferings, if they shall relapse either to Heathenism or Judaism, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance; that is, it is a thing very difficult, hardly to be hoped for, that such willful apostates should be restored again by repentance: seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame; that is, they virtually, and in effect crucify him over again, and as much as in them lies; for, by denying and renouncing of him, they declare him to be an imposter, and consequently worthy of death.
So that the plain sense of the words seem to be this: "If those that are baptized, and have received the doctrine of the gospel, and are endowed with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, shall yet, after this, apostatize from Christianity, it is very difficult, and next to an impossibility, to recover such again by repentance; seeing they are guilty of as great a crime, as if, in their own persons, they had put to death, and ignominiously used the Son of God."
Here note, That it is not a partial apostasy from the Christian religion, by any particular vicious practice, but a total apostasy from Christianity, and more especially to the Heathen idolatry, which is here intended.
From the whole learn, 1. That they which have been enlightened, awakened, and made partakers of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit in some measure, and tasted the sweetness of the word and ways of God in some degree, may yet fall away.
2. That if such do fall away, it is very difficult, though not altogether impossible, to renew them again to repentence: and that for these reasons;
1. Because of the greatness and heinous nature of the sin, it being a downright apostasy from God, against the clearest light and knowledge, and fullest conviction of a man's mind; and the highest affront to the Son of God, who revealed the Christian religion to the world, and sealed it with his blood.
2. Because those who are guilty of this sin, do renounce and cast off the means of their recovery, and therefore it becomes extremely difficult to renew them again to repentance: they reject Christ and his holy gospel, and refuse the only remedy appointed for their recovery.
3. Because it is so high a provocation to God, to withdraw his grace and Holy Spirit from such persons, by the power and efficacy whereof they should be brought to repentance: God justly leaving those who so unworthily leave him.
Lord! how fearful and fatal a condition is it, to begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh; to decay in religion, and apostatize from grace; to have had some work of the Spirit and word upon our hearts, so as to have light and love, some taste and savour of religion, some desires after, and hopes of heaven; and, after all, to cool and give over, to revolt and backslide, and have our latter end worse than our beginning?
The design and scope of our apostle in these words is threefold.
1. To set forth the excellency and necessity of the gospel, dispensed to us in the the ministry of the word; he compares it to rain, which doth soften, refresh, and fructify the earth.
2. He discovers the different effect which the word of God, of the doctrine of th gospel, has upon different persons that sit under the preaching and dispensation of it; the sincere Christian becomes fruitful under the dews and showers of divine grace, and receives a blessing; but the barren and fruitless professor is like an howling wilderness, of dry desert, which, after innumerable refreshing showers, brings forth nothing but briars and thorns.
3. He declaes the different state and condition of such persons. A people that answers God's care and cost, is like a field that drinks in the rain, bringeth forth herbs, and receives a blessing. But such a people, as, after all the refreshing showers from heaven, and after all the culture and labour of God's husbandmen on earth, shall remain bushes and briars, barren and unfruitful under all, or worse than such; they are nigh unto cursing and their end is to be burned. Blessing attends the one, burning awaits the other.
Note, 1. That what the rain is to the earth, that is the word of God and the doctrine of the gospel to the souls of men. Is the rain of heavenly extraction? So is the word of God. Does the rain fall by divine direction? So does the word preached: Colossians 1:6. The word of the gospel is come unto you, and bringeth forth fruit, since the day you heard of it. In a word, as after plenty of rain there follows a great drought, and want of rain, so after a long and plentiful enjoyment of the gospel, if people do not prize and improve their mercies, God will cut them short, and deprive them of them.
Note, 2. That it is possible for a people to sit long under the ministry of the word, that spiritual rain, that celestial dew may be daily dropping and distilling down upon them, and yet that people may be bush and briar after all; barren and unfrutiful in the account of God.
Note, 3. That a people so remaining, and under such advantages, are nigh unto cursing, and their end is to be burned. Barrenness under the dispensation of the gospel, is always accompanied with and increase of sin, and of condemnation also: Those that are not, because they will not be healed and reformed by the preaching of the gospel, are righteously given up by God to extreme obstinacy, and final obduration.
Observe here, 1. The holy widom of our apostle, in mollifying the severity of the foregoing commination and prediction; and the good hope, and firm persuasion he had of the Hebrews' perseverance in grace unto salvation, notwithstanding all the cautions and warnings he gave them of apostasy and apostates: I am persuaded better things of you, though I thus speak. We may represent the ugly and filthy face of sin to our best friends, to the end that they may hate it, and, as occasion requires, publicity testify that confidence to themselves; We are persuaded better things of you.
Observe, 2. The ground of this confidence declared, and that is two fold:
1. The graces of God's Spirit found operative to them; their faith in Christ, and love to all his members; it was a working faith, and laborious love that was found with them, they have administered to the saints, and do minister. Behold the nature of Christian love, it is an immortal fire, ever burning, never dying.
2. Another ground of this persuasion, was the knowledge of God's faithfulness in remembering and rewarding this their labour of love: God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and labour of love; that is, God is righteous, and will certainly remember and reward your faith, your charity, and good works; for he has promised so to do, and he is faithful that has promised.
Learn hence, 1. That faith, if it be a living faith, will be a working faith. Obedience is the fruit of faith, and we ought to look on obedience as our work.
Learn, 2. That it is the will and pleasure of God, that many of the saints and servants in this world be in such a condition, wherein they stand in need of being ministered unto.
Learn, 3. That the best evidence we can have of the sincerity of our love, is its readiness to minister to the saints in all distresses.
Learn, 4. That both the labour of our sufferings, and the labour of our services shall be remembered, and rewarded by a righteous God: God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and labour of love, in that ye have ministerd to the saints, and do minister.
Note here, 1. That although the apostle had a firm persuasion, that they were sincere and upright, and would hold on their way, yet he exhorts them to show the same diligence which they had done, and to persevere to the end, as they had begun.
Learn hence, That ministerial exhortation unto duty is needful, even unto them that are sincere in the practice of it, that they may abide and continue therein: we desire that you show diligence unto the end.
Note, 2. The special duty he exhort them to, and that is, to attain a full assurance of hope. Hope is a certain and assured expectation of good things promised, accompanied with love, and a longing desire to enjoy them. A full assurance of hope, is such a fixed, constant, and prevailing persuasion, concerning the good things promised, and our certain enjoyment of them, as will support us under, and carry us through all the difficulties and troubles that we conflict with.
Learn hence, That a good man may, in this life, arrive at an assurance of faith and hope, as touching the goodness of his condition in the life to come. The original word signifies a full gale of hope, a metaphor taken from sailors, who enter the harbour with a full gale of wind, both with facility and safety. The Christians soul is a ship sailing in a tempetuous sea: Faith represents the pilot, love the sail, hope the wind that must fill the sail: be the pilot ever so confident, the sail spread to the utmost, yet without a gale of wind the ship lies becalmed, moves not towards the harbour. A Christian on earth without hope, is as a ship at sea without wind.
Note, 3. The special means directed to, in order to the attaining of this full assurance of hop, and that is, to show diligence, the same diligence, and that to the end.
Learn thence, That Christians ought by no means to wax secure, but to use all their hope to a full assurance; We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope to the end.
Our apostle, having exhorted the Hebrews to great diligence in good works in the former verse, in this verse endeavours to excite and provoke them to it by the examples of deceased saints, who are now reaping the reward of their former pains, and inheriting the promises.
Here note, 1. A cautionary direction given, that ye be not slothful, either timorous and faint-hearted, or remiss and negligent. God having engaged so firmly on his part, to let nothing he wanting which is requisite to enable us to persevere; if we miss of the promise, that is, of heaven, the good promise, we must thank our own sloth for it.
Note, 2. The great duty exhorted to, and that is, to be followers of the saints: be followers of them; that is, vigorously and constantly imitate them in their graces and gracious conversations. The graces of the saints (whether living or dead) are patterns presented to our imitation.
Note, 3. The particular and special graces in the saints which we are to imitate and follow, namely, their faith and patience: their faith, that is, their firm trust in God, and belief of his promises, relying on his word under all trials: and their patience, that is, their perseverance in well doing, and patient expectation under all delays, and constant adherence to him under all difficulties.
Learn hence, 1. That heaven is not ours by purchase, but by promise.
2. That heaven is a promised inheritance, which saints, by faith and patience, have possessed.
3. That by being followers of them in their faith and patience, he may also come with them to inherit the promises.
The apostle having told us in general, that the saints by faith and patience do inherit the promises; instances here paticularly in Abraham, unto whom God made a promise of multiplying his seed greatly to him, and confirmed that promise by and oath; but Abraham waited long by faith and patience for the complete fulfilling of the promise; and so must we. God delights to be trusted by his people upon his word and oath; and when they do not live to see the promise of God fulfilled, they glorify him exceedingly, by dying in the faith and firm belief, that it shall be fulfilled in God's own appointed time.
Note here, The wonderful condescension of God towards the infirmity of men, he swears, he swears by himself, he pawns and pledges his Godhead, and if he performs not what he promises and swears, is willing to forfeit it. O felices nos! quorum causa Deus jurat! O miserrimi! si nec juranti credamus. "O happy man! For whose sake God condescends to swear. O miserable man! If we doubt of God's promise confirmed by his oath, in which he has laid down his Godhead as a stake and pawn, never to take it up again, if he fails in the least jot in the punctual performance of it."
These words contain a reason, why God, in gracious condescension to man's infirmity, is pleased to confirm his promise with an oath; it is to determine a controversy, and put an end to a strife depending between God and the falled creatures: And this is the general reason for an oath amongst men, it is to put hounds and limits to the contentions and contradictions of men; to make and end of all strife between them, which otherwise would be perpetuated, and to bring them to a mutual acquiscency; An oath for confirmation is as end of all strife.
Learn hence, 1. That there is, as we are in a state of nature, a strife and difference between God and us.
2. That the promises of the gospel are gracious proposals of the only way and means for the ending of that strife.
3. That the oath of God interposed for the confirmation of these promises, is every way sufficient on God's part, to put a period to this strife, and to establish a firm peace with us through the blood of Christ. Men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is an end of strife.
Here the apostle acquaints us with the design of God in confirming his promise, namely, to manifest the immutability of his counsel to us; that is, his decree and purpose for our salvation; to the intent, that by his word and oath we might have strong consolation. So unspeakable is the weakness of our faith, that we stand in need of the utmost condescension of God for its confirmation.
Note here, That God has made many promises for the confirmation of his people's faith. God's oath is a surety for his promises; and that God's end, both in his promise and his oath is to give his people the highest assurance, and strongest consolation.
Question, why are we so hard to believe God upon his single word; yea, can scarce trust him upon his oath?
Answer, Because of our guilt; no, guilt is always full of fear, and fear full of suspicion and distrust; and because the way of reconciliation is so rare and wonderful, that we can scarce conceive it, much less believe it; also the privileges of the gospel are so glorious, that they exceed our belief: and because we ourselves are so false and fickle, both with God and one another, that promises, vows, and oaths, are all little enough to hold us. Now we are apt to measure God by ourselves therefore he gives us his oath.
Inference, 1. How ought we to bind ourselves to God by oath, seeing he condescends thus to bind himself to us?
2. How unreasonable is it for the believers to distrust God upon his oath? This is not only to accuse God of a lie, but to impeach him of perjury.
3. How absurd is it for the impenitent sinner not to tremble at the threatenings of God, which are confirmed by an oath, as well as his promises? "I have sworn in my wrath they shall not enter into my rest."
--"Who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope before us:"
In these words there is an allusion to the cities of refuge spoken of under the law: God appointed six of them for those to fly unto, who were guilty of casual homicide, or killing a man by chance, that so they might avoid the fury of the avenger of blood. Now these cities of refuge were an illustrious type of Christ.
Note here, 1. Christ is the believer's city of refuge, the only sanctuary for distressed souls.
2. That believers do by faith fly unto him for refuge, when the guilt of sin, and the wrath of God for sin, do pursue and follow them. This flying for refuge doth imply diligence and earnestness, as in the case of life and death, yea, unwearied diligence; and it implies continuance in this refuge, when once got into it, not to stir out of it for all the world.
Lord! open the eyes, and awaken the consciences of all impenitent sinners, make them sensible that the avenger of blood is at their heels, and that their damnation slumbers not, if they do not presently fly from the wrath to come, and take sanctuary in thy Son.
In these words we have the nature of a Christian's hope described. 1. By a metaphorical; 2. By a typical similitude.
1. Observe the metaphor made use of, to set forth the nature and office of hope, it is compared fo an anchor; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul. Doth the anchor hold fast the ship, and keep it steady, both in storms and tempests, and in the midst of the most tumultuous waves? In like manner, the hope of eternal glory quiets, stays, and strengthens the Christian's spirit, when tossed upon the waves of this troublesome world.
Learn hence, 1. That believers are exposed to many storms and tempests here in this world; their afflictions, persecutions, temptations, fears, &c. are compared fitly to storms, because of their fierceness and violence, and because of their tendency to ruin and destruction.
Learn, 2. That these storms would prove ruinous to the souls of believers, did not hope, the anchor of the soul, take fast hold on the promises of the gospel, which keeps the Christian firm and invincible against all opposition; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.
Observe, 2. Hope is described by a typical similitude, it entereth into that within the veil. The veil here alluded to, if that which parted the holy of holies from the body of the temple, a type of heaven. The heavens are as a veil to the sense and reason of man, there their sight and their thoughts are bounded, they can neither discern nor judge of any thing that is above or within that veil: But faith and hope pierceth through it; no created thing can keep them at a distance from God himself.
As the anchor stays not in the waves of the sea, but pierces through them all till it comes to the solid bottom; so the Christian's hope fixes on nothing under heaven; but pierces through all, till it entereth into that within the veil: that is, till it fixes on God as the author, on Christ as the purchaser, on the Spirit as the insurer, on the covenant as the conveyer of all grace, mercy and peace. Here hope fixes itself, to hold the soul firm and steadfast in all the storms that may befall it.
Learn hence, 1. That the hope and faith of believers are invisible unto the world; they enter within the veil, where the world's eye can never follow them.
Learn, 2. that hope firmly fixed on God in Christ, by the promise, will hold the soul steady, and keep the Christian tight, in all the storms that may befall it. It is and anchor both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.
Observe here, The person spoken of, Christ: the subject matter spoken of him, his entering into heaven; and the quality in which he entered heaven; namely, as our forerunner.
This denotes, 1. His public capacity, that he entered heaven in our name, and to negotiate our affairs.
2. His absolute precedency, he is our forerunner, but he himself had no forerunner, none entered before him in their own names, but in his, and upon his account, through the virtue of his merits, and by the prevalency of his mediation.
Learn hence, 1. That there is a place and state of happiness above, prepared for pious souls, which Christ is already entered into, and has taken possession of: This place may be considered in its amplitude and largeness, in its stability and firmness, in its sanctity and holiness, in its pleasure and delightfulness, in its glory and blessedness, in its eternity and everlastingness: And this place is by Christ prepared for believers; namely, by his death and satisfaction, by his resurrection and ascension, by his mediation and intercession.
Learn, 2. That our Lord Jesus Christ is not only entered into heaven, but entered as oour forerunner, to take and keep possession of it in t he name and stead of all believers. To enter heaven as our forerunner, implies, that he entered in our natures, that he keeps possession of it in our names: As sure as the Head is gone before the members, so certainly shall the members follow their Head; as a forerunner supposes others to follow after; and it implies that Christ will put us into the actual possession of heaven in his own time.
Inference, 1. Is Christ gone before to heaven, then let us be willing to follow him in the way of obedience, and in the way of suffering, as well as to meet him in the end.
2. To make haste after him. Did he fly as an eagle towards heaven, and shall we creep like a snail? Is not the bosoms of Christ more desirable than the arms of our dearest friends? Shall not we enjoy all comforts in the enjoyment of our Comforter?
3. Let our hearts at present be with him. O! Where should or hearts be, but where our Head is?
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
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