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Themes in Hebrews – Lesson 4, Part 3.

31/01/2012

The final part of Lesson 4.

3. Go on – Or Go Back. Chapter 6:1-12.
We come now to one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented passages of Scripture, and we should already be able to put it into context for ourselves, having already explored the theme of perseverance in the book. There are basically two sections to this passage.

* The Christian’s Duty is to Persevere. We are to ‘go on to perfection.’ Heb 6:1, Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection;
Again the word used here for perfection is τελειοτητα (teliotyta). The root is teleios, (like telephone or telescope) – it implies going on, to reach the goal of maturity in Christian knowledge and doctrine. It’s interesting that the author wants the Christians to progress beyond the ‘doctrine of Christ’. There is a tendency in the visible church to say that if we believe in Jesus, that’s enough, and if we know a little of the teachings of Jesus, that’s enough. (The people who say that rarely do know the teachings of Jesus!).

Some years ago I was trying to explain the Regulative Principle of Worship to a lady in a bookshop. I started by trying to illustrate that different branches of the church have varying views on what is admissible in worship. Calvin believed that nothing should be admitted to worship unless it was sanctioned by the Word of God, whereas Luther taught that anything was permissible, so long as it was not forbidden by the Word of God. The lady stopped me there. “I’m not interested in anything like that – I’m only interested in what Jesus had to say about it!” She was wrong of course, for as evangelicals we believe in the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, that all of the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. We are of course to meet Christ,to know Him personally, to appreciate His work at Calvary etc… But we are to go on from that and learn more of God and more of His Word. Please see how Peter explains this in 2 Peter 1:3-8

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now note what it is that we are to go on from. The Author gives us a starting point and a goal. Before we can ‘go on’ in the faith we must make a start with the elementary principles of the gospel. Our text shows us that this involves teaching on such doctrines as…

– Repentance from dead works. not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works. Turning from works which produce spiritual death, not life. Paul describes such works in Ephesians 2:1-3 1And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Romans 6:21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

– Faith toward God. and of faith toward God That trusting conviction in God and His promises that is essential to pleasing him. Like in Hebrews 11:6, But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. And remember that such faith is of itself a gift from God, produced by his Word. Romans 10:17, So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

– The doctrine of baptisms. This is interesting, for there is only one baptism. Some commentators make the point that there are both inward and outward aspects to baptism, but that both of these are the one baptism. So there are people who will speak of two separate baptisms – the ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘Water Baptism’. Some will claim that these are entirely unrelated, and that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a kind of ‘second experience’ or ‘second blessing’ that occurs some time after conversion. Reformed commentators and theologians generally do not accept that position. 1st Corinthians 12, Paul’s great passage on the nature of the Body of Christ, tells us that when we enter that Body it is through the work of the Holy Spirit, and he calls it baptism. He says in verse 13, For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. Paul clearly taught that the ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ was something that happens to every believer at conversion. It is the inward working of that occurrence which is symbolised by the outward sacrament – baptism. So, Paul could also say, in Ephesians 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There may be another interpretation of this phrase though. The AV ‘baptisms’ is a literal translation of the Greek βαπτισμων. The ESV translates the text as ‘washings’ rather than baptisms, and certainly this is plausible. In Luke 11:38, the Greek word εβαπτισθη in the TR is translated by the AV as ‘wash’. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. I’m just making the point that it is perfectly legitimate to translate βαπτισμων as WASHINGS. So ESV reads ‘and of instruction about washings’
Now, if we can accept this translation, then we can assume that the Author is in fact telling the Hebrew Christians to go on from their previous experience as Jews, for in Judaism there were endless ritual washings. Such practices needed to be carefully distinguished from Christian baptism, just as much as John’s baptism was distinguished from the baptism of believers.
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptised? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4Then said Paul, John verily baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
You can see that this would be entirely consistent with the purpose of the book, where the Author is pleading with the Hebrew Christians not to return to Judaism, while the view that the text refers to baptisms as the joint inward/outward initiation into the body of Christ would be in keeping with the idea of foundation truth, from which we are to progress in knowledge.

– The laying on of hands. The laying on of hands One of the foundations of the faith is the doctrine of ministry, and the laying on of hands indicates the commencement of a ministry, setting one apart for service. Acts 6:1-6.

– The resurrection of the dead. the resurrection of the dead This was a central theme of apostolic preaching. The resurrection of Jesus and the precious hope of resurrection for the believer featured in Apostolic preaching and teaching right from the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.

– Eternal judgment. and eternal judgment. Another great theme of Apostolic preaching and teaching. Acts 17:30-31, 24:24f, Romans 2:16, 14:10f, 2 Cor. 5:10 etc.

Now, understanding these concepts serves as the beginning of spiritual growth and knowledge. Sadly there were some Hebrew Christians who had been Christians for years, yet still needed someone to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God. They are still babies, who still need milk.

Now note what it is that we are to go on to. Once we have laid the foundation we are to build upon it. 3And this will we do, if God permit

– We are to go on to greater knowledge. Such as the High Priesthood of Christ, as in Hebrews 5:9-11.

– We are to go on to Christian maturity. Phil 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you

– We are to on to our heavenly reward. The classic example of this must be Paul, who having persevered right to the end of life could say in 2 Tim 4:7-8, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

So the duty of the Christian is to GO ON. To make progress in the Christian life. On the other hand…

* The Apostate’s Work is to Bring Shame. Heb.6:4-6
Now we are in the realms of controversy. Is it really possible that the author is speaking here about people who have been saved by God’s grace and have backsliden and have fallen away and been lost forever? Because there are some Christians who actually believe that to be the case. That would be a very strange conclusion to reach. If these verses really did teach the possibility of a saint falling away and being lost, then they also teach that a backslider can NEVER BE RESTORED, and there’s not too many Arminians who believe that. So what is this passage about? Notice that…

The author is making a HYPOTHETICAL ARGUMENT throughout. When you read the passage carefully you will see the importance of the word IF. IF it were possible for a person to be saved and then fall away and be lost, then that person could never be saved again, because to do so would be to crucify Christ again. There must have been some, even in those early days in the church (and we know that false doctrine entered Ito the church very early) who believed in the saved and lost theory, and perhaps seek g the state of the church they have become convinced that they are right, and so they must be persuaded otherwise. Such a doctrine must be corrected, and this is exactly what the author is doing right here.

Let’s see something about these people who had partaken of the common grace and general call of God, for the Hebrew Author here shows us just now far a person may go in religion and may, at the end of this life never actually have been a recipient of God’s saving grace. Matthew Henry will help us…

They may be enlightened. Some of the ancients understand this of their being baptised; but it is rather to be understood of notional knowledge and common illumination, of which persons may have a great deal, and yet come short of heaven. Balaam was the man whose eyes were opened (Num. xxiv. 3), and yet with his eyes opened he went down to utter darkness.

They may taste of the heavenly gift, feel something of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in his operations upon their souls, causing them to taste something of religion, and yet be like persons in the market, who taste of what they will not come up to the price of, and so but take a taste, and leave it. Persons may taste religion, and seem to like it, if they could have it upon easier terms than denying themselves, and taking up their cross, and following Christ.

They may be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, that is, of his extraordinary and miraculous gifts; they may have cast out devils in the name of Christ, and done many other mighty works. Such gifts in the apostolic age were sometimes bestowed upon those who had no true saving grace.

They may taste of the good word of God; they may have some relish of gospel doctrines, may hear the word with pleasure, may remember much of it, and talk well of it, and yet never be cast into the form and mould of it, nor have it dwelling richly in them.

They may have tasted of the powers of the world to come; they may have been under strong impressions concerning heaven, and dread of going to hell. These lengths hypocrites may go, and, after all, turn apostates.

Now notice that these are the characteristics of people who have had religious experiences, but the author never says anywhere that they had been truly converted! Those who have been truly saved may fall and stumble frequently, and may do so to great depths, yet they will never totally or finally fall away from the true purpose and power of God, by whom they have been elected, called, redeemed and sanctified.

These people had so much experience of religion, yet had turned their backs on the Lord. Don’t we see that today? Haven’t we all known someone who came to meeting after meeting and arrived a Bible and at least outwardly would have passed for a Christian? Some who to all intents and purposes was enlightened and had tasted something of the glory of God, and maybe had sat around the Lord’s Table with the believers, and then one day we discover that they had been leading a double life, and have gone pack into the world and begun to live a sinful, dreadful Christ-rejecting life. This is apostasy.

And remember that for these Hebrew Christians, apostasy would involve going back into Judaism, going back to the reign of those who had crucified the Lord. So the writer says, 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, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 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.

In any event, God’s judgement will prevail. The Author concludes, 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: 8But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

See here the way that God blesses those who persevere in faith to the end, and curses those who turn back and apostatise. Like unproductive branches, they are rejected, … Whose end is to be burned. What sadness. What a terrible end, that someone should be so enlightened, made aware of their sin and their need for salvation, know the sweet goodness of the Lord, felt the tug of God the Holy Spirit on their life, sat and listened to the Word and witnessed its life changing power in people’s lives, and still reject the Saviour and be lost.

Matthew Henry again, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.

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  1. Resources for Hebrews 5:9 - 11

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