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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 6 - Verse 1
ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.
In Heb 5:10,11, the apostle had said that the Lord Jesus was called to the office of high priest after the order of Melchisedek, and that there were many things to be said of him which were not easy to be understood. They had not, he says, advanced as far in the knowledge of the true religion as might have been reasonably expected, but had rather gone back, Heb 5:12-14. The design of this chapter seems to be, to warn them against the danger of going back entirely, and to encourage them to make the highest attainments possible in the knowledge of Christianity, and in the divine life. The apostle would keep them from entire apostasy, and would excite them to make all the advances which they possibly could make; and particularly he designs to prepare them to receive what he had yet to say about the higher doctrines of the Christian religion. In doing this he presents the following considerations.
(1.) An exhortation to leave the elements or rudiments of the Christian religion, and to go on to the contemplation of the higher doctrines. The elements were the doctrines of repentance, faith, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. These entered into the very nature of Christianity. They were its first principles, and were indispensable. The higher doctrines related to other matters, which the apostle called them now to contemplate, Heb 6:1-2.
(2.) He warns them, in the most solemn manner, against apostasy. He assures them that, if they should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew them again. They could not fall away from grace, and again be renewed; they could not, after having been Christians and then apostatizing, be recovered. Their fall, in that case, would be final and irrecoverable, for there was no other way by which they could be saved; and by rejecting the Christian scheme, they would reject the only plan by which they could ever be brought to heaven. By this solemn consideration, therefore, he warns them of the danger of going back from their exalted hopes, or of neglecting the opportunities which they had to advance to the knowledge of the higher truths of religion, vers. Heb 6:4-6.
(3.) This sentiment is illustrated Heb 6:7,8 by a striking and beautiful figure drawn from agriculture. The sentiment was, that they who did not improve their advantage, and grow in the knowledge of the gospel, but who should go back and apostatize, would inevitably be destroyed. They could not be renewed and saved. It will be, says the apostle, as it is with the earth. That which receives the rain that falls, and that bears its proper increase for the use of man, partakes of the Divine blessing. That which does not—which bears only thorns and briers—is rejected, and is nigh to cursing, and will be burned with fire.
(4.) Yet the apostle says, he hoped better things of them. They had indeed receded from what they had been. They had not made the advances which he says they might have done. But still, there was reason to hope that they would not wholly apostatize, and be cast off by God. They had shown that they had true religion, and he believed that God would not forget the evidence which they had furnished that they loved him, Heb 6:9,10.
(6.) To encourage them in this, he refers them to the solemn oath which God had taken, and his sacred covenant with them confirmed by an oath, in order that they might have true consolation, and be sustained in the temptations and trials of life. That hope was theirs. It was sure and steadfast. It entered into that within the veil; it had been confirmed by him who had entered heaven as the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Heb 6:13-20. By such considerations he would guard them from the danger of apostasy; he would encourage them to diligence in the divine life; and he would seek to prepare them to welcome the more high and difficult doctrines of the Christian religion.
Verse 1. Therefore. "Since, as was stated in the previous chapter, you ought to be capable of comprehending the higher doctrines of religion; since those doctrines are adapted to those who have been for a considerable time professors of Christianity, and have had opportunities of growing in knowledge and grace—as much as strong meat is for those of mature years—leave now the elements of Christian doctrine, and go on to understand its higher mysteries." The idea is, that to those who had so long been acquainted with the way of salvation, the elements of Christianity were no more adapted than milk was for grown persons.
Leaving. Dismissing; intermitting; passing by the consideration of, with a view to advance to something higher. The apostle refers to his discussion of the subject, and also to their condition. He wished to go on to the contemplation of higher doctrines, and he desired that they should no longer linger around the mere elements. "Let us advance to a higher state of knowledge than the mere elements of the subject." On the sense of the word "leaving," or quitting with a view to engage in something else, see Mt 4:20,22; 5:24.
The principles. Marg. The word of the beginning of Christ. Tindal renders it, "let us leave the doctrine pertaining to the beginning of a Christian man." Coverdale, "let us leave the doctrine pertaining to the beginning of a Christian life." On the word "principles" see See Barnes "Heb 5:12".
The Greek there, indeed, is not the same as in this place, but the idea is evidently the same. The reference is to what he regarded as the very elements of the Christian doctrine; and the meaning is, "Let us no longer linger here.' We should go on to higher attainments. We should wholly understand the system. We should discuss and receive its great principles. You have been long enough converted to have understood these; but you linger among the very elementary truths of religion. But you cannot remain here. You must either advance or recede; and if you do not go forward, you will go back into entire apostasy, when it will be impossible to be renewed." The apostle here, therefore, does not refer to his discussion of the points under consideration as the main thing, but to their state as one of danger; and in writing to them he was not content to discuss the elements of religion as being alone fitted to their condition, but would have them make higher attainments, and advance to the more elevated principles of the gospel.
Of the doctrine. Literally, "the word" logon—reason, or doctrine of the beginning of Christ." That is, the word or reason that pertains to the elements of his system; the first principles of Christian doctrine.
Of Christ. Which pertain to the Messiah. Either that which he taught, or that which is taught of him and his religion, Most probably it is the latter—that which pertains to the Messiah, or to the Christian revelation. The idea is, that there is a set of truths which maybe regarded as lying at the foundation of Christian doctrine, and those truths they had embraced, but had not advanced beyond them.
Let us go on. Let us advance to a higher state of knowledge and holiness. The reference is alike to his discussion of the subject, and to their advancement in piety and in knowledge. He would not linger around these elements in the discussion, nor would he have them linger at the threshold of the Christian doctrines.
The word here is used, evidently, to denote an advanced state of Christian knowledge and piety; or the more elevated Christian doctrines, and the holier living to which it was their duty to attain. It does not refer solely to the intention of the apostle to discuss the more elevated doctrines of Christianity, but to such an advance as would secure them from the danger of apostasy. If it should be said, however, that the word "perfection" is to be understood in the most absolute and unqualified sense, as denoting entire freedom from sin, it may be remarked,
(1.) that this does not prove that they ever attained to it, nor should this be adduced as a text to show that such an attainment is ever made. To exhort a man to do a thing—however reasonable—is no proof in itself that it is ever done.
(2.) It is proper to exhort Christians to aim at entire perfection. Even if none have ever reached that point on earth, that fact does not make it any the less desirable or proper to aim at it.
(3.) There is much in making an honest attempt to be perfectly holy, even though we should not attain to it in this life. No man accomplishes much who does not aim high.
Not laying again the foundation. Not laying down—as one does a foundation for an edifice. The idea is, that they were not to begin and build all this over again. They were not to make it necessary to lay down again the very corner-stones, and the foundations of the edifice, but since these were laid already, they were to go on and build the superstructure and complete the edifice.
Of repentance from dead works. From works that cause death or condemnation; or that have no vitality or life. The reference may be either to those actions which were sinful in their nature, or to those which related to the forms of religion, where there was no spiritual life. This was the character of much of the religion of the Jews; and conversion to the true religion consisted greatly in repentance for having relied on those heartless and hollow forms. It is possible that the apostle referred mainly to these, as he was writing to those who had been Hebrews. When formalists are converted, one of the first and the main exercises of their minds in conversion, consists in deep and genuine sorrow for their dependence on those forms. Religion is life; and irreligion is a state of spiritual death, (comp. See Barnes "Eph 2:1, whether it be in open transgression, or in false and hollow forms of religion. The apostle has here stated what is the first element of the Christian religion. It consists in genuine sorrow for sin, and a purpose to turn from it. See Barnes "Mt 3:2".
This is the second element in the Christian system. Faith is everywhere required in order to salvation, but it is usually faith in the Lord Jesus that is spoken of. See Ac 20:21. Here, however faith in God is particularly referred to. But there is no essential difference. It is faith in God in regard to his existence and perfections, and to his plan of saving men. It includes, therefore, faith in his message and messenger, and thus embraces the plan of salvation by the Redeemer. There is but one God— "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;" and he who believes in the true God, believes in him as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Author of the plan of redemption, and the Saviour of lost men. No one can believe in the true God who does not believe in the Saviour. Comp. Joh 5:23; 17:3. He who supposes that he confides in any other God than the Author of the Christian religion, worships a being of the imagination as really as though he bowed down to a block of wood or stone. If Christianity is true, there is no such God as the infidel professes to believe in, any more than the god of the Brahmin has an existence. To believe in God, therefore, is to believe in him as he actually exists—as the true God—the Author of the great plan of salvation by the Redeemer. It is needless to attempt to show that faith in the true God is essential to salvation. How can he be saved who has no confidence in the God that made him?
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