|<< Hebrews 6 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Analysis Of The Chapter
In Hebrews 5:10-11, the apostle had said that the Lord Jesus was called to the office of high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and that there were many things to be said of him which were not easy to be understood. They had not, he says, advanced as far in the knowledge of the true religion as might have been reasonably expected, but had rather gone back; Hebrews 5:12-14. The design of this chapter seems to be to warn them against the danger of going back entirely, and to encourage them to make the highest attainments possible in the knowledge of Christianity, and in the divine life. The apostle would keep them from entire apostasy, and would excite them to make all the advances which they possibly could make, and particularly he designs to prepare them to receive what he had yet to say about the higher doctrines of the Christian religion. In doing this he presents the following considerations:
(1) An exhortation to leave the elements or rudiments of the Christian religion, and to go on to the contemplation of the higher doctrines. The elements were the doctrines of repentance, faith, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. These entered into the very nature of Christianity. They were its first principles, and were indispensable. The higher doctrines related to other matters, which the apostle called them now to contemplate; Hebrews 6:1-3.
(2) he warns them, in the most solemn manner, against apostasy. He assures them that if they should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew them again. They could not fall away from grace and again be renewed; they could not, after having been Christians and then apostatizing, be recovered. Their fall in that case would be final and irrecoverable, for there was no other way by which they could be saved; and by rejecting the Christian scheme, they would reject the only plan by which they could ever be brought to heaven. By this solemn consideration, therefore, he warns them of the danger of going back from their exalted hopes, or of neglecting the opportunities which they had to advance to the knowledge of the higher truths of religion; Hebrews 6:4-6.
(3) this sentiment is illustrated Hebrews 6:7-8 by a striking and beautiful figure drawn from agriculture. The sentiment was, that they who did not improve their advantage, and grow in the knowledge of the gospel, but who should go back and apostatize, would inevitably be destroyed. They could not be renewed and saved. It will be says the apostle, as it is with the earth. That which receives the rain that falls, and that bears its proper increase for the use of man, partakes of the divine blessing. That which does not - which bears only thorns and briers - is rejected, and is nigh to cursing, and will be burned with fire.
(4) yet the apostle says, he hoped better things of them. They had, indeed, receded from what they had been. They had not made the advances which he says they might have done. But still, there was reason to hope that they would not wholly apostatize, and be cast off by God. They had shown that they had true religion, and he believed that God would not forget the evidence which they had furnished that they loved him; Hebrews 6:9-10.
(5) he expresses his earnest wish that they all would show the same diligence until they attained the full assurance of hope; Hebrews 6:11-12.
(6) to encourage them in this, he refers them to the solemn oath which God had taken, and his sacred covenant with them confirmed by an oath, in order that they might have true consolation, and be sustained in the temptations and trials of life. That hope was theirs. It was sure and steadfast. It entered into that within the veil; it had been confirmed by him who had entered heaven as the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek; Hebrews 6:13-20. By such considerations he would guard them from the danger of apostasy; he would encourage them to diligence in the divine life; and he would seek to prepare them to welcome the more high and difficult doctrines of the Christian religion.
1Therefore 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,
Therefore - "Since, as was stated in the previous chapter, you ought to be capable of comprehending the higher doctrines of religion; since those doctrines are adapted to those who have been for a considerable time professors of Christianity, and have had opportunities of growing in knowledge and grace - as much as strong meat is for those of mature years - leave now the elements of Christian doctrine, and go on to understand its higher mysteries." The idea is, that to those who had so long been acquainted with the way of salvation, the elements of Christianity were no more adapted than milk was for grown persons.
Leaving - Dismissing; intermitting; passing by the consideration of with a view to advance to something higher. The apostle refers to his discussion of the subject, and also to their condition. He wished to go on to the contemplation of higher doctrines, and he desired that they should no longer linger around the mere elements. "Let us advance to a higher state of knowledge than the mere elements of the subject." On the sense of the word "leaving," or quitting with a view to engage in something else, see Matthew 4:20, Matthew 4:22; Matthew 5:24.
The principles - Margin: "The word of the beginning of Christ." Tyndale renders it: "let us leave the doctrine pertaining to the beginning of a Christian man." Coverdale, "let us leave the doctrine pertaining to the beginning of a Christian life." On the word "principles" see the note on Hebrews 5:12. The Greek there, indeed, is not the same as in this place, but the idea is evidently the same. The reference is to what he regarded as the very elements of the Christian doctrine; and the meaning is, "let us no longer linger here. We should go on to higher attainments. We should wholly understand the system. We should discuss and receive its great principles. You have been long enough converted to have understood these; but you linger among the very elementary truths of religion. But you cannot remain here. You must either advance or recede; and if you do not go forward, you will go back into entire apostasy, when it will be impossible to be renewed." The apostle here, therefore, does not refer to his discussion of the points under consideration as the main thing, but to their state as one of danger; and in writing to them he was not content to discuss the elements of religion as being alone suited to their condition, but would have them make higher attainments, and advance to the more elevated principles of the gospel.
Of the doctrine - Literally, "the word" - λόγον logon - "reason, or doctrine of the beginning of Christ." That is, the word or reason that pertains to the elements of his system; the first principles of Christian doctrine.
Of Christ - Which pertain to the Messiah. Either what he taught, or what is taught of him and his religion. Most probably it is the latter - what pertains to the Messiah, or to the Christian revelation. The idea is, that there is a set of truths which may be regarded as lying at the foundation of Christian doctrine, and those truths they had embraced, but had not advanced beyond them.
Let us go on - Let us advance to a higher state of knowledge and holiness. The reference is alike to his discussion of the subject, and to their advancement in piety and in knowledge. He would not linger around these elements in the discussion, nor would he have them linger at the threshold of the Christian doctrines.
Unto perfection - compare the notes on Hebrews 2:10. The word here is used, evidently, to denote an advanced state of Christian knowledge and piety; or the more elevated Christian doctrines, and the holier living to which it was their duty to attain. It does not refer solely to the intention of the apostle to discuss the more elevated doctrines of Christianity, but to" such an advance as would secure them from the danger of apostasy." If it should be said, however, that the word "perfection" is to be understood in the most absolute and unqualified sense, as denoting entire freedom from sin, it may be remarked:
(1) that this does not prove that they ever attained to it, nor should this be adduced as a text to show that such an attainment is ever made. To exhort a man to do a thing - however reasonable - is no proof in itself that it is ever done.
(2) it is proper to exhort Christians to aim at entire perfection. Even if none have ever reached that point on earth, that fact does not make it any the less desirable or proper to aim at it.
(3) there is much in making an honest attempt to be perfectly holy, even though we should not attain to it in this life. No man accomplishes much who does not aim high.
Not laying again the foundation - Not laying down - as one does a foundation for an edifice. The idea is, that they were not to begin and build all this over again. They were not to make it necessary to lay down again the very cornerstones, and the foundations of the edifice, but since these were laid already, they were to go on and build the superstructure and complete the edifice.
Of repentance from dead works - From works that cause death or condemnation; or that have no vitality or life. The reference may be either to those actions which were sinful in their nature, or to those which related to the forms of religion, where there was no spiritual life. This was the character of much of the religion of the Jews; and conversion to the true religion consisted greatly in repentance for having relied on those heartless and hollow forms. It is possible that the apostle referred mainly to these, as he was writing to those who had been Hebrews. When formalists are converted, one of the first and the main exercises of their minds in conversion, consists in deep and genuine sorrow for their dependence on those forms. Religion is life; and irreligion is a state of spiritual death, (compare the notes on Ephesians 2:1), whether it be in open transgression, or in false and hollow forms of religion. The apostle has here stated what is the first element of the Christian religion. It consists in genuine sorrow for sin, and a purpose to turn from it; see the note on Matthew 3:2.
And of faith toward God - see the note on Mark 16:16. This is the second element in the Christian system. Faith is everywhere required in order to salvation, but it is usually faith "in the Lord Jesus" that is spoken of; see Acts 20:21. Here, however, faith "in God" is particularly referred to. But there is no essential difference. It is faith in God in regard to his existence and perfections, and to his plan of saving people. It includes, therefore, faith in his message and messenger, and thus embraces the plan of salvation by the Redeemer. There is but one God - "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;" and he who believes in the true God believes in him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Author of the plan of redemption, and the Saviour of lost people. No one can believe "in the true God" who does not believe in the Saviour; compare John 5:23; John 17:3. He who supposes that he confides "in any other" God than the Author of the Christian religion, worships a being of the imagination as really as though he bowed down to a block of wood or stone. If Christianity is true, there is no such God as the infidel professes to believe in, any more than the God of the Brahmin has an existence. To believe "in God," therefore, is to believe in him as he "actually exists" - as the true God - the Author of the great plan of salvation by the Redeemer. It is needless to attempt to show that faith in the true God is essential to salvation. How can he be saved who has no "confidence" in the God that made him?
2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Of the doctrine of baptisms - This is mentioned as the third element or principle of the Christian religion. The Jews made much of various kinds of "washings," which were called "baptisms;" see the note on Mark 7:4. It is supposed also, that they were in the practice of baptizing proselytes to their religion; see the note on Matthew 3:6. Since they made so much of various kinds of ablution, it was important that the true doctrine on the subject should be stated as one of the elements of the Christian religion, that they might be recalled from superstition, and that they might enjoy the benefits of what was designed to be an important aid to piety - the true doctrine of baptisms. It will be observed that the plural form is used here - "baptisms." There are two baptisms whose necessity is taught by the Christian religion - baptism by water, and by the Holy Spirit; the first of which is an emblem of the second.
These are stated to be among the "elements" of Christianity, or the things which Christian converts would first learn. The necessity of both is taught. He that believeth and is "baptized" shall be saved; Mark 16:16. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," John 3:5. On the baptism of the Holy Spirit, see the Matthew 3:11 note; Acts 1:5 note; compare Acts 19:1-6. To understand the true doctrine respecting baptism was one of the first principles to be learned then as it is now, as baptism is the rite by which we are "initiated" into the Church. This was supposed to be so simple that young converts could understand it as one of the elements of the true religion, and the teaching on that subject now should be made so plain that the humblest disciple may comprehend it. If it was an element or first principle of religion; if it was presumed that anyone who entered the Church could understand it, can it be believed that it was then so perplexing and embarrassing as it is often made now? Can it be believed that a vast array of learning, and a knowledge of languages and a careful inquiry into the customs of ancient times, was needful in order that a candidate for baptism should understand it? The truth is, that it was probably regarded as among the most simple and plain matters of religion; and every convert was supposed to understand that the application of water to the body in this ordinance, in any mode, was designed to be merely emblematic of the influences of the Holy Spirit.
And of laying on of hands - This is the FourTH element or principle of religion. The Jews practiced the laying on of hands on a great variety of occasions. It was done when a blessing was imparted to anyone; when prayer was made for one; and when they offered sacrifice they laid their hands on the head of the victim, confessing their sins; Leviticus 16:21; Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 8:12. It was done on occasions of solemn consecration to office, and when friend supplicated the divine favor on friend. In like manner, it was often done by the Saviour and the apostles. The Redeemer laid his hands on children to bless them, and on the sick when he healed them; Matthew 19:13; Mark 5:23; Matthew 9:18. In like manner the apostles laid hands on others in the following circumstances:
(1) In healing the sick; Acts 28:8.
(2) in ordination to office; 1 Timothy 5:22; Acts 6:6.
(3) In imparting the miraculous influences of the Holy Spirit; Acts 8:17, Acts 8:19; Acts 19:6.
The true doctrine respecting the design of laying on the hands, is said here to be one of the elements of the Christian religion. That the custom of laying on the hands as symbolical of imparting spiritual gifts, prevailed in the Church in the time of the apostles, no one can doubt. But on the question whether it is to be regarded as of perpetual obligation in the Church, we are to remember:
(1) That the apostles were endowed with the power of imparting the influences of the Holy Spirit in a miraculous or extraordinary manner. It was with reference to such an imparting of the Holy Spirit that the expression is used in each of the cases where it occurs in the New Testament.
(2) the Saviour did not appoint the imposition of the hands of a "bishop" to be one of the rites or ceremonies to be observed perpetually in the Church. The injunction to be baptized and to observe his supper is positive, and is universal in its obligation. But there is no such command respecting the imposition of hands.
(3) no one now is intrusted with the power of imparting the Holy Spirit in that manner There is no class of officers in the Church, that can make good their claim to any such power. What evidence is there that the Holy Spirit is imparted at the rite of "confirmation?"
(4) it is liable to be abused, or to lead persons to substitute the form for the thing; or to think that because they have been "confirmed," that therefore they are sure of the mercy and favor of God.
Still, if it be regarded as a "simple form of admission to a church," without claiming that it is enjoined by God, or that it is connected with any authority to impart the Holy Spirit, no objection can be made to it any more than there need be to any other form of recognizing Church membership. Every pastor has a right, if he chooses, to lay his hands on the members of his flock, and to implore a blessing on them; and such an act on making a profession of religion would have much in it that would be appropriate and solemn.
And of resurrection of the dead - This is mentioned as the fifth element or principle of the Christian religion. This doctrine was denied by the Sadducees Mark 12:18; Acts 23:8, and was ridiculed by philosophers; Acts 17:32. It was, however, clearly taught by the Saviour, John 5:28-29, and became one of the cardinal doctrines of his religion. By the resurrection of the dead, however, in the New Testament, there is more intended than the resurrection of the "body." The question about the resurrection included the whole inquiry about the future state, or whether man would live at all in the future world; compare the Matthew 22:23 note; Acts 23:6 note. This is one of the most important subjects that can come before the human mind, and one on which man has felt more perplexity than any other. The belief of the resurrection of the dead is an elementary article in the system of Christianity. It lies at the foundation of all our hopes. Christianity is designed to prepare us for a future state; and one of the first things, therefore, in the preparation, is to "assure" us there is a future state, and to tell us what it is. It is, moreover, a unique doctrine of Christianity. The belief of the resurrection is found in no other system of religion, nor is there a ray of light shed upon the future condition of man by any other scheme of philosophy or religion.
And of eternal judgment - This is the sixth element or principle of religion. It is, that there will be a judgment whose consequences will be eternal. It does not mean, of course, that the process of the judgment will be eternal, or that the judgment day will continue forever; but that the results or consequences of the decision of that day will continue for ever. There will be no appeal from the sentence, nor will there be any reversal of the judgment then pronounced. What is decided then will be determined forever. The approval of the righteous will fix their state eternally in heaven, and in like manner the condemnation of the wicked will fix their doom forever in hell. This doctrine was one of the earliest that was taught by the Saviour and his apostles, and is inculcated in the New Testament perhaps with more frequency than any other; see Matthew 25; Acts 17:31. That the consequences or results of the judgment will be "eternal," is abundantly affirmed; see Matthew 25:46; John 5:29;; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Mark 9:45, Mark 9:48.
3And this will we do, if God permit.
And this will we do - We will make these advances toward a higher state of knowledge and piety. Paul had confidence that they would do it (see Hebrews 6:9-10), and though they had lingered long around the elements of Christian knowledge, he believed that they would yet go on to make higher attainments.
If God permit - This is not to be interpreted as if God was "unwilling" that they should make such advances, or as if it were "doubtful" whether he would allow it if they made an honest effort, and their lives were spared; but it is a phrase used to denote their "dependence" on him. It is equivalent to saying, "if he would spare their lives, their health, and their reason; if he would continue the means of grace, and would impart his Holy Spirit; if he would favor their efforts and crown them with success, they would make these advances." In reference to anything that we undertake, however pleasing to God in itself, it is proper to recognize our entire dependence on God; see James 4:13-15; compare the notes on John 15:5.
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
For it is impossible - It is needless to say that the passage here Hebrews 6:4-6, has given occasion to much controversy, and that the opinions of commentators and of the Christian world are yet greatly divided in regard to its meaning. On the one hand, it is held that the passage is not intended to describe those who are true Christians, but only those who have been awakened and enlightened, and who then fall back; and on the other it is maintained that it refers to those who are true Christians, and who then apostatize. The contending parties have been Calvinists and Arminians; each party, in general, interpreting it according to the views which are held on the question about falling from grace. I shall endeavor, as well as I may be able, to state the true meaning of the passage by an examination of the words and phrases in detail, observing here, in general, that it seems to me that it refers to true Christians; that the object is to keep them from apostasy, and that it teaches that if they should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew them again or to save them. That it refers to true Christians will be apparent from these considerations.
(1) Such is the sense which would strike the great mass of readers. Unless there were some theory to defend, the great body of readers of the New Testament would consider the expression used here as describing true Christians.
(2) The connection demands such an interpretation. The apostle was addressing Christians. He was endeavoring to keep them from apostasy. The object was not to keep those who were awakened and enlightened from apostasy, but it was to preserve those who were already in the Church of Christ, from going back to perdition. The kind of exhortation appropriate to those who were awakened and convicted, but who were not truly converted, would be "to become converted;" not to warn them of the danger of "falling away." Besides, the apostle would not have said of such persons that they could not be converted and saved. But of sincere Christians it might be said with the utmost propriety, that they could not be renewed again and be saved if they should fall away - because they rejected the only plan of salvation after they had tried it, and renounced the only scheme of redemption after they had tasted its benefits. If that plan could not save them, what could? If they neglected that, by what other means could they be brought to God?
(3) This interpretation accords, as I suppose, with the exact meaning of the phrases which the apostle uses. An examination of those phrases will show that he refers to those who are sincere believers. The phrase "it is impossible" obviously and properly denotes absolute impossibility. It has been contended, by Storr and others, that it denotes only great difficulty. But the meaning which would at first strike all readers would be that "the thing could not be done;" that it was not merely very difficult, but absolutely impracticable. The word - ἀδύνατον adunaton - occurs only in the New Testament in the following places, in all which it denotes that the thing could not be done; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27, "With men this is impossible;" that is, men could not save one who was rich, implying that the thing was wholly beyond human power. Luke 18:27, "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" - referring to the same case; Acts 14:8, "A man of Lystra, impotent in his feet;" that is, who was wholly "unable" to walk; Romans 8:3, "For what the law could not do;" what was absolutely "impossible" for the Law to accomplish; that is, to save people; Hebrews 6:18, "In which it was impossible for God to lie;" Hebrews 10:4, "It is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sin;" and Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God;" in all of these instances denoting absolute impossibility.
These passages show that it is not merely a great difficulty to which the apostle refers, but that he meant to say that the thing was wholly impracticable; that it could not be done. And if this be the meaning, then it proves that if those referred to should fall away, they could never be renewed. Their case was hopeless, and they must perish: that is, if a true Christian should apostatize, or fall from grace, "he never could be renewed again," and could not be saved. Paul did not teach that he might fall away and be renewed again as often as he pleased. He had other views of the grace of God than this; and he meant to teach, that if a man should once cast off true religion, his case was hopeless, and he must perish; and by this solemn consideration - the only one that would be effectual in such a case - he meant to guard them against the danger of apostasy.
For those who were once enlightened - The phrase "to be enlightened" is one that is often used in the Scriptures, and may be applied either to one whose understanding has been enlightened to discern his duty, though he is not converted (compare the note on John 1:9); or more commonly to one who is truly converted; see the note on Ephesians 1:18. It does not of necessity refer to true Christians, though it cannot be denied that it more obviously suggests the idea that the heart is truly changed, and that it is more commonly used in that sense; compare Psalm 19:8. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem of knowledge, holiness, and happiness, and there is no impropriety here in understanding it in accordance with the more decisive phrases which follow, as referring to true Christians.
And have tasted - To "taste" of a thing means, according to the usage in the Scriptures, to "experience," or to "understand" it. The expression is derived from the fact that the "taste" is one of the means by which we ascertain the nature or quality of an object; compare Matthew 16:28; John 8:51; Hebrews 2:9. The proper idea here is, that they had "experienced" the heavenly gift, or had learned its nature.
The heavenly gift - The gift from heaven, or which pertains to heaven; compare the note on John 4:10. The expression properly means some favor or gift which has descended from heaven, and may refer to any of the benefits which God has conferred on man in the work of redemption. It might include the plan of salvation; the forgiveness of sins; the enlightening, renewing, and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, or any one of the graces which that Spirit imparts. The use of the article, however - "the heavenly gift," limits it to something special, as being conferred directly from heaven, and the connection would seem to demand that we understand it of some "special" favor which could be conferred only on the children of God. It is an expression which "may" be applied to sincere Christians; it is at least doubtful whether it can with propriety be applied to any other.
And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost - Partakers of the influences of the Holy Spirit - for it is only in this sense that we can partake of the Holy Spirit. We "partake" of food when we share it with others; we "partake" of pleasure when we enjoy it with others; we "partake" of spoils in war when they are divided between us and others. So we partake of the influences of the Holy Spirit when we share these influences conferred on his people. This is not language which can properly be applied to anyone but a true Christian; and though it is true that an unpardoned sinner may be enlightened and awakened by the Holy Spirit, yet the language used here is not such as would be likely to be employed to describe his state. It is too clearly expressive of those influences which renew and sanctify the soul. It is as elevated language as can be used to describe the joy of the Christian, and is undoubtedly used in that sense here. If it is not, it would be difficult to find any language which would properly express the condition of a renewed heart. Grotius, Bloomfield, and some others, understood this of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. But this is not necessary, and does not accord well with the general description here, which evidently pertains to the mass of those whom the apostle addressed.
5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
And have tasted the good word of God - That is, either the doctrines which he teaches, and which are good, or pleasant to the soul; or the Word of God which is connected with good, that is, which promises good. The former seems to me to be the correct meaning - that the Word of God, or the truth which he taught, was itself a good. It was what the soul desired, and in which it found comfort and peace; compare Psalm 119:103; Psalm 141:6. The meaning here is, that they had experienced the excellency of the truth of God; they had seen and enjoyed its beauty. This is language which cannot be applied to an impenitent sinner. He has no relish for the truth of God; sees no beauty in it; derives no comfort from it. It is only the true Christian who has pleasure in its contemplation, and who can be said to "taste" and enjoy it. This language describes a state of mind of which every sincere Christian is conscious. It is that of pleasure in the Word of God. He loves the Bible; he loves the truth of God that is preached. He sees an exquisite beauty in that truth. It is not merely in its poetry; in its sublimity; in its argument; but he has now a "taste" or "relish" for the truth itself, which he had not before his conversion. Then he might have admired the Bible for its beauty of language or for its poetry; he might have been interested in preaching for its eloquence or power of argument; but now his love is for "the truth;" compare Psalm 19:10. There is no book that he so much delights in as the Bible; and no pleasure is so pure as what he has in contemplating the truth; compare Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:15.
And the powers of the world to come - Or of the "coming age." "The age to come" was a phrase in common use among the Hebrews, to denote the future dispensation, the times of the Messiah. The same idea was expressed by the phrases "the last times," "the end of the world," etc. which are of so frequent occurrence in the Scriptures. They all denoted an age which was to succeed the old dispensation; the time of the Messiah; or the period in which the affairs of the world would be wound up; see the notes on Isaiah 2:2. Here it evidently refers to that period, and the meaning is, that they had participated in the special blessings to be expected in that dispensation - to wit, in the clear views of the way of salvation, and the influences of the Holy Spirit on the soul. The word "powers" here implies that in that time there would be some extraordinary manifestation of the "power" of God. An unusual energy would be put forth to save people, particularly as evinced by the agency of the Holy Spirit on the heart. Of this "power" the apostle here says they of whom he spake had partaken. They had been brought under the awakening and renewing energy which God put forth under the Messiah. in saving the soul. They had experienced the promised blessings of the new and last dispensation; and the language here is such as appropriately describes Christians, and as indeed can be applicable to no other. It may be remarked respecting the various expressions used here Hebrews 6:4-5,
(1) that they are such as properly denote a renewed state. They obviously describe the condition of a Christian; and though it may be not certain that any one of them if taken by itself would prove that the person to whom it was applied was truly converted, yet taken together it is clear that they are designed to describe such a state. If they are not, it would be difficult to find any language which would be properly descriptive of the character of a sincere Christian. I regard the description here, therefore, as what is clearly designed to denote the state of those who were born again, and were the true children of God; and it seems plain to me that no other interpretation would have ever been thought of if this view had not seemed to conflict with the doctrine of the "perseverance of the saints."
(2) there is a regular gradation here from the first elements of piety in the soul to its highest developments; and, whether the apostle so designed it or not, the language describes the successive steps by which a true Christian advances to the highest stage of Christian experience. The mind is:
(a) enlightened; then.
(b) tastes the gift of heaven, or has some experience of it; then.
(c) it is made to partake of the influences of the Holy Spirit; then.
(d) there is experience of the excellence and loveliness of the Word of God; and,
(e) finally there is a participation of the full "powers" of the new dispensation; of the extraordinary energy which God puts forth in the gospel to sanctify and save the soul.
6If 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.
If they shall fall away - literally, "and having fallen away." "There is no if in the Greek in this place - "having fallen away." Dr. John P. Wilson. It is not an affirmation that any had actually fallen away, or that in fact they would do it; but the statement is, that "on the supposition that they had fallen away," it would be impossible to renew them again. It is the same as supposing a case which in fact might never occur: as if we should say, "had a man fallen down a precipice it would be impossible to save him," or "had the child fallen into the stream he would certainly have been drowned." But though this literally means, "having fallen away," yet the sense in the connection in which it stands is not improperly expressed by our common translation. The Syriac has given a version which is remarkable, not as a correct translation, but as showing what was the prevailing belief in the time in which it was made, (probably the first or second century), in regard to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. "For it is impossible that they who have been baptized, and who have tasted the gift which is from heaven, and have received the spirit of holiness, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the coming age, should again sin, so that they should be renewed again to repentance, and again crucify the Son of God and put him to ignominy."
The word rendered "fall away" means properly "to fall near by anyone;" "to fall in with or meet;" and thus to fall aside from, to swerve or deviate from; and here means undoubtedly to "apostatize from," and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, paganism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is material to remark here that the apostle does not say that any true Christian ever had fallen away. He makes a statement of what would occur on the supposition that such a thing should happen - but a statement may be made of what would occur on the supposition that a certain thing should take place, and yet it be morally certain that the event never would happen. It would be easy to suppose what would happen if the ocean should overflow a continent, or if the sun should cease to rise, and still there be entire certainty that such an event never would occur.
To renew them again - Implying that they had been before renewed, or had been true Christians. The word "again" - πάλιν palin - supposes this; and this passage, therefore, confirms the considerations suggested above, showing that they were true Christians who were referred to. They had once repented, but it would be impossible to bring them to this state "again." This declaration of course is to be read in connection with the first clause of Hebrews 6:4, "It is impossible to renew again to repentance those who once were true Christians should they fall away." I know of no declaration more unambiguous than this. It is a positive declaration. It is not that it would be very difficult to do it; or that it would be impossible for man to do it, though it might be done by God; it is an unequivocal and absolute declaration that it would be utterly impracticable that it should be done by anyone, or by any means; and this, I have no doubt, is the meaning of the apostle. Should a Christian fall from grace, he "must perish." he never could be saved. The reason of this the apostle immediately adds.
Seeing - This word is not in the Greek, though the sense is expressed. The Greek literally is, "having again crucified to themselves the Son of God." The "reason" here given is, that the crime would be so great, and they would so effectually exclude themselves from the only plan of salvation, that they could not be saved. There is but one way of salvation. Having tried that, and then renounced it, how could they then be saved? The case is like that of a drowning man. If there was but one plank by which he could be saved, and he should get on that and then push it away and plunge into the deep, he must die. Or if there was but one rope by which the shore could be reached from a wreck, and he should cut that and cast it off, he must die. Or if a man were sick, and there was but one kind of medicine that could possibly restore him, and he should deliberately dash that away, he must die. So in religion. There is "but one" way of salvation. If a man deliberately rejects that, he must perish.
They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh - Our translators have rendered this as if the Greek were - ἀνασταυροῦντας πάλιν anastaurountas palin - "crucify again," and so it is rendered by Chrysostom, by Tyndale, Coverdale, Beza, Luther, and others. But this is not properly the meaning of the Greek. The word ἀνασταυρόω anastauroō - is an "intensive" word, and is employed instead of the usual word "to crucify" only to denote "emphasis." It means that such an act of apostasy would be equivalent to crucifying him in an aggravated manner. Of course this is to be taken "figuratively." It could not be literally true that they would thus crucify the Redeemer. The meaning is, that their conduct would be "as if" they had crucified him; it would bear a strong resemblance to the act by which the Lord Jesus was publicly rejected and condemned to die. The act of crucifying the Son of God was the great crime which outpeers any other deed of human guilt. Yet the apostle says that should they who had been true Christians fall away and reject him, they would be guilty of a similar crime. It would be a public and solemn act of rejecting him. It would show that if they had been there they would have joined in the cry "crucify him, crucify him." The "intensity and aggravation" of such a crime perhaps the apostle meant to indicate by the intensive or emphatic ἀνὰ ana in the word ἀνασταυροῦντας anastaurountas. Such an act would render their salvation impossible, because:
(1) the crime would be aggravated beyond that of those who rejected him and put him to death - for they knew not what they did; and,
(2) because it would be a rejection of the only possible plan of salvation after they had had experience of its power and known its efficacy.
The phrase "to themselves," Tyndale readers, "as concerning themselves." Others, "as far as in them lies," or as far as they have ability to do. Others, "to their own heart." Probably Grotius has suggested the true sense. "They do it for themselves. They make the act their own. It is as if they did it themselves; and they are to he regarded as having done the deed." So we make the act of another our own when we authorize it beforehand, or approve of it after it is done.
And put him to an open shame - Make him a public example; or hold him up as worthy of death on the cross; see the same word explained in the notes on Matthew 1:19, in the phrase "make her a public example." The word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Their apostasy and rejection of the Saviour would be like holding him up publicly as deserving the infamy and ignominy of the cross. A great part of the crime attending the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, consisted in exhibiting him to the passing multitude as deserving the death of a malefactor. Of that sin they would partake who should reject him, for they would thus show that they regarded his religion as an imposture, and would in a public manner hold him up as worthy only of rejection and contempt. Such, it seems to me, is the fair meaning of this much-disputed passage - a passage which would never have given so much perplexity if it had not been supposed that the obvious interpretation would interfere with some prevalent articles of theology. The passage "proves" that if true Christians should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew and save them. If then it should be asked whether I believe that any true Christian ever did, or ever will fall from grace, and wholly lose his religion, I would answer unhesitatingly, no! (compare the John 10:27-28 notes; Romans 8:38-39 notes; Galatians 6:4 note.) If then it be asked what was the use of a warning like this, I:answer:
(1) it would show the great sin of apostasy from God if it were to occur. It is proper to state the greatness of an act of sin, though it might never occur, in order to show how it would be regarded by God.
(2) such a statement might be one of the most effectual means of preserving from apostasy. To state that a fall from a precipice would cause certain death, would be one of the most certain means of preserving one from falling; to affirm that arsenic would be certainly fatal, is one of the most effectual means of preventing its being taken; to know that fire certainly destroys, is one of the most sure checks from the danger. Thousands have been preserved from going over the Falls of Niagara by knowing that there would be no possibility of escape; and so effectual has been this knowledge that it has preserved all from such a catastrophe, except the very few who have gone over by accident. So in religion. The knowledge that apostasy would be fatal, and there could be no hope of being of the danger than all the other means that could be used. If a man believed that it would be an easy matter to be restored again should he apostatize, he would feel little solicitude in regard to it; and it has occurred in fact, that they who suppose that this may occur, have manifested little of the care to walk in the paths of strict religion, which should have been evinced.
(3) it may be added, that the means used by God to preserve his people from apostasy, have been entirely effectual. There is no evidence that one has ever fallen away who was a true Christian, (compare John 10:27-28, and 1 John 2:19); and to the end of the world it will be true that the means which he uses to keep his people from apostasy will not in a single instance fail.
(This view seems not opposed to the doctrine of the saint's perseverance. It professes indeed, to meet the objection usually raised from the passage, if not in a new mode, yet in a mode different from that commonly adopted by orthodox expositors. Admitting that true Christians are intended, it is asserted only, that if they should fall, their recovery would be impossible, It is not said that they ever have fallen or will fall. "The apostle in thus giving judgment on the case, if it should happen, does not declare that it actually does." And as to the use of supposing a case which never can occur, it is argued that means are constantly used to bring about what the decree or determination of God had before rendered certain. These exhortations are the means by which perseverance is secured.
Yet it may be doubted, whether there be anything in the passage to convince us, that the apostle has introduced an "impossible" case. He seems rather to speak of what "might" happen, of which there was "danger." If the reader incline to this view, he will apply the description to professors, and learn from it how far these may go, and yet fall short of the mark. But how would this suit the apostle's design? Well. If "professors" may go "so far," how much is this fact suited to arouse all to vigilance and inquiry. We, notwithstanding our gifts and "apparent" graces, may not be "true" Christians, may, therefore, not be "secure," may fall away and sink, under the doom of him whom it is impossible to renew. And he must be a very exalted Christian indeed, who does not occasionally find need of inquiry, and examination of evidences. Certainly, the whole passage may be explained in perfect consistency with this application of it.
Men may be enlightened, that is, well acquainted with the doctrines and duties of the Christian faith; may have tasted of the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Spirit in his miraculous influences, which many in primitive times enjoyed, without any sanctifying virtue; may have tasted the good word of God, or experienced impressions of affection and joy under it, as in the case of the stony ground hearers; may have tasted the powers of the world to come, or been influenced by the doctrine of a future state, with its accompanying rewards and punishments; - and yet not be "true" Christians. "All these things, except miraculous gifts, often take place in the hearts and consciences of people in these days, who yet continue unregenerate. They have knowledge, convictions, fears, hope, joys, and seasons of apparent earnestness, and deep concern about eternal things; and they are endued with such gifts, as often make them acceptable and useful to others, but they are not truly "humbled;" they are not "spiritually minded;" religion is not their element and delight" - Scott.
It should be observed, moreover, that while there are many "infallible" marks of the true Christian, none of these are mentioned in this place. The persons described are not said to have been elected, to have been regenerated, to have believed, or to have been sanctified. The apostle writes very differently when describing the character and privileges of the saints, Romans 8:27, Romans 8:30. The succeeding context, too, is supposed to favor this opinion.
"They (the characters in question) are, in the following verses, compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briars. But this is not so with true believers, for faith itself is an herb special to the enclosed garden of Christ. And the apostle afterward, discoursing of true belief, doth in many particulars distinguish them from such as may be apostates, which is supposed of the persons here intended. He ascribeth to them, in general, better things. and such as accompany salvation. He ascribes a work and labor of love, asserts their preservation, etc." - Owen.
Our author, however, fortifies himself against the objection in the first part of this quotation, by repeating and applying at Romans 8:7, his principle of exposition. "The design," says he, "is to show, that if Christians should be come like the barren earth, they would be cast away and lost."
Yet the attentive reader of this very ingenious exposition will observe, that the author has difficulty in carrying out his principles, and finds it necessary to introduce the "mere" professor ere he has done with the passage. "It is not supposed," says he, commenting on the 8th verse, "that a true Christian will fall away and be lost, but we may remark, that there are many professed Christians who seem to be in danger of such ruin. Corrupt desires are as certainly seen in their lives, as thorns on a bad soil. Such are nigh unto cursing. Unsanctified, etc., there is nothing else which can be done for them, and they must be lost. What a thought!" Yet that the case of the professor in danger cannot very consistently be introduced by him, appears from the fact, that such ruin as is here described is suspended on a condition which never occurs. It happens "only" if the "Christian" should fall. According to the author, it is not here denounced "on any other supposition." As then true Christians cannot fall, the ruin never can occur "in any case whatever." From these premises we "dare not" draw the conclusion, that any class of professors will be given over to final impenitence.
As to what may be alleged concerning the "apparent" sense of the passage, or the sense which would strike "the mass of readers;" every one will judge according to the sense which himself thinks most obvious. Few perhaps would imagine that the apostle was introducing an impossible case. Nor does the "connection" stand much in the way of the application to professors. In addition to what has already been stated, let it be further observed, that although the appropriate exhortation to awakened, yet unconverted persons would be, "to become converted; not to warn them of the danger of falling away;" yet the apostle is writing to the Hebrews at large, is addressing a body of professing Christians, concerning whom he could have no infallible assurance that "all of them" were true Christians. Therefore, it was right that they should be warned in the way the apostle has adopted. The objection leaves out of sight the important fact that the "exhortations and warnings addressed to the saints in Scripture are addressed to mixed societies, in which there may be hypocrites as well as believers."
Those who profess the faith, and associate with the church, are addressed without any decision regarding state. But the very existence of the warnings implies a fear that there may be some whose state is not safe. And "all," therefore, have need to inquire whether this be their condition. How appropriate then such warnings. This consideration, too, will furnish an answer to what has been alleged by another celebrated transatlantic writer, namely, "that whatever may be true in the divine purposes as to the final salvation of all those who are once truly regenerated. and this doctrine I feel constrained to admit, yet nothing can be plainer, than that the sacred writers have every where addressed saints in the same manner as they would address those whom they considered as constantly exposed to fall away and to perish forever." Lastly. The phraseology of the passage does not appear to remove it out of all possible application to "mere" professors.
It has already been briefly explained in consistency with such application. There is a difficulty, indeed, connected with the phrase, παλιν ανακαινιζειν εις μετανοιαν palin anakainizein eis metanoian, "again" to renew to repentance; implying, as is said, that they, to whom reference is made, had been renewed "before." But what should hinder this being understood of "reinstating in former condition," or in possession of former privilege; Bloomfield supposes, there may be an allusion to the non-reiteration of baptism, and Owen explains the phrase of bringing them again into a state of profession by a second renovation, and a second baptism, as a pledge thereof. The renewing he understands here "externally" of a solemn confession of faith and repentance, followed by baptism. This, says he, was their ἀνακαινισμος anakainismos, their renovation. It would seem then that there is nothing in the phrase to prevent its interpretation on the same principle that above has been applied to the passage generally.)
7For 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:
For the earth - The design of the apostle by this comparison is apparent. It is to show the consequences of not making a proper use of all the privileges which Christians have, and the effect which would follow should those privileges fail to be improved. He says, it is like the earth. If that absorbs the rain, and produces an abundant harvest, it receives the divine blessing. If not, it is cursed, or is worthless. The design is to show that "if" Christians should become like the barren earth they would be cast away and lost.
Which drinketh in the rain - A comparison of the earth as if it were "thirsty" - a comparison that is common in all languages.
That cometh oft upon it - The frequent showers that fall. The object is to describe fertile land which is often watered with the rains of heaven. The comparison of "drinking in" the rain is designed to distinguish a mellow soil which receives the rain, from hard or rocky land where it runs off.
And bringeth forth herbs - The word "herbs" we now limit in common discourse to the small vegetables which die every year, and which are used as articles of food, or to such in general as have not ligneous or hard woody stems. The word here means anything which is cultivated in the earth as an article of food, and includes all kinds of grains.
Meet for them - Useful or appropriate to them.
By whom it is dressed - Margin, "for whom." The meaning is, on account of whom it is cultivated. The word "dressed" here means "cultivated:" compare Genesis 2:15.
Receiveth blessing from God - Receives the divine approbation. It is in accordance with his wishes and plans, and he smiles upon it and blesses it. He does not curse it as he does the desolate and barren soil. The language is figurative, and must be used to denote what is an object of the divine favor. God delights in the harvests which the earth brings forth; in the effects of dews and rains and suns in causing beauty and abundance; and on such fields of beauty and plenty he looks down with pleasure. This does not mean, as I suppose, that he renders it more fertile and abundant, for:
(1) it cannot be shown that it is true that God thus rewards the earth for its fertility; and,
(2) such an interpretation would not accord well with the scope of the passage.
The design is to show that a Christian who makes proper use of the means of growing in grace which God bestows upon him, and who does not apostatize, meets with the divine favor and approbation. His course accords with the divine intention and wishes, and he is a man on whom God will smile - as he seems to do on the fertile earth.
8But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
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!
9But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things - We confidently hope for better things respecting you. We trust that you are true Christians; that you will produce the proper fruits of holiness; that you will be saved. "Things that accompany salvation." Things that pertain to salvation. The Greek phrase here means, "near to salvation," or things that are conjoined with salvation. So Coverdale renders it, "and that salvation is nigher." The form of expression seems to refer to what was said in Hebrews 6:8. The land overrun with briars was "nigh" to cursing; the things which Paul saw in them were "nigh" to salvation. From this verse it is evident:
(1) that the apostle regarded them as sincere Christians; and,
(2) that he believed they would not fall away.
Though he had stated what must be the inevitable consequence if Christians "should" apostatize, yet he says that in their case he had a firm conviction that it would not occur. There is no inconsistency in this. We may be certain that if a man should take arsenic it would kill him; and yet we may have the fullest conviction that he will not do it. Is not this verse a clear proof that Paul felt that it was certain that true Christians would never fall away and be lost? If he supposed that they might, how could he be persuaded that it would not happen to them? Why not to them as well as to others? Hence, learn that while we assure people that if they should fall away they would certainly perish we may nevertheless address them with the full persuasion that they will be saved.
10For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
For God is not unrighteous - God will do no wrong. He will not forget or fail to reward the endeavors of his people to promote his glory, and to do good. The meaning here is, that by their kindness in ministering to the wants of the saints, they had given full evidence of true piety. If God should forget that, it would be "unrighteous:
(1) because there was a propriety that it should be remembered; and,
(2) because it is expressly promised that it shall not fail of reward; Matthew 10:42.
Your work - Particularly in ministering to the wants of the saints.
Labour of love - Deeds of benevolence when there was no hope of recompense, or when love was the motive in doing it.
Which ye have showed toward his name - Toward him - for the word "name" is often used to denote the person himself. They had showed that they loved God by their kindness to his people; Matthew 25:40, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
In that ye have ministered to the saints - You have supplied their wants. This may refer either to the fact that they contributed to supply the wants of the poor members of the church (compare the note on Galatians 2:10), or it may refer to some special acts of kindness which they had shown to suffering and persecuted Christians. It is not possible now to know to what particular acts the apostle refers. We may learn.
(1) that to show kindness to Christians, because they are Christians, is an important evidence of piety.
(2) it will in no case be unrewarded. God is not "unjust;" and he will remember an act of kindness shown to his people - even though it be nothing but giving a cup of cold water.
11And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
And we desire that every one of you - We wish that every member of the church should exhibit the same endeavor to do good until they attain to the full assurance of hope. It is implied here that the full assurance of hope is to be obtained by a persevering effort to lead a holy life.
The same diligence - The same strenuous endeavor, the same ardor and zeal.
To the full assurance of hope - In order to obtain the full assurance of hope. The word rendered "full assurance," means firm persuasion, and refers to a state of mind where there is the fullest conviction, or where there is no doubt; see Colossians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 10:22; compare Luke 1:1; Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5; 2 Timothy 4:5, 2 Timothy 4:17, where the same word, in different forms, occurs. Hope is a compound emotion (see the note on Ephesians 2:12), made up of an earnest "desire" for an object, and a corresponding "expectation" of obtaining it. The hope of heaven is made up of an earnest "wish" to reach heaven, and a corresponding "expectation" of it, or "reason to believe" that it will be ours. The full assurance of that hope exists where there is the highest desire of heaven, and such corresponding evidence of personal piety as to leave no doubt that it will be ours.
To the end - To the end of life. The apostle wished that they would persevere in such acts of piety to the end of their course, as to have their hope of heaven fully established, and to leave no doubt on the mind that they were sincere Christians. Hence, learn:
(1) that full assurance of hope is to be obtained only by holy living.
(2) it is only when that is persevered in that it can be obtained.
(3) it is not by visions and raptures; by dreams and revelations that it can now be acquired, for God imparts no such direct revelation now.
(4) it is usually only as the result of a life of consistent piety that such an assurance is to be obtained. No man can have it who does not persevere in holy living, and they who do obtain it usually secure it only near the end of a life of eminent devotedness to God.
God could impart it at once when the soul is converted, but such is the tendency of man to indolence and sloth that even good people would then relax their efforts, and sit down contented, feeling that they had now the undoubted prospect of heaven. As it is, it is held out as a prize to be won - as that whose acquisition is to cheer us in our old age, when the warfare is over, and when amidst the infirmities of years, and the near prospect of death, we need special consolation; compare 2 Timothy 4:6-7.
12That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
That ye be not slothful - Indolent; inactive. This was what he was especially desirous of guarding them against. By diligent and strenuous effort only could they secure themselves from the danger of apostasy.
But followers - Imitators - that you may live as they lived.
Of them who through faith and patience - By faith, or confidence in God, and by patience in suffering - referring to those who in times of trial had remained faithful to God, and had been admitted to heaven. In Hebrews 11, the apostle has given a long list of such persevering and faithful friends of God; see the notes on that chapter.
The promise - The promise of heaven.
13For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
For when God made promise to Abraham - That he would bless him, and multiply his seed as the stars of heaven; Genesis 22:16-17. The object of introducing this example here is, to encourage those to whom the apostle was writing to persevere in the Christian life, This he does by showing that God had given the highest possible assurance of his purpose to bless his people, by an oath. Reference is made to Abraham in this argument, probably, for two reasons:
(1) To show the nature of the evidence which Christians have that they will be saved, or the ground of encouragement - being the same as that made to Abraham, and depending, as in his case, on the promise of God; and,
(2) because the "example" of Abraham was just in point. He had persevered. He had relied firmly and solely on the promise of God. He did this when appearances were much against the fulfillment of the promise, and he thus showed the advantage of perseverance and fidelity in the cause of God.
Because he could swear by no greater - There is no being greater than God. In taking an oath among people it is always implied that the appeal is to one of superior power, who is able to punish for its infraction. But this could not occur in the case of God himself. There was no greater being than himself, and the oath, therefore, was by his own existence.
He sware by himself - Genesis 22:16. "By myself have I sworn;" compare Isaiah 45:23. In an oath of this kind God pledges his veracity; declares that the event shall be as certain as his existence; and secures it by all the perfections of his nature. The usual form of the oath is, "As I live, saith the Lord;" see Numbers 14:21, Numbers 14:28; Ezekiel 33:11.
14Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee - That is, I will certainly bless thee. The phrase is a Hebrew mode of expression, to denote emphasis or certainty - indicated by the repetition of a word; compare Genesis 14:23; Exodus 8:10; Joel 3:14; Judges 5:30; Judges 15:16.
Multiplying I will multiply thee - I will greatly increase thee - I will grant thee an exceedingly numerous posterity.
15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
And so, after he had patiently endured - After he had waited for a long time. He did not faint or grow weary, but he persevered in a confident expectation of the fulfillment of what God had so solemnly promised.
He obtained the promise - Evidently the promise referred to in the oath - that he would have a numerous posterity. The apostle intimates that he had waited for that a long time; that his faith did not waver, and that in due season the object of his wishes was granted. To see the force of this, we are to remember:
(1) that when he was called by God from Haran, and when the promise of a numerous posterity was made to him, he was seventy-five years old; Genesis 12:1-5.
(2) Twenty-four years elapsed after this, during which he was a sojourner in a strange land, before the manner in which this promise would be fulfilled was made known to him; Genesis 17:1-16.
(3) It was only when he was an hundred years old, and when he had persevered in the belief of the truth of the promise against all the natural improbabilities of its accomplishment, that he received the pledge of its fulfillment in the birth of his son Isaac; Genesis 21:1-5.
(4) The birth of that son was a pledge that the other blessings implied in the promise would be granted, and in that pledge Abraham may be said to have "received the promise."
He did not actually see the numerous posterity of which he was to be the honored ancestor, nor the Messiah who was to descend from him, nor the happy influences which would result to mankind from the fulfillment of the promise. But he saw the certainty that all this would occur; he saw by faith the Messiah in the distance John 8:56, and the numerous blessings which would result from his coming. It was a remarkable instance of faith, and one well suited to the purpose of the apostle. It would furnish ample encouragement to the Christians to whom he wrote, to persevere in their course, and to avoid the dangers of apostasy. If Abraham persevered when "appearances" were so much against the fulfillment of what had been promised, then Christians should persevere under the clearer light and with the more distinct promises of the gospel.
16For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
For men verily swear by the greater - That is, they appeal to God. They never swear by one who is inferior to themselves. The object of the apostle in this declaration is to show that as far as this could be done it had been by God. He could not indeed swear by one greater than himself, but he could make his promise as certain as an oath taken by people was when they solemnly appealed to him. He could appeal to his own existence and veracity, which was at any time the most solemn form of an oath, and thus put the mind to rest in regard to the hope of heaven.
And an oath for confirmation - An oath taken to confirm or establish anything.
Is to them an end of all strife - That is, when two parties are at variance, or have a cause at issue, an oath binds them to adhere to the terms of agreement concluded on, or contracting parties bind themselves by a solemn oath to adhere to the conditions of an agreement, and this puts an end to all strife. They rest satisfied when a solemn oath has been taken, and they feel assured that the agreement will be complied with. Or it may refer to cases where a man was accused of wrong before a court, and where he took a solemn oath that the thing had not been done, and his oath was admitted to be sufficient to put an end to the controversy. The general meaning is clear, that in disputes between man and man, an appeal was made to an oath, and that was allowed to settle it. The connection here is, that as far as the case would admit of, the same thing was done by God. His oath by himself made his promise firm.
17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
Wherein God - On account of which; or since an oath had this effect, God was willing to appeal to it in order to assure his people of salvation.
Willing more abundantly - In the most abundant manner, or to make the case as sure as possible. It does not mean more abundantly than in the case of Abraham, but that he was willing to give the most ample assurance possible. Coverdale renders it correctly, "very abundantly."
The heirs of promise - The heirs to whom the promise of life pertained; that is, all who were interested in the promises made to Abraham - thus embracing the heirs of salvation now.
The immutability of his counsel - His fixed purpose. He meant to show in the most solemn manner that his purpose would not change. The plans of God never change; and all the hope which we can have of heaven is founded on the fact that his purpose is immutable. If he changed his plans; if he was controlled by caprice; if he willed one thing today and another thing tomorrow, who could confide in him, or who would have any hope of heaven? No one would know what to expect; and no one could put confidence in him. The farmer plows and sows because he believes that the laws of nature are settled and fixed; the mariner ventures into unknown seas because the needle points in one direction; we plant an apple tree because we believe it will produce apples, a peach because it will produce peaches, a pear because it will produce a pear. But suppose there were no settled laws, that all was governed by caprice; who would know what to plant? Who then would plant anything? So in religion. If there were nothing fixed and settled, who would know what to do? If God should change his plans by caprice, and save one man by faith today and condemn another for the same faith tomorrow; or if he should pardon a man today and withdraw the pardon tomorrow, what security could we have of salvation? How grateful, therefore, should we be that God has an "immutable counsel," and that this is confirmed by a solemn oath! No one could honor a God that had not such an immutability of purpose; and all the hope which man can have of heaven is in the fact that He is unchanging.
Confirmed it by an oath - Margin, "Interposed himself." Tyndale and Coverdale, "added an oath." The Greek is, "interposed with an oath" - ἐμεσιτεύσεν ὅρκῳ emesiteusen horkō. The word used here - μεσιτεύω mesiteuō - means to mediate or intercede for one; and then to intervene or interpose. The meaning here is, "that he interposed an oath" between himself and the other party by way of a confirmation or pledge.
18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
That by two immutable things - What the "two immutable things" here referred to are, has been made a matter of question among commentators. Most expositors, as Doddridge, Whitby, Rosenmuller, Koppe, and Calvin, suppose that the reference is to the promise and the oath of God, each of which would be a firm ground of the assurance of salvation, and in each of which it would be impossible for God to lie. Prof. Stuart supposes that the reference is to "two oaths" - the oath made to Abraham, and that by which the Messiah was made High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 5:10. He supposes that thus the salvation of believers would be amply secured, by the promise that Abraham should have a Son, the Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed, and in the oath that this Son should be High Priest forever. But to this interpretation it may be objected that the apostle seems to refer to two things distinct from each other in their nature, and not to two acts of the same kind. There are two kinds of security referred to, whereas the security furnished according to this interpretation would be the same - that arising from an oath. However numerous the oaths might be, still it would be security of the same kind, and if one of them were broken no certainty could be derived from the other. On the supposition, however, that he refers to the "promise" and the "oath," there would be two kinds of assurance of different kinds. On the supposition that the "promise" was disregarded - if such a supposition may be made still there would be the security of the "oath" - and thus the assurance of salvation was two-fold. It seems to me, therefore, that the apostle refers to the "promise" and to the "oath" of God, as constituting the two grounds of security for the salvation of his people. Those things were both unchangeable, and when his word and oath are once passed, what he promises is secure.
In which it was impossible for God to lie - That is, it would be contrary to his nature; it is not for a moment to be supposed; compare Titus 1:2, "God - that cannot lie." The impossibility is a "moral" impossibility, and the use of the word here explains the sense in which the words "impossible, cannot," etc., are often used in the Scriptures. The meaning here is, that such was the love of God for truth; such his holiness of character, that he "could" not speak falsely.
We might have a strong consolation - The strongest of which the mind can conceive. The consolation of a Christian is not in his own strength; his hope of heaven is not in any reliance on his own powers. His comfort is, that God has "promised" eternal life to his people, and that He cannot prove false to his word; Titus 1:2.
Who have fled for refuge - Referring to the fact that one charged with murder fled to the city of refuge, or laid hold on an altar for security. So we guilty and deserving of death have fled to the hopes of the gospel in the Redeemer.
To lay hold upon - To seize and hold fast - as one does an altar when he is pursued by the avenger of blood.
The hope set before us - The hope of eternal life offered in the gospel. This is set before us as our refuge, and to this we flee when we feel that we are in danger of death. On the nature of hope, see the notes on Ephesians 2:12.
19Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul - Hope accomplishes for the soul the same thing which an anchor does for a ship. It makes it fast and secure. An anchor preserves a ship when the waves beat and the wind blows, and as long as the anchor holds, so long the ship is safe, and the mariner apprehends no danger. So with the soul of the Christian. In the tempests and trials of life, his mind is calm as long as his hope of heaven is firm. If that gives way, he feels that all is lost. Among the pagan writers, "hope" is often compared with an anchor. So Socrates said, "To ground hope on a false supposition, is like trusting to a weak anchor." Again - "A ship ought not to trust to one anchor, nor life to one hope." Both sure and steadfast. Firm and secure. This refers to the anchor. That is fixed in the sand, and the vessel is secure.
And which entereth into that within the veil - The allusion to the "anchor" here is dropped, and the apostle speaks simply of hope. The "veil" here refers to what in the temple divided the holy from the most holy place; see the notes on Matthew 21:12. The place "within the veil" - the most holy place - was regarded as God's special abode - where he dwelt by the visible symbol of his presence. That holy place was emblematic of heaven; and the idea here is, that the hope of the Christian enters into heaven itself; it takes hold on the throne of God; it is made firm by being fastened there. It is not the hope of future riches, honors, or pleasures in this life - for such a hope would not keep the soul steady; it is the hope of immortal blessedness and purity in the world beyond.
20Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Whither - To which most holy place - heaven.
The forerunner - The word used here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. A "forerunner" - πρόδρομος prodromos - is one who goes before others to prepare the way. The word is applied to light troops sent forward as scouts; Diod. Sic. 17, 17; compare "Wisdom of Solomon" (apoc) 12:8. "Thou didst send wasps, forerunners of thy host, to destroy them by little and little." The meaning here is, that Jesus went first into the heavenly sanctuary. He led the way. He has gone there on our account, to prepare a place for us; John 14:3. Having such a friend and advocate there, we should be firm in the hope of eternal life, and amidst the storms and tempests around us, we should be calm.
Made an high priest forever - see the notes on Hebrews 5:6, Hebrews 5:10. To illustrate this fact, was the object for which this discussion was introduced, and which had been interrupted by the remarks occurring in this chapter on the danger of apostasy. Having warned them of this danger, and exhorted them to go on to make the highest attainments possible in the divine life, the apostle resumes the discussion respecting Melchizedek, and makes the remarks which he intended to make respecting this remarkable man; see Hebrews 5:11.
1. We should aim at perfection in order that we may have evidence of piety; Hebrews 6:1. No man can be a Christian who does not do this, or who does not desire to be perfect as God is perfect. No one can be a Christian who is "satisfied" or "contented" to remain in sin; or who would not "prefer" to be made at once as holy as an angel - as the Lord Jesus - as God.
2. We should aim at perfection in order to make great attainments; Hebrews 6:1. No man makes any great advance in anything, who does not set his standard high. Men usually accomplish about what they expect to accomplish, If a man expects to be a quack physician, he becomes such; if he is satisfied to be a fourth-rate lawyer, he becomes such; if he is willing to be an indifferent mechanic, he advances no higher; if he has no intention or expectation of being a firstrate farmer, he will never become one. If he sincerely aims, however, to excel, he usually accomplishes his object. And it is so in religion. If a man does not intend to be an eminent Christian, he may be certain he never will be. Religion is not produced by chance - any more than fine fruit is, or than a good harvest is. One of the principal reasons why President Edwards became so eminent a Christian, was, that in early life he adopted the following resolution, to which he appears always to have adhered, that "on the supposition that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part, and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time." Life, by S. E. Dwight, D. D., p. 72.
3. We should aim to acquire as much "knowledge" of religious truth as we possibly can; Hebrews 6:1-2. True piety is "principle." It is not fancy, or dreaming, or visions, or enthusiasm. It is based on knowledge, and does not go "beyond" that. No man has any more religion than he has "knowledge" of the way of salvation. He cannot force his religion to overstep the bounds of his knowledge; for "ignorance" contributes nothing to devotion. There may be knowledge where there is no piety; but there can be no true religion where there is no knowledge. If, therefore, a Christian wishes to make advances, he must gain a knowledge of the truth. He must understand the great doctrines of his religion. And in like manner, if we wish the next generation to be intelligent and solid Christians, we must train them up to "understand" the Bible.
4. The consequences of the judgment will be eternal; Hebrews 6:2. No truth is more solemn than this. It is this which makes the prospect of the judgment so awful. If the consequences of the sentence were to continue for a few years, or ages, or centuries only, it would be of much less importance. But who can abide the thought of "eternal judgment?" Of an "eternal sentence?" Here the most fearful and solemn sentence is for a short period. The sentence will soon expire; or it is mitigated by the hope of a change. Pain here is brief. Disgrace, and sorrow, and heaviness of heart, and all the woes that man can inflict, soon come to an end. There is an outer limit of suffering, and no severity of a sentence, no ingenuity of man, can prolong it far. The man disgraced, and whose life is a burden, will soon die. On the cheeks of the solitary prisoner, doomed to the dungeon for life, a "mortal paleness" will soon settle down, and the comforts of an approaching release by death may soothe the anguish of his sad heart.
The rack of torture cheats itself of its own purpose, and the exhausted sufferer is released. "The excess (of grief,) makes it soon mortal." But in the world of future woe the sentence will never expire; and death will never come to relieve the sufferer. I may ask, then, of my reader, Are you prepared for the "eternal" sentence? Are you ready to hear a doom pronounced which can never be changed? Would you be willing to have God judge you just as you are, and pronounce such a sentence as ought to be pronounced now, and have the assurance that it would be eternal? You seek worldly honor. Would you be willing to be doomed "always" to seek that? You aspire after wealth. Would you be willing to be doomed to aspire after that "always?" You seek pleasure - in the frivolous and giddy world. Would you be willing to be doomed "always" to seek after that? You have no religion; perhaps desire to have none. Yet would you be willing to be doomed to be always without religion? You are a stranger to the God that made you. Would you be willing to be sentenced to be "always" a stranger to God? You indulge in passion, pride, envy, sensuality. Would you be willing to be sentenced always to the raging of these passions and lusts? How few are they who would be willing to have an "eternal" sentence passed on them, or to be doomed to pursue their present employments, or to cherish their present opinions for ever! How few who would "dare" to meet a sentence which should be in strict accordance with what was "just," and which was never to change!
5. With the righteous it should be matter of rejoicing that the judgment is to be eternal; Hebrews 6:2. They can desire no change of the sentence which will assign them to heaven; and it will be no small part of the joy of the heavenly world, that the results of the judgment will be everlasting. There will be no further trial; no reversing of the sentence; no withdrawing of the crown of glory. The righteous are the only ones who have not reason to dread a "just eternal sentence;" and they will rejoice when the time shall come which will fix their doom forever.
6. We should dread apostasy from the true religion; Hebrews 6:4. We should habitually feel that if we should deny our Lord, and reject his religion, there would be no hope. The die would be cast; and we must then perish for ever. By this solemn consideration God intends to preserve his people, and it is a consideration which has been so effectual that there is not the least reason to suppose that anyone who has ever had any true religion, has fallen away and perished. Many have been "almost" Christians, and have then turned back to perdition Matthew 7:2, Matthew 7:23; Acts 26:28, but there is no reason to suppose that any who have been true Christians have thus apostatized and been lost. Yet Christians are not kept without watchfulness; they cannot be kept without the most sincere and constant endeavors to preserve themselves from failing.
7. If the sin of apostasy is so great, then every approach to it is dangerous; and then every sin should be avoided. He that habitually indulges in sin "cannot" be a Christian; and every sin which a sincere Christian commits should be measured by the guilt which "would" exist should it become final, and should he wholly fall away. No man can indulge in sin and be safe; and no professed Christian who finds himself disposed to indulge in sin, should cherish the expectation of reaching heaven; Hebrews 6:4-6.
8. It is a matter of devout gratitude that God "has" kept all his true people from apostasy; Hebrews 6:4-6. If it is true that no one who has been regenerated has ever fallen away; if the means which God has used have been effectual in a world so full of temptations, and when we have hearts so prone to evil; and if it is the intention of God to keep all to eternal salvation who are truly converted, then it should be to us a subject of devout thankfulness and of encouragement. In view of this, we should admire the wisdom of the plan which thus secures salvation; we should look to him with the firm assurance that he "will keep" what we have committed to him to the final day.
9. We should improve the privileges which we enjoy so as to receive a blessing from God; Hebrews 6:7-8. It is desirable that a farm should be well cultivated so as not to be overrun with briars and thorns; desirable that it should produce an abundant harvest, and not exhibit mere barrenness and desolation. Yet, alas, there are many professing Christians who resemble such a field of thorns, and such a scene of desolation. They produce no fruits of righteousness; they do nothing to extend the kingdom of the Redeemer! What can such expect but the "curse" of God? What can the end of such be but to be "burned?"
10. God will not fail to reward his faithful people; Hebrews 6:10. What we have done in his service, and with a sincere desire to promote his glory, unworthy of his notice as it may seem to us to be, he will not fail to reward. It may be unobserved or forgotten by the world; nay, it may pass out of our own recollection, but it will never fail from the mind of God. Whether it be "two mites" contributed to his cause, or a "cup of cold water given to a disciple," or a life consecrated to his service, it will be alike remembered. What encouragement there is, therefore, to labor in the promotion of his glory, and to do all we can for the advancement of his kingdom!
11. Let us follow those who have inherited the promises; Hebrews 6:12. They are worthy examples. When from their lofty seats in heaven they look back on the journey of life, though to them attended with many trials, they never regret the "faith and patience" by which they were enabled to persevere. We have most illustrious examples to imitate. They are numerous as the drops of dew, and bright as the star of the morning. It is an honor to tread in the footsteps of the holy men who have inherited the promises; an honor to feel that we are walking in the same path, and are reaching out the hand to the same crown.
12. It is the privilege of those who are truly the children of God to enjoy strong consolation; Hebrews 6:13-18. Their hope is based on what cannot fail. God cannot lie. And when we have evidence that he has promised us eternal life, we may open our hearts to the full influence of Christian consolation. It may be asked, perhaps, how we may have that evidence? Will God speak to us from heaven and assure us that we are his children? Will he reveal our names as written in his book? Will he come to us in the night watches and address us by name as his? I answer, No. None of these things are we to expect. But if we have evidence that we have true repentance, and sincere faith in the Redeemer; if we love holiness and desire to lead a pure life; if we delight in the Bible and in the people of God, then we may regard him as addressing us in the promises and oaths of his word, and assuring us of salvation. These promises belong to us, and we may apply them to ourselves. And if we have evidence that God "promises" us eternal life, why should we doubt? We may feel that we are unworthy; our consciences may reproach us for the errors and follies of our past lives; but on the unchanging word and oath of God we may rely, and there we may feel secure.
13. How invaluable is the Christian hope! Hebrews 6:19. To us it is like the anchor to a vessel in a storm. We are sailing along the voyage of life. We are exposed to breakers, and tempests. Our bark is liable to be tossed about, or to be shipwrecked. In the agitations and troubles of life, how much we need some anchor of the soul; something that shall make us calm and serene! Such an anchor is found in the hope of the gospel. While that hope is firm we need fear nothing. All is then safe, and we may look calmly on, assured that we shall ride out the storm, and come at last safely into the haven of peace. Happy they who have fled for refuge to the faith of the gospel; whose hope like a steady anchor has entered into heaven and binds the soul to the throne of God; whose confidence in the Redeemer is unshaken in all the storms of life, and who have the assurance that when the tempest shall have beaten upon them a little longer they will be admitted to a haven of rest, where storms and tempests are forever unknown. With such a hope we may well bear the trials of this life for the few days appointed to us on earth - for what are the longest trials here compared with that eternal rest which remains for all who love God in a brighter world?