Tuesday, March 28th, 2023
the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
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Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation Newell's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wnc/ hebrews-6.html. 1938.
Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 6". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/
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YOU MAY WELL ASK concerning these six things how they constituted the word of the beginning of Christ. First of all, we must remember that the epistle is addressed to Hebrews. Second, that these Hebrews addressed had, as indicated here, received the word of the beginning of Christ (as set forth in the Gospels), that is, what to them were fundamentals concerning Christ. Third, leaving these things which are enumerated, they were to press on unto full growth, out of their state of babehood.We are astonished to find some authors whom we love asserting that the word of the beginning of Christ was Judaism. But Paul tells us in Gal. 1:13, using the very word Judaism (Ioudaismos), that so far from Judaism's being the word of the beginning of Christ, it was the religion of Christ's chief hater and persecutor of the saints! "Ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews' religion (Ioudaismos), how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and made havoc of it; and I advanced in the Jews' religion (same word) beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it was the good pleasure of God, Who separated me, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood," etc.
As we inquire then concerning this word of the beginning of Christ, which these Hebrew believers had embraced, we must put ourselves into their position, tracing truth as they would hear and embrace it; and not from the Gentile believers' experience or point of view.
For we remember that our Lord Jesus gave to Peter "the keys of the kingdom of the heavens." This must have a certain meaning. We open ourselves unto the snare of Romanism if we deny or neglect the fact! These "keys" were not keys to salvation (which is of course based wholly on the shed blood of Christ), but the office of announcing those conditions under which Jews first (Acts 2:37-38), and afterwards Gentiles (Acts 10:43-44), should receive the benefits of Christ's redemption--and thus enter the Kingdom. (Distinguish between Peter's using the key for the Gentiles in Cornelius' household, where faith only was a condition of "remission of sins" (Acts 10:43), and the key for the Jews in Acts 2:37, where the national sin of having rejected the Messiah being shown, not only repentance concerning that sin, but open confession of the rejected Christ in baptism, preceded remission of sins. With the Gentiles, water baptism followed faith and the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47). The door of faith was thus opened to the Gentiles by the sovereign God, but Peter, led of the Spirit, used the "key" Christ had given him, and opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, although Peter, Christ's apostle, said concerning Cornelius and his house, "Who can forbid the water that those should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47-48). Bullinger and his followers in our days "forbid the water" which Peter commanded!)
Moral delinquency is not charged against these Hebrew believers, but what is infinitely more serious, spiritual rebellion. For they were not at all in the same category with their fathers, to whom the Law had been spoken and the Levitical shadow system had been prescribed--for now the Son of God had come. (There should be constant reference by each of us who reads Hebrews to the glory of the Son, in Whom God had now spoken: the Heir of all things: Creator, Upholder, the Effulgence of the Divine glory: God, Lord!)
Nor was it merely that He had come and walked as the Son, as related in the Gospels; but that, according to prophecy, He had died, as David wrote of Him in Psalm 22: "They pierced My hands and My feet." He had died, forsaken of God! Divine wrath against human sin had been fully expiated. Then "He hath been raised"--"raised from the dead through the glory of the Father," "saluted of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek." And He had "ascended into Heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the throne of God." The contemplation and eager belief of these mighty facts were expected by God. How could it be otherwise?
These Hebrew Christians had heard this glorious gospel, and should have been pressing on, leaving the word of the beginning of Christ.
"Pressing on unto Full Growth" would be a good title for the Book of Hebrews!
The great exhortation in Hebrews is to press on to "full growth." The danger connected with "neglect," with sloth, non-use of spiritual faculties, accumulates before our minds. The infinitely loving God who has given His well-beloved Son for our sake warns of the danger of provoking His wrath by turning back from His revealed perfect work to religious forms or by choosing the sin which He died to save us from. These dangers are thoroughly warned against in Hebrews.
Meanwhile before the eyes of faith at God's right hand sits our great High Priest in the infinite value of His atoning work, also with all power in Heaven and on earth committed unto Him.
Let us press on unto full growth--The Greek word here, teleioteta, signifies what we saw in Chapter 5:14: "Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full-age." The process of the Holy Spirit within the believer will conform him to the image of Christ in faith, holiness, love, and knowledge, as we saw in Chapter 5. (See also Jas. 3:2; Col. 1:28.)
Let us note that the word of the beginning of Christ* having been accepted, there is to be a pressing on unto full growth. (Literal translation of the Greek for the first part of vs. 1. The R.V. has, "doctrine of the first principles of Christ"; the A.V., "principles of the doctrine of Christ." Neither is a satisfactory rendering. Darby well renders: "Leaving the word of the beginning of the Christ, let us go on to what belongs to full growth.")
As Paul says in Ephesians 4:13-15:
"Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we be no longer children, tossed to and fro ... but dealing truly in love, may grow up in all things into Him, Who is the Head, even Christ."
Not laying again a foundation--Here note three things:
We shall find in this passage, as we have said, describing the "foundation," six items. What are these six things?
The first one was, repentance from dead works, a remarkable expression. Now Gentiles were commanded to repent of sins! (Acts 8:22). You will find no Gentiles ever commanded to repent from dead works. Why? Because these "works" were such as people would be occupied with to whom "works" had been prescribed. The Hebrews were the only people with whom this was the case. They had the Law--a yoke, indeed, which Peter declared neither their fathers nor they were able to bear (Acts 15:10). Nevertheless, there it was! The very first gospel announcement to the Hebrews would be something entirely new--repentance, an entire change of mind, as to "works" securing salvation--the announcement that such "works" were "dead," as regards obtaining eternal life, and were no longer to be trusted in, but wholly left as a ground of hope. There was to be repentance from dead works. ("Dead works" present the essential character of the works in themselves: "works of law"--present them in relation to an ideal, unattainable, standard! It follows therefore that repentance from dead works expresses that complete change of mind--of spiritual attitude--which leads the believer to abandon these works and seek some other support for life."--Westcott.) Their conscience was to be cleansed, by Christ's blood, from dead works (Ch. 9:14).
The Law given by Moses could command: "And Jehovah commanded us to do all these statutes ... and it shall be righteousness unto us" (Deut. 6:24-25). Alongside of this we must place the Spirit's word through Paul in Galatians 3:11-12:
"Now that no man is justified by the Law before God, is evident: for the righteous shall live on the principle of faith; and the Law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them."
Or, as Paul writes in Romans 10:2-4, concerning Israel,
David also "pronounceth blessing upon the man unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works" (Rom. 4:6).
The works of the Law (which cannot at all be kept by man, but is a "ministration of death") must be repented of just as sins must be--for to be occupied with our "works," which God has condemned as unclean, is, in effect, just the same as holding sin. With a wholly changed mind we must, we repeat, repent of, and turn from them, and find trust and rest in the work of Another, even Christ, Whose work God has accepted!
Therefore we find in Chapter 9:14, that from "dead works" the blood of Christ (and of course only that!) can relieve, "cleanse" the conscience. For no matter what efforts you put forth, your conscience tells you that you have not satisfied the infinitely holy God. But when, by His Spirit, the work of Christ on your behalf, and the infinite satisfaction of His blood for your sins, are seen, your conscience rests. There is no more driving the heart, which is thus "cleansed from dead works." It is delivered!
Second, the word of the beginning of Christ which they had heard and embraced, involved personal faith toward (or, on) God. (The Greek preposition (epi) means upon, in the sense of reliance upon, as in Acts 9:42; 16:31; Rom. 4:5, 24.) Strange though you and I may think it, the Hebrews (except such glorious witnesses as are exampled in Heb. 11) did not trust God. They regarded themselves as "the chosen people." But there were always Moses and the Law before them; the feasts and the ordinances, the sacrifices, the cleansing water (of the ashes of the red heifer). To turn away from all ordinances and works, and rely directly upon God, to them would have seemed presumption! Yet the word of the beginning of Christ had taught them just that! That on account of His sacrifice they had become as Peter described (1 Pet. 1:18-21):
Any Jew would have protested--nay, does protest--that his nation have been the believers in God. But note the sense of Peter's words, quoted above. He was writing to the Christian Jews (the Dispersion--the Diaspora), and he says that through Christ these very Jews had become believers in God, Who raised Him (Christ) from the dead ... so that their faith and hope might be in God. No Jew could trust God in the gospel sense until he was sure that sin was put away. This was announced to him in the gospel, even in the word of the beginning of Christ. To believe there is a God is not necessarily to have faith in Him.
Furthermore, for a Jew to protest, "We are disciples of Moses: we know that God hath spoken unto Moses," and to rely upon performing Levitical duties, was faith in his own works only! Such an attitude brought forth our Lord's words, "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, on whom ye have set your hope!" (John 5:45). For, as He told them, "Did not Moses give you the Law? Yet none of you doeth the Law!" (John 7:19).
Is it not remarkable that Abraham "rejoiced to see Christ's day; and he saw it, and was glad"? And Moses declared, "Jehovah thy God will raise up a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken" (Deut. 18:15, 18). And again, David had the Messiah in view, for our Lord declares that "David in the Spirit called Him (Christ) Lord" (Matt. 22:41-45). And Isaiah said, "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel"; also, "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Daniel saw "One like unto a Son of man, and He came even unto the Ancient of days, and dominion was given to Him." Even Abel, the first of the cloud of witnesses of Heb. 11, we find bringing death, not life, unto God!
In short, Divinely taught souls, knowing their own guilt, longed like Job for "a Daysman, to lay His hand upon them ... both" ... them and God! (job 9:33). And such, like Job, found personal faith in God, confidence not in forms but in a Person. So Peter witnessed to a great truth (1 Pet. 1:21) in saying that through Christ and His precious blood the elect Hebrews of the Dispersion had become "believers on God." Read also 1 Pet. 1:3: "God ... begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
The Jews nationally had no direct personal faith in God until, "enlightened," they had really "heard from the Father, and had learned" of Christ, as our Lord says in John 6:45.
Third, the word of the beginning of Christ, to these Hebrews, involved "the teaching of baptisms." (See appendix B.) The word "baptisms" is plural, because unto the Jews God had prescribed (1) John the Baptist's baptism, and (2) Christian baptism. (Note at once that these two "baptisms" are the only ones connected with the word of the beginning of Christ.) We hear John say, "That He (Christ) should be made manifest to Israel ... I came baptizing with water" (John 1:31). And every one except the self-righteous leaders had taken that (first) baptism:
Thus by John's baptism a Jew confessed himself a common sinner! As to (2) Christian baptism: upon the rejection, crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, God prescribed by the mouth of Peter to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5) repentance of their awful sin of rejecting their Messiah, and a public confession by water baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38). These two "baptisms" were connected in the Hebrew believer's mind with the word of the beginning of Christ.
Fourth, of laying on of hands--This we find very frequently connected with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-19), and with the acknowledgment by the elderhood of those discerned by saints as chosen for special service (Acts 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6); and also in connection with bodily healings (Acts 5:12; 9:41; 28:8). To the Hebrews the imposition of hands in association with their sacrifices as connecting them therewith had always been familiar.
Fifth, we may be surprised to find that the word of the beginning of Christ to these Hebrews included the resurrection of the dead. Edersheim says, "Even to the quotation of Isaiah 26:19, 'Thy dead shall live; My dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead,' the Sadducees will answer that that promise must be understood spiritually like the resurrection of dry bones in Ezekiel." The resurrection of the body was believed in by orthodox Jews from such other passages as Daniel 12:2 and Job 19:25, though there was continual contention over the doctrine; and of course even orthodox Jews thought resurrection merely the bringing back into an earthly existence, such as our Lord gave to Lazarus. But the word of the beginning of Christ would include His resurrection by the glory of the Father, with a flesh and bones body indeed, but without blood, which He had poured out; and His becoming thus "the Firstborn from among the dead" in the sense of having received newness of life, a new kind of bodily existence.
The godly and scholarly Stuart says: "A general resurrection of the bodies of men is a doctrine which, if not left undecided by the Old Testament, is at least left in obscurity. The Jews of the apostles' time were divided in their opinion respecting it. Hence, it was insisted on with great earnestness by Christian preachers, as belonging to the peculiar and elementary doctrines of Christianity. It was connected, by them, with the account which every man is to render of himself to God; and such an accountability is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion."
Sixth, the word of the beginning of Christ included eternal judgment. There are some, yea many, so befooled by the devil as to hold that "all, even Satan himself, will finally be brought, back to God." But there is no plainer teaching in God's holy Word than that the punishment of the damned will continue as long as God and His saints exist. The eternal judgment of men is a thing nearly connected with the resurrection of the dead. It is also linked closely with our Lord's resurrection from among the dead (Acts 17:31; 24:25).
Eternal judgment, we repeat, is constantly taught in the New Testament. Witness our Lord's words, "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." And in Revelation 20:10, "unto the ages of the ages". This phrase is God's constant description of (1) the duration of His own existence and glory: (See Gal. 1:5; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11; Jude 25; and fourteen times in the book of The Revelation!); (2) the duration of the existence and of the blessedness of the saints (Rev. 22:5).
We repeat, eternal judgment for the damned will continue as long as God and His saints exist--unendingly.
And this will we do, if God permit: In the word "we," Paul speaks generally, for all Christians. In the following verse he at once speaks of "those," and proceeds to describe apostates--formerly professing Christians who had now inwardly "crucified the Son of God," and outwardly "put Him to an open shame" by sin, as we shall see. Therefore this word, Let us press on unto full growth if permitted of God. If permitted of God? say you. Permitted of the God Whose name is Love, Who gave His only begotten Son? The God Who saith, "As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth"?
Yes, this same God! We are about to view certain souls to whom this God Whose name is Love will not vouchsafe blessing or grace from Him--certain whom He has "rejected." We must remember that no human being since Adam sinned has desired in himself to repent. Grace, uncaused in us, must effect repentance. At Jerusalem, upon Peter's report as to what had happened in the house of Cornelius the Gentile, they that heard of these things said with awe, "Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life." Therefore we must view those about to be described in verses 4-8 not at all as willing, desiring, or longing to be "renewed unto repentance" but on the contrary as having come to treat all the advances of Divine love and grace with inappreciation, and neglect; who had a steady disregard of their fruitless spiritual state toward God, and were fruitful in the thorns and thistles (vs. 8) of the evil heart. (Remember, "Thorns and thistles" came through sin! Gen. 3:18.)
There is no need to read the book of Hebrews beyond verse 3 of this chapter if you are not prepared to receive the exact intent of these words of Scripture, if God permit. And once again we beg you, guard your heart against that awful thought, that there are those truly seeking to get back to God, whom He will not receive!
Verse 4: Note at the very beginning of our study of this passage, that the word once-for-all (Gr., hapax), precedes and governs all the participles following: having been enlightened, having tasted, having been made partakers, finally, having tasted the utterance of God to be good; and the powers of the coming age. These are all aorist participles, referring to an event definitely past; and they are all followed by the frightful words, having fallen away!
1. Those who were once-for-all enlightened--They had that Divine illuminating involved in the first operation of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man. The utter darkness and ignorance of nature was dispelled. We read in John 16:8: "He, when He is come, will convict the world"--not of their evil conduct, nor of each man's past guiltinesses, but of the sin of not believing on Christ: "in respect of sin, because they believe not on Me," and "of righteousness," because Christ, adjudged of men a blasphemer, God received up to Heaven. And "of judgment," because the world's prince, Satan, was judged at the Cross.
This "enlightenment," then, about Christ, was the same which those finally saved received. To the mind of a Hebrew, it included complete persuasion by the Holy Spirit that Jesus of Nazareth was his Messiah. It is referred to again in Hebrews 10:32 in the words, "Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great conflict of sufferings." It is dealing lightly with Scripture to imagine that this "enlightenment" was merely some "intellectual illumination" and that of the "natural mind." R.A. Torrey's claim that "there is a quickening short of regeneration" is borne out by this, as well as other Scriptures, as e.g., Luke 8:13.
This enlightenment was not merely intellectual, but embraced such a Spirit-wrought view of Christ, His earthly Messiahship, and His resurrection that those faithful Hebrews who received it and acted Upon it, "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers ... praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:42, 47).
Mr. Darby says (Coll. Writings, Vol. XXVIII, P. 94): "It should be observed that there is nothing of life signified here. The expressions do not go beyond the indications of truth that might be received by the natural mind and the demonstrative power of the Holy Ghost which persons might partake, of, as Scripture shows, without being participators of eternal life."
We fully agree that these in Ch. 6:4-8 did not exhibit "the things pertaining to salvation" of vs. 9. Yet Mr. Darby's explanation, like that of all ultra-Calvinists, falls far short both of what is here revealed in Scripture, and of what has been fearfully illustrated in the experience of apostates. Remember that Paul denies the ability of the natural man to receive the things of the Spirit of God; and why? "For they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore in Mr. Darby's unfortunate words, "truth that might be received by the natural mind and the demonstrative power of the Holy Ghost," there is a departure from Scripture teaching. The Wholly "natural" man can respond no more to the Holy Spirit's operations than a tree in the forest! But God says in Heb. 6:4 that those who become apostates were once enlightened. The Hebrews thus "enlightened" knew from God that Jesus of Nazareth was their Messiah! and further, that God had raised Him from the dead--that He was now living. Also, there was a "tasting"--an experience such as "the natural mind" never could realize. Tasting was experienced by those of Ch. 6--but not drinking! Those of Ch. 10 tasted--and drank! Both knew the taste. Those who drank got life (john 4:14).
This is the "enlightenment;" the miracle of the Holy Ghost from Heaven revealing a Risen, Living Christ--from which those of Hebrews 6:4 finally apostatized. For this is apostasy--willfully casting away known revealed truth! They "rejected for themselves the counsel of God" (Lk. 7:30). We repeat, the word for "enlightened" in Hebrews 10:32 is the same Greek word as is used in Chapter 6:4: God can reveal only one Christ! The same Christ had been set before those of Chapter 10:32 as before the "tasters" of Chapter 6; and there was the same enlightening Agent, the blessed Holy Spirit. Beware lest you miss the message and power of the book of Hebrews by bringing in some "theological system" by which you judge all Scripture.
2. And tasted of the heavenly gift--Now what heavenly gift could be thus spoken of and known without further definition? What indeed but that described in Romans 6:23; "THE GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." But our Lord's promise concerning "the gift of God" was not made to tasters, but to drinkers; as He said to the Samaritan woman:
"If thou knewest the gift of God, and Who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water ... Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life" (John 4:10, 14).
Thus all drinkers of the water of life are truly saved. But, you ask, Could a person taste of eternal life and yet be lost forever? Certainly! Tasting is not drinking! Drinkers are not mere tasters: there has been a consenting act of the will. (Because of their fear of "free will," many shut themselves out from honest interpretation of many a passage of Scripture, as here. Let me ask you about a word in another passage: Jude 12-13, No one denies that these are lost people--"The blackness of darkness" being for them "reserved forever." But what does the expression "twice dead" (vs. 12) mean? We profoundly believe that it can only indicate that there was in them "a quickening" connected with their being "enlightened." At first they were, as were we all once. "dead in trespasses and sins." But how "twice dead" unless there had been such a revelation of the Risen Christ as the "natural mind" knows nothing at all of, connected with their being "enlightened."?)
They have committed themselves to what they drink. In tasting, the flavor and effect of the draught is discovered: the will thereupon must decide whether to drink or reject what has been tasted. The drinker commits the water to the man and the man to the water--a marvelous picture of saving faith! If it be the water of life, which Jesus gives, he has drunk of it; he has committed himself to it; his whole being is involved; his whole future is determined. Thousands today know the taste of the heavenly gift, eternal life, who never did drink that water! who did not accept, receive, that gift in a saving sense. In this most solemn passage in the sixth of Hebrews, we find men who have tasted and rejected--and been rejected by God.
To insist that this "tasting" was simply an intellectual experience, is absurd. If you are a guest at a table, and there is before you some article of food, of which you taste but do not eat, you do not say that your tasting was an intellectual process!
Mr. R.A. Torrey's assertion, "There is a quickening short of regeneration," is the only explanation of this whole passage! God gave these Hebrews of Ch. 6:4-6 these experiences, having awakened them from the sleep of death sufficiently so that they experienced these things. They were "once enlightened." They "tasted."
In 1892 a company of us from the Gospel Tabernacle were holding a gospel service in one of the great corridors in Bellevue Hospital, New York. I was seated on a ledge in the corridor, expecting to give a testimony shortly. In front of me stood a company, singing a gospel hymn which repeated over and over the name of Jesus. Out from the patients seated beyond this singing company, and past the singers, dashed a man in terror. I was just able to seize and hold his arm, beseeching him to be seated. He turned a frightful look upon me, saying, "I knew Him once!"
I asked him what he meant.
"I mean Him they are singing about. I cannot bear to hear it. I really knew Him once--but I am lost!"
I turned to every passage of invitation. He simply shook his head in anguish. I said, "Christ will gladly receive any sinner."
"Look here," said he. Stooping to his left ankle, he began to unfasten safety pins. Turning back the leg of his trousers--"Look at that," he said. I saw a hideous mass of syphilitic sores. "I went back to that," he said. Rapidly he replaced and fastened the bandage, and said, "Let me go! I knew Him once!"
I followed him down the corridor and held him as long as I could. Judas, on the way to hang himself, must have looked as did he. I went with him (in vain) as far as I could without his leaving the hospital (where he had a right, as an emergency patient, to be). But what a lesson he had taught me!
3. And were made partakers (partners) of the Holy Spirit--Note at once, it is not said that these were sealed with the Spirit, as were those at Pentecost (Acts 2), and in Samaria (Acts 8), and in Ephesus (Acts 19), who were "sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30); as God says, concerning the Ephesian believers:
"In Whom (Christ) ye also, having heard the word of truth, the good news of your salvation--in Whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession" (Eph. 1:13-14).
Again, in Romans 8:9: "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." And Jude describes the professing Christians as "mockers" of the last days, "walking after their own lusts of ungodliness, making separations (among the saints) sensual, having not the Spirit."
But that certain operations of the Spirit of God are "partaken of" both by the saved and by those that are finally lost, we know, from the story of King Saul. We read of him, "The Spirit of Jehovah will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man" (1 Sam. 10:6). This was fulfilled: "God turned him another heart" (vs. 9, R.V. marg., Heb.). And in the next verse, "The Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul." But alas, Saul departed into self-will, and so continued, until not only was he rejected as to the kingdom--"Now thy kingdom shall not continue" (1 Sam. 13:14); "Jehovah ... hath rejected thee from being king" (15:23); but also,--awful result of persistent self-will--"The Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him" (16:14), to the day of his suicide! We read therefore in God's covenant with David, that although his son (Solomon) should be "chastened with the rod of men" upon disobedience, God promised: "But My loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee" (2 Sam. 7:14-15).
Here then in Saul is one that was a "partaker" (partner) in the meaning of the word in Hebrews 6:4, partakers of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came mightily on Saul, as we have seen; and Saul on his part at first acted with the Spirit, and was used of God. Thus was he a "partner" of the Spirit. In like manner men are today made partakers--partners, of the Holy Spirit, who are never sealed by Him:
"And those on the rock are they who, when they have heard, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who for awhile believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Lk. 8:13. See also Mk. 4:16,17).
Saul had fathomless ignorance of the things of God (1 Sam. 9:5-10), no real faith (13:8-9); no discernment as to what prayer is (vs. 12). He repeated the sin of Eli's sons in bringing the sacred ark into the midst of the profane host in battle (1 Sam. 4:14-18). See also Saul's heartless giving over of Jonathan, the man of faith, to death. Saul never really knew God. How like Divine Grace, to choose another Saul from the same tribe, then "chief of sinners," the persecutor of His dear Church, through whom to reveal His utmost counsels and grace in the N.T.: "Saul, who was also called Paul"!
Judas Iscariot went with another disciple when the Lord sent them out two by two (Mk. 6:7,13) to preach "the kingdom of Heaven," and he did preach, and went on, and wrought miracles, without doubt (by the partaking of the Holy Spirit, in the sense of our verse), unsuspected by the rest till the very Last Supper of John 13! At first, doubtless, he deceived himself. Then, unwilling for the self-denial the path demanded, he yielded to his inner greed, to his eternal ruin! And what about Demas, a companion and fellow-worker with Paul, saluting the saints in Colossians 4:14, accounted a "fellow-worker" in Philemon 24? But in Paul's last epistle, towards the end of his second imprisonment, Paul, nearing martyrdom, must dip his pen in bitter ink indeed, and record, "Demas forsook me, having loved this present age." Let us be frank and honest despite all our feelings, false traditions, and false hopes. There are those that tasted of life, so that they knew what it was: and were made partners (metachoi) of the Holy Spirit, so that they were conscious of Him and His work, who are seen in this passage finally to fall away and be eternally rejected of God.
4. And tasted the good utterance of God--This, like the preceding statements, refers to experimental things. The statement is not that the Word of God is good, which we all know; but that an utterance (hrema)* of God's quickened to the soul, has been found good by the spiritual sense of taste: "If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Pet, 2:3); see also Psalm 119:103, Ezekiel 3:3. (Another Greek word--logos, means simply word; but here the utterance of God is expressed by the Greek word hrema, meaning saying, "that which has been uttered by the living voice," "things spoken." This is the hrema of the Spirit which is the sword of the Spirit, of Eph. 6. Compare Matt. 4:4. 26:75; Lk. 2:51, Rom. 10:9 (twice), 17.)
These who merely tasted the good utterance of God, in Hebrews 6:5, were "rocky ground hearers" of Luke 8:13, quoted above. They had attended and enjoyed Bible classes and conferences. The word "taste" is often applied in Scripture to that peculiar enjoyment of the living Word of God. John (Rev. 10:10) said, "It was in my mouth sweet as honey." So these "enlightened" souls who had "tasted" of the gift of life and been made "partners" of the Holy Spirit in His presence and operations, had also "tasted" of the quickened Word of God which indeed is "good."
5. And (having tasted of) the powers of the coming age--The explanation of this remarkable phrase, the powers of the age to come, is clear in Scripture. In Exodus 15:26 we see a promise that upon diligent obedience, the Israelites would be exempt from the diseases of Egypt, "For," God said, "I am Jehovah that healeth thee." They were warned, also, in Leviticus 26:14-16, and Deuteronomy 28:21, 22, 27, that among other judicial results of disobedience would be diseases like "the boil of Egypt." We know how they failed; here God's grace exceeded (Deut. 8:4). Through disobedience they were smitten, and shall yet be smitten (until the Remnant of Israel turns to God) with these various diseases. But in connection with the coming of "the King in His beauty" to them, and the restoration of Zion, we find, "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick" (Isa. 33:24); and "The eyes of the blind ... opened, the ears of the deaf ... unstopped"; "the lame man" leaping "as a hart," and "the tongue of the dumb man singing" (Isa. 35:5-6).
Now when our Lord came with the gospel of the kingdom (for He was the King of the Jews), offering to fulfill their kingdom promises, He "healed all manner of diseases" (Matt. 4:23, 24). He fulfilled to Israel, His people, that which Isaiah had prophesied (Matt. 8:14-17). At first, the healings were general, numberless. Later, as official rejection developed, our Lord demanded personal faith of the sick. Finally, in Matthew 16:18, He prophesies "I will build My Assembly" (the Church, an entirely new thing! Eph. 2:15; Col. 3:10, 15). And then He forbids them to tell the Jews that He is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah (Matt. 16:20). And He starts to Jerusalem to die (vs. 21). Thus those "powers" of healing, of complete deliverance from disease, which will be fully realized in the Millennium, the coming age, were manifested to the Jews by our Lord.
Later, when the Holy Ghost came, and the building of the Church was thus begun, we find on the day of Pentecost the powers of the age to come manifested in the remarkable healings of the book of Acts. So we have also present among the gifts (charismata, 1 Cor. 1:7; 7:7 etc.) bestowed by the Holy Spirit, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, one gift that directly touches the matter of bodily healing (vss. 9, 28). But read carefully the footnote below.*
*We fully believe that these gifts belong to the Church throughout the dispensation--first, because of Scripture; second, because of the history and teaching of these things; and third, because of personal experience and observation. But we would have carefully noted the peculiar form applied to that work of bodily healing which belongs to the Church time. In 1 Cor. 12:8-10, it is a double plural: "To another, gifts (charismata) of healings." Just as in the following phrase: "To another, workings of miracles." As also, "To another, discernings of spirits" (1 Cor. 12:9, 10, 28). Notice these plurals. The very expression, "gifts of healings," should guard us against the notion that to any person is given a gift of healing--that is, a gift of healing any and every one--as the Lord Jesus exercised the powers of the coming age at the beginning of His ministry. "Gifts of healings" is indeed a distinct bestowment by the Holy Spirit. But the very expression, a double plural, shows that the exercise of the power is directed by the Spirit in special cases: a different character of working from that of a gift like wisdom, or knowledge (vs. 8): or prophesying or teaching, vss. 10, 28. The unbelieving denial of these gifts as belonging to the Church is to be shunned. We recommend the reading of such books as Dr. A.J. Gordon's Ministry of Healing, and Nevius' Demon Possession.
Now in the age to come, the Millennium, the Church will be with Christ in glorified, heavenly bodies; and Israel will be in their own land--not one of them, as we have seen, saying "I am sick," for they will be "forgiven their iniquity." Healing, then, is just one of the powers of the age to come, the manifestations of the power of God (1 Cor. 12:4-11) of which these Hebrew believers had "tasted." For in the age to come, the Millennium, the glory of God is revealed at Jerusalem, and His mighty power publicly known, even upon other creatures than man (Isa. 40:5, Heb. 2:14). Christ will reign in personal Presence and power, Satan will be banished; peace will be enjoyed; ills will disappear. Every believer tastes even today something of that glory, however hindered through unbelief is its manifestation.
We come now to one of the two great crisis words of this most solemn passage of holy Scripture having fallen away: (Gr., parapesontas). This is the only occurrence of this word in Greek Scriptures. Its corresponding Old Testament word, mahal, is found, for example, in Ezekiel 14:13, Leviticus 5:14. This Hebrew word is defined by Gesenius: "To act covertly, treacherously, faithlessly, as an adulterous woman against her husband" (Num. 5:12, 27); "to deal treacherously with Jehovah" (Deut. 32:51; 2 Chron. 12:2; 29:19; job 21:34. See also Job 31:11, 26, 28). The same word is used concerning Achan's sin (josh. 7:1). The inner meaning of the word translated "fallen away" in Hebrews 6:6 is that of secret departure from God: "apostasy gradually resolving into antipathy," as Saphir puts it.
Now parapesontas, having fallen away, is an aorist participle; the whole process is looked at as one event. And it is not a falling into sin that is meant, but, a falling away from God, from Christ, from salvation, a renouncing the truth. The "once" (hapax) of verse 4 governs all these verbs, as I have said, and looks at their acts as of past time--done! This "falling away" is not 1 John 2:1, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate." Nay, it is the abandonment of desire for the Advocate! Apostates are described here, not backsliders; for to the latter God said:
Two Greek words are used to denote that fatal spiritual state, falling away:
This same word is used in Heb. 3:12, where the idea of will seems to prevail as in the other cases cited.
Note also, Paul "departed from them (the Jews) and separated the disciples" (Acts 19:9) And "In later times some shall fall away from the faith." (1 Tim. 4:1). In the same epistle, "From such withdraw thyself" (1 Tim. 6:5, A.V.). "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness" (2 Tim. 2:19).
Doubtless the thought of will is here also, but more that of delusion: so the Galatians were said to be "bewitched" in turning from the way of simple faith back to Judaism. See Gal. 3:1; 4:9-11.
In either case, certainly, only God's true saints, His elect, would be preserved, whether from willful departure or from fatal bewitchment.
Even Webster defines apostasy as "Abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed: total desertion of principles or faith." The Greek word from which our word "apostasy" comes, stands out in Hebrews 3:12: "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away (Gr., apostenai) from the living God."
The noun (apostasia) of the same verb occurs twice in the New Testament: in Acts 21:21, where Paul is accused of abandoning Moses; and in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where the general apostasy from God to the Antichrist of Revelation 13 is described. Let us put out of our thought, then, that those who in Hebrews 6:6 fell away merely through lack of faith honestly and earnestly kept up Jewish practices; or that they are only in a fearful, uncertain state. No, the verses following forbid any conclusion other than that they have turned back to the sin they have loved, away from the light they had seen (remember, they are those who were once enlightened) and had come to hate the light!
It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance--Note that in accordance with the whole present-day trend of false security, the impossibility of renewing such to repentance is placed in verse 6 in our Bibles, whereas in the Greek it belongs to verse 4, at the beginning, in the emphatic place: literally, For impossible (it is) those once for all enlightened and having tasted ... become partners ... have tasted ... and have fallen away to renew them again unto repentance. In the awful word REJECTED of verse 8 lies the secret of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those that "fall away." For, (a) such do not themselves desire to repent! (b) No man or angel has power to bring about repentance. It is a granting, a gift, from God. (As see Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25.) Repentance in Scripture is shown to be a miracle, "about-mindedness"--what a man loved, he loathes; what he loathed, he is now drawn to. It is not that God is not able to renew them but--awful fact! that He is unwilling; that these are the "rejected." God rejected them, for there was no response, but the contrary, to His infinite love in the "heavenly gift" of Christ, which they had tasted.
And now for the summing up of their fearful sin: Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God--The word "afresh" is not in the text: it is with them (inwardly) to reject the Son of God for themselves, and (outwardly) to put Him to an open shame--or, to expose Him to public disgrace. No one but a professing Christian can put Christ to an open shame. An atheist, an infidel, a denier, puts Christ far from him. But a professing Christian has taken Christ's name upon himself. The world looks to him, and rightly, to exemplify in himself what they know the Son of God Was and is. It is manifest that these who have fallen away have not only renounced their confession of Christ, but have also gone into open worldliness and sin.
We remember that in the parable of the Sower (the understanding of which our Lord indicated was fundamental to knowing all parabolic teaching--Mk. 4:13), it was the state of the ground in each case that decided the issue: the seed was the Word of God, the same in each case. So here in Hebrews 6:7, the rain that cometh oft upon the land, "the rain that cometh down from Heaven," was the same upon the ground that bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whose sake it is also tilled, and upon the ground that beareth thorns and thistles, the fruit of the curse. (Read Gen. 3:17.) Brethren, it is always herbs meet for the tiller, or--thorns and thistles. As for these "herbs," they are "things that accompany salvation" (vs. 9) to wit: work for God, and "love toward His name," shown in "ministering unto the saints"; and in keeping on--still do minister. it would not be kindness for God to give assurance to any saints but herb-growers. On the other hand, the thistle-growers have rejected all God's mercy, and choose to bear sins--thorns and thistles still. Therefore, they are righteously rejected. Further grace and mercy would be inconsistent with the holiness and justice of God's throne. These, loving lawlessness, are allowed still to love it; and thus, finally, "fall into the hands," in judgment, of that "Living God" from Whom they "fell away" during their earth life. (See Ch. 10:31.)
Now comes the awful final word of this passage, the second crisis word (the first was, "fell away": see comment on vs. 6). We now read: IT IS REJECTED. The natural results of rejection follow: nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned. The Hebrews to whom Paul was writing, knew what their Scriptures spoke about God's using fire in judgment, "Abraham beheld, and lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace" (Gen. 19:28). "Ye were as a brand plucked out of the burning, yet have ye not returned unto Me, said Jehovah" (concerning cities in Israel forward in sin, Amos 4:11).
Also Moses' warning prophecy in Deut. 29:22-28: "The whole land is brimstone, and salt, and a burning."
So shall the final destruction of restored Babylon be: "Her high gates shall be burned with fire" (Jer. 51:58). "Every shipmaster, ... and mariners, cried out as they looked upon the smoke of her burning" (Rev. 18:17-18).
God has exhausted with such apostates those means by which He reaches the hearts, consciences, faith, and affections of man; they having been "enlightened," having "tasted" of life, the heavenly gift, in Christ; and of the sweet goodness of the Word of God, and the blessed powers of the world to come, all to no effect. They have tasted Christianity and rejected it, bearing thorns and thistles despite God's blessing upon them. Having rejected God, they are "rejected" of Him! Fearful state, fearful outlook!
In connection with this we must remember John 15:6; "If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
There are those who would rob this verse of all meaning, by asserting that the ones spoken of here had never had Christian experiences.
Nor must we neglect the statement of Lk. 8:13, already quoted, concerning those who "for awhile believed." Believed what? Why, the word that they had "received with joy." It was the same word that the "good-ground" hearers received. The sole difference was in the soil; not in the seed--not in the Word preached! Our Lord emphasized that it was "Upon the rock" that the shallow soil was, and we remember the Scripture, "Is not My word like a fire? saith Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock to pieces?" Remember that brokenness shown by the publican, who "smote his breast, saying, God, be Thou merciful to me the sinner!"
Going back to John 15:6: "If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch," indicates the very state described in Heb. 6:4-8, and 10:26,31. In no other way can the words, "tasted of the heavenly gift (eternal life); and the blood ... wherewith he was sanctified," be honestly explained. And the judgment of such is the same in John 15:6 as in the Hebrews passages: "Cast forth as a branch ... withered ... cast into the fire ... burned." REJECTED ... cursed ... burned. And Ch. 10:27: "A certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries."
We have studied three of the great warnings of Hebrews, which begin with (1) Chapter 2:1-4, and continue in due season throughout the epistle: (2) Chapters 3:7 to 4:13; (3) Chapter 5:11 through Chapter 6:8; (4) Chapter 10:36-39; (5) Chapter 12:14-17; (6) Chapter 12:25-29; and (7) Chapter 13:9.
Let us note at the beginning to whom these warnings are addressed. It is certain that they are not addressed to what Scripture calls "the world." In His great high-priestly prayer of John 17 our Lord said to the Father, "I pray not for the world." Christ on the Cross "tasted death for every man." "He gave Himself a ransom for all." "He is the propitiation for the whole world." The gospel is preached to the whole world, to all men; and Christ's atoning death, His burial, and His resurrection, is the gospel! But in Hebrews it is those who have confessed who are addressed. Even concerning the doom of the apostates, as in chapters 6 and 10, we have seen that it is those who had been "enlightened," had "tasted," had been "made partakers," or were "sanctified," who are spoken of.
By misunderstanding the warnings of Hebrews, many true believers have been cast down in spirit and filled with apprehensions. But after the awful announcement concerning apostates, there is the great passage, verses 9-20, which should give comfort and firmness of soul to such. For the Spirit has in mind true believers, "saints," in Hebrews, as in all of the epistles. We see this exemplified here: they are the "beloved," of whom things that accompany salvation are spoken. These two great words, "Beloved" and "Salvation," are not used to and of apostates! To them indeed Paul announces, "We are not of them that shrink back unto perdition" (10:39), although he had been warning them: for it is God's way with all those who confess Him, to warn them of evil.
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak: Vincent has an excellent word concerning are persuaded (pepeismetha): "We are firmly convinced the verb indicates a past hesitation overcome." Also Westcott: "The form implies that the writer had felt misgivings and had overcome them." Alford says here that the word is "stronger than pepaithamen, which would express only a subjective confidence, whereas pepeismetha gives the result of actual conviction by proof." Compare the remarkable parallel in Romans 15:14, where the same word is used.
Paul said though we do thus speak (of the apostates of vss. 4-5), yet he now in contradistinction to these uses the precious address "beloved" (agapetoi), a word used sixty times in the New Testament--the first nine times by God to Christ His beloved Son (quoted thus by Peter in 2 Pet. 1:17); and then only of saints, whether Gentiles ("To all that are in Rome, beloved of God"--Rom. 1:7); or the Israelitish Remnant ("Touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sake," Rom. 11:28).
In all Hebrews, Chapter 6:9 alone contains that precious word, "beloved," which is always spoken of true believers. Take your pencil and mark in 1 John, beginning with Chapter 3:2, "Beloved, now are we children of God," then verse 21; then Chapter 4:1, 7, 11; then 3 John 1, 2, 5, 11; ending with Jude 3, 17, 20.
And things accompanying--The Greek participle, echomena, is from the word echo, meaning "I have," "I hold." See Matt. 7:29; 8:9; 9:6. It is used over 600 times in N.T. and constantly concerning reality, possession, as in John 3:15, 16, 36; never indicating a mere nighness to possession. Bloomfield renders it "connected with," as does Darby.
And things accompanying salvation--This whole verse turns on this word "salvation." There are described in the first part of Chapter 6, as we have noted, remarkable privileges, experiences, and professions; but the word "salvation" is not connected with them--not mentioned! Manifestly in the apostle's mind there were distinct and sure marks of those who are called, in Chapter 1:14, "heirs of salvation."
He does, indeed, "thus speak," as he puts it, to those of whom he is persuaded the better things, the things connected with salvation. For man is not an automaton. He is told of a salvation to be received, by faith, and of a doom to be avoided. All this, although "Salvation is of Jehovah" (Jonah 2:9; Ps. 3:8; 37:39; Lk. 3:6).
This great word SALVATION (sotjria) is applied to actual deliverance over forty times in the New Testament (with its cognates, over fifty times): and always meaning certain, eternal deliverance. For instance, we read, "Neither is there salvation in any other"; "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation"; "God chose you unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth"; "The salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory"; "The Author of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9). The word is used seven times in Hebrews, for instance Chapters 1:14; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; 9:28; 11:7.
So that while the Spirit does thus speak in Chapter 6:1-8 of the Divine rejection of those having fallen away, we may "rejoice with trembling" if we find the marks that accompany salvation with ourselves! For certain signs attend either salvation, or decay, and possible final damnation.
In this case, as verses 9 to 12 show, there was, accompanying salvation, certain spiritual activity which God calls your work and the love which ye showed toward His Name. Note that love toward God's Name, that love which He treasures, is not a mere sentiment or ecstasy. "Whosoever loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). And what a word is this concerning our humble ministering to His saints--that God is not unrighteous to forget it!
We may say that Hebrews 6:10 is a verse that we quote to others very frequently. Living, as it has been our privilege to do for many years, a life relying upon God, when one of His saints, for example, as the Lord's steward, writes ministering to us, we put in our reply, "Remember Hebrews 6:10!" Some of you have been visiting and comforting the bereaved; others have helped the weak, and visited the saints who are sick. Some of you have that rare gift of discerning and relieving human loneliness, or hidden sadness. Now, our Lord said even a cup of cold water given in His name should in no wise lose its reward! Service rendered to the Lord will not be forgotten! See Mark 9:41. (The R.V. gives the literal meaning, "in name that ye are Christ's." You may be wrong concerning the person, but you did it as unto Christ, believing he was Christ's. That renders the reward certain!) God is not unrighteous. He hath said, "He that reapeth receiveth wages," and He will be faithful to His Word.
There are terrible utterances in Hebrews concerning both the unbelieving and the fearful, as well as the open rebels. Also there is a consciousness developed here, as in all the epistles, of genuineness, of sainthood, that is, of being Christ's! As John says, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19). And Hebrews 6:10, "Your work ... ye ... ye ... the saints."
And we desire that each one of you may keep on showing the same diligence (both in laying hold of the truth, and putting it into service) unto the full assurance (same word as in Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5, et al.) of hope even to the end. The words mean, of course, the end of their pilgrimage through this world.
And Peter enjoins, "Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure" (not to God, but to yourselves). "For if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Now what shall we say of those--yea, to those, willing to neglect this diligence, which adds grace upon grace--saying that they "believe in election," and straightway lapsing back into the slumber which they love? We would shout the word of warning! We would read this book of Hebrews in the power of the Holy Spirit unto such, over and over. Three things we must emphasize then:
*Such have passed through the "Enchanted Land" of sluggishness and drowsiness so accurately described by Bunyan in The Pilgrim's Progress: "By this time they were got to the Enchanted Ground, where the air naturally tended to make one drowsy: ... Then they came to an arbour, warm and promising much refreshing to the pilgrims, for it was finely wrought above head, beautified with greens, furnished with benches and settles. It had in it a soft couch where the weary might lean. This, you must think, all things considered, was tempting, for the pilgrims already began to be foiled with the badness of the way: but there was not one of them that made so much as a motion to stop there. Yea, for aught I could perceive, they continually gave so good heed to the advice of their guide and he did so faithfully tell them of dangers, and of the nature of dangers when they were at them, that usually, when they were nearest to them, they did most pluck up their spirits and hearten one another to deny the flesh. The arbour was called the Slothful's Friend, on purpose to allure, if it might be, some of the pilgrims there to take up their rest when weary."--Oh, get Pilgrim's Progress, and read this wonderful picture and warning!
It is no sign of the absence of faith to be concerned about our salvation, but rather the opposite. As Paul says to the Corinthians, "Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless ye be reprobate" (2 Cor. 13:5).
it was no sign of the absence of faith that the disciples at the Last Supper asked with deep concern, "Lord, is it I?"
Hear Paul speak of himself:
It was not that Paul lived in uncertainty or terror, but that he knew and had accepted in his very soul the Christian path: and especially the path belonging to teachers of God's Word, who bear a heavy responsibility--James 3:1: "Be not many of you teachers, my brethren." "God will keep the feet of His saints," but it has been His good pleasure to put red lights of warning at every "Bypath Meadow." And Christian may go on his way rejoicing, but those very Philippians who are told to rejoice evermore, are also told to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling: "For it is God Who worketh in you," says Paul, "both to will and to work, for His good pleasure." Or, see Hebrews 12:28-29:
"Receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire."
Levity and lightness are as foreign to true faith as are unbelief and despair! Peter says:
"Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls ... Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
There is a false presentation of "eternal security" today that presumes that the believer is under eternal safety without taking heed to such warnings and exhortations to a holy walk as we find in Hebrews and indeed, throughout Scripture.
I was speaking at a Bible conference in Indiana several years ago. Near my table at lunch was a long special table set for a company. Soon they came in, a crowd of young people, evidently enjoying a day's outing at the lake. They stood at attention behind their chairs around the table, and repeated three times in loud staccato tones, after the manner of a college football yell, the three letters, "J! I! M!" Then they seated themselves, and plunged immediately into vivacious conversation. Much perplexed, I called one of the waiters and asked, "What did those young people mean by shouting 'J.I.M.'?" "That is their watchword," he replied. "It means, 'Jesus is mine.'"
Now there were doubtless, among those dear young people, many earnest ones. But can you imagine such a thing taking place on the day of Pentecost, or in Paul's great ministry at Ephesus? Persecution, death and dungeons were the lot of that early Church. Indeed, it is in the last chapter of Hebrews that we read of an imprisonment noted nowhere else: "Know ye that our brother Timothy hath been set at liberty." And Paul wrote of the wondrous heavenly calling of the Church, the Body of Christ, in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, with a Roman chain clanking on his wrist!
Has the world become "a friend of grace"?
You say, There are those that are born again, and they are all safe; they are God's elect. We agree heartily that God's elect, the born-again ones, are sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption. Glorious fact! But, brother, it is in the eighth of Romans, the great citadel of the security of the saints, that God says to His saints, "If ye live after the flesh, ye must die (spiritual death]: but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Romans 8 links up with Hebrews. "Give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure," says Peter--"sure" not to God, certainly, but to yourselves. And Peter insists that we add to our faith, virtue; to our virtue, knowledge; to our knowledge, self-control; to our self-control, patience--godliness ... brotherly kindness ... love.
But what about the passive, "sluggish," professing Christian, who claims he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, but shows no spiritual life or activity? Hebrews tells him his danger! If neglect of "so great a salvation," or a spiritual slothfulness--that is, willingness to remain "babes" when "by reason of the time since we heard the truth" "we ought to be teachers" of others--if this is our state, let us read Hebrews and awake!
Those who rely on "security" apart from a holy life, and from that diligence enjoined in the book of Hebrews, either will find their sense of security bitterly attacked some day by the enemy (who will overwhelm them with a view of their unworthiness), or else will be let alone by the devil, to become companions of Mr. Vain Confidence.
There are those (and they are sadly many) who are ready to cry. "Heb. 6 belongs only to the Hebrews!" Indeed, we have lately found those who claim that this entire passage "does not refer to Christians at all, but to the Hebrews as a nation, and to the way that God has led that nation for many centuries." But such teaching ignores the words of Heb. 3:1, where those addressed are "partakers of a heavenly calling": which the Hebrews as a nation never have become.
Instead of saying Heb. 6 belongs to the Jews, and dismissing its warnings, Christians should take just the opposite attitude: If Hebrew believers, with all their advantages, need warning, how much more we, branches of the wild olive tree, who have been grafted into the good olive tree, need to be warned! Read frequently Rom. 11, where Paul says: "Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will He spare thee. Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God's goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Vss. 20b-22).
Ah, we could cry out because of these things! For have we not seen congregations dying before our faces? Have we not spoken to thousands to whom we knew our words were not welcome words (for fear that they would arouse them into real spiritual consciousness and activity)? Have we not cried Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead ones, and Christ shall shine upon thee!" only to see most of the hearers passing out chattering about petty personal matters, or the crops, or the weather? Did not Christ say it is a "little flock" to whom the kingdom will be given? And unto a hearer inquiring, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" He said:
"Strive (Gr.: _agonidzo, agonize) to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Lk. 13:24). (Agonidzo is the word of the Greek games; and means to use every energy in the face of difficulties and opponents. "Seek," represents mere desire, not contest!)
And, "For narrow is the gate and straightened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it" (Matt. 7:14). (These city gates of the East admitted persons, not baggage. They were narrowed to admit the passage of a pilgrim at a time, if necessary!)
These things being so, what mean ye by wondering at the mighty warnings of the Book of Exhortation, Hebrews?
Verse 12That ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises: Those in Chapter 5:12 were "sluggish," and became dull of hearing; became milk-users; and, awful thought! some of them became apostate! But imitators of them (that is, of the saints of old) who through faith and patience inherit the promises--Notice the connection with Abraham (vss. 13-15). His great example follows: "Having patiently endured, he obtained the promise."
You remember that the God of glory appeared to Abraham (Acts 7:2) in the Chaldean land, and made him the great seven-fold promise recorded in Genesis 12:1-3:
Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. (How long he had "patiently endured" his father's fleshly effort to go along into the land of Canaan or to hold Abraham back (Gen. 11:31-32)--before that father's death we are not told.)
"After these things," came the great covenant of Genesis 15, and Abraham's believing in Jehovah, and God's "reckoning it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). (Then came the birth of Ishmael--an effort of Abraham's flesh to help God out! when Abraham was eighty-six: Gen. 16:16.)
"Dwelling in tents," building altars, digging wells, in Canaan (not asking yet to possess Canaan!), Abraham still believed God's promise to him of the land! Then, when he was ninety-nine, comes the renewal of the promise, and the prophecy of the birth of Isaac. This, by the way, is the circumcision chapter, Genesis 17; and God's command was faithfully observed by Abraham, who commanded "his children and his household after him" (Gen. 18:19). Then came Isaac's birth and growth and the great testing from Jehovah of offering up Isaac a sacrifice! And God's oath--spoken out from heaven to His faithful servant:
"By Myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen. 22:16, 17).
And so, after Sarah's death, and the honor the Hittites paid to Abraham as "a prince of God among them," we come to the end of his life of faith: "Abraham died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people" (Gen. 25:8).
Now the Spirit's comment upon all this in Hebrews, as we have seen is, Having patiently endured, he obtained the promise. We see that from Abraham's departure from Haran (Gen. 11:31, 32; 12:4) to his being "gathered to his people," was over a hundred years (from the promise made in Ur, it was more than that) of patiently enduring. (He failed in the matter of Egypt (Gen. 12); and in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 16); but did you ever observe this fact: NOT ONE SIN of an Old Testament saint recorded in the New Testament?)
It is remarkable that after Jehovah's oath to Abraham when he was about to offer up Isaac (Gen. 22:15-18), there are no more recorded testings of his faith. He was now in such a deep rest of faith that he walked steadily therein, the remainder of his days. Indeed, he had said to his servants when on the way to offer up Isaac, "Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come again to you." And to Isaac he had said, "God will provide Himself the lamb!" (Read Gen. 22 often!)
For men swear by the greater: and in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation: Let us suppose that some king of England, renowned for uprightness, had promised one of his subjects he would raise him to a baronetcy. Doubts might arise in the subject's mind as to whether the king might forget his promise, or circumstances be allowed to interfere with its fulfillment. But if we may suppose further, that the King of England should humble himself to go before the Lord Chief Justice of the realm and place himself under oath that he would appoint the subject to a baronetcy; and that the king should give the subject a record of this royal oath, in addition to his promise--all room for uncertainty would be removed. How much more when God promises and takes His oath!
God ... pledged Himself with an oath that by two unchangeable things, (His word, and His oath; which is final for confirmation vs. 16; Ex. 22:11; Deut. 29:12) in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement. In a promise, the assertion of an intention is made; in an oath, the person's character is publicly and solemnly put behind the assertion! In a promise, we look at the words; in an oath, we look at who and what the promiser is!
"Had He sworn by Heaven and earth, I might have feared, lest, as they shall pass away, so His word might. But when the Most High swares by Himself Who abides forever, my fears are gone."--Govett.
And Andrew Murray: "God points to Himself, His Divine Being, His glory, His power, and pledges Himself, gives Himself as security, as hostage, that, as sure as He lives, He will fulfill His promise. Oh, if we would but take time to tarry in the presence of this God, and to listen to Him swearing to us that He will be faithful, surely we would fall down in confusion that we ever harboured for a moment the doubt, which thinks it possible that He may be untrue and not keep His word. And now let us pause and realize what all this argument about the blessing and the oath of God means. In the Christian life there is lack of steadfastness, of diligence, of perseverance. Of all, the cause is simply--lack of faith. And of this again the cause is--the lack of the knowledge of what God wills and is of His purpose and power to bless most wonderfully, and of His faithfulness to carry out His purpose. It is to cure these evils; it is to tell His people that He will do anything to win their trust, and will do anything for them if they will trust Him, that God has taken His oath of faithfulness."--The Holiest of All, pp. 221-2.
Now it is to the heirs of the promise that this assurance is made. You and I may ask, Are we such heirs? We dare not say so if we are careless and sluggish professors, instead of those of verse 12 "who through faith and patience inherit the promises." But of these, we have read further in verse 18, By two unchangeable things (the promise and the oath of God) ... we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before us. (To how many of the professing Christians of your acquaintance would the word "refuge" and "fled" apply? They may have "joined the church," but have they fled for refuge (from coming judgment) to lay hold of the hope set before them?) Here, of course, the writer speaks of the "cities of refuge" to which a manslayer (who had killed someone unwittingly" "unawares") might flee and be safe "till the death of the high priest." (See Ex. 21:13; Num. 35; Deut. 19; Josh. 20.) Three cities of refuge were appointed in Canaan on the west side of the Jordan, and three on the east side, whither the manslayer might flee "from the avenger of blood." Read carefully Numbers 35:9-15, and you will see that it was the business, the duty, of the manslayer to flee, "lest the avenger of blood pursue the manslayer, while his heart is hot" (Deut. 19:6). God would see to it that the man who fled for refuge "obtained that safe refuge" (Num. 35:28). What a picture, both of Hebrew sinners, to whom Paul was writing; yea, and of us all who have believed; and also of national Israel in the future! For they slew Him "unwittingly," "unawares"! So the Lord Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" And Peter preached, "And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (Acts 3:17). But note that there was no ransom to be taken for the murderer (distinct in all the Law from the "manslayer"), just as no refuge from coming wrath is provided for the rejecter of Christ (Num. 35:31).
To a Hebrew believer, then, this fleeing for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before us would be a vivid picture! Let it be so in our own hearts, for there is no other hope of rescue from judgment than "Christ Jesus our hope" (1 Tim. 1:1); as Peter also says, "God ... begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." CHRIST, in His work of putting away sin on the Cross, and now being our Great High Priest in Heaven, where the veil is rent, and access to God is absolutely free through Christ--this is the "hope" we have fled to lay hold of which (vs. 19) we have as an anchor of the soul (a hope) both sure and steadfast and entering into that which is within the veil.
Note that while it is our fleeing for refuge to lay hold in verse 18: the hope we lay hold of in verse 19, becomes "an anchor" that holds us. "An anchor of the soul unfailing and firmly fixed," Stuart translates. It is well to reflect that have fled for refuge is in the perfect tense, while, which we have as an anchor, is present and continuous. (Some refer sure and steadfast and entering into that which is within the veil back to "refuge," of vs. 18 (which is grammatically possible); but to refer the words to "hope" is also grammatically possible, and is, we think, the meaning.) Mark this well. For in Hebrews, Christ is the Great High Priest, Who, by His present perfect knowledge of our needs, His sympathy with our path, and His intercession, perpetually keeps His own. It is not our holding fast, but His holding us fast. For note again the words of verses 19-20, entering into that which is within the veil, whither as a Forerunner Jesus entered for us. Notice that "within the veil" indicates Heaven itself, the very presence of God. It is that which is within the veil, and not the veil itself, which is in view. (As to "the veil," see comment on Chapter 10:20.)
Whither as a Forerunner Jesus entered for us, having become a High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. In Chapter 9:24 we read:
Vincent well says, "'Forerunner,' (a word used only here) expresses an entirely new idea, lying completely outside the Levitical system. The Levitical high priest did not enter the sanctuary as a forerunner, but only as the people's representative. He entered a place into which none might follow him, in the people's stead, and not as their pioneer. The peculiarity of the new economy is that Christ as High Priest goes nowhere that His people cannot follow Him. He introduces man into full fellowship with God."
To quote the saintly Andrew Murray, "He is a Priest forever, a Priest in the power of an endless life, a Priest Who opens to us the state of life to which He Himself has entered in, and brings us there to live here on earth with the life of eternity in our bosom."
"There is a sanctuary in which God dwells. There was a veil that separated man from God. Jesus came from within to live without the veil, and rend it, and open a way for us. He is now there for us as Forerunner. We may now enter in and dwell there, in the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the gospel according to the Epistle to the Hebrews."
And now we return in Chapter 7 to the subject of the Melchizedek high priesthood of Christ; mentioned indeed in Chapters 5, 6 and 10, but (in 5:11 to 6:19) broken off by a prolonged parenthesis necessary on account of the "dullness of hearing," and lack of full growth of the hearers: for the apostle had "many things to say" of Melchizedek, but they were hard to explain because of the hearers' low spiritual state. But in Chapter 6:9, as we have just seen, he calls them "beloved," and is persuaded that "things that accompany salvation" are theirs--though he had thus spoken to arouse them out of sluggishness into diligence and imitation of the faith and patient endurance of such as Abraham.
Now we must consider this Melchizedek priesthood of Christ--a stupendous subject--and may God indeed assist us; for have we not all found ourselves to be "dull of hearing" as to many glorious truths spoken in Scripture?