Notes on Hebrews
We come now to one of the most controversial passages of the New Testament. Many have erred by thinking that in it they have definite proof for the “falling away doctrine.” Others have interpreted it as a picture of Israel’s apostasy and rejection. With so many able expositors taking this last line of interpretation it behooves us to avoid all dogmatism. We simply point out a line of interpretation which we feel to be consistent with the whole context. Our readers can then judge if this is the logical approach to what all agree is a most difficult portion of the Word of God.
The writer of the Hebrews has declared (5:9) that Christ by virtue of His atonement has become “the Author of eternal salvation.” From chapter five and verse eleven to the end of chapter 6 he inserts a parenthesis to prove that statement. He first gives a solemn warning of the dangers of not going on, the tragedy of spiritual underdevelopment. Spiritual growth will always lead to the capacity to discern between good and evil (5:14).
It has been said that maturity is made up of three things, knowledge, experience and conduct. Or, the apprehension of truth by the mind, the heart and the will. It is in this context that we see the knowledge of Christ’s priesthood, the experience of its ministry, resulting in a life lived in the will of God. A life lived in unnatural babyhood will produce nothing for God. The fruit of such a life will go up in smoke in “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:8).
A sample of spiritual milk is given us (6:1-2). These six things are in three pairs and constitute “the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” The first two are inward, the second two are outward and the third two are onward. These describe the initial repentance and faith of the newborn soul. This is the foundation that is laid once and for all for the building up of Christian character. This results in an altered attitude to God (repentance and faith), to life (baptisms and laying on of hands—perhaps a reference to the reception of the Holy Spirit) and to Eternity (resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. As the builder leaves the foundation to go on to complete the superstructure, so we leave the first principles of the doctrine of Christ to go on to build Christian character for God.
In chapter 5, he mentions with emphasis the tragedy of barreness, carnality and immaturity. In chapter 6 he goes on to encourage and exhort, showing the provisions made available for maturing under the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The writer, through the Holy Spirit, in this chapter uses four analogies or pictures to illustrate his message and to enforce the truth of eternal salvation: the builder who leaves the foundation to complete the superstructure, the garden whose soil is capable of bearing fruit, the man-slayer who has fled to the city of refuge, and the ship whose anchor is cast within the veil.
“The foundation of repentance from dead works” had been laid in our conversion once and for all. The language employed in verses 4-6 leaves no doubt that true believers are meant. Let us examine it briefly: “Once enlightened” is really “once for all enlightened.” A once for all enlightenment is not external but internal — the revelation of Christ to the believing heart. The same language is used in chapter 10:32, “After ye were illuminated.” It is the bringing of a soul out of darkness into His marvelous light. “Tasted of the heavenly gift:” that gift is Christ. To taste and trust are synonymous in Psalm 34:8. The same word “taste” is used in chapter 2 to describe the dying of the Lord Jesus. It means to experience in a very real sense. “Partakers of the Holy Ghost:” the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is not possible to any but the children of God (Phil. 2:1). “Tasted of the good Word of God:” they that gladly received the Word were baptized. “The powers of the world to come:” not only the power to work miracles but “the expulsive power of a new affection” which enables the soul to live with the glory of another world before him.
The main difficulty in the passage is what to do with the word “impossible” in verse 4 and the phrase in verse 6 “To renew them again unto repentance.” Surely it is not impossible for a back-slidden soul to get back to God. I would be bold enough to say that it is not impossible for an apostate to get back to God. What then is impossible? We are told in verse 1 not to lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works. The simple reason is that it is not possible to do so. It is utterly impossible to renew to that initial repentance and the experience of a soul when he first came to Christ. It is no more possible to lay the foundation of repentance twice than it is for our Lord to die twice. We believe we could summarize verses 1-3 in two words — “grow up.” One of the tragedies in our day is spiritual retardation. We need men — not babies, soldiers — not weaklings, Abrahams — not Lots.
A loose paraphrase of verses 4-8 may be as follows. “It is not possible for those who have had the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience of salvation to repent and be saved again. If that were so it would be necessary for the Son of God to be crucified the second time. In this He would be openly shamed in that it would admit that His first death was not adequate.”
However, when falling away does take place it is like a gardener who takes care of a garden. The soil is good and the rain falls in its season; a beautiful type of the high-priestly ministry of our Lord that falls like a gentle rain upon His garden beneath, His Church in which every believer is a plant of the Lord. That which produces fruit after receiving the rain is accepted, but that which beareth thorns is rejected. Our Lord compared the thorns in Matthew 13 to the pleasures of the world, the riches of the world and the cares of life. These, He says, choke the seed and lives are fruitless. Thus, our falling away affects our fruitbearing and the rejection is the burning of the thorns that choke the seed of the Word in our lives, rendering them unfruitful for God.
The writer of the Hebrews clinches this subject of fruitfulness by using the Old Testament illustration of Abraham, who, in the face of insurmountable difficulties, became fruitful. The immutable things confirmed to Abraham the faithfulness of God: God’s oath and God’s promise. After he endured, he inherited. God will ever test faith, and the one who endures and yet believes God will bear fruit to the glory of God.
The Manslay Er
The Jewish believer, not having shaken off the grave clothes of Judaism, was in constant danger of enacting the crucifixion again. This he might do unwittingly, if in a back-slidden condition he offered any sacrifice on the Jewish altar. Christ can only die once. It was our sins that crucified the Lord of life and glory. Unwittingly we were guilty of His death. The avenger of blood pursued our sins to the cross and inflicted the punishment on Christ that our sins deserved. The sin question is now eternally settled. Maturity would teach us that the priesthood of our Lord assures our safety. The One whom our sins slew on the cross has now become the city of refuge as well as the Great High Priest. As the safety of the manslayer depended on, and was assured as long as the high priest lived, so we are eternally secure for our Lord is priest in that eternal city and His priesthood is based upon the power of an endless life.
There are three words translated “to flee” in the New Testament (a) “Ekphugo,” literally to flee out of. This is the word used in chapter 2:3, “How shall we escape.” It has the thought of danger around us. This is not the word used here. (b) “Phugo,” literally to flee. This word is used in chapter 11:13, “Escape the edge of the sword.” The principle thought is danger after us. But this is not the word used here. (c) “Cataphugo,” literally, to flee alongside of or for shelter. This carefully chosen word is translated here, “Fled for refuge” and has the thought of danger beyond us.
Hope is the anchor and faith the cable. Here life is seen as a voyage through a stormy sea. The object of hope is Christ and the haven of rest where all storms will be past for ever. The support of our anchor is that it is both sure and steadfast. Sure, in that it has gripped the solid rock within the veil, even Christ who has already entered. Steadfast, in that no storm will ever break the cable between the soul and Christ. The ground of hope is the revelation of Christ as our Great High Priest. This revelation in Psalm 110 is hung on two great pillars, God’s oath and God’s promise. The guarantee of that hope is that the Forerunner has already entered. This guarantees the safe entry of the ship into the heavenly harbor and to the haven of rest for evermore.
Dean Farrar in the Cambridge Bible has noted the following on this verse. “The Christian anchor of hope is not dropped into any earthly sea but passes, as it were, through the depth of the aerial ocean mooring us to the very Throne of God.”
Finally, the writer uses a very interesting word to describe the Lord Jesus. It is the word “Prodromos” and is translated here Forerunner. It has a three-fold meaning: (1) One who rushes on. Our Lord Jesus has run the race and has sat down at the right hand of God. He is there in all the moral beauty of humanity and the pattern to which all will be conformed. (2) A pioneer: one who clears the way to ensure a home for others. (3) A scout: one who ensures the safety of the troops. He is the Captain of our salvation and every son will be led to glory by and by.
The Old Testament priest never acted as a forerunner, only as a representative. The people could never follow. Our Great High Priest has entered into Heaven itself and by this very act has paved the way for His people to follow.