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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Hebrews 6

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The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

CHAPTER 6

Hbr 6:1-14. WARNING AGAINST RETROGRADING, WHICH SOON LEADS TO APOSTASY; ENCOURAGEMENT TO STEADFASTNESS FROM GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS WORD AND OATH.

      1. Therefore--Wherefore: seeing that ye ought not now to be still "babes" ( Hbr 5:11-14 ).
      leaving--getting further forward than the elementary "principles." "As in building a house one must never leave the foundation: yet to be always laboring in 'laying the foundation' would be ridiculous" [CALVIN].
      the principles of the doctrine--Greek, "the word of the beginning," that is, the discussion of the "first principles of Christianity ( Hbr 5:12 ).
      let us go on--Greek, "let us be borne forward," or "bear ourselves forward"; implying active exertion: press on. Paul, in teaching, here classifies himself with the Hebrew readers, or (as they ought to be) learners, and says, Let us together press forward.
      perfection--the matured knowledge of those who are "of full age" ( Hbr 5:14 ) in Christian attainments.
      foundation of--that is, consisting in "repentance."
      repentance from dead works--namely, not springing from the vital principle of faith and love toward God, and so counted, like their doer, dead before God. This repentance from dead works is therefore paired with "faith toward God." The three pairs of truths enumerated are designedly such as JEWISH believers might in some degree have known from the Old Testament, but had been taught more clearly when they became Christians. This accounts for the omission of distinct specification of some essential first principle of Christian truth. Hence, too, he mentions "faith toward God," and not explicitly faith toward Christ (though of course included). Repentance and faith were the first principles taught under the Gospel.

      2. the doctrine of baptisms--paired with "laying on of hands," as the latter followed on Christian baptism, and answers to the rite of confirmation in Episcopal churches. Jewish believers passed, by an easy transition, from Jewish baptismal purifications ( Hbr 9:10, "washings"), baptism of proselytes, and John's baptism, and legal imposition of hands, to their Christian analogues, baptism, and the subsequent laying on of hands, accompanied by the gift of the Holy Ghost (compare Hbr 6:4 ). Greek, "baptismoi," plural, including Jewish and Christian baptisms, are to be distinguished from baptisma, singular, restricted to Christian baptism. The six particulars here specified had been, as it were, the Christian Catechism of the Old Testament; and such Jews who had begun to recognize Jesus as the Christ immediately on the new light being shed on these fundamental particulars, were accounted as having the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ [BENGEL]. The first and most obvious elementary instruction of Jews would be the teaching them the typical significance of their own ceremonial law in its Christian fulfilment [ALFORD].
      resurrection, &c.--held already by the Jews from the Old Testament: confirmed with clearer light in Christian teaching or "doctrine."
      eternal judgment--judgment fraught with eternal consequences either of joy or of woe.

      3. will we do--So some of the oldest manuscripts read; but others, "Let us do." "This," that is, "Go on unto perfection."
      if God permit--For even in the case of good resolutions, we cannot carry them into effect, save through God "working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure" ( Phl 2:13 ). The "for" in Hbr 6:4 refers to this: I say, if God permit, for there are cases where God does not permit, for example, "it is impossible," &c. Without God's blessing, the cultivation of the ground does not succeed ( Hbr 6:7 ).

      4. We must "go on toward perfection"; for if we fall away, after having received enlightenment, it will be impossible to renew us again to repentance.
      for those--"in the case of those."
      once enlightened--once for all illuminated by the word of God taught in connection with "baptism" (to which, in Hbr 6:2, as once for all done," once enlightened" here answers); compare Eph 5:26. This passage probably originated the application of the term "illumination" to baptism in subsequent times. Illumination, however, was not supposed to be the inseparable accompaniment of baptism: thus CHRYSOSTOM says, "Heretics have baptism, not illumination: they are baptized in body, but not enlightened in soul: as Simon Magus was baptized, but not illuminated." That "enlightened" here means knowledge of the word of truth, appears from comparing the same Greek word "illuminated," Hbr 10:32, with Hbr 10:26, where "knowledge of the truth" answers to it.
      tasted of the heavenly gift--tasted for themselves. As "enlightened" refers to the sense of sight: so here taste follows. "The heavenly gift"; Christ given by the Father and revealed by the enlightening word preached and written: as conferring peace in the remission of sins; and as the Bestower of the gift of the Holy Spirit ( Act 8:19, 20 ),
      made partakers of the Holy Ghost--specified as distinct from, though so inseparably connected with, "enlightened," and "tasted of the heavenly gift," Christ, as answering to "laying on of hands" after baptism, which was then generally accompanied with the impartation of the Holy Ghost in miraculous gifts.

      5. tasted the good word of God--distinct from "tasted OF (genitive) the heavenly gift"; we do not yet enjoy all the fulness of Christ, but only have a taste OF Him, the heavenly gift now; but believers may taste the whole word (accusative case) of God already, namely, God's "good word of promise." The Old Testament promise of Canaan to Israel typified "the good word of God's" promise of the heavenly rest ( Hbr 4:1-16 ). Therefore, there immediately follows the clause, "the powers of the world to come." As "enlightening" and "tasting of the heavenly gift," Christ, the Bread of Life, answers to FAITH: so "made partakers of the Holy Ghost," to CHARITY, which is the first-fruit of the Spirit: and "tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come," to HOPE. Thus the triad of privileges answers to the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Spirit, in their respective works toward us. "The world to come," is the Christian dispensation, viewed especially in its future glories, though already begun in grace here. The world to come thus stands in contrast to course of this world, altogether disorganized because God is not its spring of action and end. By faith, Christians make the world to come a present reality, though but a foretaste of the perfect future. The powers of this new spiritual world, partly exhibited in outward miracles at that time, and then, as now, especially consisting in the Spirit's inward quickening influences are the earnest of the coming inheritance above, and lead the believer who gives himself up to the Spirit to seek to live as the angels, to sit with Christ in heavenly places, to set the affections on things above, and not on things on earth, and to look for Christ's coming and the full manifestation of the world to come. This "world to come," in its future aspect, thus corresponds to "resurrection of the dead and eternal life" ( Hbr 6:2 ), the first Christian principles which the Hebrew believers had been taught, by the Christian light being thrown back on their Old Testament for their instruction (see on JF & B for Heb 6:1,2). "The world to come," which, as to its "powers," exists already in the redeemed, will pass into a fully realized fact at Christ's coming ( Col 3:4 ).

      6. If--Greek, "And (yet) have fallen away"; compare a less extreme falling or declension, Gal 5:4, "Ye are fallen from grace." Here an entire and wilful apostasy is meant; the Hebrews had not yet so fallen away; but he warns them that such would be the final result of retrogression, if, instead of "going on to perfection," they should need to learn again the first principles of Christianity ( Hbr 6:1 ).
      to renew them again--They have been "once" ( Hbr 6:4 ) already renewed, or made anew, and now they need to be "renewed" over "again."
      crucify to themselves the Son of God--"are crucifiying to themselves" Christ, instead of, like Paul, crucifying the world unto them by the cross of Christ ( Gal 6:14 ). So in Hbr 10:29, "trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith. . . sanctified, an unholy thing." "The Son of God," marking His dignity, shows the greatness of their offense.
      put him to an open shame--literally, "make a public example of" Him, as if He were a malefactor suspended on a tree. What the carnal Israel did outwardly, those who fall away from light do inwardly, they virtually crucify again the Son of God; "they tear him out of the recesses of their hearts where He had fixed His abode and exhibit Him to the open scoffs of the world as something powerless and common" [BLEEK in ALFORD]. The Montanists and Novatians used this passage to justify the lasting exclusion from the Church of those who had once lapsed. The Catholic Church always opposed this view, and readmitted the lapsed on their repentance, but did not rebaptize them. This passage implies that persons may be in some sense "renewed," and yet fall away finally; for the words, "renew again," imply that they have been, in some sense, not the full sense, ONCE RENEWED by the Holy Ghost; but certainly not that they are "the elect," for these can never fall away, being chosen unto everlasting life ( Jhn 10:28 ). The elect abide in Christ, hear and continuously obey His voice, and do not fall away. He who abides not in Christ, is cast forth as a withered branch; but he who abides in Him becomes more and more free from sin; the wicked one cannot touch him; and he by faith overcomes the world. A temporary faith is possible, without one thereby being constituted one of the elect ( Mar 4:16, 17 ). At the same time it does not limit God's grace, as if it were "impossible" for God to reclaim even such a hardened rebel so as yet to look on Him whom he has pierced. The impossibility rests in their having known in themselves once the power of Christ's sacrifice, and yet now rejecting it; there cannot possibly be any new means devised for their renewal afresh, and the means provided by God's love they now, after experience of them, deliberately and continuously reject; their conscience being served, and they "twice dead" ( Jud 1:12 ), are now past hope, except by a miracle of God's grace. "It is the curse of evil eternally to propagate evil" [THOLUCK]. "He who is led into the whole (?) compass of Christian experiences, may yet cease to abide in them; he who abides not in them, was, at the very time when he had those objective experiences, not subjectively true to them; otherwise there would have been fulfilled in him, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance" ( Mat 13:12 ), so that he would have abided in them and not have fallen away" [THOLUCK]. Such a one was never truly a Spirit-led disciple of Christ ( Rom 8:14-17 ). The sin against the Holy Ghost, though somewhat similar, is not identical with this sin; for that sin may be committed by those outside the Church (as in Mat 12:24, 31, 32 ); this, only by those inside.

      7. the earth--rather as Greek (no article), "land."
      which drinketh in--Greek, "which has drunk in"; not merely receiving it on the surface. Answering to those who have enjoyed the privilege of Christian experiences, being in some sense renewed by the Holy Ghost; true alike of those who persevere and those who "fall away."
      the rain that cometh oft upon it--not merely failing over it, or towards it, but falling and resting upon it so as to cover it (the Greek genitive, not the accusative). The "oft" implies, on God's part, the riches of His abounding grace ("coming" spontaneously, and often); and, on the apostate's part, the wilful perversity whereby he has done continual despite to the oft-repeated motions of the Spirit. Compare "How often," Mat 23:37. The rain of heaven falls both on the elect and the apostates.
      bringeth forth--as the natural result of "having drunk in the rain." See above.
      herbs--provender.
      meet--fit. Such as the master of the soil wishes. The opposite of "rejected," Hbr 6:8.
      by whom--rather as Greek, "for (that is, on account of) whom," namely, the lords of the soil; not the laborers, as English Version, namely, God and His Christ ( 1Cr 3:9 ). The heart of man is the earth; man is the dresser; herbs are brought forth meet, not for the dresser, by whom, but for God, the owner of the soil, for whom it is dressed. The plural is general, the owners whoever they may be; here God.
      receiveth--"partaketh of."
      blessing--fruitfulness. Contrast God's curse causing unfruitfulness ( Gen 3:17, 18 ); also spiritually ( Jer 17:5-8 ).
      from God--Man's use of means is vain unless God bless ( 1Cr 3:6, 7 ).

      8. that which--rather as Greek (no article), "But if it (the 'land,' Hbr 6:7 ) bear"; not so favorable a word as "bringeth forth," Hbr 6:7, said of the good soil.
      briers--Greek, "thistles."
      rejected--after having been tested; so the Greek implies. Reprobate. . . rejected by the Lord.
      nigh unto cursing--on the verge of being given up to its own barrenness by the just curse of God. This "nigh" softens the severity of the previous "It is impossible," &c. ( Hbr 6:4, 6 ). The ground is not yet actually cursed.
      whose--"of which (land) the end is unto burning," namely, with the consuming fire of the last judgment; as the land of Sodom was given to "brimstone, salt, and burning" ( Deu 29:23 ); so as to the ungodly ( Mat 3:10, 12 7:19 13:30 Jhn 15:6 2Pe 3:10 ). Jerusalem, which had so resisted the grace of Christ, was then nigh unto cursing, and in a few years was burned. Compare Mat 22:7, "burned up their city" an earnest of a like fate to all wilful abusers of God's grace ( Hbr 10:26, 27 ).

      9. beloved--appositely here introduced; LOVE to you prompts me in the strong warnings I have just given, not that I entertain unfavorable thoughts of you; nay, I anticipate better things of you; Greek "the things which are better"; that ye are not thorn-bearing, or nigh unto cursing, and doomed unto burning, but heirs of salvation in accordance with God's faithfulness ( Hbr 6:10 ).
      we are persuaded--on good grounds; the result of proof. Compare Rom 15:14, "I myself am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye are full of goodness." A confirmation of the Pauline authorship of this Epistle.
      things that accompany--Greek, "things that hold by," that is, are close unto "salvation." Things that are linked unto salvation (compare Hbr 6:19 ). In opposition to "nigh unto cursing."
      though--Greek, "if even we thus speak." "For it is better to make you afraid with words, that ye may not suffer in fact."

      10. not unrighteous--not unfaithful to His own gracious promise. Not that we have any inherent right to claim reward; for (1) a servant has no merit, as he only does that which is his bounden duty; (2) our best performances bear no proportion to what we leave undone; (3) all strength comes from God; but God has promised of His own grace to reward the good works of His people (already accepted through faith in Christ); it is His promise, not our merits, which would make it unrighteous were He not to reward His people's works. God will be no man's debtor.
      your work--your whole Christian life of active obedience.
      labour of love--The oldest manuscripts omit "labor of," which probably crept in from 1Th 1:3. As "love" occurs here, so "hope," Hbr 6:11, "faith," Hbr 6:12; as in 1Cr 13:13 : the Pauline triad. By their love he sharpens their hope and faith.
      ye have showed--(Compare Hbr 10:32-34 ).
      toward his name--Your acts of love to the saints were done for His name's sake. The distressed condition of the Palestinian Christians appears from the collection for them. Though receiving bounty from other churches, and therefore not able to minister much by pecuniary help, yet those somewhat better off could minister to the greatest sufferers in their Church in various other ways (compare 2Ti 1:18 ). Paul, as elsewhere, gives them the utmost credit for their graces, while delicately hinting the need of perseverance, a lack of which had probably somewhat begun to show itself.

      11. And--Greek, "But."
      desire--Greek, "earnestly desire." The language of fatherly affection, rather than command.
      every one of you--implying that all in the Palestinian churches had not shown the same diligence as some of those whom he praises in Hbr 6:10. "He cares alike for great and small, and overlooks none." "Every one of them," even those diligent in acts of LOVE ( Hbr 6:10 ), needed to be stimulated to persevere in the same diligence with a view to the full assurance of HOPE unto the end. They needed, besides love, patient perseverance, resting on hope and faith ( Hbr 10:36 13:7 ). Compare "the full assurance of faith," Hbr 10:22 Rom 4:21 1Th 1:5.
      unto the end--the coming of Christ.

      12. be not--Greek, "become not." In Hbr 5:11, he said, "Ye have become dull (Greek, 'slothful') of hearing"; here he warns them not to become "slothful absolutely," namely, also in mind and deed. He will not become slothful who keeps always the end in view; hope is the means of ensuring this.
      followers--Greek, "imitators"; so in Eph 5:1, Greek; 1Cr 11:1.
      patience--Greek, "long-suffering endurance." There is the long-suffering patience, or endurance of love, 1Cr 13:4, and that of faith, Hbr 6:15.
      them who. . . inherit the promises--Greek, "who are inheriting," &c.; to whom the promises are their inheritance. Not that they have actually entered on the perfect inheritance, which Hbr 11:13, 39, 40 explicitly denies; though doubtless the dead in Christ have, in the disembodied soul, a foretaste of it; but "them (enumerated in Hbr 11:2-40 ) who in every age have been, are, or shall be, inheritors of the promises"; of whom Abraham is an illustrious example ( Hbr 6:13 ).

      13. For--confirming the reasonableness of resting on "the promises" as infallibly sure, resting as they do on God's oath, by the instance of Abraham. "He now gives consolation, by the oath of God's grace, to those whom, in the second, third, and fourth chapters, he had warned by the oath of God's 'wrath.' The oath of wrath did not primarily extend its force beyond the wilderness; but the oath of grace is in force for ever" [BENGEL].

      14. multiplying. . . multiply--Hebraism for superabundantly multiply.
      thee--The increase of Abraham's seed is virtually an increase of himself. The argument here refers to Abraham himself as an example; therefore Paul quotes Gen 22:17, "thee," instead of "thy seed."

      15. so--thus relying on the promise.

      16. for confirmation--not to be joined, as English Version, to "an oath"; but to "an end" [ALFORD]. I prefer, "The oath is to them, in respect to confirmation (of one's solemn promise or covenant; as here, God's), an end of all contradiction (so the Greek is translated, Hbr 12:3 ), or "gainsaying." This passage shows: (1) an oath is sanctioned even in the Christian dispensation as lawful; (2) that the limits to its use are, that it only be employed where it can put an end to contradiction in disputes, and for confirmation of a solemn promise.

      17. Wherein--that is, Which being the case among men, God, in accommodation to their manner of confirming covenants, superadded to His sure word His oath: the "TWO immutable things" ( Hbr 6:18 ).
      willing. . . counsel--Greek, "willing. . . will"; words akin. Expressing the utmost benignity [BENGEL].
      more abundantly--than had He not sworn. His word would have been amply enough; but, to make assurance doubly sure, He "interposed with an oath" (so the Greek). Literally, He acted as Mediator, coming between Himself and us; as if He were less, while He swears, than Himself by whom He swears (for the less among men usually swear by the greater). Dost thou not yet believe, thou that hearest the promise? [BENGEL].
      heirs of promise--not only Abraham's literal, but also his spiritual, seed ( Gal 3:29 ).

      18. immutable--Translate, as in Hbr 6:17, "unchangeable."
      impossible. . . to lie--"ever to lie"; this is the force of the Greek aorist [ALFORD]. His not being able to deny Himself is a proof, not of weakness, but of strength incomparable.
      consolation--under doubts and fears, and so "encouragement," literally, "exhortation."
      fled for refuge--as if from a shipwreck; or, as one fleeing to one of the six cities of refuge. Kadesh, that is, holy, implies the holiness of Jesus, our Refuge. Shechem, that is, shoulder, the government is upon his shoulder ( Isa 9:6 ). Hebron, that is, fellowship, believers are called into the fellowship of Christ. Bezer, that is, a fortress, Christ is so to all who trust in Him. Ramoth, that is, high, for Him hath God exalted with His right hand ( Act 5:31 ). Golan, that is, joy, for in Him all the saints are justified and shall glory.
      lay hold upon the hope--that is, the object of our hope, as upon a preservative from sinking.
      set before us--as a prize for which we strive; a new image, namely, the race course ( Hbr 12:1, 2 ).

      19. Hope is found represented on coins by an anchor.
      sure and steadfast--sure in respect to us: steadfast, or "firm" [ALFORD], in itself. Not such an anchor as will not keep the vessel from tossing, or an anchor unsound or too light [THEOPHYLACT].
      which entereth into that--that is the place
      within the veil--two images beautifully combined: (1) The soul is the ship: the world the sea: the bliss beyond the world, the distant coast; the hope resting on faith, the anchor which prevents the vessel being tossed to and fro; the encouraging consolation through the promise and oath of God, the cable connecting the ship and anchor. (2) The world is the fore-court: heaven, the Holy of Holies; Christ, the High Priest going before us, so as to enable us, after Him, and through Him, to enter within the veil. ESTIUS explains, As the anchor does not stay in the waters, but enters the ground hidden beneath the waters, and fastens itself in it, so hope, our anchor of the soul, is not satisfied with merely coming to the vestibule, that is, is not content with merely earthly and visible goods, but penetrates even to those which are within the veil, namely, to the Holy of Holies, where it lays hold on God Himself, and heavenly goods, and fastens on them. "Hope, entering within heaven, hath made us already to be in the things promised to us, even while we are still below, and have not yet received them; such strength hope has, as to make those that are earthly to become heavenly." "The soul clings, as one in fear of shipwreck to an anchor, and sees not whither the cable of the anchor runs--where it is fastened: but she knows that it is fastened behind the veil which hides the future glory."
      veil--Greek, "catapetasma": the second veil which shut in the Holiest Place. The outer veil was called by a distinct Greek term, calumma: "the second (that is, the inner) veil."

      20. The absence of the Greek article requires ALFORD'S translation, "Where. As forerunner for us (that is, in our behalf), entered Jesus" [and is now: this last clause is implied in the 'where' of the Greek, which implies being IN a place: 'whither' is understood to 'entered,' taken out of 'where'; whither Jesus entered, and where He is now]. The "for us" implies that it was not for Himself, as God, He needed to enter there, but as our High Priest, representing and introducing us, His followers, opening the way to us, by His intercession with the Father, as the Aaronic high priest entered the Holiest Place once a year to make propitiation for the people. The first-fruits of our nature are ascended, and so the rest is sanctified. Christ's ascension is our promotion: and whither the glory of the Head has preceded, thither the hope of the body, too, is called. We ought to keep festal day, since Christ has taken up and set in the heavens the first-fruit of our lump, that is, the human flesh [CHRYSOSTOM]. As John Baptist was Christ's forerunner on earth, so Christ is ours in heaven.

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