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Nave's Topical Bible - Apostasy; Backsliders; Reprobacy; Wicked (People); Scofield Reference Index - Apostasy; Assurance-Security; Thompson Chain Reference - Deterioration-Development; Development, Spiritual; End of the Wicked; Fruitfulness-Unfruitfulness; Growth, Spiritual; Righteous-Wicked; Spiritual; Thorns; Unfruitfulness; Wicked, the; The Topic Concordance - Curses; Forgiveness; Holy Spirit; Sin;
Verse Hebrews 6:8. That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected — That is: The land which, notwithstanding the most careful cultivation, receiving also in due times the early and latter rain, produces nothing but thorns and briers, or noxious weeds of different kinds, is rejected, αδοκιμος, is given up as unimprovable; its briers, thorns, and brushwood burnt down; and then left to be pastured on by the beasts of the field. This seems to be the custom in husbandry to which the apostle alludes. The nature of the case prevents us from supposing that he alludes to the custom of pushing and burning, in order to farther fertilization. This practice has been common from very early times: -
Saepe etiam steriles incendere profuit agros;
Atque levem stipulam crepitantibus urere flammis.
VIRG. Geor. i., 5:84.
Long practice has a sure improvement found,
With kindled fires to burn the barren ground;
When the light stubble to the flames resign'd,
Is driven along, and crackles in the wind.
But this, I say the circumstances of the case prevent us from supposing to be intended.
Is nigh unto cursing — It is acknowledged, almost on all hands, that this epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This verse is in my opinion a proof of it, and here I suppose the apostle refers to that approaching destruction; and perhaps he has this all along in view, but speaks of it covertly, that he might not give offence.
There is a good sense in which all these things may be applied to the Jews at large, who were favoured by our Lord's ministry and miracles. They were enlightened by his preaching; tasted of the benefits of the heavenly gift-the Christian religion established among them; saw many of their children and relatives made partakers of the Holy Ghost; tasted the good word of God, by the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham; and saw the almighty power of God exerted, in working a great variety of miracles. Yet, after being convinced that never man spake as this man, and that none could do those miracles which he did, except God were with him; after having followed him in thousands, for three years, while he preached to them the Gospel of the kingdom of God; they fell away from all this, crucified him who, even in his sufferings as well as his resurrection, was demonstrated by miracles to be the Son of God; and then to vindicate their unparalleled wickedness, endeavoured to make him a public example, by reproaches and blasphemies. Therefore their state, which had received much moral cultivation from Moses, the prophets, Christ, and his apostles; and now bore nothing but the most vicious fruits, pride, unbelief, hardness of heart, contempt of God's word and ordinances, blasphemy, and rebellion; was rejected-reprobated, of God; was nigh unto cursing-about to be cast off from the Divine protection; and their city and temple were shortly to be burnt up by the Roman armies. Thus the apostle, under the case of individuals, points out the destruction that was to come upon this people in general, and which actually took place about seven years after the writing of this epistle! And this appears to be the very subject which the apostle has in view in the parallel solemn passages, Hebrews 10:26-31; and, viewed in this light, much of their obscurity and difficulty vanishes away.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/hebrews-6.html. 1832.
5:11-6:20 CHRISTIAN GROWTH AND PERSEVERANCE
Warning to the unstable (5:11-6:8)
The writer would like to say more about Christ’s priesthood, but he feels his readers will not understand. Instead of being mature Christians they are spiritual babes, in spite of having received so much instruction in the Scriptures that by now they should be teachers themselves (11-12). They have not made the effort to study and understand the Word, and therefore are not able to apply its teachings to life’s problems. Like children who have to be fed on milk, they have no ability to decide for themselves, but can only follow the lead of others. Mature Christians, by contrast, are like adults who can eat any food. They have trained themselves to discern between what is good and what is not (13-14).
Many Jews were of the childish kind just described. They said they were Christians, but they had made no progress. They seem to have merely added the name of Christianity to their former Jewish beliefs. Christianity, like Judaism, includes belief in sin, repentance, faith, cleansing, resurrection and final judgment, but Christianity involves more than mere acceptance of certain truths. If people do not progress beyond these basic beliefs, their Christian profession may soon be in danger. When persecution makes it uncomfortable for them to be known as Christians, they might give in to the temptation to go back to Judaism without changing their beliefs (6:1-3).
Christianity is not another name for Judaism. It completely replaces it, because Christ’s death on the cross has made Judaism dead and useless. If people have joined in the life of the church and tasted the blessings that come through Christ’s death, then deliberately renounce Christ, nothing is left for them but judgment. They have disowned and shamed Christ by an action similar to that of the people who crucified him (4-6).
Just as all the earth receives rain, so all who meet in the church receive God’s blessings. But as some soil later proves to be bad, so some in the church later prove to be without life. Those with true faith prove it by their perseverance (7-8).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/hebrews-6.html. 2005.
But that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected - That is, by the farmer or owner. It is abandoned as worthless. The force of the comparison here is, that God would thus deal with those who professed to be renewed if they should be like such a worthless field.
And is nigh unto cursing - Is given over to execration, or is abandoned as useless. The word “cursing” means devoting to destruction. The sense is not that the owner would curse it “in words,” or imprecate a curse on it, as a man does who uses profane language, but the language is taken here from the more common use of the word “curse” - as meaning to devote to destruction. So the land would be regarded by the farmer. It would be valueless, and would be given up to be overrun with fire.
Whose end is to be burned - Referring to the land. The allusion here is to the common practice among the Oriental and Roman agriculturists of burning bad and barren lands. An illustration of this is afforded by Pliny. “There are some who burn the stubble on the field, chiefly upon the authority of Virgil; the principal reason for which is, that they may burn the seeds of weeds;” Nat. Hist. xviii. 30. The authority of Virgil, to which Pliny refers, may be found in Georg. i. 84:
“Saepe etiam steriles incendere profuit agros,
Atque levem stipulam ciepitantibus urere flammis.”
“It is often useful to set fire to barren lands, and burn the light stubble in crackling flames.” The purpose of burning land in this way was to render it available for useful purposes; or to destroy noxious weeds, and thorns, and underbrush. But the object of the apostle requires him to refer merely to the “fact” of the burning, and to make use of it as an illustration of an act of punishment. So, Paul says, it would be in the dealings of God with his people. If after all attempts to secure holy living, and to keep them in the paths of salvation, they should evince none of the spirit of piety, all that could be done would be to abandon them to destruction as such a field is overrun with fire. It is not supposed that a true Christian will fall away and be lost, but we may remark.
(1) That there are many professed Christians who seem to be in danger of such ruin. They resist all attempts to produce in them the fruits of good living as really as some pieces of ground do to secure a harvest. Corrupt desires, pride, envy, uncharitableness, covetousness, and vanity are as certainly seen in their lives as thorns and briars are on a bad soil. Such briars and thorns you may cut down again and again; you may strike the plow deep and seem to tear away all their roots; you may sow the ground with the choicest grain, but soon the briars and the thorns will again appear, and be as troublesome as ever. No pains will subdue them, or secure a harvest. So with many a professed Christian. He may be taught, admonished, rebuked, and afflicted, but all will not do. There is essential and unsubdued perverseness in his soul, and despite all the attempts to make him a holy man, the same bad passions are continually breaking out anew.
(2) Such professing Christians are “nigh unto cursing.” They are about to be abandoned forever. Unsanctified and wicked in their hearts, there is nothing else which can be done for them, and they must be lost. What a thought! A professing Christian “nigh unto cursing!” A man, the efforts for, whose salvation are about to cease forever, and who is to he given over as incorrigible and hopeless! For such a man - in the church or out of it - we should have compassion. We have some compassion for an ox which is so stubborn that he will not work - and which is to be put to death; for a horse which is so fractious that he cannot be broken, and which is to be killed; for cattle which are so unruly that they cannot be restrained, and which are only to be fattened for the slaughter; and even for a field which is desolate and barren, and which is given up to be overrun with briars and thorns; but how much more should we pity a man all the efforts for whose salvation fail, and who is soon to be abandoned to everlasting destruction!
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/hebrews-6.html. 1870.
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, [that is the primaries, the word at the beginning of the gospel of Christ] let us go on to maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit ( Hebrews 6:1-3 ).
Let's leave these basic principles, doctrines of salvation and redemption. Let's go on into maturity. Let's go on into a mature experience with God. Let's develop in our walk with the Lord. Let's mature. Let's grow up.
For years in my ministry I sought to be a preacher. I was a preacher. And I sought to be an evangelist. Just about every message that I preached was evangelistic, because within the denomination where I was serving, evangelism was the big thing. First thing on my report I had to put how many people were saved, and if you don't have some in that box, then you're not going to look good to the bishop. So I sought to be an evangelist. I preached the gospel. But I came to the realization, after years of frustration, that preaching is for the unconverted. What the converted needs are teaching. God had called me to be a teacher. I was seeking to be a preacher. As I preached, the church never developed. It never matured. The people didn't mature. I kept them in a state of spiritual arrested development. All they knew was the doctrine of salvation. They knew it well. They knew they had to be born again. They knew they had to repent from their sins. They knew they had to be baptized, because that is all they ever heard. And we never took them beyond that state of spiritual infancy until we began to teach the Word of God. Leaving these first principles, the doctrine of Christ, going on into the full maturity, not going back over and over again the foundations of faith, but building on that foundation the whole knowledge of God through the Word.
The author here says something that is difficult to understand.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame ( Hebrews 6:4-6 ).
I know that this is a passage of scripture that Satan loves to use. Satan loves to use scripture. He came to Eve with scripture, "Hath God said you could eat of any of the trees?" He came to Jesus with scripture. "It is written He will give His angels charge over Thee to carry Thee in all Thy ways lest at any time You dash Your foot against a stone." He came to Jesus with scriptures, but what Jesus then did was balance scripture with scripture. Taking a scripture out of its context, you can make it mean something else. Taking scripture and isolating it, you can make it mean something else. We must compare scriptures with scriptures.
What do we know that the scripture teaches? That a man may fail, that a man may even blaspheme and still find forgiveness. For we remember that Jesus said to Peter, "Before the cock crows, you are going to deny Me three times." Peter said, "If they would kill me, I would never deny You." After the cock crowed twice, Jesus turned over and looked at Peter and Peter realized he had denied Him three times. The last time was blasphemy, saying, "I don't know the man." And he went out and he wept bitterly, but Peter found forgiveness. He found restoration and he became one of the pillars of the early church, an apostle, a leader of men. So it doesn't mean that if I falter or if I fall or if I fail that I'm out, that God puts me out and I have no hope of redemption. It's impossible that I might be renewed unto repentance.
We know that God is gracious. We know that God is merciful. We know that God is long-suffering. We know that He is patient and He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities. But as high as the heaven is above the earth so high is the mercies of God towards those who fear Him. Satan often uses this verse to a person who has backslidden. He says, "Man, you are out. Do you see what it says here in Hebrews? You've had it. That was the unpardonable sin that you committed and there is no way to renew you to repentance. You are out of the game." This is one of those scriptures that we have to deal with often as a pastor as people come and they have . . . you can tell it, you can see it in their eyes, and they say, "I think I've committed the unpardonable sin." We even have them calling on the phone long distance. "I believe I've committed the unpardonable sin." And I always tell them, "I know you haven't." "Well, how do you know?" "Because you called." If you committed the unpardonable sin you wouldn't care. The Holy Spirit wouldn't be dealing with you at all. You'd be so cold, callous and indifferent that you wouldn't even care if you did. The fact that you're concerned and care is the sign that you haven't. God's Spirit is still dealing with you. But Satan loves to use this as a club over people's head and he beats them to death with it.
There are those who suggest that he is writing to Jews who have been enlightened with the knowledge of Jesus Christ but who halted short of a full faith in Christ. And halting short of the full faith in Christ, they went back to the practices of Judaism, and thus, it was impossible to renew them unto repentance as they crucified the Son of God afresh, putting Him to open shame. I cannot accept that position totally. It seems to me where he refers to being "enlightened and tasting of the heavenly gift, made partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come," it sounds to me like they had a pretty good dose.
We do know that Jesus taught that the seed fell on different kinds of soil. Some of the seed fell by the wayside, some of it fell on stony ground, while others fell among the thorns and some fell on good ground. That which was sown by the wayside, immediately Satan came along and plucked it up, the birds came and ate it up. It never took root. It never developed. We have met people that have no response or reaction to the Word of God. It doesn't penetrate. Then that which fell on the stony ground are they who hear the Word with gladness, there's a quick spurt, comes up fast because there is not much dirt there. It's nice and warm because of the rocks, but as soon as the sun is out and all, because there is no root, there is no depth, it withers and dies. I believe this is the class that is being referred to here. You come and you get that shot and you get excited. There is a lot of enthusiasm and zeal over the things of the Lord, but there is no depth, no root, no root system. And so the moment the storm comes, the sun, the little problem, they're gone.
Now, the biggest problem I have with this, because I can understand it, because I have seen that experience and it is confirmed by the words of Jesus. Of course there is that among thorns; it grows up but it is choked and never bears fruit. And I've seen a lot of Christians that don't bear fruit. I mean, there is the growth there. They're there, but there is no fruit coming forth from their lives. The difficulty that I have with the passage is this impossibility of renewing them again unto repentance. And I will frankly confess to you I don't understand what it means. I'm sorry. I cannot give to you some glorious revelation that I have and this is what the text is saying, because I do know that Jesus said, "Whoever will come unto Me I will in no wise cast out." And I know tonight that no matter what your background may be, what exposure you may have had to the gospel in the past or what you have done in the past, I do know that if you will just come to Jesus Christ, He will in no wise cast you out. So this verse would not, then, be applicable to you. But if you say, "Well, I don't want to come and I won't come," then it probably does apply to you. There is no place for repentance. Impossible to renew and you have that hardened heart. And if a person has that kind of a heart, you say, "Hey, I know. I've been there, man. I used to go and sing. And I used to sit there. No way, man. I don't want anything to do with it." Then you may have a case. You may have met one that fits here. But if there is any yearning in your heart for God and the things of God and that desire to come back and get right, then this does not apply to you. So we don't have to worry about it, unless your heart is completely calloused to the things of God. Then you have a real concern.
For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth the vegetables that are fit for them by whom it is dressed [or for the people who planted the vegetables, the people who took care of the garden], receiveth the blessing from God: But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned ( Hebrews 6:7-8 ).
So there is, again, the idea and he goes back to the parable of the sower and the seeds. There are those seeds that bring forth vegetables, bring forth the fruit for those, and it is blessed. They are blessed. The earth is blessed. The good ground that brings forth the vegetables for the person who have dressed the garden or planted the garden. But the thorns and the briers, they're a curse, and they are going to be gathered and burned.
And now, here Paul, or the writer, is saying...obviously I believe that Paul is the writer. The writer is saying,
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you ( Hebrews 6:9 ),
In other words, "This doesn't really apply to you. We're persuaded better things of you." He doesn't seek to make a personal application to them of this particular curse that he is talking about.
and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. [It is important that I give this warning but I am persuaded better things of you.] For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister ( Hebrews 6:9-10 ).
God won't forget you. You're His child. You may be failing. You may be a babe. You may have arrested spiritual development. You may have slipped and fallen, but God won't forget you. He remembers you and that work of love.
And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end ( Hebrews 6:11 ):
Be diligent in the things of the Lord that you might have the full assurance of the hope. This full assurance is a glorious thing. I have full assurance in my hope of salvation. I have no questions, no qualms, no doubts. I am fully assured that I am eternally secure in the arms of Jesus. I have not even the slightest qualm that I will not be with the Lord in His glorious kingdom. I have the full assurance of that hope of eternal salvation, and how I thank God for it. I did not always have it, and so it means a lot more to me having it now, when I didn't have it for so many years. Because I was depending for many years upon myself and my own works and my own efforts. As long as I was depending upon myself, I never had the full assurance of the hope. You say, "Oh, you mean that you can't be lost?" Of course I can't, because I'm never going to turn away from Jesus Christ. I have no intention. That doesn't even enter my mind. It's the furthest thing from my mind. I'm going to walk with Him and stay with Him until the end. After all, you come this far there is no turning back; the thought isn't even there. The concept isn't even there, and that is why I have that full assurance of the hope unto the end. All right!
So be not slothful ( Hebrews 6:12 ),
Now, this doesn't create a slothfulness in me, but even a greater determination to give of myself completely and fully to the things of the Lord.
Be not slothful, but be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises ( Hebrews 6:12 ).
God has given to us His word that He will do just about anything for us that we might need or want. How many rich and precious promises! You probably all have a little promise box somewhere around the house. You go and pick out a promise and it's great. I love it. The Spirit can minister to us as we read the promises of God. I think we need to be reminded of the promises of God. We love to put them on the walls of our house. For years in our little daughter's bedroom we had the promise written on the wall "Fear not for I am with thee; be not dismayed for I am thy God. I will help thee, I will strengthen thee. I will uphold thee with the right hand of my power." What a great thing to have on the wall of a little girl who gets sacred at night. There on the wall, "Be not afraid for I am with you." Glorious promise!
Now, there are promises that God has given that we have not entered into. Remember back in chapter 4, "Let us beware, lest a promise having given to us of rest that we should fail from entering into it." There are many promises that God has given to us that we haven't really laid claim to. And so we live in fear. We live in anxiety. Though there is a promise that we can take and we could just accept that promise of God and say, "Well, God, You've promised."
I like it when Jacob...man, talk about a stressful situation. He had left his uncle Laban with the two daughters and all of the cattle and the sheep that he had gathered during his time of service there. Unbeknownst to him, his wife Rachel had taken some of the father's little gods. And so Laban got a bunch of fellows and they came pursuing after Jacob, ready to wipe him out. But the night before he caught up to him, the Lord spoke to Laban and He said, "You don't touch that man or you're in big trouble." So Laban is wanting to wipe him out, but he is fearful of God who said, "Don't you touch him." But he at least is going to get his word in, so he catches up with Jacob and he really tells him off. "You ripped me off." "What do you mean I ripped you off? I labored for seventeen years and you changed my wages ten times. God's blessed me. Don't tell me I ripped you off." Well, he said, "You've not only took my daughters, you didn't even let their kids kiss their grandpa good bye and you've taken off with all the cattle and sheep and everything." And he said, "You've even stole my gods." Tragic to have gods that can be stolen, isn't it?
So there was this big tense scene and, of course, if you've ever been over there and seen the way these people talk when they are excited like this, just tension fills the air. You'd think that at any moment they would pull back the robe and pull out the dagger and go at it, because, oh, they really get into it. So you can picture the scene of Jacob and Laban, tough day. Emotions now drained.
And as Laban takes off, a messenger comes up and says, "Your brother Esau is coming to meet you and he has two hundred men with him." The last time he saw Esau, Esau was saying, "I'm going to kill you. Soon as Dad is dead, you're dead man. I'm going to kill you." So here he is coming back. He just had a big blowout with Laban, and now word is Esau is coming. He's got two hundred men with him, and Jacob's really under stress. And he did the wisest thing you can do when you are under stress. He said, "Oh Lord, You told me to come back and that You would be with me." He reminded God. "I'm in this predicament, Lord, because You told me to come back. But You promised that You would be with me. Now I know I am not worthy the least of Your mercies. I don't deserve anything. I know that, God. But I am here because You told me to be here. And You promised that You would do well by me." So he is reminding God of the promise.
When you're under stress, when the pressure is on, when tomorrow is going to be one rough day, because your brother who is mad enough to kill you is on his way with two hundred men and all looks hopeless, it is good to remind yourself of the promises of God. "Lord, You promised that it would be well with me." The resting in the promises.
Now, the two things: faith and patience, these are the two things necessary in order to receive the promises of God. "He that comes to God must believe that He is and a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" ( Hebrews 11:6 ). I must have faith in God's Word. Faith in God. Faith in the abilities of God. Faith to know that God is able to do that which He has promised. That which He has promised He is able also to perform.
The second thing I must have is patience, because God doesn't always respond to my prayer the minute I pray. God allows many times the test of my faith and a period of time between my prayer and the answer to that prayer. That patience in which faith is tested. So let us be followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise. Believe the promise and then wait patiently for God to keep His word. But in the meantime, you flee into that promise. You hold on to that promise and don't let it go. Now, the promises of God are something that you can trust and rely upon.
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no [higher or] greater, he swore by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee ( Hebrews 6:13-14 ).
God made a promise to Abraham and then He confirmed the promise with an oath. "And so, after Abraham patiently endured, he obtained the promise." How long did he patiently endure? Over thirty-five years. "Oh God, I don't have that much time left." We are so impatient, aren't we? We want God to do it right now. We want immediate results. And usually we have a time limit set, at the most a week, for God to work. "But after he waited patiently he obtained the promise." God did give to Sarah a son, as He promised He would, even when the likelihood of having a son became humanly totally impossible.
Impossible is a word that we can use and talk about. Because we face it all the time. With our human limitations, we are always running up against impossible situations. But when you introduce God into the factor, the moment God is introduced into the factor, then you have to eliminate the word impossible. There is nothing impossible with God. In fact, I'll tell you there is nothing hard for God. There is nothing that puts God under pressure or strains Him in the least. So when God is introduced the word impossibility has to be deleted.
Difficulty must always be measured by the capacity of the agent that is doing the work. "Let's get out and build the church of Jesus Christ." Oh, that's difficult. It may even be impossible. Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." No strain, He is able to do it. So difficulty measured by the capacity of the agent doing the work. Who is doing the work? Is God doing the work? Then you've got to throw away the word difficult. If it is up to me, oh yes, it is difficult. It may even be impossible. That's why I dare not trust in myself or rely upon myself and my own resources or my own talents and capacities. I dare not trust in that. I must trust in the Lord, because then I can eliminate difficult and impossible in these kind of things. God is able . . . able to what? Able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think. So Abraham endured patiently, the impossible became the reality. God did what was impossible.
You know there have been so many situations that I have said, "Well, that is impossible," and yet God did it. There have been people that I have said, "Oh, they're impossible. Them saved? No way, man. That's impossible," and God did it. When you have God as the agent doing the work, impossibility disappears, difficulty disappears.
Now men take an oath by something that is greater: and the purpose of an oath is to confirmation what is said and it is intended to end all strife ( Hebrews 6:16 ).
Here I am saying, "Well, I'm going to do it for you." "How do I know you are going to do it?" "Well, I'm going to do it. I promise you I'll do it." "How do I know?" "Well, I'm just telling you I'm going to." And here we are striving about whether or not I'm going to do it. Finally, I say, "Man, I swear on the Bible I'm going to do it." "Well, all right, good." Ends the strife, that's the purpose for taking an oath, to end the strife. In an argument, "No, I didn't." "Yes, you did." "No, I didn't." "Yes, you did." "No, I didn't. Swear on the Bible I didn't do it." "All right. Thought you did." So the taking of the oath, you take the oath by something greater than you. As I said this morning, you don't . . . I swear by my cat that I'm going to be there tonight. That is something lesser. You don't swear by something . . . you swear by something greater.
During the time of Jesus they had a big thing on swearing, taking oaths, and which of the oaths were binding and which were not. Now, if you swear by the altar, that is not binding, but if you swear by the gold that is on the altar, oh, you have to keep it, man. That is binding. They were all into this taking these oaths and, of course, you try and be tricky. "I swear by the altar I'll do it. Oh, I'm free because I didn't say the gold on the altar." And so Jesus addressed the issue of this thing of taking oaths of swearing, and people have carried that too far, too.
People are concerned if I have to go to court and witness, "Do I swear before God I'm going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" When Jesus said swear not at all. Can I as a Christian, then, swear by God I'm going to tell the truth? When Jesus said swear not at all, in the context He was saying "Let your yes be a yes and let your no be a no. Be a man of your word so that you don't have to take an oath to prove to a person that what you are saying is true. If you say yes then let it be yes. If you say no then let it be no. Be a person of your word." But the purpose of the oath was to bring an end to the strife. Fighting over this thing, take an oath that ends the strife. All right, that settles it.
Now God, willing more abundantly to assure unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel ( Hebrews 6:17 ),
How God is unchanging. He will not change. He will not say something and then renege on it. He will not make a promise to you and then back down on it. God wants to abundantly assure you of this. Willing more abundantly to assure you of this unchanging character and nature of God, the immutability of God and of His counsels. His counsels are His words, His promises. He confirms with an oath.
And so there are two unchanging things, in which it was impossible for God to lie ( Hebrews 6:18 ),
The two unchanging things: God's Word, it doesn't change. The Word of God is forever established and settled in heaven. "Heaven and earth will pass away but God's Word cannot pass away, will not pass away" ( Matthew 24:35 ).
The oath is the second thing, when God made the oath to confirm the Word and His counsels. Now you have two unchanging things. Having made an oath, you can't change. You've got to go by it. You cannot renege. You swore that you're going to do it. You've taken an oath to do it and you cannot back away. God has declared to you what He will do for you and then He took an oath saying, "I will." Swearing by no greater as He has no greater to swear by, He swears by Himself. Promising to do it, you've got two unchanging things. And we know that it is impossible for God to lie, therefore, the result is that
we have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us ( Hebrews 6:18 ):
What great comfort we have. What great confidence we have. What a strong consolation we have when I can just take the Word of God and say, "Here, God has said it, and that settles it. It is going to be. Here is the Word of God and the promise of God and I flee to this refuge." It becomes a place for me to flee when the enemy would come and say, "Well, what are you going to do? You know they are going to be coming around next week when they come for their rent. What are you going to do?" "Hey, my God shall supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. It will be here." Strong consolation. I flee to the Word. I flee to the scripture. I read it over and I read it over and I read it over as I find my place of refuge in this promise of God to me that is applicable to this current situation that I am facing.
Whenever you run up against a difficult problem, go to the Word of God. Find a promise of God that is applying to you and to that situation, and then just flee as a refuge to that promise every time the enemy would hassle you. Every time you become upset, flee for refuge to that hope that is set before us.
Which hope we have as an anchor to our soul ( Hebrews 6:19 ),
My soul is anchored in this. I cannot be moved. I cannot be swayed. My soul is anchored in this hope.
that is both sure and steadfast ( Hebrews 6:19 ),
That glorious hymn of the church, "We have an anchor that keeps our soul steadfast and sure though the billows roll. Anchored to the rock that cannot move, founded firm and deep in my Savior's love." Oh, the anchor for our soul. I don't get tossed by the storm. I don't get wrecked by the storm. My soul is anchored in the promises of God.
and which entereth into that within the veil ( Hebrews 6:19 );
I come right into God's presence. Again, back to coming boldly to the throne of grace that we might find mercy and grace in our time of need. Within the veil I can come right into the Father, because Jesus has made the way. My great High Priest has entered into heaven for me. By Him and through Him I can come boldly now right to the Father within the veil and stand upon the Word.
Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made the high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec ( Hebrews 6:20 ).
And next week as we go into chapter 7, we will really get into this order of Melchisedec in comparison with that of Levi and showing the complete superiority of our High Priest and the priesthood of Jesus over that of the Levitical order. That goes on in the next couple of chapters. In fact, it goes on into chapter 10. Next week chapter 7 and 8.
Is your soul anchored in the Word of God tonight and the promises of God to you? Is that your place of refuge? Do you have that strong consolation, comfort, assurance? Hey, God is going to do it. He's promised. He has given His Word. How grateful we are and should be for Jesus Christ who has made us the heirs of the promises. Who has made it possible for us to lay hold upon these glorious promises of God, becoming a child through our faith in Him.
May the Lord bless you and may you just grow and develop into a full maturity in your walk and in your relationship with Him. May there be that work of the Spirit in your life this week. And in the maturing processes as you grow up in all things in Christ into the full assurance of the faith, rooted and grounded in His Word and in His love. May you begin to comprehend the length, the breadth, the depth, the height of God's love and the commitment "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/hebrews-6.html. 2014.
3. The dreadful alternative 6:4-8
The writer pointed out the consequences of not pressing on to maturity to motivate his readers to pursue spiritual growth diligently (cf. 2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:8).
Christians have interpreted this passage in many different ways. Some believe that those who fall away (Hebrews 6:6) are believers who lose their salvation. [Note: E.g., Westcott, pp. 148-53; Moffatt, pp. 76-82; I. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God; and other Arminian writers.] Others hold that those who fall away are people who have professed to be believers but really are not. [Note: E.g. Bruce, pp. 118-25; Philip E. Hughes, pp. 206-24; Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, pp. 298-320; E. Schuyler English, Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 160-68; Homer A. Kent Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 107-15; R. Kent Hughes, 1:156-57; and The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1315.] Still others take the whole situation as hypothetical. They believe that if a Christian could lose his salvation, which he cannot, it would be impossible for him to be saved again. [Note: E.g., Guthrie, pp. 140-46; Thomas Hewett, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 106-11; Thomas, pp. 72-75; Kenneth S. Wuest, "Hebrews Six in the Greek New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra 119:473 (January 1962):45-53; Wiersbe, 2:297; and The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament. King James Version, p. 404.] Another view is that only Hebrew Christians living before the destruction of the temple could commit this sin, whatever it is. The view that I believe harmonizes best with the writer’s emphasis is that those who fall away are believers who turn away from God’s truth and embrace error (i.e., apostates). The majority of scholars view these people as genuine believers. [Note: Marshall, p. 142.]
"The transition from the first person (Hebrews 6:1-3) to the third person suggests that the author does not wish explicitly to identify the people described with the readers of the epistle. This may be partly out of tact; it is certainly (cf. Hebrews 6:9) in part because he believes that his readers can still avoid apostasy." [Note: Ellingworth, p. 318.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/hebrews-6.html. 2012.
If no good fruit results, however, only dangerous and destructive thorns, God will bring judgment on this ground rather than blessing it (cf. John 15:2; John 15:6).
"Worthless" literally means disapproved (Gr. adokimos). It does not mean totally rejected but failing to gain God’s blessing (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27). It is "in danger of being cursed" but is not cursed as unbelievers are. "Burned" does not mean burned in hell (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). In ancient times, as well as today, farmers often burned their fields to removed unwanted vegetation, not to destroy the field itself. This is evidently a judgment on a believer that God allows because of his or her apostasy (cf. Isaiah 9:18-19; Isaiah 10:17; John 15:6; Hebrews 10:17). The judgment might result in premature death in some cases (cf. 1 John 5:16-17). However the text does not warrant concluding that this fate will befall every apostate. Some "fields" once burned turn out to be more productive in the future, and that might be what God’s judgment would lead to in the case of some apostates (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19-20). The purpose of the burning (chastening) is restoration to fruitfulness (cf. Hebrews 13:1-9; Hebrews 13:18-23). [Note: See Charles C. Bing, "Does Fire in Hebrews refer to Hell?" Bibliotheca Sacra 167:667 (July-September 2010):342-57.]
The history of the interpretation I have offered in this passage, and in Hebrews generally, is as follows. Robert Govett was one of the earliest modern authors who wrote on the theme of the Christian’s rewards. [Note: See Robert Govett, Entrance Into the Kingdom.] He was also a leading figure in the school of thought that took the warnings of Hebrews as being addressed to Christians who were eternally saved and secure. However some in this school also believed that unfaithful Christians would miss the Millennium and spend 1,000 years in a kind of "purgatory." Those in this school include G. H. Lang, [Note: G. H. Lang, The Epistle to the Hebrews, pp. 106-7.] R. E. Neighbor, [Note: R. E. Neighbor, If They Shall Fall Away.] and probably Philip Mauro. [Note: Philip Mauro, God’s Pilgrims.]
Among the standard commentators B. F. Westcott, James Moffatt, and I. Howard Marshall, as well as most others, took the view that the writer addressed true Christians in the warning passages. These three men took what we would call an Arminian stance, believing true Christians can lose their salvation, but they believed the writer addressed Christians in these passages.
Students of this passage sometimes assume that the view that the writer addressed only false professors (i.e., not genuine Christians) is the majority view, but it is not. It is, however, the most popular Calvinistic interpretation.
Another modern writer who takes this passage as I do is R. T. Kendall. [Note: R. T. Kendall, Once Saved, Always Saved, pp. 175-99, and 219-28. Kendall succeeded D. Martin Lloyd-Jones as minister of Westminster Chapel, London, England.] He also discussed briefly the history of this interpretation in the church fathers. [Note: Kendall, pp. 224-25.] Hodges also held this view [Note: Hodges, "Hebrews;" and The Gospel . . . .] as did Oberholtzer, [Note: Oberholtzer, "The Warning . . .," 145:319-28.] Dillow, [Note: Dillow, pp. 433-55.] Gleason, [Note: Randall C. Gleason, "The Old Testament Background of the Warning in Hebrews 6:4-8," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):62-91.] and others.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/hebrews-6.html. 2012.
THE NECESSITY OF PROGRESS ( Hebrews 6:1-3 )
6:1-3 So, then, let us leave elementary teaching about Christ behind us and let us be home onwards to full maturity; for we cannot go on laying the foundations all the time and teaching about repentance from dead works and giving information about washings, about the laying on of hands, about the resurrection from the dead and upon that sentence which lasts to all eternity. God willing, this very thing we will do.
The writer to the Hebrews was certain of the necessity of progress in the Christian life. No teacher would ever get anywhere if he had to lay the foundations all over again every time he began to teach. The writer to the Hebrews says that his people must be going on to what he calls teleiotes ( G5051) . The King James Version translates this word perfection. But teleios ( G5046) , the adjective, and its kindred words have a technical meaning. Pythagoras divided his students into hoi ( G3588) manthanontes ( G3129) , the learners, and hoi ( G3588) teleioi ( G5046) , the mature. Philo divided his students into three different classes--hoi ( G3588) archomenoi ( G756) , those just beginning, hoi prokoptontes ( G4298) , those making progress, and hoi ( G3588) teleiomenoi ( G5048) , those beginning to reach maturity. Teleiotes ( G5047) does not imply complete knowledge but a certain maturity in the Christian faith.
The writer to the Hebrews means two things by this maturity: (i) He means something to do with the mind He means that as a man gets older he should more and more have thought things out for himself. He should, for instance, be able to say better who he believes Jesus to be. He should have a deeper grasp, not only of the facts, but also of the significances of the Christian faith. (ii) He means something to do with life. As a man grows older there should be more and more of the reflection of Christ upon him. All the time he should be ridding himself of old faults and achieving new virtues. Daily a new serenity and a new nobility should be breaking upon life. As the nameless poet has it:
"Let me grow lovely, growing old;
The many fine things too,
Laces and Ivory and Gold and Silks,
Need not be new.
And there is healing in old trees,
Old streets and glamour old,
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?"
There can be no standing still in the Christian life. It is told that on his pocket Bible Cromwell had a motto written in Latin--qui cessat esse melior cessat esse bonus--he who ceases to be better ceases to be good.
This passage enables us to see what the Early Church regarded as basic Christianity.
(i) There is repentance from dead works. The Christian life begins with repentance; and repentance (metanoia, G3341) is literally a change of mind. There is a new attitude to God, to men, to life, to self. It is a repentance from dead works. What does the writer to the Hebrews mean by this strange phrase? There are many things that he may mean, and each of them is relevant and suggestive. (a) Dead works may be deeds which bring death. They may be the immoral, selfish, godless, loveless, soiled actions which lead to death. (b) They may be defiling deeds. For a Jew to touch a dead body was the greatest defilement; to do so rendered him unclean and barred him from the worship of God until he was cleansed. Dead works may be those which defile a man and separate him from God. (c) They may be works which have no connection with character. For the Jew life was ritual; if he observed the proper ceremonies at the right time, he was a good man. But none of these things had any effect upon his character. It may be that the writer to the Hebrews means that the Christian has broken away from the meaningless rituals and conventions of life to give himself to the things which deepen his character and develop his soul.
(ii) There is faith which looks to God. The first essential in the Christian life is the godward look. The Christian determines his actions not by the verdict of men but by the verdict of God. He looks not to his own achievement for salvation but to the grace of God.
(iii) There is teaching about washings. This means that the Christian must realize what baptism really means. The first book of Christian instruction for those about to enter the Church and the first service order book is a little book called The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It was written about the year A.D. 100 and lays down the regulations for Christian Baptism. Now at this time infant baptism had not yet emerged. Men were coming straight from heathendom and baptism was reception into the Church and confession of faith. The Didachi, begins with six short chapters on the Christian faith and the Christian life. It begins by telling the candidate for baptism what he ought to believe and how he ought to live. Then in the seventh chapter it goes on:
"Concerning Baptism, baptize in this way. When you have instructed the candidate in all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, baptize in any other kind of water. If you cannot baptize in cold water, baptize in warm. If both of these are unobtainable, pour water three times upon the head of the candidate in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let him who is to baptize and him who is to be baptized fast, and let any others who can do so do the same. You must bid him who is to be baptized to fast for two or three days before the ceremony."
That is interesting. It shows that baptism in the early Church was, if possible, by total immersion. It shows that the person to be baptized was either immersed or affused with water three times, in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It shows that baptism was instructed baptism, for the account of the Christian faith and life is to be rehearsed before the sacrament of baptism is carried out. It shows that the candidate for baptism had to prepare not only his mind but also his spirit, for he had to fast beforehand. In the early days no one slipped into the Church without knowing what he was doing. So the writer to the Hebrews says: "At your baptism you were instructed in the basis of the Christian faith. There is no need to go back to that. You must erect a fuller faith on the basis you have already laid down."
(iv) There is the laying on of hands. In Jewish practice the laying on of hands had three significances. (a) It was the sign of the transference of guilt. The sacrificer laid his hands upon the head of the victim to symbolize the fact that he transferred his guilt to the animal being offered. (b) It was the sign of the transference of blessing. When a father blessed his son he laid his hands on the son's head as a token of that blessing. (c) It was the sign of setting apart to some special office. A man was ordained to office by the laying on of hands.
In the early Church it always accompanied baptism and was the way in which the Holy Spirit was conveyed to the person newly baptized ( Acts 8:17; Acts 19:6). This is not to be thought of in a material way. In those days the apostles were regarded with reverence because they had actually been the friends of Jesus on earth. It was a thrilling thing to be touched by a man who had actually touched the hand of Jesus. The effect of the laying on of hands depends not on the office of the man who lays on the hands but on his character and his nearness to Christ.
(v) There is the resurrection from the dead. Christianity from the beginning was a religion of immortality. It gave a man two worlds in which to live; it taught him that the best was yet to be and thereby made this world the training school for eternity.
(vi) There is the sentence which lasts to all eternity. Christianity was from the beginning a religion of judgment. No Christian was ever allowed to forget that in the end he must face God, and that what God thought of him was infinitely more important than what men thought of him.
CRUCIFYING CHRIST AGAIN ( Hebrews 6:4-8 )
6:4-8 For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, those who tasted the free gift from heaven, those who were made sharers in the Holy Spirit, those who tasted the fair word of God and the powers of the age to come, and who then became apostates, for they are crucifying the Son of God again for themselves and are making a mocking show of him. For when the earth has drunk the rain that comes often times upon it and when it brings forth herbage useful to those who cultivate it, it receives a share of blessing from God; but if it produces thorns and thistles it is rejected and is in imminent danger of a curse, and its end is to be appointed for burning.
This is one of the most terrible passages in scripture. It begins with a kind of list of the privileges of the Christian life.
The Christian has been enlightened. This is a favourite New Testament idea. No doubt it goes back to the picture of Jesus as the Light of the World, the Light that enlightens every man who comes into the world ( John 1:9; John 9:5). As Bilney, the martyr said, "When I heard the words, 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,' it was as if day suddenly broke in the midst of a dark night." The light of knowledge and joy and guidance breaks in upon a man with Christ. So entwined with this idea did Christianity become that enlightenment (photismos, G5462) became a synonym for baptism, and to be enlightened (photizesthai, G5461) became a synonym for to be baptized That is, in fact, the way many people have read this word here; and they have taken this passage to mean that there is no possibility of forgiveness for sins committed after baptism; and there have been times and places in the Church when baptism has been postponed to the moment of death in order to be safe. That idea we shall discuss later.
The Christian has tasted the free gift that comes from heaven. It is only in Christ that a man can be at peace with God. Forgiveness is not something he can ever win; it is a free gift. It is only when he comes to the Cross that his burden is rolled away. The Christian is a man who knows the immeasurable relief of experiencing the free gift of the forgiveness of God.
The Christian is a sharer in the Holy Spirit. He has in his life a new directive and a new power. He has discovered the presence of a power that can both tell him what to do and enable him to do it.
The Christian has tasted the fair word of God. That is another way of saying that he has discovered the truth. it is characteristic of men that instinctively they follow truth as blind men long for light; it is part of the penalty and the privilege of being a man that we can never rest content until we have learned the meaning of life. In God's word we find the truth and the meaning of life.
The Christian has tasted the powers of the world to come. Jew and Christian alike divided time into two ages. There was this present age (ho ( G3588) nun ( G3568) aion G165) , which was wholly bad; there was the age to come (ho ( G3588) mellon ( G3195) aion, G165) , which would be wholly good. Some day God would intervene; there would come the shattering destruction and the terrible judgment of the Day of the Lord and then this present age would end and the age to come would begin. But the Christian is a man who here and now is tasting the blessedness of the age which is God's. Even in time he has a foretaste of eternity.
"Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o'erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am his, and he is mine."
So the writer to the Hebrews sets out the shining catalogue of Christian blessedness; and then at the end of it there comes like a sudden knell, who then became apostates.
What does he mean when he says that it is impossible that those who have become apostates can ever be renewed to repentance? Many thinkers have tried to find a way round this word impossible (adunaton, G102) . Esrasmus held that it was to be taken in the sense of difficult almost to the point of impossibility. Bengel held that what was impossible for man was possible for God, and that we must leave those who have fallen away to the mercy of God's singular love. But when we read this passage we must remember that--it was written in an age of persecution: and in any such age apostasy is the supreme sin. In any age of persecution a man can save his life by denying Christ; but every person who does so aims a body-blow at the Church, for it means that he has counted his life and comfort dearer to him than Jesus Christ.
This particular way of putting things has always emerged during and after persecutions. Two hundred years after this came the terrible persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. When peace came after the storm, the one test some wished to apply to every surviving member of the Church was: "Did you deny Christ and so save your life?" And if he had denied his Lord they would have shut the door on him once and for all. Kermit Eby tells of a French churchman who, when asked what he did during the French Revolution, whispered: "I survived."
This is the condemnation of the man who loved life more than he loved Christ. It was never meant to be erected into a doctrine that there is no forgiveness for post-baptismal sin. Who is any man to say that any other man is beyond the forgiveness of God? What it is meant to show is the terrible seriousness of choosing existence instead of loyalty to Christ.
The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say a tremendous thing. Those who fall away crucify Christ again. This is the point of the great Quo Vadis legend. It tells how in the Neronic persecution Peter was caught in Rome and his courage failed. Down the Appian Way he fled for his life. Suddenly there was a figure standing in his path. It was Jesus himself. "Domine," said Peter, "quo vadis? Lord, where are you going?" "I am going back to Rome to be crucified again, this time in your stead." And Peter, shamed into heroism, turned back to Rome and died a martyr's death.
Late in Roman history there was an Emperor who tried to put back the clock. Julian wished to destroy Christianity and bring back the old gods. His attempt ended in defeat. Ibsen makes him say: "Where is he now? Has he been at work elsewhere since that happened at Golgotha?... Where is he now? What if that, at Golgotha, near Jerusalem, was but a wayside matter, a thing done, as it were, in the passing? What if he goes on and on, suffers and dies and conquers again and again, from world to world?"
There is a certain truth there. At the back of the thought of the writer to the Hebrews there is a tremendous conception. He saw the Cross as an event which opened a window into the heart of God. He saw It as showing in a moment of time the suffering love which is for ever in that heart. The Cross said to men: "That is how I have always loved you and always will love you. This is what your sin does to me and always will do to me. This is the only way I can ever redeem you.
In God's heart there is always, so long as there is sin, this agony of suffering and redeeming love. Sin does not only break God's law; it breaks his heart. It is true that when we fall away, we crucify Christ again.
Further, the writer to the Hebrews says that when we fall away we make a mocking show of Christ. How is that? When we sin the world will say: "So that is all that Christianity is worth. So that is all this Christ can do. So that is all the Cross achieved." It is bad enough that when a Church member falls into sin he brings shame to himself and discredit on his Church; but what is worse is that he draws men's taunts and jeers on Christ.
We may note a final thing. It has been pointed out that in the letter to the Hebrews there are four impossible things. There is the impossibility of this passage. The other three are: (i) It is impossible for God to lie ( Hebrews 6:18). (ii) It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin ( Hebrews 10:4). (iii) Without faith it is impossible to please God ( Hebrews 11:6).
THE BRIGHTER SIDE ( Hebrews 6:9-12 )
6:9-12 Beloved, even if we do speak like this, we are persuaded of better things for you, yes, things that are bound up with salvation. For God is not unjust to forget your work and the love that you displayed in that you have been and still are active in the service of God's dedicated people. We hope with all our hearts that each one of you will display the same zeal to make your hope come true and that you will go on doing so until the end, so that you may not become lazily lethargic but may copy those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
One thing stands out here. This is the only passage in the whole letter where the writer addresses his people as beloved. It is precisely after the sternest passage of all that he uses the address of love. It is as if he said to them: "If I did not love you so much I would not speak with such severity." Chrysostom paraphrases the thought this way: "It is better that I should scare you with words than that you should sorrow in deeds." He speaks the truth but, however stern it may be, he speaks it in love.
Further, his very form of speaking shows how individual his love is. "We hope," he says, "that each one of you will display the zeal that will make your hope come true." He is not thinking of them as a crowd but as individual men and women. Dr. Paul Tournier in A Doctor's Casebook has a paragraph on what he calls the personalism of the Bible. "God says to Moses, 'I know you by name' ( Exodus 33:17). He says to Cyrus, 'It is I, the Lord, who call you by your name' ( Isaiah 45:3). One is struck, on reading the Bible, by the importance in it of personal names. Whole chapters are devoted to long genealogies. When I was young I used to think that they could well have been dropped from the Biblical Canon. But I have since realized that these series of proper names bear witness to the fact that, in the biblical perspective, man is neither a thing nor an abstraction, not a fraction of the mass, as the Marxists see him, but a person." When the writer to the Hebrews wrote with sternness he was not rebuking a Church; he was yearning over individual men and women, as God himself does.
There are two interesting things implicit in this passage.
(i) We learn that even if these people to whom he is writing have failed to grow up in Christian faith and knowledge and even if they have been falling away from their first enthusiasm, they have never given up their practical service to their fellow Christians. There is a great practical truth here. Sometimes in the Christian life we come to times which are arid; the Church services have nothing to say to us, the teaching that we do in Sunday school or the singing that we do in the choir or the service we give on a committee becomes a labour without joy. At such a time there are two alternatives. We can give up our worship and our service, but if we do, we are lost. Or we can go determinedly on with them, and the strange thing is that the light and the romance and the joy will in time come back again. In the and times, the best thing to do is to go on with the habits of the Christian life and of the Church. If we do, we can be sure that the sun will shine again.
(ii) He tells his people to be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherited the promise. What he is saying to them is: "You are not the first to launch out on the glories and the perils of the Christian faith. Others braved the dangers and endured the tribulations before you and won through." He is telling them to go on in the realization that others have gone through their struggle and won the victory. The Christian is not treading an untrodden pathway; he is treading where the saints have trod.
THE SURE HOPE ( Hebrews 6:13-20 )
6:13-20 When God made his promise to Abraham, since he was not able to swear by anyone greater, he swore by himself. "Certainly," he said, "I will bless you and I will multiply you." When Abraham had thus exercised patience he received the promise. Men swear by someone who is greater than themselves; and an oath serves for a guarantee beyond all possibility of contradiction. But on this occasion God, in his quite exceptional desire to make clear to the heirs of the promise the unalterable character of his intention, interposed with an oath, so that by two unalterable things, in which it is impossible that God should lie, we, who have fled to him for refuge, might be strongly encouraged to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us. This hope is to us like an anchor, safe and sure, and it enters with us into the inner court beyond the veil, where Jesus has already entered as a forerunner for us, when he became a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
God made more than one promise to Abraham. Genesis 12:7 tells us of the one made when he called him out of Ur and sent him into the unknown and to the promised land. Genesis 17:5-6 is the promise of many descendants who would be blessed in him. Genesis 18:18 is a repetition of that promise. But the promise which God swore with an oath to keep comes in Genesis 22:16-18. The real meaning of this first sentence is: "God made many a promise to Abraham, and in the end he actually made one which he confirmed with an oath." That promise was, as it were, doubly binding. It was God's word which in itself made it sure, but in addition it was confirmed by an oath. Now that promise was that all Abraham's descendants would be blessed; therefore it was to the Christian Church, for it was the true Israel and the true seed of Abraham. That blessing came true in Jesus Christ. Abraham certainly had to exercise patience before he received the promise. It was not till twenty-five years after he had left Ur that his son Isaac was born. He was old; Sarah was barren, the wandering was long; but Abraham never wavered from his hope and trust in the promise of God.
In the ancient world the anchor was the symbol of hope. Epictetus says: "A ship should never depend on one anchor or a life on one hope." Pythagoras said: "Wealth is a weak anchor; fame is still weaker. What then are the anchors which are strong? Wisdom, great-heartedness, courage--these are the anchors which no storm can shake." The writer to the Hebrews insists that the Christian possesses the greatest hope in the world.
That hope, he says, is one which enters into the inner court beyond the veil. In the Temple the most sacred of all places was the Holy of Holies. The veil was what covered it. Within the Holy of Holies there was held to abide the very presence of God. Into that place only one man in all the world could go, and he was the High Priest; and even he might enter that Holy Place on only one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.
Even then, it was laid down, he must not linger in it for it was a dangerous and a terrible thing to enter into the presence of the living God. What the writer to the Hebrews says is this: "Under the old Jewish religion no one might enter into the presence of God but the High Priest and he only on one day of the year; but now Jesus Christ has opened the way for every man at every time."
The writer to the Hebrews uses a most illuminating word about Jesus. He says that he entered the presence of God as our forerunner. The word is prodromos ( G4274) . It has three stages of meaning: (i) It means one who rushes on. (ii) It means a pioneer. (iii) It means a scout who goes ahead to see that it is safe for the body of the troops to follow. Jesus went into the presence of God to make it safe for all men to follow.
Let us put it very simply in another way. Before Jesus came, God was the distant stranger whom only a very few might approach and that at peril of their lives. But because of what Jesus was and did, God has become the friend of every man. Once men thought of him as barring the door; now they think of the door to his presence as thrown wide open to all.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/hebrews-6.html. 1956-1959.
See note on v.7 for lesson point.
Picture of a farmer burning a worthless field of weeds.
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Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/hebrews-6.html. 2021.
But that which beareth thorns and briers,.... To which wicked men answer; who are unfruitful and unprofitable, and are hurtful, pricking and grieving, by their wicked lives and conversations, by their bitter and reproachful words, and by their violent and cruel persecutions; and particularly carnal professors, and especially apostates, such as before described; for to such earth, professors of religion may be compared, who are worldly, slothful, defrauding and overreaching, carnal and wanton; as also heretical men, and such as turn from the faith, deny it, and persecute the saints: and the things or actions produced by them are aptly expressed by "thorns and briers"; such as errors, heresies, and evil works of all kinds; and which show that the seed of the word was never sown in their hearts, and that that which they bear, or throw out, is natural to them: and such earth is
rejected; as such men are, both by the church, and by God himself; or "reprobate", as they are concerning the faith, and to every good work; and are given up by God to a reprobate mind: and is "nigh unto cursing"; and such men are cursed already by the law, being under its sentence of curse and condemnation; and are nigh to the execution of it; referring either to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was near at hand; or to the final judgment, when they shall hear, Go, ye cursed:
whose end is to be burned; with everlasting and unquenchable fire, in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-6.html. 1999.
|Advancement in Holiness; First Principles.||A. D. 62.|
1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit. 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
We have here the apostle's advice to the Hebrews--that they would grow up from a state of childhood to the fullness of the stature of the new man in Christ. He declares his readiness to assist them all he could in their spiritual progress; and, for their greater encouragement, he puts himself with them: Let us go on. Here observe, In order to their growth, Christians must leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ. How must they leave them? They must not lose them, they must not despise them, they must not forget them. They must lay them up in their hearts, and lay them as the foundation of all their profession and expectation; but they must not rest and stay in them, they must not be always laying the foundation, they must go on, and build upon it. There must be a superstructure; for the foundation is laid on purpose to support the building. Here it may be enquired, Why did the apostle resolve to set strong meat before the Hebrews, when he knew they were but babes? Answer. 1. Though some of them were but weak, yet others of them had gained more strength; and they must be provided for suitably. And, as those who are grown Christians must be willing to hear the plainest truths preached for the sake of the weak, so the weak must be willing to hear the more difficult and mysterious truths preached for the sake of those who are strong. 2. He hoped they would be growing in their spiritual strength and stature, and so be able to digest stronger meat.
I. The apostle mentions several foundation-principles, which must be well laid at first, and then built upon; neither his time nor theirs must be spent in laying these foundations over and over again. These foundations are six:--
1. Repentance from dead works, that is, conversion and regeneration, repentance from a spiritually dead state and course; as if he had said, "Beware of destroying the life of grace in your souls; your minds were changed by conversion, and so were your lives. Take care that you return not to sin again, for then you must have the foundation to lay again; there must be a second conversion a repenting not only of, but from, dead works." Observe here, (1.) The sins of persons unconverted are dead works; they proceed from persons spiritually dead, and they tend to death eternal. (2.) Repentance for dead works, if it be right, is repentance from dead works, a universal change of heart and life. (3.) Repentance for and from dead works is a foundation-principle, which must not be laid again, though we must renew our repentance daily.
2. Faith towards God, a firm belief of the existence of God, of his nature, attributes, and perfections, the trinity of persons in the unity of essence, the whole mind and will of God as revealed in his word, particularly what relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must by faith acquaint ourselves with these things; we must assent to them, we must approve of them, and apply all to ourselves with suitable affections and actions. Observe, (1.) Repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, are connected, and always go together; they are inseparable twins, the one cannot live without the other. (2.) Both of these are foundation-principles, which should be once well laid, but never pulled up, so as to need to be laid over again; we must not relapse into infidelity.
3. The doctrine of baptisms, that is, of being baptized by a minister of Christ with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the initiating sign or seal of the covenant of grace, strongly engaging the person so baptized to get acquainted with the new covenant, to adhere to it, and prepare to renew it at the table of the Lord and sincerely to regulate himself according to it, relying upon the truth and faithfulness of God for the blessings contained in it. And the doctrine of an inward baptism, that of the Spirit sprinkling the blood of Christ upon the soul, for justification, and the graces of the Spirit for sanctification. This ordinance of baptism is a foundation to be rightly laid, and daily remembered, but not repeated.
4. Laying on of hands, on persons passing solemnly from their initiated state by baptism to the confirmed state, by returning the answer of a good conscience towards God, and sitting down at the Lord's table. This passing from incomplete to complete church membership was performed by laying on of hands, which was extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued. This, once done, all are obliged to abide by, and not to need another solemn admission, as at first, but to go on, and grow up, in Christ. Or by this may be meant ordination of persons to the ministerial office, who are duly qualified for it and inclined to it; and this by fasting and prayer, with laying on of the hands of the presbytery: and this is to be done but once.
5. The resurrection of the dead, that is, of dead bodies; and their re-union with their souls, to be eternal companions together in weal or woe, according as their state was towards God when they died, and the course of life they led in this world.
6. Eternal judgment, determining the soul of every one, when it leaves the body at death, and both soul and body at the last day, to their eternal state, every one to his proper society and employment to which they were entitled and fitted here on earth; the wicked to everlasting punishment, the righteous to life eternal.
These are the great foundation-principles which ministers should clearly and convincingly unfold, and closely apply. In these the people should be well instructed and established, and from these they must never depart; without these, the other parts of religion have no foundation to support them.
II. The apostle declares his readiness and resolution to assist the Hebrews in building themselves up on these foundations till they arrive at perfection: And this we will do, if God permit,Hebrews 6:3; Hebrews 6:3. And thereby he teaches them, 1. That right resolution is very necessary in order to progress and proficiency in religion. 2. That that resolution is right which is not only made in the sincerity of our hearts, but in a humble dependence upon God for strength, for assistance and righteousness, for acceptance, and for time and opportunity. 3. That ministers should not only teach people what to do, but go before them, and along with them, in the way of duty.
III. He shows that this spiritual growth is the surest way to prevent that dreadful sin of apostasy from the faith. And here,
1. He shows how far persons may go in religion, and, after all, fall away, and perish for ever, Hebrews 6:4; Hebrews 6:5. (1.) They may be enlightened. Some of the ancients understand this of their being baptized; but it is rather to be understood of notional knowledge and common illumination, of which persons may have a great deal, and yet come short of heaven. Balaam was the man whose eyes were opened (Numbers 24:3), and yet with his eyes opened he went down to utter darkness. (2.) They may taste of the heavenly gift, feel something of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in his operations upon their souls, causing them to taste something of religion, and yet be like persons in the market, who taste of what they will not come up to the price of, and so but take a taste, and leave it. Persons may taste religion, and seem to like it, if they could have it upon easier terms than denying themselves, and taking up their cross, and following Christ. (3.) They may be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, that is, of his extraordinary and miraculous gifts; they may have cast out devils in the name of Christ, and done many other mighty works. Such gifts in the apostolic age were sometimes bestowed upon those who had no true saving grace. (4.) They may taste of the good word of God; they may have some relish of gospel doctrines, may hear the word with pleasure, may remember much of it, and talk well of it, and yet never be cast into the form and mould of it, nor have it dwelling richly in them. (5.) They may have tasted of the powers of the world to come; they may have been under strong impressions concerning heaven, and dread of going to hell. These lengths hypocrites may go, and, after all, turn apostates. Now hence observe, [1.] These great things are spoken here of those who may fall away; yet it is not here said of them that they were truly converted, or that they were justified; there is more in true saving grace than in all that is here said of apostates. [2.] This therefore is no proof of the final apostasy of true saints. These indeed may fall frequently and foully, but yet they will not totally nor finally from God; the purpose and the power of God, the purchase and the prayer of Christ, the promise of the gospel, the everlasting covenant that God has made with them, ordered in all things and sure, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the immortal seed of the word, these are their security. But the tree that has not these roots will not stand.
2. The apostle describes the dreadful case of such as fall away after having gone so far in the profession of the religion. (1.) The greatness of the sin of apostasy. It is crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to open shame. They declare that they approve of what the Jews did in crucifying Christ, and that they would be glad to do the same thing again if it were in their power. They pour the greatest contempt upon the Son of God, and therefore upon God himself, who expects all should reverence his Son, and honour him as they honour the Father. They do what in them lies to represent Christ and Christianity as a shameful thing, and would have him to be a public shame and reproach. This is the nature of apostasy. (2.) The great misery of apostates. [1.] It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. It is extremely hazardous. Very few instances can be given of those who have gone so far and fallen away, and yet ever have been brought to true repentance, such a repentance as is indeed a renovation of the soul. Some have thought this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but without ground. The sin here mentioned is plainly apostasy both from the truth and the ways of Christ. God can renew them to repentance, but he seldom does it; and with men themselves it is impossible. [2.] Their misery is exemplified by a proper similitude, taken from the ground that after much cultivation brings forth nothing but briers and thorns; and therefore is nigh unto cursing, and its end is to be burned,Hebrews 6:8; Hebrews 6:8. To give this the greater force here is observed the difference that there is between the good ground and the bad, that these contraries, being set one over against the other, illustrate each other. First Here is a description of the good ground: It drinketh in the rain that cometh often upon it. Believers do not only taste of the word of God, but they drink it in; and this good ground bringeth forth fruit answerable to the cost laid out, for the honour of Christ and the comfort of his faithful ministers, who are, under Christ, dressers of the ground. And this fruit-field or garden receives the blessing. God declares fruitful Christians blessed, and all wise and good men account them blessed: they are blessed with increase of grace, and with further establishment and glory at last. Secondly, Here is the different case of the bad ground: It bears briers and thorns; it is not only barren of good fruit, but fruitful in that which is bad, briers and thorns, fruitful in sin and wickedness, which are troublesome and hurtful to all about them, and will be most so to sinners themselves at last; and then such ground is rejected. God will concern himself no more about such wicked apostates; he will let them alone, and cast them out of his care; he will command the clouds that they rain no more upon them. Divine influences shall be restrained; and that is not all, but such ground is nigh unto cursing; so far is it from receiving the blessing, that a dreadful curse hangs over it, though as yet, through the patience of God, the curse is not fully executed. Lastly, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/hebrews-6.html. 1706.
The epistle to the Hebrews differs in some important respects from all those which have been before us; so much so that many have questioned whether it be the writing of the apostle Paul, of Apollos, of Barnabas, etc. Of this my mind has no doubt. I believe that Paul, and no other, was the author, and that it bears the strongest intrinsic traits of his doctrine. The style is different, and so is the manner of handling the truth; but the line of truth, though it be affected by the object that he had in view, is that which savours of Paul beyond all: not of Peter, or John, or James, or Jude, but of Paul alone.
One good and plain reason which has graven a difference of character on the epistle is the fact, that it goes outside his allotted province. Paul was the apostle of the uncircumcision. If writing for the instruction of Jews, as here he clearly was, to believers or Christians that had once been of that nation, he was evidently outside the ordinary function of his apostolic work.
There is another reason also why the epistle to the Hebrews diverges very sensibly and materially from the rest of the writings of St. Paul, that it is not, strictly speaking, an exercise of apostleship at all, but of the writer (apostle though he were) as a teacher, and here a teacher clearly not of Gentiles, as he says elsewhere, but of Jews. Now it is plain, if he that was an apostle and preacher and teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth was led by the Holy Spirit to address the saints that were of the old Jewish fold, there must have been a marked departure from his usual methods in the manner of using and presenting the truth of God to these. But we have this blessed result of his acting outside his own ordinary sphere, that it is the finest and indeed the only specimen of teaching properly so called in the New Testament. It is not a revelation given by prophetic or apostolic authority; and for this reason, I presume, he does not introduce himself at all. It is always a failure when the teacher as such is prominent. The point for such an one is, that the reaching (not himself) should arrest and instruct. But in revealing truth the person whom God employs in that work is naturally brought before those addressed; and hence the apostle took particular care, even if he did not write an epistle, to put his name to it, introducing himself at the beginning through the amanuensis that he employed, and with scrupulous care adding his own name at the end of each epistle.
In writing to the Hebrew believers it is not so. Here the apostle is what indeed he was. Besides being apostle of the uncircumcision, he was a teacher; and God took care that, although expressly said to be a teacher of Gentiles, his should be the word to teach the Christian Jews too; and, in fact, we may be assured that he taught them as they never were taught before. He opened the scriptures as none but Paul could, according to the gospel of the glory of Christ. He taught them the value of the living oracles that God had given them; for this is the beautiful characteristic here. Indeed the epistle to the Hebrews stands unique. By it the believing Jew was led into a divine application of that which was in the Old Testament that which they had habitually read in the law, Psalms, and prophets, from their cradle we may say, but which they had never seen in such a light before. That mighty, logical, penetrating, richly-stored mind! that heart with such affections large and deep, as scarce ever were concentred in another bosom! that soul of experience wonderfully varied and profound! he was the one whom God was now leading in a somewhat unwonted path, no doubt, but in a path which, when once taken, at once approves itself by divine wisdom to every heart purified by faith.
For if Peter, as is known, were the apostle of the circumcision pre-eminently, it was through him that God first of all opened the door of the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles; and if the apostle Paul, with the concurrence of the heads of the work among the circumcision, had gone to the Gentiles, none the less did the Spirit of God (it may be without asking those who seemed to be somewhat at Jerusalem) employ Paul to write to the believers of the circumcision the most consummate treatise on the bearing of Christ and Christianity upon the law and the prophets, and as practically dealing with their wants, dangers, and blessing. Thus did God most carefully guard in every form from the technical drawing of lines of rigid demarcation to which even Christians are so prone, the love of settling things in precise routine, the desire that each should have his own place, not only as the proper sphere of his work, but to the exclusion of every other. With admirable wisdom indeed the Lord directs the work and the workmen, but never exclusively; and the apostle Paul is here, as just shown, the proof of it on one side as Peter is on the other.
What is the consequence under the blessed guidance of the Spirit? As the great teacher of the believers from among the Jews, we have, after all, not Paul, but through him God Himself left to address His own, in the words, facts, ceremonies, offices, persons so long familiar to the chosen people. Paul does not appear. This could hardly have been by any other arrangement, at any rate not so naturally. "God," says he, "having in many measures and in many manners spoken in time past to the fathers in the prophets, at the last of these days spoke to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Paul, would show them thus the infinite dignity of the Messiah whom they had received. Never would Paul weaken the personal rights or the official place of the Anointed of Jehovah. Contrariwise, he would lead them on to find what they had never yet seen in their Messiah, and, wonderful to say, he founds his proofs, not on new revelations, but on those very words of God which they had read so superficially, the depths of which they had never approached, nor had they so much as suspected. The facts of Christianity they knew; the linking of all scripture with Christ's person, and work, and glory they had yet to discover.
But mark the manner of the writer. He is careful to establish the thread of connection with God's word and ways of old; and yet there is not a single epistle which more elaborately throughout its entire course sets the believer in present relationship to Christ in heaven; I think one might be bold to say, none so much. From the very starting-point we see Christ, not merely dead and risen, but glorified in heaven. There is no doubt that the writer meant his readers to hold fast, that He who suffered all things on earth is the same Jesus who is now at the right hand of God; but the first place in which we hear of Him is as Son of God on high according toHebrews 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1-14, and there it is we see Him as Son of man according toHebrews 2:1-18; Hebrews 2:1-18. It was there, in fact, that Paul had himself first seen the Lord. Who then was so suitable to introduce Jesus, the rejected Messiah, at the right hand of God, as Saul of Tarsus? On the way to Damascus that staunchest of Jews had his eyes first opened blinded naturally, but enabled by grace so much the more to see by the power of the Holy Spirit the glorified Christ,
It is to Christ in heaven, then, that Paul, writing to the Christian Jews, first directs their attention. But he does it in a manner which shows the singularly delicate tact given him. True affection is prudent for its object when peril is nigh, and delights to help effectively, instead of being indifferent whether the way of it wounds those whose good is sought. In no way are the former messages of God forgotten in the days of their fathers. Nor would one gather from this epistle that its writer laboured among the Gentiles, nor even that there was a calling of Gentile believers in the Lord Jesus. The epistle to the Hebrews never speaks of either. We can understand, therefore, how active-minded men, who occupied themselves with the surface the method, the style, the unusual absence of the writer's name, and other peculiarities in the phenomena of this epistle, too readily hesitated to attribute it to Paul. They might not attach much moment to the general tradition which ascribed it to him. But they ought to have looked more steadily into its depths, and the motives for obvious points of difference, even were it written by Paul.
Granted that there is a striking absence of allusion to the one body here. But there was one nearer and dearer to Paul than even the church. There was one truth that Paul laboured yet more to hold up than that one body, wherein is neither Jew nor Greek the glory of Him who is the head of it. Christ Himself was what made the assembly of God precious to him. Christ Himself was infinitely more precious than even the church which He had loved so well, and for which He gave Himself. Of Christ, then, he would deliver his last message to his brethren after the flesh as well as Spirit; and as he began preaching in the synagogues that He is the Son of God, (Acts 9:1-43) so here he begins his epistle to the Hebrews. He would lead them on, and this with gentle but firm and witting hand. He would deepen their knowledge lovingly and wisely. He would not share their unbelief, their love of ease, their value for outward show, their dread of suffering; but he would reserve each folly for the most fitting moment. He would lay a vigorous hand on that which threatened their departure from the faith, but he would smooth lightly lesser difficulties out of their way. But when he gained their ear, and they were enabled to see the bright lights and perfections of the great High Priest, there is no warning more energetic than this epistle affords against the imminent and remediless danger of those who abandon Christ, whether for religious form, or to indulge in sin. All is carried on in the full power of the Spirit of God, but with the nicest consideration of Jewish prejudices, and the most scrupulous care to bring every warrant for his doctrine from their own ancient yet little understood testimonies.
It is evident, however, even from the opening of the epistle, that though he does not slight but uphold the Old Testament scriptures, yet he will not let the Jews pervert them to dishonour the Lord Jesus. How had God spoken to the fathers? In many measures and in many manners. So had He spoken in the prophets. It was fragmentary and various, not a full and final manifestation of Himself. Mark the skill! He thereby cuts off, by the unquestionable facts of the Old Testament, that overweening self-complacency of the Jew, which would set Moses and Elias against hearing the Son of God. Had God spoken to the fathers, in the prophets? Unquestionably. Paul, who loved Israel and estimated their privileges more highly than themselves, (Romans 9:1-33) was the last man to deny or enfeeble it. But how had God spoken then? Had He formerly brought out the fulness of His mind? Not so. The early communications were but refracted rays, not the light unbroken and complete. Who could deny that such was the character of all the Old Testament? Yet so cautiously does he insinuate the obviously and necessarily practical character of that which was revealed of old, that at a first reading, nay, however often read perfunctorily, they might have no more perceived it than, I suppose, most of us must confess as to ourselves. But there it is; and when we begin to prove the divine certainty of every word, we weigh and weigh again its value.
As then it is pointed out that there were formerly many portions, so also were there many modes in the prophetic communications of God. This was, beyond doubt, the way in which His revelations had been gradually vouchsafed to His people. But for this very reason, it was not complete. God was giving piecemeal His various words, "here a little, and there a little." Such was the character of His ways with Israel. They could not man could not hear more till redemption was accomplished, after the Son of God Himself was come, and His glory fully revealed. Now when promises were given to the fathers, they did not go beyond the earthly glory of Christ; but known to Him were all things from the beginning, yet He did not outrun the course of His dealings with His people. But as they manifested themselves in relation to Himself, and alas! their own weakness and ruin, higher glories began to dawn, and were needful as a support to the people. Hence, invariably, you will find these two things correlative. Reduce the glory of Christ, and you equally lower your judgment of the state of man. See the total absolute ruin of the creature; and none but the Son in all His glory is felt to be a sufficient Saviour for such.
The apostle was now being led by the Holy Ghost to wean these believers from their poor, meagre, earthly thoughts of Christ from that so common tendency to take the least portion of the blessing, contenting ourselves with that which we think we need, and which we feel to be desirable for us, and there sitting down. God, on the contrary, while He does adapt Himself to the earliest wants of souls, and the feeblest answer to Christ by the Spirit of God working within us, nevertheless has in His heart for us what suits His own glory, and this He will accomplish; for faithful is He who hath promised, and He will do it. He means to have all that love the Saviour like Him; and all that He purposes to do for the Saviour's honour, He has perfectly unfolded to us. No doubt, this supposes the resurrection state, and it never can be till then; but He graciously works now, that we may learn by degrees that only such a Saviour and Lord the effulgence of His glory, and full expression of His substance, the Son of God Himself could suit either God or us.
Accordingly, while he intimates thus that all was but partial, being piecemeal and multiform, in the revelations from God to the fathers, he lets them know, in the next verse, that the same God had, in the last of these days, "spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." If such and so great were His glory, what must not be the word of such a Son? What the fulness of the truth that God was now making known to His people by Him? Was this to slight the glory of the Messiah? Let them rather take heed that there be no oversight of Him on their part; none could justly put it to the account of God. For who was He, this Messiah, that they would fain occupy themselves with as a king, and would have confirmed, had it 'been possible, to aggrandize themselves the ancient people of God? The brightness of God's glory, the express image of His substance; the upholder, not of Israel or their land only, but of all things "by the word of his power." But hearken "when he had by himself purged our sins," was not the whole Jewish system blotted out by such a truth? "when he had by himself purged our sins." It is to the exclusion of every other instrument. Help there was not; means there could not be. He Himself undertook and achieved the task alone; and, when He had thus done it, "sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."
This furnishes the first part of the doctrine on which the apostle insists. If any beings had special account or stood highly exalted in a Jew's eye, the holy angels were they; and no wonder. It was in this form that Jehovah ordinarily appeared, whenever He visited the fathers or the sons of Israel. There were exceptions; but, as a rule, He who made known the will and manifested the power of Jehovah in these early days to the fathers is spoken of habitually as the angel of Jehovah. It is thus He was represented. He had not yet taken manhood, or made it part of His person. I do not deny that there was sometimes the appearance of man. An angel might appear in whatever guise it pleased God; but, appear as He might, He was the representative of Jehovah. Accordingly, the Jews always associated angels with the highest idea of beings, next to Jehovah Himself, the chosen messengers of the divine will for any passing vision among men. But now appeared One who completely surpassed the angels. Who was He? The Son of God. It ought to have filled them with joy.
We may easily understand that every soul truly born of God would and must break forth into thanksgiving to hear of a deeper glory than he had first perceived in Christ, We must not look on the Lord according to our experience, if there has been simplicity in the way God has brought us to the perception of His glory; we must endeavour to put ourselves back, and consider the prejudices and difficulties of the Jew. They had their own peculiar hindrances; and one of their greatest was the idea of a divine person becoming a man; for a man, to a Jew, was far below an angel. Are there not many now, even professing Christians (to their shame be it spoken) who think somewhat similarly? Not every Christian knows that a mere angel, as such, is but a servant; not every Christian understands that man was made to rule. No doubt he is a servant, but not merely one so accomplishing orders, but having a given sphere, in which he was to rule as the image and glory of God: a thing never true of an angel never was, and never can be. The Jews had not entered into this; no man ever did receive such a thought. The great mass of Christians now are totally ignorant of it. The time, the manner, and the only way in which such a truth could be known, was in the person of Christ; for He became not an angel but a man.
But the very thing that to us is so simple, when we have laid hold of the astonishing place of man in the person of Christ this was to them the difficulty. His being a man, they imagined, must lower Him necessarily below an angel. The apostle, therefore, has to prove that which to us is an evident matter of truth of revelation from God without argument at all. And this he proves from their own scriptures. "For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?" Now it is true that angels are sometimes called "sons of God," but God never singles out one and says, "Thou art my Son." In a vague general way, He speaks of all men as being His sons. He speaks of the angels in a similar way, as being His sons. Adam was a son of God apart, I mean, from the grace of God as a mere creature of God into whose nostrils He breathed the breath of life. Adam was a son of God, angels were sons of God; but to which of the angels did God ever speak in such language as this? No, it was to a man; for He was thus speaking of the Lord as Messiah here below; and this is what gives the emphasis of the passage. It is not predicated of the Son as eternally such; there would be no wonder in this. None could be surprised, assuredly, that the Son of God, viewed in His own eternal being, should be greater than an angel. But that He, an infant on earth, looked at as the son of the Virgin, that He should be above all the angels in heaven this was a wonder to the Jewish mind; and yet what had in their scriptures a plainer proof? It was not to an angel in heaven, but to the Babe at Bethlehem, that God had said, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;" and, again, "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son" words said historically of David's son; but, as usual, looking onward to a greater than David, or his wise son, who immediately succeeded him. Christ is the true and continual object of the inspiring Spirit.
But next follows a still more powerful proof of His glory: "And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him." So far from any angel approaching the glory of the Lord Jesus, it is God Himself who commands that all the angels shall worship Him. "And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire." They are but servants, whatever their might, function, or sphere. They may have a singular place as servants, and a spiritual nature accomplishing the pleasure of the Lord; but they are only servants. They never rule. "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Not a word is said about His fellows until God Himself addresses Him as God. The angels worshipped Him: God now salutes Him as God; for such He was, counting it no robbery to be on equality with God, one with the Father.
But this is far from all. The chain of scriptural testimony is carried out and confirmed with another and even more wondrous citation. "God" may be used in a subordinate sense. Elohim has His representatives, who are, therefore, called gods. Magistrates and kings are so named in scripture. So are they styled, as the Lord told the Jews. The word of God came and commissioned them to govern in earthly things; for it might be no more than in judicial matters. Still, there they were, in their own sphere, representing God's authority, and are called gods, though clearly with a very subordinate force. But there is another name which never is employed in any sense save that which is supreme. The dread and incommunicable name is "Jehovah." Is, then, the Messiah ever called Jehovah? Certainly He is. And under what circumstances? In His deepest shame. I do not speak now of God's forsaking Christ as the point of view in which He is looked at, though at the same general time.
We that believe can all understand that solemn judgment of our sins on the part of God, when Jesus was accomplishing atonement on the cross. But there was more in the cross than this, which is not the subject of Psalms 102:1-28, but rather the Messiah utterly put to shame by man and the people; nevertheless taking it all for this was His perfection in it from the hand of Jehovah. It is under such circumstances He pours out His plaint. Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down. Had atonement, as such, been in view here as in Psalms 22:1-31, would it not be put as casting Him down, and then raising Him up? This is the way in which we Christians naturally think of Christ in that which is nearest to the sinner's need and God's answer of grace. But here Jehovah raised Him up, and Jehovah cast Him down, which evidently refers to His Messianic place, not to His position as the suffering and afterwards glorified Christ, the Head of the church. He was raised up as the true Messiah by Jehovah on earth, and He was cast down by Jehovah on earth. No doubt man was the instrument of it. The world which He had made did not know Him; His own people received Him not, neither would have Him. Jewish unbelief hated Him: the more they knew Him, the less could they endure Him. The goodness, the love, the glory of His person only drew out the deadly enmity of man, and specially of Israel; for they were worse than the Romans: and all this He, in the perfectness of His dependence, takes from Jehovah. For Himself, He came to suffer and die by wicked hands, but it was in the accomplishment of the will and purpose of God His Father. He knew full well that all the power of man or Satan would not have availed one instant before Jehovah permitted it. Hence all is taken meekly, but with none the less agony, from Jehovah's hand; and less or other than this had not been perfection. In the midst of Messiah's profound sense and expression of His humiliation to the lowest point thus accepted from Jehovah, He contrasts His own estate, wasted, prostrate, and coining to nothing. He contrasts it with two things. First, the certainty of every promise being accomplished for Israel and Zion He unhesitatingly anticipates; whilst He, the Messiah, submits to be given up to every possible abasement. He then contrasts Himself with the great commanding truth of Jehovah's own permanence. And what is the answer from on high to the holy sufferer? Jehovah from above answers Jehovah below; He owns that the smitten Messiah is Jehovah of stability and unchangeableness equal with His own.
What need of further proof after this? Nothing could be asked or conceived more conclusive, as far as concerned His divine glory. And all that the apostle thinks it necessary to cite after this is the connecting link of His present place on the throne of Jehovah in heaven with all these ascending evidences of His divine glory, beginning with His being Son as begotten in time and in the world; then His emphatic relationship to God as of the lineage of David not Solomon, save typically, but the Christ really and ultimately; then worshipped by the angels of God; next, owned by God as God, and, finally, as Jehovah by Jehovah. All is closed by the citation of Psalms 110:1, which declares that God bids Him sit as man at His right hand on high till the hour of judgment on His foes. It is one of the most interesting psalms in the whole collection, and of the deepest possible moment as preparatory both to what is now brought in for the Christian (which, however, is hidden here) and to what it declares shall be by-and-by for Israel. Thus it is a sort of bridge between old and new, as it is more frequently quoted in the New Testament than any other Old Testament scripture. "Therefore" (as should be the conclusion, though commencing the next chapter) "we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels" clearly he is still summing up the matter "was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward: how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard?" It is striking to see how the apostle takes the place of such as simply had the message, like other Jews, from those who personally heard Him: so completely was he writing, not as the apostle of the Gentiles magnifying his office, but as one of Israel, who were addressed by those who companied with Messiah on earth. It was confirmed "unto us," says he, putting himself along with his nation, instead of conveying his heavenly revelations as one taken out from the people, and the Gentiles, to which last he was sent. He looks at what was their proper testimony, not at that to which he had been separated extraordinarily. He is dealing with them as much as possible on their own ground, though, of course, without compromise of his own. He does not overlook the testimony to the Jews as such: "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will."
Now he enters on another and very distinct portion of the glory of Christ. He is not only the Son of God, but Son of man; and they are both, I will not say equally necessary, but, without doubt, both absolutely necessary, whether for God's glory or for His salvation to whomsoever it may be applied. Touch Christ on either side, and all is gone. Touch Him on the human side, it is hardly less fatal than on the divine. I admit that His divine glory has a place which humanity could not possess; but His human perfection is no less necessary to found the blessing for us on redemption, glorifying God in His righteousness and. love. This accordingly the apostle now traces. Jesus was God as truly as man, and in both above the angels. His superiority as Son of God had been proved in the most masterly manner from their own scriptures in the first chapter. He had drawn his conclusions, urging the all-importance of giving heed, and the danger of letting slip such a testimony. The law, as he had said elsewhere, was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. He had just said, if it was firm, and every transgression and disobedience received just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? Outward infraction and inner rebellion met their retribution. The sanction of the gospel would be commensurate with its grace, and God would avenge the slightings of a testimony begun by the Lord, farther carried on and confirmed by the Holy Spirit with signs, wonders, powers, and distributions according to His will.
Now he takes the other side, saying, "Unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come." Whatever may have been God's employment of angels about the law, the world to come was never destined to be subjected to them. It is the good pleasure of God to use an angel where it is a question of providence, or law, or. power; but where it comes to be the manifestation of His glory in Christ, He must have other instruments more suitable for His nature, and according to His affections. "For one has somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands." Thus we see the first question raised is one as to the littleness of man in comparison with that which God has made; but the question is no sooner raised than answered, and this by one who looks at the Second Man and not at the first. Behold then man in Christ, and then talk, if you can, about His littleness. Behold man in Christ, and then be amazed at the wonders of the heavens. Let creation be as great as it may be, He that made all things is above them. The Son of man has a glory that completely eclipses the brightness of the highest objects. But also He shows that the humiliation of the Saviour, in which He was made a little lower than the angels, was for an end that led up to this heavenly glory. Grant that He was made a little lower, than the angels, what was it for? "We see not yet all things put under him. But we behold Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything." Nor was this the only object; He was "crowned with glory and honour" as fruit of His sufferings unto death; but it had a gracious object as well as a glorious end; "so that by the grace of God he should taste death for everything;" for thus was the only door of deliverance for what was ruined by the fall, and this because it was the only means of morally vindicating God, who yearned in love over every work of His hands. There can be otherwise no efficacious because no righteous deliverance. It may be infinitely more, but righteous footing it must have; and this the death of Christ has given. Flowing from God's grace, Christ's death is the ground of reconciliation for the universe. It has also made it a part of His righteousness to bring man thus out of that ruin, misery, and subjection to death in which he lay. It has put into the hands of God that infinite fund of blessing in which He now loves to admit us reconciled to Himself.
The apostle does not yet draw all the consequences; but he lays down in these two chapters the twofold glory of Christ Son of God, Son of man; and following up the latter, he approaches that which fitted Him, on the score of sympathy, for the priesthood. I do not mean that Jesus could have been High Priest according to God because He was man. Not His manhood but His Godhead is the ground of His glory; nevertheless, if He had not been man as well as Son of God, He could not have been priest. As for atonement so for priesthood, that ground was essential. But it was for man, and therefore He too must be man. So it is here shown that it "became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." Remark, it is not "all one." We never reach that height in the epistle to the Hebrews; never have we the body here, any more than unity. For the body we must search into some other epistles of Paul, though unity we may see in another shape in John. But the epistle to the Hebrews never goes so far as either. It does what was even more important for those whom it concerned, and, I add, what is of the deepest possible moment for us. For those who think that they can live according to God on the truth of either Ephesians or of the epistles of St. John, without the doctrine of the epistle to the Hebrews, have made a miserable mistake.
Say what men will, we have our wants, as traversing this wilderness; and although we might like to soar, it cannot long, if at all, prosper. We have, therefore, the adaptation of Christ as priest to the infirmities that we feel, and so much the more because of an exercised conscience towards God, and a realizing of the desert sin has made this defiled scene of our actual pilgrimage.
Accordingly, in the latter part of the chapter, the apostle begins to introduce the great truths which form so large a part of the epistle to the Hebrews. He speaks of Christ, the Sanctifier: "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." He means one and the same condition, without entering into particulars. "For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." There is a common relationship which the Sanctifier and the sanctified possess. It might be supposed, because He is the Sanctifier and they are the sanctified, that there could be no such communion. But there is: "for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." He never called them so, till He became a man; nor did He so fully then, till He was man risen from the dead. The apostle here most fittingly introduces Psalms 22:1-31, etc.: "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him." He is proving the reality of this common relationship of the Sanctifier and the sanctified. He, like themselves, can say, and He alone could say as they never did, "I will put my trust in him." Indeed Psalms 16:1-11 was the expression of all His course as man trust in life, trust in death, trust in resurrection. As in everything else, so in this, He has the pre-eminence; but it is a pre-eminence founded on a common ground. It could not have been true of Him, had He not been a man; had He been simply God, to talk of trusting in God would have been altogether unnatural impossible. As for Him then, though the Sanctifier, He and they were all of one. And so further: "Behold! and the children which God hath given me." Here is again a different but equally good proof of mutual relationship.
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels." This last should be, that He does not take up angels; He does not help them. They are not the objects of His concern in the work here described; "but he takes up the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest" here you have the object of all the proof of His being man "in things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people." I use the word "atonement, or expiation, as being decidedly preferable to reconciliation." You cannot talk of reconciling sins. It is not a question of making sins right. They are atoned for; people are reconciled. Those who have been sinners are reconciled to God; but as to sins they do not admit of being reconciled at all (which is a mistake). There is need of a propitiation, or expiation, for the sins of His people. "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." Temptation to Him was nothing but suffering: He suffered, being tempted, because there was that intrinsic holiness which repelled, but, at the same time, most acutely felt the temptation.
Thus the apostle enters on the vast field that will come before us a little while longer tonight. He has laid the basis for the high-priesthood of Christ. He could not have been such a High Priest, had He not been both divine and human; and he has proved both, in the fullest manner, from their own scriptures.
But before he enters upon the unfolding of His high-priesthood, there is a digression (the two chapters that follow, I apprehend, linking themselves with the two we have considered). Thus, "Christ as Son over his own house" answers pretty much to the first chapter, as the rest of God by-and-by answers to the second chapter; for I hope to prove it is to be in the scene of future glory. In writings so profound as the apostle's, one generally hails the least help towards appreciating the structure of an epistle: let the reader consider it.
Hebrews 3:1-19. We need not dwell long on these intervening chapters. It is evident that he opens with our Lord as "apostle and high-priest of our confession," in contrast with the apostle and high priest of the Jews. Moses was the revealer of the mind of God of old, as Aaron had the title and privilege of access then into the sanctuary of God for the people. Jesus unites both in His own person. He came from God, and went to God. The holy brethren, then, partakers of a heavenly calling (not earthly like Israel's), are told to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus, who is faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses in all his house. Moses, "as a servant," he takes care particularly to say, in everything shows the superiority of the Messiah. "For he was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by how much he that built it hath more honour than the house." He becomes bold now. He can venture, after having brought out such glory to Christ, to use plainness of speech; and they could hear it, if they believed their own scriptures. If they honoured the man who was God's servant in founding and directing the tabernacle (or house of God in its rudimentary state), how much more did the ancient oracles call attention to a greater than Moses to Jehovah Messiah, even Jesus. How plainly this chapter pre-supposes the proofs of the divine glory of Christ! We shall see also His Sonship presently. "And Moses was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of the things to be spoken after; but Christ, as Son over his house, whose house are we." Christ, being divine, built the house; Christ built all things. Moses ministered as servant, and was faithful in God's house; Christ as Son is over the house; "whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."
There were great difficulties, circumstances calculated especially to affect the Jew, who, after receiving the truth with joy, might be exposed to great trial, and so in danger of giving up his hope. It was, besides, particularly hard for a Jew at first to put these two facts together: a Messiah come, and entered into glory; and the people who belonged to the Messiah left in sorrow, and shame, and suffering here below. In fact, no person from the Old Testament could, at first sight at least, have combined these two elements. We can understand it now in Christianity. It is partly, indeed, to the shame of Gentiles, that they do not even see the difficulty for a Jew. It shows how naturally, so to speak, they have forgotten the Jew as having a special place in the word and purposes of God. They consequently cannot enter into the feelings of the Jew; and by such the authority and use of this epistle was grievously slighted. It is the self-conceit of the Gentile, (Romans 11:1-36) not their faith, that makes the Jewish difficulty to be so little felt. Faith enables us to look at all difficulties, on the one hand measuring them, on the other raising us above them. This is not at all the case with ordinary Gentile thought. Unbelief, indifferent and unfeeling, does not even see, still less appreciate, the trials of the weak.
The apostle here enters into everything of value for the way. Although it is perfectly true that the Son is in this place of universal glory, and in relation to us, Son over His house (God's house having an all-comprehending sense and a narrower one), he explains how it is that His people are in actual weakness, trial, exposure, danger and sorrow here below. The people are still travelling through the wilderness, not yet in the land. He immediately appeals to the voice of the Spirit in the Psalms: "Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in heart; and they have not known my ways. So I swear in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; while it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses."
What is pressed here is this: that the people of God are still in the path of faith, just like their fathers of old before they crossed the Jordan; that now there is that which puts our patience to the proof; that the grand thing for such is to hold fast the beginning of the assurance firm unto the end. They were tempted to stumble at the truth of Christ, because of the bitter experiences of the way through which they were going onward. To turn back is but the evil heart of unbelief; to abandon Jesus is to turn away from the living God. To be fellows or companions of the Messiah (Psalms 45:1-17) depends on holding fast the beginning of the assurance to the end; for, remember, we are in the wilderness. Following Christ, as of old Moses, we are not arrived at the rest of God. "But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief."
This leads us to the very important, but often misunderstood, Hebrews 4:1-16. What is the meaning of the "rest of God"? Not rest of soul, nor rest of conscience, any more than of heart. It is none of these things, but simply what the apostle says, God's rest. His rest is not merely your rest. It is not our faith seizing the rest that Christ gives to him that trusts Himself, as when He says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He did not say, "I will give you God's rest." It was not the time, nor is it of that nature. God's rest is the rest of His own satisfaction. His rest is a change of all, the present scene of trial and toil, the consequences of sin. Of course the people of God must be formed for the scene, as well as it for them. They are incomparably more to God than that which they are going to fill. But the scene has its importance too. It would not suit God, if it would suit us, to be ever so blessed in such a world as this. He means to have a rest as worthy of Himself as the righteousness we are made in Christ is worthy of Himself now. As it is His righteousness, so will it be His rest. Therefore it is not merely, as Gentiles are apt to suppose, the bringing of comfort into the heart, and the spirit filled with the consciousness of blessings from God and of His grace to us. The Jew, too, had, in another direction, a miserably inadequate conception of it; for it was earthly, if not sensual. Still, what a Jewish believer often staggered at, what he felt to be a serious riddle for his mind, was the contrast between the circumstances through which he was passing, and the Christ of which the prophets had spoken to him. Now the apostle does not in any way make light of the grief by the way, nor forget that the pilgrimage in the desert is the type of our earthly circumstances. He takes the scriptures that speak of Israel journeying toward, but not yet in, the pleasant land, applying them to the present facts, and at the same time he sets before them in hope the rest of God.
Hebrews 4:1-16. "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us were glad tidings preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we who have believed do enter into rest." That is, we are on the road. He does not say that we have entered, nor does he mean anything of the sort, which is clean contrary to the argument and aim. It is altogether a mistake, therefore, so to interpret the passage. The very reverse is meant, namely, that we have not entered into the rest, but, as the hymn says, we are on our way, I will not say to God, but assuredly to His rest. We are entering into the rest, having got it before us, and on to that rest we move; but we are not yet there. "We which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest." It is quite true that it is the Holy Ghost's object to bring the rest close to us, so as to make us always conscious of the little interval that separates us from the rest of God; but still, let the interval be ever so short, we are not there yet, we are only going towards it. For the present, our place, beyond controversy, is viewed as in fact in the wilderness. According to the doctrine of this epistle (as of the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Philippians) to present us as in heavenly places would be altogether out of place and season. To the Ephesians he does develop our blessing as in and with Christ in the heavenlies. There it was exactly consonant to the character of the truth; for it is truth, and of the highest order. But as far as the Epistle to the Hebrews goes, we should never have learnt this side of the truth of God, or its appropriation to us; for we are only regarded in our actual place, that is, marching through the desert.
Here objections, which might be founded on the scriptures of the Old Testament, are met. There were two, and only two, occasions of old whence it might be argued that there had been an entrance into God's rest.
The first was when God made the creation; but was there any entering of man into that rest? God, doubtless, rested from His works; but even God is never said then to have rested in His works. Was there anything that satisfied God or blessed man permanently? All was good, yea, very good; but could God rest in His love? Surely not, till all could be founded on the basis of redemption. Before all worlds God meant to have this. Nothing but redemption could bring into His own rest. Consequently, a rest capable of being spoilt, and all requiring to be begun over again in a new and more blessed way, never could meet the heart or mind of God. This, accordingly, is not His rest; it served as a sign and witness of it, but nothing more.
Then we come down lower to the second instance of deep and special interest to Israel. When Joshua brought the people triumphantly into the possession of Canaan, was this the rest of God? Not so. How is it disproved? By the self-same Psalm "If they shall enter into my rest," written afterwards. So wrote David, "Today, after so long a time." Not only after the creation, but after Joshua had planted the people in the land, a certain day is determined in the future. For if Jesus [i.e., Joshua] had brought them into rest, he would not have spoken afterwards about another day. They had not entered into it yet.
The "rest" was still beyond. Is it not future still? What has there been to bring people into the rest of God since then? What is there to be compared with creation, or with His people settled in Canaan by the destruction of their foes? That which Gentile theology has brought into the matter, namely, the work of the Lord on the cross, or the application of it to meet the needs of the soul precious as it was to the apostle, as it must be to faith has no place whatever in the apostle's argument. If so, where does he bring it into the context? The idea that this is the point debated is so perfectly foreign and futile, that to my mind it demonstrates exceeding prepossession, if not looseness, of mind, as well as a lack of subjection to scripture, in those who allow their theories to override the plain word of God, which is here conspicuous for the absence of that infinite truth.
The apostle, therefore, at once draws the conclusion, that neither at creation, nor in Canaan, was the rest of God really come. The latter part of the Old Testament shows us how Israel got unsettled, and finally driven from their land; though it also predicts their future ingathering. The New Testament shows us the rejection of the Messiah, the ruin of Israel, the salvation of believers, the church formed of such in one body, (whether Jews or Gentiles,) but in the stronger contrast with the rest of God. Consequently, the rest is but coming, not come; it is future. This is the application: "There remaineth therefore a rest" (or sabbatism) "to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his works, as God did from his own." I must ask you thus to alter the passage, the authorised version giving it wrongly. The emphasis is taken out of one place, and put into another, without the slightest reason.
What he deduces is, "Let us use diligence therefore to enter into that rest." The meaning is, you cannot be labouring and resting in the same sense and time, All must confess that when you rest, you cease from labour. His statement is that now is the time not for rest, but for diligence; and the moral reason why we labour is, that love whether looked at in God Himself, in His Son, or in His children love never can rest, where there is either sin or wretchedness. In the world there is both. No doubt for the believer, his sins are blotted out and forgiven, and hope anticipates with joy the final deliverance of the Lord. But as to the course of this age and all things here below, it is impossible to think or speak of rest as these are, not even for our bodies, as part of the fallen creation. There ought not to be rest, therefore, beyond what we have by faith in our souls. It would be mere sentimentalising; it is not the truth of God. I ought to feel the misery and the estrangement of the earth from God; I ought to go however joyful in the Lord with a heart sad, and knowing how to weep, in a world where there is so much sin, and suffering, and sorrow. But the time is coming when God will wipe away tears from all eyes, yea, every tear; and this will be the rest of God. To this rest we are journeying, but we are only journeying. At the same time we should labour: love cannot but toil in such a world as this. If there be the spirit that feels the pressure of sin, there is the love that rises up in the power of God's grace, bringing in that which lifts out of sin. and delivers from it. So he says, "Let us be diligent therefore to enter into that rest."
Allow me to say a word to any person here who may be a little confused by old thoughts on this subject. Look again a little more exactly into the two chief calls of the chapter (verses 1 and 11), and let me ask you if it be safe and sound to apply them to rest for the conscience now? Are souls who have never yet tasted that the Lord is gracious to be summoned to fear? And how does the call to labour or diligence square with the apostle's word in Romans 4:4-5, where justification by faith, apart from works, is beyond cavil the point of teaching? What can be the effect of such prejudices of interpretation (no matter who may have endorsed them) but to muddle the gospel of God's grace? Thus it seems to me clearly and certainly such a notion is proved to be false. The test of a wrong notion is that it always dislocates the truth of God; often, indeed, like this, running counter to the plainest and most elementary forms of the gospel itself. Thus, take the text already referred to "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly" the popular misinterpretation sets people working to enter into rest for their conscience. But the doctrine is as false as the written word is true; and the meaning of that which is before us is, not rest now for the soul by faith, but the rest of God, when He has made a scene in the day of glory as worthy of Himself as it will be suited for those whom He loves.
Accordingly, we are next shown the provision of grace, not for the rest of glory, but for those who are only journeying on towards it here below. And what is that provision? The word of God, which comes and searches, tries and deals with us, judging the thoughts and intents of the heart; and the priesthood of Christ, which converts and strengthens, and applies all that is needed here the grace and mercy of our God. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
And now (Hebrews 5:1-14) we enter upon the priesthood; for it is a priest that we want who stand already accepted by sacrifice. Not a priest, but a sacrifice, is the foundation of all relationship with God; but we need ,along the way a living person, who can deal both with God for us and for God with us. Such a great High Priest who passed through the heavens, yet able to sympathize with our infirmities, we have in Jesus the Son of God. How little these Jews, even when saints, knew the treasure of grace that God had given in Him whom the nation abhorred! As previously, the apostle takes the proofs from their own oracles. It is not a question of revealing, but of rightly applying, by the Holy Ghost, the word they had in their hand.
"For every high priest taken from among men is established for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." It might seem scarcely credible that these words could be applied to Christ But there is nothing too bad for the heart of man; and these are mistakes of the heart. They do not arise from intellectual feebleness. It would be folly so to judge of Grotius, for instance. They spring from unbelief. Call it ignorance of Christ and of the scriptures, if you will, but it is not found only with the ignorant, as men would speak. I am sure we ought to have great compassion for the honest ignorance of simple-minded men. But, as in other sad cases, the error is often combined with ample learning of the schools, though with lamentable lack of divine teaching even in foundation truth. I do not deny that God may deign to use anything in His service; but these men confide in their learning and their powers generally, instead of becoming fools that they may become wise, which is the truest learning according to God, if one may speak of "learning" in respect of that wisdom which comes down from the Father of lights.
Thus men, confident in their own resources, have dared to apply this description of priesthood to Christ. They have failed to see that it is a distinct contrast with Christ, and not at all a picture of His priesthood. It is evidently general, and sets before us a human priest, not Jesus God's High Priest. If there be analogy, there is certainly the strongest contrast here. An ordinary priest is able to exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and erring, since he himself also is compassed with infirmity. "And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins." Did Christ need to offer for Himself, yea, for sins? This blasphemy would follow, if the foregoing words applied to Christ. "And no one taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, even as Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest." Now he teaches a point of contact, as the other was of contrast. All you can procure from among men is one that can feel, as being a man, for men after a human sort. Such is not the priest that God has given us, but one who, though man, feels for us after a divine sort. And so, we are told, that Christ, while He was and is this glorious person in His nature and right, nevertheless as man did not glorify Himself to be made an high priest; "but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee; as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
The same God who owned Him as His Son, born of the Virgin, owned Him also as Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. And in this order too: first, Son (on earth);* next, the true Melchisedec (in heaven, as we shall find). Albeit true God and Son of God, in everything He displays perfect lowliness among men, and absolute dependence on God: such also was His moral fitness for each office and function which God gave Him to discharge. Mark, again, the skill with which all is gradually approached how the inspired writer saps and mines their exorbitant (yet after all only earthly) pretensions, founded on the Aaronic priesthood. Such was the great boast of the Jews. And here we learn out of their own scriptures another order of priesthood reserved for the Messiah, which he knew right well could not but put the Aaronic priesthood completely in the shade. "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
*I see no ground whatever for applying the citation fromPsalms 2:1-12; Psalms 2:1-12 to the resurrection of Christ. Acts 13:1-52, which is usually quoted to prove it, really distinguishes the raising up of Jesus as Messiah, the Son of God here below, from His resurrection which is made to rest on Isaiah 55:1-13 and Psalms 16:1-11. Neither doesPsalms 2:1-12; Psalms 2:1-12 set forth His eternal Sonship, all-important a truth as it is, and clearly taught by John above all.
At the same time, it is plain that there is no forgetfulness of the suffering obedience of Christ's place here below; but He is presented in this glory before we are given to hear of the path of shame which ushered it in. "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him, called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec The apostle had much to say, but hard to be interpreted, because they were become dull of hearing. It is not that the word of God in itself is obscure, but that men bring in their difficulties. Nor does His word., as is often thought, want light to be thrown on it; rather is it light itself. By the Spirit's power it dispels the darkness of nature. Many obstacles there are to the entrance of light through the word, but there is none more decided than the force of religious prejudice; and this would naturally operate most among the Hebrew saints. They clung too much to old things; they could not take in the new. We may see a similar hindrance every day. What Paul had to say of the Melchisedec priesthood was hard to explain to them, not because the things were in themselves unintelligible, but they were dull in hearing. "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye again have need that one teach you the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God."
There is nothing, I repeat, which tends to make dulness in spiritual things so much as religious tradition. The next to it in dead weight, and in other respects more daringly dangerous, will be found to be philosophy. At any rate, it is remarkable that these are the two occasions of this reproach from the apostle. So he wrote to the Corinthians, who generally admired rhetoric, and had no small confidence, like other Greeks, in their own wisdom. They did not consider Paul, either in style or topics, at all up to the requirements of the age at least in their midst. How cutting to hear themselves counted babes, and incapable of meat for grown men, so that, being carnal, they must have milk administered to them! The apostle had to put them down, and tell them, with all their high-flown wisdom, they were such that he could not discourse to them about the deep things of God. This, no doubt, was a painful surprise for them. So here the same apostle writing to the Hebrew believers treats them as babes, though from a different source. Thus we see two errors totally opposed in appearance, but leading to the same conclusion. Both unfit the soul for going on with God; and the reason why they so hinder is because they are precisely the things in which man lives. Whether it be the mind of man or his natural religiousness, either idolizes its own object; and consequently blindness ensues to the glory of Christ.
Hence the apostle could not but feel himself arrested by their state. He shows also that this very state was not merely one of weakness, but exposed them to the greatest danger; and this is pursued not on the philosophical side so much as on that of religions forms. We have already seen both at work in Colosse, as I have just pointed out the snare that the wisdom of the world was to the Corinthians. But on the Hebrews he presses their excessive danger of abandoning Christ for religious traditions. First of all these hinder progress; finally they draw the soul aside from grace and truth; and if the mighty power of God does not interfere, they ruin. This had been the course of some: they had better be watchful that it be not their own case. He begins gently with their state of infantine feebleness; and then in the beginning of the following chapter he sets before them the awful picture of apostasy. "For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
"Therefore," (adds he, inHebrews 6:1-20; Hebrews 6:1-20) "leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on to perfection." He proves that we cannot safely linger among the Jewish elements when we have heard and received Christian truth; that not merely blessing, not simply power and enjoyment, but the only place even of safety is in going on to this full growth. To stop short for them was to go back. Let those that had heard of Christ return to the forms of Judaism, and what would become of them?
Then he speaks of the various constituents that make up the word of the beginning of Christ ( i.e., Christ known short of death, resurrection, and ascension). He would have them advance, "not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith in God, of a teaching of washings and imposition of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Not that these were not true and important in their place: no one disputed them; but they were in no way the power, nor even characteristic, of Christianity. They go in pairs; and a mere Jew would hardly object; but what is all this for the Christian? Why live on such points? "And this" ( i.e. going on to full growth) "will we do if God permit. For it is impossible [as to] those once enlightened, and that tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and that tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and fell away, to renew [them] again to repentance, seeing they crucify for themselves and expose the Son of God."
It is a question of persons drawn into apostasy after having enjoyed every privilege and power of the gospel, short of a new nature and that indwelling of the Spirit which seals renewed souls till the day of redemption. For them rejecting the Messiah on earth under Judaism God gave repentance and remission of sins; but if they gave up the risen and glorified Christ, there was no provision of grace, no third estate of Christ to meet the case. It is not the case of a person surprised into sin; nay, not even the very awful case of one who may go on in sin, sorrowful to think that it may be so with one of whom we had hoped better things. But here there is another evil altogether. They were those who might be ever so correct, moral, religious, but who, having confessed Jesus as the Christ after the outpouring of the Spirit, had lapsed back into Jewish elements, counting it perhaps a wise and wholesome cheek on a too rapid advance, instead of seeing that in principle it was an abandonment of Christ altogether. The full case here supposed is a thorough renunciation of Christian truth.
The apostle describes a confessor with all the crowning evidences of the gospel, but not a converted man, Not a word implies this either here or in 2 Peter. Short of this he uses uncommonly strong expressions, and purposely so: he sets forth the possession of the highest possible external privileges, and this in that abundant form and measure which God gave on the ascension of the Lord. He says it all, no doubt, about the baptized; but there is nothing about baptism as the ancients would have it, any more than, with some moderns, the progressive steps of the spiritual life. There is knowledge, joy, privilege, and power, but no spiritual life. Enlightenment is in no sense the new birth, nor does baptism in scripture ever mean illumination. It is the effect of the gospel on the dark soul the shining on the mind of Him who is the only true light. But light is not life; and life is not predicated here.
Further, they had "tasted of the heavenly gift." It is not the Messiah as He was preached when the disciples went about here below, but Christ after He went on high; not Christ after the flesh, but Christ risen and glorified above.
But, again, they were "made partakers of the Holy Ghost." Of Him every one became a partaker, who confessed the Lord and entered into the house of God. There the Holy Ghost dwelt; and all who were there became partakers after an outward sort (not κοινωνοὶ , but μέτοχοι ) of Him who constituted the assembly of God's habitation and temple. He pervaded, as it were, the whole atmosphere of the house of God. It is not in the least a question of a person individually born of God, and so sealed by the Holy Spirit. There is not an allusion to either in this case, but to their taking a share in this immense privilege, the word not being that which speaks of a joint known portion, but only of getting a share.
Moreover, they "tasted the good word of God." Even an unconverted man might feel strong emotions, and enjoy to a certain extent, more particularly those that had lain in Judaism, that dreary valley of dry bones. What fare was the gospel of grace! Certainly nothing could be more miserable than the scraps which the scribes and Pharisees put before the sheep of the house of Israel. There is nothing to forbid the natural mind from being attracted by the delightful sweetness of the glad-tidings which Christianity proclaims.
Lastly, we hear of "the powers of the age to come." This seems more than a general share in the presence of the Holy Ghost, who inhabited the house of God. They were positively endued with miraculous energies samples of that which will characterize the reign of the Messiah. Thus we may fairly give the fullest force to every one of these expressions. Yet write them out ever so largely, they fall short both of the new birth and of sealing with the Holy Ghost. There is everything one may say, save inward spiritual life in Christ, or the indwelling seal of it. That is to say, one may have the very highest endowments and privileges, in the way both of meeting the mind, and also of exterior power; and yet all may be given up, and the man become so much the keener enemy of Christ. Indeed such is the natural result. It had been the mournful fact as to some. They had fallen away. Hence renewal to repentance is an impossibility, seeing they crucify for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
Why impossible? The case supposed is of persons, after the richest proof and privilege, turning aside apostates from Christ, in order to take up Judaism once more. As long as that course is pursued, repentance there cannot be. Supposing a man had been the adversary of Messiah here below, there was still the opening for him of grace from on high. It was possible that the very man that had slighted Christ here below might have his eyes opened to see and receive Christ above; but, this abandoned, there is no fresh condition in which He can be presented to men. Those who rejected Christ in all the fulness of His grace, and in the height of glory in which God had set Him as man before them, those that rejected Him not merely on earth, but in heaven, what was there to fall back on? what possible means to bring them to a repentance after that? There is none. What is there but Christ coming in judgment? Now apostasy, sooner or later, must fall under that judgment. Such is the force of the comparison. "For land which hath drunk in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is for burning."
"But we are persuaded better things of you, beloved." There might seem too much ground for fear, but of the two ends he was persuaded respecting them the better things, and akin to salvation, if even he thus spoke; for God was not unrighteous, and the apostle too remembered traits of love and devotedness which gave him this confidence about them. But, says he, "We earnestly desire that each of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end that ye be not slothful, but followers of those who through faith and long-suffering inherit the promises." Here is given a remarkable instance of the true character of the epistle; namely, the combination of two features peculiar to the Hebrews. On the one hand are the promises, the oath of God, taking up His ways with Abraham; and, on the other hand, the hope set before us, that enters into what is within the veil. We may account for the former, because the writer was not confining himself to that which fell within the proper sphere of his apostleship. But, again, had he been writing according to his ordinary place, nothing was more strictly his line of testimony than to have dwelt on our hope that enters within the veil. The peculiarity of the epistle to the Hebrews lies in combining the promises with Christ's heavenly glory. None but Paul, I believe, would have been suited to bring in the heavenly portion. At the same time, only in writing to the Hebrews could Paul have brought in the Old Testament hopes as he has done.
Another point of interest which may be remarked here is the intimation at the end compared with the beginning of the chapter. We have seen the highest external privileges not only the mind of man, as far as it could, enjoying the truth, but the power of the Holy Ghost making the man, at any rate, an instrument of power, even though it be to his own shame and deeper condemnation afterwards. In short, man may have the utmost conceivable advantage, and the greatest external power even of the Spirit of God Himself; and yet all comes to nothing. But the very same chapter, which affirms and warns of the possible failure of every advantage, shows us the weakest faith that the whole New Testament describes coming into the secure possession of the best blessings of grace. Who but God could have dictated that this same chapter (Hebrews 6:1-20) should depict the weakest faith that the New Testament ever acknowledges? What can look feebler, what more desperately pressed, than a man fleeing for refuge? It is not a soul as coming to Jesus; it is not as one whom the Lord meets and blesses on the spot; but here is a man hard pushed, fleeing for very life (evidently a figure drawn from the blood-stained fleeing from the avenger of blood), yet eternally saved and blessed according to the acceptance of Christ on high.
There was no reality found to be in those so highly favoured of the early verses; and therefore it was (as there was no conscience before God, no sense of sin, no cleaving to Christ) that everything came to nought; but here, there is the fruit of faith, feeble indeed and sorely tried, but in the light that appreciates the judgment of God against sin. Hence, although it be only fleeing in an agony of soul to refuge, what is it that God gives to one in such a state? Strong consolation, and that which enters within the veil. Impossible that the Son should be shaken from His place on the throne of God: so is it that the least believer should come to any hurt whatever. The weakest of saints more than conqueror is; and therefore the apostle, having brought us to this glorious point of conclusion, as well as shown us the awful danger of men giving up such a Christ as that which we have presented to us in this epistle, now finds himself free to unfold the character of His priesthood, as well as the resulting position of the Christian. But on these I hope to enter, if the Lord will, on another occasion.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:8". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/hebrews-6.html. 1860-1890.
the Third Week after Epiphany