As we journey on through this Epistle we reach another danger signal in this chapter. It is the third “red lantern flash,” warning us of a very serious detour leading to a precipice over which the fall is fatal. It is the cliff of apostasy.
The wondrous theme that the writer of the Epistle desired to develop was the present exercise of Christ’s priesthood as typified in Melchizedek (5:10). But the Hebrews were dull hearers, slow scholars—they were “aged babies,” they had never grown up (5:12-14). And the pity of it was that they had not always been thus; this dullness had crept over them, “Ye are become such as have need of milk,” says the apostle. They were sitting at the lowest bench when they should have been teachers, advanced in the apprehension of these heavenly truths. Fearing spiritual degeneracy, the apostle sounds the alarm in chapter 6.
1. The Admonition to Press On (vv. 1-3)
The Hebrew Christians were like children at their A-B-C’s. They should have gone on to perfection—that is, Christ in glory. The Greek word here is literally, “Let us be borne on.” It suggests being carried on the wings of faith into the clear upper air where the full glories of our heavenly High Priest are seen. They were content to be amid the shadows. The six foundation truths mentioned in verses 1 and 2 are good to build on but not to rest in, for they stop short of the Person—the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. Principles and doctrines are good, but Himself is better; Christ is the goal short of which our souls can never be satisfied, Christ as He is at God’s right hand.
2. The Solemn Warning As to Apostasy (vv. 4-6)
The soul that is content to stand still is in danger of a tremendous spiritual fall. Safety and victory are dependent upon “pressing on.” Spiritual defeat follows spiritual laziness. When Sir Ian Hamilton sent in his report of the Gallipoli Expedition, referring to the man in charge on that particular occasion, he said, “And then there was that fatal inertia.” This is exactly what the apostle is warning against. Their danger was in leaving Christianity for Judaism. Let us think of three circles: one was the old circle of Judaism, elsewhere called “the camp.” There were the temple services, the sacrifices and the earthly priesthood, etc. Then there was the new circle of Christian profession, and this embraced the Church. The advantages were many and the privileges great in this circle.
(1) The light of God was shining there, manifesting the substance as displacing the shadows of Judaism. (2) The heavenly gift was tasted there—better than an earthly deliverance and religion. (3) The Holy Spirit was manifestly present there—better than a lifeless formalism. (4) The good word of grace was preached there—better than law. (5) Wonders and miracles were wrought there, anticipating the powers and blessings of the millennial age.
But we may think of another circle, an inner circle, that of the full revelation and glory of Christ known in the heavenly sanctuary. The Spirit desired that they should “be borne on” into the realization of their heavenly calling and perfection as connected with Christ in that heavenly sanctuary.
From the circle of profession and privilege it was possible either to go on or to fall away, and for those who turned their backs on Christianity there was no recovery.
Examples are not lacking of the rejection of the rejecters. Balaam was enlightened; but he died in the ranks of Israel’s foes fighting against God. Lot’s wife “went along with” those who escaped; yet she perished in Sodom’s doom. Simon Magus “tasted the good word of God”; yet he was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. Judas partook of the powers of the age to come; he sat within the very gate of heaven, and went out into the dark night of sin, judgment and death.
When the Jewish nation crucified their Messiah they did it in ignorance. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” said the Lord Jesus. The apostates from Christianity virtually repeated that act, and did it deliberately (v. 6).
3. Illustration and Exhortation (vv. 7-12)
Verses 7 and 8 give us a picture of what we have been considering. Here is the earth upon which the Lord pours out His blessing. Where the heavenly ministry is received, acceptable fruit is brought forth. But there is that part which only bears thorns and briars whose end is to be burned; though under the blessing poured forth as the rain from heaven, there is no fruit—this characterizes those who “fall away,” those who do not continue in the faith. A word of assurance follows. Having shown the fearful character and end of apostasy, the apostle hastens to encourage the believers by mentioning the things which persuaded him of their reality—that indeed with them were found the works which accompany salvation. Thus they answered to the illustration in verse 7, but only let them be careful to use diligence, and not be slothful. What gave confidence was their continued ministry of love to the saints. This was done as towards God, for His name, since they belonged to Him. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Colossians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:22.) The exhortation is to diligently maintain their fruitfulness through faith and patience.
4. The Ground of Assurance (vv. 13-20)
Faith’s anchorage is in the Word of God; what God has promised He will perform. Abraham is given as an example. God gave to Abraham the promise of unfailing blessing (v. 14), and after a time of waiting, he obtained the promise (v. 15). Abraham’s faith rested on “two immutable things,” the Word of God, and the oath of God (v. 18). God had said it, and He pledged Himself to the fulfillment of it.
This confirming oath was given after the offering up of Isaac and his being received back as in a figure from the dead—type of Christ in resurrection with whom all blessing is linked and confirmed. God raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory that our faith and hope might be in God (1 Peter 1:21). Abraham endured not only as waiting to have the son given, but in the giving up of that son at God’s command. Thus he showed faith in God’s word, manifesting that he counted upon God to fulfill it—even though Isaac be offered. To this obedience of faith God responds by an oath. Here we who have fled for refuge have what affords us “strong consolation” to lay hold of the hope presented in God’s Word. This hope of glory, of God’s rest, of eternal inheritance, of God’s city, is an anchor, secure and firm, entering within the veil—God’s immediate Presence, the heavenly sanctuary—where Jesus is entered as Forerunner for us. This is the ground of our confidence: that He is there for us. This is to us, what the oath of God was to Abraham.
We have what Abraham had, and more. Our faith has found a sure foundation and a resting-place. In addition to the Word of God, we have the Person of Christ within the veil. Our chapter closes with three simple but precious illustrations that confirm our faith.
1.The City of Refuge (v. 18). Think of the fleeing sinner pursued by the avenger of blood; once within the walls of the city of refuge he was safe. Jesus is our Refuge. Having fled to Him we have a strong consolation. The gates of our city will never open to admit the avenger nor to deliver us up to his hand.
2.The Anchor (v. 19). The ship on the stormy sea is held fast by the anchor that grips the rock. Christ is the soul’s Anchor. Who ever heard of a sailor casting anchor in the hold of the ship? Yet so many look within for peace instead of looking away to Christ.
3.The Forerunner (v. 20). A forerunner announced the coming of the king in olden days. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus; he prepared the way for His coming. The Man in the Glory is our Forerunner; because He is there, we are sure of being there.
“Let us go on”—there’s danger of stopping too soon.
“Let us press on”—there’s danger of sinking into discouragement.
“Let us be borne on”—there is danger of supposing we are left alone.
Leave the A.B.C.’s—go on to Christ. He is the Word.
Vv. 1-8. The letter to the Hebrews came to the people in Jerusalem. There were those Hebrews who clung to the temple with its six doctrines (vv. 1, 2). There were those who left the temple ritual—Judaism—for the circle of Christian privileges. They enjoyed blessings from God but were unregenerate, so bore “thorns and briars” and were rejected. Then forsaking the assembly and going back to the temple ritual after having seen the light they did deliberately what the nation did ignorantly. They crucified to themselves the Son of God afresh.
Orthodoxy, fundamentalism, is good; but only feeding on Christ means spiritual growth and full development.
From Christ there can be no falling away, but from Christian privilege there may be.
Balaam, enlightened, died in the ranks of Israel’s foes.
Lot’s wife, escaping, perished in Sodom’s doom.
Judas in the upper room stepped out into the night of eternal darkness.
Impossibility of renewal is not the only impossibility within the compass of the gospel. Over against the descent to perdition, hope grasps salvation with the one hand and the climbing pilgrim with the other, thus making it impossible to fail to reach the summit. Both impossibilities have their source in God’s justice.
The condition is now transferred from the faith of Abraham to the faithfulness of God. God pledges His own existence on the fulfillment of His promise.