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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Hebrews 6

 

 

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Verses 11-20

CHAP. Hebrews 5:11 to Hebrews 6:20. The writer, knowing how unprepared his readers were to admit that the Aaronic priesthood was inferior to that of Melchisedec and to that of Christ (who was the antitype of both), interrupts his argument by remonstrating with them on their spiritual ignorance (Hebrews 5:11-14), and urges them to attain higher knowledge (Hebrews 6:1-3), by the danger of apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8), by his own hope of them founded on their former zeal (Hebrews 6:9-12), and by the encouragement which God’s promise and oath give to persevering faith (Hebrews 6:12-20).


Verse 1-2

Hebrews 6:1. It must be carefully marked that this chapter does not begin a new subject; still less is it implied that the first principles of the Gospel have been considered in previous chapters, and now the writer proceeds to doctrines that are more profound. It is all part of the argument begun in Hebrews 6:11, and is a digression on the danger and weakness of the Hebrew Christians, and indeed of us all, the writer included, unless we aim at higher knowledge and clearer understanding.

Hebrews 6:1. Therefore; rather, wherefore, i.e for which (not for that) reason—viz., because the Christian cannot remain a child, but must either grow or decay, and because you yourselves seem decaying, losing even your perception of the meaning of your economy.

Let us leave (behind, as something which should be done with) the principles of the doctrine of Christ (literally, the word or instruction of the beginning of Christ, the elementary truths with which men began when they first believe or preach the Gospel, the things mentioned in the next verse). ‘The first principles of the oracles of God’ describe the primary and essential truths taught in Judaism. ‘The principles of the doctrine of Christ’ represent the corresponding truths of the Gospel.

And press on unto perfection (maturity, the state of full-grown men). A question is raised here on which the commentators widely divide. Have these words to do with the writer’s task, in which he unites his readers with himself in his work, or have they to do with the hearers’ condition and their need of a spiritual manhood, in which case he unites himself with them in their deficiencies and duty? Is he urging them to listen to his arguments, or is he urging them to greater advances in holiness? Most authorities favour the former view. Against this interpretation is the fatal objection that the writer has affirmed that they are not fit for such instruction. The meaning seems therefore to be, that he puts himself by their side, and urges himself and them to seek such maturer knowledge as will increase their spiritual discernment and promote their stedfastness. Not mere teaching which the writer alone has to give, but knowledge and life, which his readers are to share with him.

Wherefore, seeing that we (you and I) are children, not grown men, let us, etc. He then proceeds to name six particulars which are specimens of the ‘first principles’ of the Gospel. Two of these refer to the spiritual requirements of Christianity, two to the introductory rites, and two to its final sanctions; or better, the six particulars are really two essential qualities of Christian life, followed by four subjects of doctrine—rites and sanctions. These former (to repent and believe) the Hebrew Christians ought not to have to do again, and the other four they ought not to have to learn again.

Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith in God. ‘Laying again’ describes naturally the preacher’s work, but as naturally the work of the hearer, who builds his own character and busies himself with every part of the process. The foundation consists of repentance, the true inward change of heart, without which no man can see or enter the kingdom (John 3:3; John 3:5).

Repentance from dead works (perhaps works devoid of all spiritual life, consciousness, and power, but more likely, from the use of the same phrase in chap. Hebrews 9:14, guilty works, works that deserve death; see 1 Kings 2:26), and faith in God as having fulfilled the promise in the gift and death of His Son.

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and the laying on of hands. The form of the word for ‘baptism’ means ‘baptizing,’as distinguished from ‘baptism,’ and is generally applied in the New Testament to the washings of the ancient law. It probably includes also the baptism of John and of Christ. The nature of each, and the distinction between them, became important practical questions with the Jews in the first age. The laying on of hands had several uses in the early Church. With that rite the sick were healed; pastors and elders were admitted to their offices; the Holy Ghost was given, and converts were fully admitted into the fellowship of the Church, generally with the impartation of spiritual gifts also. It is to this last chiefly that the expression refers.

And of resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. All these particulars are under the grammatical government of ‘the doctrine,’ showing that it is not to the facts themselves, but to the doctrine and the belief of the facts, the writer is referring as the foundation of the Christian life. These were Jewish doctrines as well as Christian, only they were brought into clearer light by the Gospel. The resurrection is that of both good and evil (John 5:29); and the judgment (here the sentence, rather than the process, though both forms of the word are used for the judgment, see Hebrews 10:27) is called eternal because its results are eternal, and so final (Matthew 5:46). That these first principles of the Gospel were proclaimed by the first teachers as principles which a man must know and believe in order to be a Christian, will be seen by an examination of the passages given in the margin of the text. The Hebrew believers are exhorted to leave them just as St. Paul tells us he himself left them, ‘forgetting the things that were behind;’ not because they are unimportant, for they are in truth essential, but because to stop there is to risk our stedfastness. How important these elementary principles are is clear from the fact that there is no true godliness without them; how unsatisfactory if Christians have no profounder knowledge is clear from the fact that the divisions and the lesser errors that have paralyzed the powers and marred the beauty of the churches of Christ have nearly all originated with men who understand first principles, and had no clear perception of anything beyond. We must have godly people in our churches, or they are not churches of Christ at all; but if they are ignorant godly people, with small insight into the spirit and nature of the Gospel and of the Church, these churches will be robbed of half their power and of half their holiness.


Verse 3

Hebrews 6:3. And this will we do. Let us try to raise each other to the higher ground of matured intelligence.

If so be that God permit (favour and help). Whether any of us have so far forfeited His grace as to be incapable of further progress, God only knows; the writer hopes the best (Hebrews 6:9); but there is a backsliding, an apostasy, from which it is impossible to return. The position is therefore very solemn, will anyhow need special help, and the work may be even impossible.


Verses 4-6

Hebrews 6:4. For. A reason for each of the previous clauses: ‘This will we do,’ for the case is urgent; without further knowledge you may fall away. If God permit,’ for the case may be even now hopeless, and certainly is so without His help.

It is impossible (see below) for those who have been once for all enlightened; once for all a process that needs not, or admits not of repetition. ‘Enlightened,’ a word which, when applied to persons, means ‘instructed,’ ‘taught.’ When applied to professing Christians, it means that they have been made acquainted with the principles of the Gospel, and Have received ‘the knowledge of the truth,’ as it is expressed in Hebrews 10:26 : they have known the way of righteousness (2 Peter 2:20-21). In the later history of doctrine, the word ‘enlightenment’ is used as a synonym, it is said, for baptism, and so many have interpreted here; but in fact it is not used in the Fathers for baptism simply, but for the illumination of the new birth of which baptism was the symbol (Alford). This interpretation was set aside in favour of the common meaning of the word by Erasmus, and nearly all modern commentators have adopted his view.

And have had taste of the heavenly gift, i.e of the gift that is made known by this enlightenment. Some refer the gift to Christ or the Spirit, or forgiveness, or salvation in Christ (2 Corinthians 9:15); but the connecting particle in the Greek ( τε) shows that the gift refers rather to what is implied in the previous instruction,—a heavenly gift it is in its origin and results.

And became partakers of the Holy Ghost. Partakers, the noun and the verb are common in St. Paul and in this Epistle. When men had been instructed and had tasted of the blessings which instruction revealed to them, the next stage of the Christian life was to become partakers of the gifts and influences of the Holy Spirit, not excluding the influences which bad men may resist, for He has much to do even with hearts in which He never takes up His abode.

And have tasted the good word of God. Tasted, so as to feed upon the rich inheritance of promise and hope, which men have seized in all ages, even when slow to justify their right to it by consistency and holiness. This use of the word ‘good,’ as descriptive of what is comforting and sustaining, is common in Scripture (see Joshua 23:15; Zechariah 1:11).

As well as the powers of the world to come: the gifts and experience of the new economy, its powers both miraculous and spiritual. To taste these is to enjoy the blessings and advantages which follow from the fulfilment of the Divine word. Whatever is striking in evidence, glorious in teaching, solemn and impressive in sanctions—all are included in the powers which these men had felt.

And have fallen away (not, if they should fall); fallen not into sin simply, but so as to renounce the Gospel, so as to go back with a will into a life of sin (chap. Hebrews 10:26), so as to depart from the living God (chap. Hebrews 3:12), returning to the false religions they had left, or to determined infidelity and ungodliness. Such are the characters the writer describes; they possessed the knowledge of Gospel truth, and had a certain amount of enjoyment from that knowledge (note the genitive case after ‘taste’); they were partakers of the common influences and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost; they enjoyed the promises of the Gospel (note the accusative case after ‘taste’) more fully than some other truths in which they had been instructed, and had felt most of the influences of the new economy miraculous, moral, and spiritual; and yet after all they had abandoned the Gospel and continued to denounce both it and its founder. Every part of this description applies probably to Judas, whose case seems to have been in the writer’s mind; and yet he was never a real believer, but ‘a son of Perdition’ even from the first. Such was the primitive apostate. His counterpart in modern times is easily described: men have made great attainments in the knowledge of Christianity, have had considerable enjoyment of it; they have been striven with by the Holy Spirit, have enjoyed largely the promises and hopes of the Gospel; and yet through neglect of its ordinances, through fear of the persecution to which it subjects them, they have been led to deny its Divine origin, and proclaim its founder a deceiver or mad. They have tried the Gospel and the Lord of the Gospel, and after trial they have rejected both. These miserable men are described as having fallen away. That was the fatal step which they took once for all (so the tense implies). The state in which they now are is described in the other participles, ‘crucifying to themselves, as they still do, the Son of God afresh, and putting Him, as they still do, to open shame.’ It is not the act that ruins them, it is the habit; and it is partly through that settled habit that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. Some indeed regard ‘impossible’ as used in a popular sense. It is difficult to renew them, so the Latin of D. translates here, and so several commentators have held; but that meaning of the word is unknown in the New Testament. Others regard the impossibility as referring to man rather than God, and hold the meaning to be: We cannot renew men whose hearts are so hard, and whose condition is so desperate as theirs. God can, but we cannot. No new argument, no new motive can we use; the terror, the love, the warnings, the entreaties of the Gospel—all have been applied and understood and resisted. Nothing but a miracle can change and save them. Neither of these explanations, however, is satisfactory. The word ‘impossible’ is very strong, and it seems immoveable. Just as in chap. Hebrews 10:26, the writer, after describing the sacrifice of Christ, tells us that if men reject and despise it and go back to a life of sin, no other sacrifice remains for them; there awaits them nothing but the fearful reception of judgment: so here, if men deny Christ and crucify Him to themselves—their treatment of Him in their own hearts; if they renounce Him as a blasphemer and impostor—their treatment of Him before the world; and that after having seen the truth and felt the attractiveness of His teaching and life, it is impossible to renew them. The language, as thus explained, is not a mere truism, as Delitzsch holds (‘it is impossible to renew to repentance those who fall away, except they repent’); it is rather a strong assertion of an important truth. The contemptuous rejection of Christ’s sacrifice means no forgiveness, and the contemptuous rejection of Christ’s teaching and grace means no renewal and no personal holiness. There may be a sense in which each is an identical proposition, but each meets the very purpose of the writer an and the needs of the readers. They were tempted to think there was still forgiveness and holiness for them, even if they renounced Christ and treated Him as their fathers had done. The writer warns them that to reject Christ—to reject Him after all they have known and felt, under circumstances, therefore, that made their rejection practically final—was to give up all hope, all possibility of salvation. What would become of them if somehow they had ceased to crucify Him, ceased to scorn and to denounce Him; if they gave up the life of sin to which, in chap, 10, he speaks of them as having willingly returned, we need not discuss, for the case is not supposed. What they were in danger of saying was: There is renewal and forgiveness in the old economy, in heathenism, nay, even in ungodliness. We believe it in spite of Divine teaching and our long experience to the contrary. We may give up this new religion, may trample upon the blood of the covenant, insult the Spirit of God, and live as we please, and yet be saved. What else can meet such doctrine but the strongest rebuke, and the most absolute denial? For men—out of Christ—because they have knowingly and wilfully rejected Him, renewal and forgiveness are alike impossible. Neither man nor God can save them.


Verses 4-7

Hebrews 6:4-7. These verses have deep significance and are difficult of interpretation. In the early Church a sect arose who gathered from them that those who sinned after baptism either generally or especially by joining in idolatrous worship under persecution, were to be finally and permanently excluded from the churches, and could not be forgiven; and hence baptism itself was often postponed till death drew near. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, refused for a considerable time to give this Epistle a place in the Canon, because it seemed to teach a doctrine at variance with what is taught in the accepted apostolic writings. In later times, those who deny the perseverance of the saints find in these verses and in others a little later (Hebrews 10:26) the chief support of their system, as the defenders of that doctrine may perhaps have sometimes been more anxious to confute their argument than to give a fair interpretation of these texts. Nor can it be questioned that the passages have created great anxiety in real Christians who, sinking into spiritual languor, or betrayed into gross sins, as was David or Peter, have been thrown into despondency, unable ‘to lay hold of the hope set before them in the Gospel.’ Of the two passages it may be observed generally that the word ‘if’ (‘if they shall fall away,’ if we sin wilfully) is not found in the Greek of either of them. It has been urged against the translators of the Authorised Version that they inserted ‘if’ for the purpose of lessening the difficulty of the passage; out this should not be hastily assumed. In the Revised Version the ‘if’ is retained in the second passage, though it is struck out in the first; and the ‘if’ is so natural a translation of the Greek that it is inserted in the 8th verse: ‘if it bear;’ where the Greek is simply ‘but bearing,’ ‘on its bearing.’ We need not blame the translators either earlier or later; it is enough to note that a common solution of the difficulty of the two passages, that they are only supposed cases, is not tenable. On the other hand, very few of the commentators note that the persons whom it is impossible to help are described by words that indicate continuous character and not a single act. Those who fall away are spoken of as continuing to crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, while those who sin wilfully are not guilty of a single sin, but of going on sinning. The case, therefore, is the case of those who go back to a life of sin,—who take their place with the crucifiers of our Lord. Not single sins, but settled character or habitual practice, is what is condemned. Three principles more need to be remembered: every Christian grace has its counterfeit, and all the common privileges of the Gospel are shared by multitudes who make no saving use of them. This is the first. Many of the rulers of the Jews believed, and yet they ‘loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.’ There is a real faith that cannot save; there is a repentance, a worldly sorrow, which cannot be distinguished for a time from the godly sorrow of the true convert, as there is a ‘joy’ with which some receive the word and yet have no root in themselves. There is a hope which God will not honour; there is a holiness that is Pharisaism or deception; there is an enlightenment as universal as the knowledge of the Gospel (John 1:9); there are miraculous powers shared apparently by Judas, and certainly by men whom Christ never knew as their Lord (Matthew 7:22). And, secondly, though there are difficulties on both sides, the general teaching of the New Testament is, that if there be true union with the Lord Jesus Christ it is never to be broken off. If the light of Divine grace be once kindled in the soul, it is never to be extinguished. Sins once forgiven are forgiven for ever. The law written on the heart by God Himself is distinguished from that written on stone, and is not to be effaced; the principle of the Divine life once implanted is kept and guarded even to the end (see Hebrews 10:19; John 10:15; John 10:17; John 10:28-29; 1 Peter 1:4-5). But, thirdly, the precepts and warnings of the New Testament are addressed to men who are still in a state of probation. Every command that deals with essential Christian grace, every promise made to character, as in the Sermon on the Mount, all the watchfulness which Christians are exhorted to practise, and which inspired men practised (‘I keep my body under, lest having preached the Gospel to others I should be a castaway’), are based upon the supposition, not that really saved men will perish, but that any professing Christian man may. We are startled to find the truth so sharply set forth in passages like the one before us; but the truth really underlies the teaching of every Epistle, and practically of every modern sermon. Most startling of all, the warnings and the invitations of the blessed God in the Old Testament, and of our Lord in the New, both of whom may be supposed to know the actual character 2nd the final destiny of those they addressed, speak ever as if the ruin of all were possible, nor can there be probation under any other arrangement. To argue that therefore neither the ruin nor the salvation is known or certain, would be shallow philosophy. We cannot solve the mystery, but we ought to recognise it, and to note that a moral government under which God reveals to every one beforehand his final destiny, speaks or acts as if it were fixed, and thus removes the condition which moral government implies (the force, viz., of motives as if all were uncertain), is a contradiction in terms. There is, of course, an added difficulty in this chapter, that those which are enlightened are not supposed to fall away, but are stated to do so. The difficulty will be examined in due time.


Verse 7-8

Hebrews 6:7-8. Awful as this teaching is, men accept it in the sphere of nature and recognise the equity of the arrangement.

For land (not the earth) that bath drank in (not that drinketh in: the showers precede the fruitfulness) the rain that cometh oft upon it (that keeps coming, not in drenching but frequent showers, and comes for the purpose of making it fruitful, probably the force of the genitive with ἰπὶ) So the land is described; it is not impenetrable rock from which the rain runs off, but land that sucks in the rain. Rain itself is in Scripture the emblem both of Divine truth (Isaiah 55:10) and of Divine influence (Isaiah 44:3). The whole description, therefore, applies to those who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. . . . And, the result is in one case that the mother earth made fruitful from above, brings forth herbage (edible plants, grass, corn, food) fit for those on whose account, moreover (not ‘by whom,’ as Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, and others, a sense the Greek will not admit), it is tilled (carefully cultivated, a strong word); such fertility making a due return for the rain of heaven and the toil of man, partakes of blessing from God, in that He rewards it according to His own law (Matthew 13:12) and promise (John 15:2) with more abundant returns.

Hebrews 6:8. But when it (or the first clause may be repeated: ‘but when the same kind of land under like conditions’) bears (produces, not so noble a word as ‘brings forth,’ which expresses something like natural birth) thorns and thistles (so generally, Matthew 7:16, etc.)—these products of the curse—it is rejected (being tried, it is proved worthless and reprobate, a word occurring seven times in N. T., and only in Paul’s Epistles), and is nigh unto a curse; whose end (not the end of the curse, De Wette, Bleek, etc., but the end of the land; see Psalms 109:13, Heb., his end shall be) is for (or unto) burning. With great tenderness the writer softens the language of the original curse (Genesis 3:17-18), and pronounces land of this kind to be nigh unto cursing, in great danger of it, and the end to be in the direction of burning—an end it may reach and will reach unless there be a great change. What this burning is has been much discussed. Are they the weeds, that the soil may be made fruitful, as were the weeds of old (Virg. Geor. i. 84-93 )? No; the weeds and soil also. What is burnt is the soil, and that means destruction; so it is in Deuteronomy 29:22-23, and elsewhere; comp. John 15:16. . . . Each clause of this analogy answers to the description already given in the previous verses. The tillers of the soil are Christian workers; they for whom the ground is tilled are the Father (1 Corinthians 3:9), and the Son as heir (chap. Hebrews 3:6; Matthew 21:38). The rain represents the oft-repeated manifestations of truth and grace, and the drinking in of the rain symbolizes the apprehension and the reception of them; if there be fruitfulness there will be ever-increasing blessing; and if there be no fruitfulness, the case may not be hopeless; but it is nearing that state, and is preparing for judgment, and the judgment is destruction. How applicable all this description is to our own age, as to every age, need not be shown.


Verse 9-10

Hebrews 6:9-10. After these solemn warnings comes the outburst of hope and love.

But, beloved (only here in this Epistle), we are persuaded (not the middle voice as often, ‘we have the inward confidence,’ but the passive,—we are led to the conviction,—we are persuaded by evidence which Justifies the conclusion, the evidence being given in the next verse. The whole expression, as Alford and Delitzsch note, resembles Romans 15:14).

Better things (either ‘in your moral state’ or ‘in your final destiny;’ both are really combined), and things that accompany salvation (rather, things that lay hold of,—that are in immediate connection with,—so that he who has the one has the other); though (notwithstanding that) we thus speak (talk, not now only, but again and again). The better things, and things connected with salvation, are the holy dispositions they possessed (not the external privileges and spiritual gifts only), together with the final issues of that holy disposition in continued stedfastness and eternal life. They had ‘received the knowledge of the truth in the love of it’ (the exactest definition that can be given of true and saving faith), and being rooted and grounded in love, he hoped they would persevere and be preserved (the two sides of perseverance) in believing even till the completion of their salvation.


Verse 10

Hebrews 6:10. For (and he has reason for this conviction) God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love (‘labour of’ [love] is without adequate support; it was probably taken from the parallel passage, 1 Thessalonians 1:3) which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye ministered to the saints and do (or still) minister. Their ‘work’ was their whole Christian life of active obedience (so of ministers, 1 Corinthians 3:13; so of men generally, Romans 2:15; and of Christians, 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their love shown to God’s name is not the love with regard to or for the sake of His name, but the love towards it (see Romans 5:8, etc.). The object of their love was the name of God—God Himself as revealed to us, ‘the God and Father of our Lord,’ and the God and Father of all who believe; and this love they manifested by ministering, and continuing to minister, to those by whom that name was known and confessed and loved. Their work and love are clearly described in chap. Hebrews 10:32-34. The ministry was one of sympathy, and the help shown largely to those of their own nation. ‘Ministering to the saints’ is generally used in Scripture of help given to the Jewish Christians in Palestine, not because this expression of Christian love was to be restricted to them, but because they had then most need. This active Christian life, this love towards God shown in generous help to His servants, gives the writer hope that they are really God’s children, and that, therefore, God will not forget them. ‘He is just, and will not forget,’ is the strong language he uses. Some commentators (Dr. J. Brown and others) regard ‘righteous’ as equivalent to ‘faithful,’ shrinking apparently from implying that the remembering of the grace we exercise is a matter of righteousness with Him, and quoting 2 Thessalonians 1:6 (‘God is not unfaithful’) as the true explanation. That is no reason, however, for changing the meaning of the word; and the two words, faithful and righteous, are combined in a very similar passage (1 John 1:9). The whole case is well explained by Delitzsch. Not only is it true, when we believe and are holy, that God is bound by righteousness to fulfil what He has promised; not only is it true, when we repent and plead the mediation of His Son, that God is bound by what is due to Him, as well as by His mercy to forgive; but it is true also that God’s righteousness prompts Him to help and graciously reward them that are righteous. Whenever our acts correspond to His holiness and love, His righteousness leads Him to honour and bless the holiness and love which he has Himself created. The state in us that answers exactly to the holy love of God is our holy love, the fruit of faith in the revelation of God’s holy love in Christ. Faith, as the acceptance by our hearts of the free unmerited grace of God, is itself the beginning of a holy loving state; and though the holiness of the faith is neither the meritorious ground nor the measure of our forgiveness, for of itself it cancels no sin, and can give no legal title to eternal life, it is none the less the object of God’s approval, and it ever works by love, which is its noblest fruit. Faith and love and holiness all come into judgment and approval now, as they will come into final judgment at last. As states of heart they are right and holy, and it is right in God to commend and honour them. Love towards God, and towards all that bear His name, holy love, is the divinest grace and likest God, and the Holy God would cease to be holy if He did not approve and bless it Yes! God is not unrighteous to forget our work and love! To forget them would be to violate His word and deny Himself (see 2 Timothy 2:13).


Verse 11

Hebrews 6:11. But (though persuaded of better things and recognising your work and love) we desire (not ‘earnestly desire;’ the preposition of the original indicates generally the object of the desire, not the intensity of it) that every one of you do show the same diligence (the diligence you have already shown in cultivating brotherly love) with respect to the full assurance of your hope unto the end. The stress is on ‘the full assurance of your hope,’ and ‘unto the end.’ ‘Full assurance of hope’ is no doubt the meaning, just as elsewhere we read of the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22), and the full assurance of understanding (Colossians 2:2). And we desire that you show this quality and persevere in it even to the end. The warnings of the Gospel are solemn, and yet Christians should live in the sunshine of an assured hope as the true safeguard against apostasy,—a hope, however, which it is difficult to maintain.


Verse 12

Hebrews 6:12. In this hope ye need to persevere, that ye become not slothful, but imitators (a favourite Pauline word, see 1 Thessalonians 1:6, etc.) of those who through faith and patience (generally ‘long-suffering’) inherit the promises. ‘Become not slothful,’ a more delicate and hopeful way of expressing the exhortation than ‘be.’ The same word (‘slothful’) is used in Hebrews 5:11, and the writer affirms that they had become so. But there the reference is to hearing, and is the opposite of vigorous thought and knowledge; here the reference is to Christian practice, and is the opposite of a diligent, earnest life. The sluggishness had already invaded the outer sense—the mental faculty; the writer’s hope is that it may not reach the inner spiritual nature.

But rather imitators. The Greek word has a nobler meaning than this English equivalent. Scholars, it was said of old, should not only learn from their master, they should imitate (or, as we say, should copy) them. ‘Copy’ itself is also misleading. Both words indicate too much a servile superficial reproduction of the original, and hence the ‘followers’ of the Authorised Version is not unlikely to retain its place with ‘imitators’ in the margin. Patience or lone-suffering is the mental state that bears long with the trials of the Christian life, and with the delays of the fulfilment of the Divine promise, with cheerful courage and without despondency or dejection. We believe what is promised, we patiently wait and endure, and in the end we shall come into the full enjoyment of the blessings themselves.

Of them that inherit the promises. What is it, then, they inherit, and who are they? A needless difficulty has been created by the statement of chap. Hebrews 11:39, that the Patriarchs did not obtain the promises, i.e the blessings promised, and hence it is concluded either that what they inherited was simply a promise, not the blessing promised (Bleek), or that the words here used cannot refer to Abraham or to the spiritual blessings of the Gospel (Alford). But the argument is clear enough. Our fathers and others of later times walked by faith; they were stedfast amid the trials to which they were exposed; but they inherit the promised blessings, some in the fulness of God’s grace on earth, and others in heaven. The specific instance quoted, that of Abraham, had a double fulfilment—the promise of a large seed, though long delayed, began to be fulfilled in his lifetime, and under the old economy (Deuteronomy 1:10); its complete fulfilment belongs, of course, to the Gospel, and Abraham sees and enjoys it now, as he saw and enjoyed it even when the Epistle was written.


Verse 13

Hebrews 6:13. For when God made (or, had made) promise to Abraham, because (since) he could swear by none greater, he aware by himself. ‘Made promise’ may be translated (as is done by De Wette and others)’ had made promise,’ with reference to previous promises, which were in substance repeated for the first time with an oath at the offering of Isaac. The only occasion on which God did swear was at Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:16-18). The quotation which is made in the next verse follows neither the Hebrew nor the Septuagint exactly, but it represents the sense. Similar promises without an oath were previously given (Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). ‘Having made promise, He afterwards sware,’ may therefore be the meaning, as is rather implied in Hebrews 6:18; but whether the promise and the oath refer to one occasion only or to two, the sense is unchanged. God made promise, and then, because there was none greater to whom He could appeal, He pledged His own life or being to the truth of the promise. Both promise and oath were immutable; the oath did not add to the intrinsic certainty of the promise, His word being ever as good as His bond; but it gave a deeper impression of its certainty, and was fitted to remove every doubt.


Verses 13-20

Hebrews 6:13-20. The writer has sought to encourage the Hebrews by appealing to the Divine ‘righteousness.’ He who graciously made them fruitful would righteously treat them according to their fruitfulness, and would complete what He had begun (Hebrews 6:10). He now proceeds still further to encourage them by the fact that they had on their side the promise and the oath of God even as Abraham had.


Verse 14

Hebrews 6:14. Saying, Surely. The Hebrew of ‘surely’ is equivalent to ‘I swear.’ The unfamiliarity to the Greek translators of the Hebrew idiom for swearing has created various renderings of the Hebrew particles, and the meaning of the Greek particle has been misunderstood by the English translators in this Epistle (see chap. 4). But there is now no question as to the sense.

Blessing I will bless, etc. The repetition indicates, according to the order of the original words, either the certainty of the thing promised (‘Thou shalt surely die’), or the continuousness and consequent completeness of it. In neither case is it unmeaning.

I will multiply thee. The full expression in Genesis is: ‘I will multiply thy seed.’ Some think the change is significant, as if it was intended to connect the promise more closely with Abraham and his faith rather than with his seed (so De Wette and Bleek), and there may be force in this somewhat refined reasoning; but the multiplying is the essential thing, and, as Abraham could be multiplied only through his descendants, the promise in this shorter form leaves the meaning unchanged.


Verse 15

Hebrews 6:15. And so, in this way, having patiently waited, believing and expecting the blessing amid all the trials and delays he was subjected to, he obtained what had been promised,—not so much the birth of Isaac (Alford), who was born before the oath, nor yet the restoration of Isaac from the dead (De Wette), a result that needed no waiting. The promise was really fulfilled in Abraham’s becoming through Isaac the father of the people of promise, and then of ‘many nations’ under the Gospel through Him who was ‘the seed’ (Galatians 3:16), and so of all who are through faith children of Abraham. This is the promise which, in the widest sense, Abraham has obtained. During his earthly life the fulfilment was very partial. At the exodus the seed are expressly said to have been as ‘the stars for multitude’ (Deuteronomy 1:10); but the blessing of the nations was still to come. Nineteen hundred years later appeared the great Deliverer, whose day Abraham also saw, and now His kingdom is supreme, and Abraham has lone since ‘obtained’ it all. This wide meaning of the promise is not properly a spiritualizing of the Old Testament; it is the true meaning on which St. Paul again and again insists (Galatians 3:7; Romans 4:11). No trial of faith under any dispensation has been severer than Abraham’s, and no reward more blessed or more complete. The lesson to ‘Israel,’ whether literal or spiritual, is decisive and clear.


Verse 16

Hebrews 6:16. For men swear (‘verily,’ or ‘indeed,’ goes out on external authority) by the greater: by one who is above themselves, and can punish the wrong-doer; and for confirmation, when any statement of theirs is contradicted the oath is final; the question, as a legal question, is settled. The oath here spoken of includes two distinct cases: the truth of a statement was made legally valid by the oath of assurance which appealed to God; an agreement or covenant was made legally binding by the oath of promise, accompanied on solemn occasions by the death of the covenanting victim, which death was really an imprecation of death on him who broke the agreement. Further sanctions, in either case, were impossible. The oath went beyond everything. It was as far as men could go. It still forms the highest and final sanction of the law; and when men’s statements are contradicted or their promises questioned, the oath is the ultimate confirmation of both. Some translate contradiction ‘dispute,’ or ‘strife;’ ‘of every dispute or strife of theirs the oath is an end.’ The interpretation given above is the more probable, however, partly because ‘contradiction’ is the accurate rendering of the word elsewhere (chap. Hebrews 7:7), and partly because there is no dispute or strife supposed in this case, but only, on man’s side, disbelief and questioning of the Divine announcement. The entire thought of this reasoning is given in very similar words in Philo (see Delitzsch).


Verse 17

Hebrews 6:17. Wherein; better, ‘wherefore,’ under which circumstances, in which case, on which principle, i.e man having this estimate of the value of an oath.

God, willing to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise (those to whom under both economies the promises belong, see Hebrews 6:12) the immutability or his will. The word used for ‘will’ is used by Luke and by Paul to express God’s gracious will or counsel (Acts 2:23, etc.; Ephesians 1:11).

Intervened, ‘mediated,’ with an oath, i.e between Himself as the pro-miser and man as the recipient of the promise. He Himself came as pledge and surety, not for us (Psalms 119:122) but for Himself. The same loving purpose that provided the blessings He promised prompted Him to do everything that could be done to win our trust and establish our faith.


Verse 18

Hebrews 6:18. That by means of two immutable things, two distinct acts, things really done. Most understand by these two things the promise and the oath to Abraham; but the immutability He is said to show by the oath (Hebrews 6:17); though no doubt He was also immutable in His promise, That quality, however, was not so clearly shown to our apprehension. It is therefore better to regard the oath to Abraham as one, and the oath concerning Melchisedec (the typical priest) as another (Psalms 110:4, quoted in chap. Hebrews 5:6 and Hebrews 7:21).

In neither of which is it possible that God ever lies (the force of the tense denying the possibility in a single case). The emphasis is on lying and the impossibility, while the absence of the Greek article before ‘God’ calls attention to His nature. In the case of Him who is God, lying can really have no place (Titus 1:2), only He needs to meet human infirmity.

That we may have strong encouragement who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us (as the goal of our race or the reward of our conflict). On the whole, this is the more probable meaning. Those who connect ‘strong encouragement’ with ‘to lay hold of the hope,’ etc., leave ‘have fled for refuge’ without an object, and represent Christians as fleeing somewhere for refuge, and then laying hold of their hope. What they need is ‘strong encouragement,’ having already fled for refuge to their hope. We have laid hold of the promise set before us in the double oath of God, Christ, the Desire of all nations, and the great High Priest, and it is a mighty encouragement to keep hold of that on which we have laid hold (the word means both), to know that God Himself has solemnly assured and reassured us of His loving purpose on our behalf. ‘Encouragement,’ translated ‘consolation,’ has a wide meaning; it includes the help and blessing which men call in for emergencies. The meanings vary between ‘strength’ and ‘consolation,’ the old English word ‘comfort’ representing both—the first etymologically (through fortis) and the second from usage.


Verse 19

Hebrews 6:19. Which (i.e which hope, not which encouragement) we have. The hope spoken of in the previous verse is largely objective, i.e it includes the object of our hope,—the glorious things which the promise warrants us in expecting. In this verse it is largely subjective—the affection or grace (compare ‘Christ, our hope, sustains us,’ where hope is objective; and ‘hope in Christ sustains us,’ where nope is subjective; both are combined in the beautiful description, ‘Christ in us the hope of glory’). Each implies the other; the heavenly reward as set before us by God is ‘our hope’ in its objective sense; our hope of the heavenly reward is the grace of hope in the subjective sense.

As an anchor of the soul (a common classical emblem, though not found, as ‘anchor’ itself is never found, in the Old Testament) both sure (with firm holding ground) and stedfast (in itself strong), and entering into that which is within the veil. A mixed figure, but of great beauty. The anchor of the sailor is cast downwards into the depth of the ocean; but the anchor of the Christian, which is hope, finds its ground and hold above. Into the holiest above Jesus has entered for us, and there also the anchor of our hope has entered; so have we rest now, and shall outride all the storms of our earthly life. Some regard these last clauses, ‘sure and stedfast,’ as qualifying ‘hope,’ not the anchor; the image, in short, they think, is once named, and then no longer used; while others regard the hope as identical with Christ, who is said to enter heaven as our anchor, and then as priest for us. The general sense is not changed in any of these interpretations. The force and beauty of the figure is best preserved, however, by the interpretation first given.


Verse 20

Hebrews 6:20. Whither as forerunner Jesus has entered for as, having become after the order of Melchisedec a High Priest for ever. ‘As forerunner’ (not ‘the,’ and not ‘a’ forerunner, as if He were one of several. This absence of the article simply calls attention to the nature and purpose of His entrance). ‘Forerunner’ occupies the prominent place also in the sentence. The Levitical high priest entered the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, as Christ also entered into the Holiest of all. Here He appears in a new character. He is now gone to prepare a place for us; we are to follow and to share His glory and His throne. The ‘priest for ever’ of the Psalm is now changed into ‘high priest,’ a title made appropriate by the fact that it is not into the holy place simply, but into the immediate presence of God, He is gone.

After the order of Melchisedec occupies the emphatic place in the verse, for it is the subject to which he is about to return. Here, therefore, the digression ends.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Hebrews 6:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/hebrews-6.html. 1879-90.

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