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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE HEBREWS - Chapter 6 - Verse 2
Verse 2. Of the doctrine of baptisms. This is mentioned as the third element or principle of the Christian religion. The Jews made much of various kinds of washings, which were called baptisms. See Barnes "Mr 7:4".
Since they made so much of various kinds of ablution, it was important that the true doctrine on the subject should be stated as one of the elements of the Christian religion, that they might be recalled from superstition, and that they might enjoy the benefits of what was designed to be an important aid to piety—the true doctrine of baptisms. It will be observed that the plural form is used here—baptisms. There are two baptisms whose necessity is taught by the Christian religion—baptism by water, and by the Holy Ghost: the first of which is an emblem of the second. These are stated to be among the elements of Christianity, or the things which Christian converts would first learn. The necessity of both is taught. "He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved," Mr 16:16. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," Joh 3:5. On the baptism of the Holy Ghost, See Barnes "Mt 3:11"; See Barnes "Ac 1:6"; comp. Ac 19:1-6. To understand the true doctrine respecting baptism was one of the first principles to be learned then, as it is now, as baptism is the rite by which we are initiated into the Church. This was supposed to be so simple, that young converts could understand it as one of the elements of the true religion; and the teaching on that subject now should be made so plain that the humblest disciple may comprehend it. If it was an element or first principle of religion; if it was presumed that any one who entered the Church could understand it, can it be believed that it was then so perplexing and embarrassing as it is often made now? Can it be believed that a vast array of learning, and a knowledge of languages, and a careful inquiry into the customs of ancient times, was needful in order that a candidate for baptism should understand it? The truth is, that it was probably regarded as among the most simple and plain matters of religion; and every convert was supposed to understand that the application of water to the body in this ordinance, in any mode, was designed to be merely emblematic of the influences of the Holy Ghost.
And of laying on of hands. This is the fourth element or principle of religion. The Jews practised the laying on of hands on a great variety of occasions. It was done when a blessing was imparted to any one; when prayer was made for one; and when they offered sacrifice they laid their hands on the head of the victim, confessing their sins, Le 16:21; 24:14; Nu 8:12.
It was done on occasions of solemn consecration to office, and when friend supplicated the Divine favour on friend. In like manner, it was often done by the Saviour and the apostles. The Redeemer laid his hands on children to bless them, and on the sick when he healed them, Mt 19:13; Mr 5:23; Mt 9:18.
In like manner, the apostles laid hands on others in the following circumstances: —
(1.) In healing the sick, Ac 28:8.
The true doctrine respecting the design of laying on the hands, is said here to be one of the elements of the Christian religion. That the custom of laying on the hands, as symbolical of imparting spiritual gifts, prevailed in the Church in the time of the apostles, no one can doubt. But on the question whether it is to be regarded as of perpetual obligation in the Church, we are to remember,
(1.) that the apostles were endowed with the power of imparting the influences of the Holy Ghost in a miraculous or extraordinary manner. It was with reference to such an imparting of the Holy Spirit that the expression is used in each of the eases where it occurs in the New Testament.
(2.) The Saviour did not appoint the imposition of the hands of a "bishop" to be one of the rites or ceremonies to be observed perpetually in the Church. The injunction to be baptized and to observe his Supper is positive, and is universal in its obligation. But there is no such command respecting the imposition of hands.
(3.) No one now is entrusted with the power of imparting the Holy Spirit in that manner. There is no class of officers in the Church that can make good their claim to any such power. What evidence is there that the Holy Spirit is imparted at the rite of "confirmation?"
(4.) It is liable to be abused, or to lead persons to substitute the form for the thing; or to think that because they have been "confirmed," that therefore they are sure of the mercy and favour of God. Still, if it be regarded as a simple form of admission to a church, without claiming that it is enjoined by God, or that it is connected with any authority to impart the Holy Spirit, no objection can be made to it, any more than there need be to any other form of recognising church-membership. Every pastor has a right, if he chooses, to lay his hands on the members of his flocks and to implore a blessing on them; and such an act, on making a profession of religion, would have much in it that would be appropriate and solemn.
And of resurrection of the dead. This is mentioned as the fifth element or principle of the Christian religion. This doctrine was denied by the Sadducees, Mr 12:18; Ac 23:8 and was ridiculed by philosophers, Ac 17:32. It was, however, clearly taught by the Saviour, Joh 5:28,29, and became one of the cardinal doctrines of his religion. By the resurrection of the dead, however, in the New Testament, there is more intended than the resurrection of the body. The question about the resurrection included the whole inquiry about the future state, or whether man would live at all in the future world. Comp. See Barnes "Mt 22:23"; See Barnes "Ac 23:6".
This is one of the most important subjects that can come before the human mind, and one on which man has felt more perplexity than any other. The belief of the resurrection of the dead is an elementary article in the system of Christianity. It lies at the foundation of all our hopes. Christianity is designed to prepare us for a future state; and one of the first things, therefore, in the preparation, is to assure us that there/s a future state, and to tell us what it is. It is, moreover, a peculiar doctrine of Christianity. The belief of the resurrection is found in no other system of religion, nor is there a ray of light shed upon the future condition of man by any other scheme of philosophy or religion.
And of eternal judgment. This is the sixth element or principle of religion. It is, that there will be a judgment whose consequences will be eternal. It does not mean, of course, that the process of the judgment will be eternal, or that the judgment-day will continue for ever; but that the results or consequents of the decision of that day will continue for ever. There will be no appeal from the sentence, nor will there be any reversal of the judgment then pronounced. What is decided then will be determined for ever. The approval of the righteous will fix their state eternally in heaven, and, in like manner, the condemnation of the wicked will fix their doom for ever in hell. This doctrine was one of the earliest that was taught by the Saviour and his apostles, and is inculcated in the New Testament perhaps with more frequency than any other. See Mt 25; Ac 17:31.
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