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The nature of apostasy from the gospel declared, in an exposition of Hebrews vi. 4–6.
Intending an inquiry into the nature, causes, and occasions of the present defection that is in the world from the truth, holiness, and worship of the gospel, I shall lay the foundation of my whole discourse in an exposition of that passage in the Epistle of Paul the apostle unto the Hebrews, wherein he gives an account both of the nature of apostasy and of the punishment due unto apostates; for as this will lead us naturally unto what is designed, so an endeavour to free the context from the difficulties wherewith it is generally supposed to be attended, and to explain the mind of the Holy Ghost therein, may be neither unacceptable nor unuseful. And this is chap. vi. 4–6, whose words are these that follow:—
Ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας, γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου, καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας Πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους Θεοῦ ῥῆμα, δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος, καὶ παραπεσόντας, πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν, ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας.
Ἀδύνατον γάρ. “Impossibile enim,” that is, “est;” — “It is impossible.” Syr., אֶלָּא לָא מֶשְׁכְחִין, — “But they cannot.” This respects the power of the persons themselves, and not the event of things; it may be not improperly as to the sense. Beza and Erasmus, “Fieri non potest,” — “It cannot be;” the same with “impossible.” But the use of the word ἀδύνατον in the New Testament, which signifies sometimes only what is very difficult, not what is absolutely denied, makes it useful to retain the same word, as in our translation, “For it is impossible.”
Τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας. הָנוּן דַּחֲדָא זְבַן לְמַעֲמוּדִיתָא נְחֵתוּ; — “Those who one time,” or “once descended unto baptism;” of which intepretation we must speak afterward. All others, “Qui semel fuerint illuminati;” 12— “Who were once enlightened.” Only the Ethiopic follows the Syriac. Some read “illustrati” to the same purpose.
Γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου. Vulg. Lat., “Gustaverant etiam donum cœleste;” “etiam,” for “et.” Others express the article by the pronoun, by reason of its reduplication: “Et gustaverint donum illud cœleste;” — “And have tasted of that heavenly gift.” Syr., “The gift that is from heaven.” And this the emphasis in the original seems to require: “And have tasted of that heavenly gift.”
Καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας Πνεύματος ἁγίου. “Et participes facti sunt Spiritus Sancti,” Vulg. Lat.; — “And are made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” All others, “facti fuerint,” “have been” made partakers of the Holy Ghost. Syr., רוּחָא דְּקוּדְשָׁא, — The Spirit of holiness.”
Καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους Θεοῦ ῥῆμα. Vulg. Lat., “Et gustaverunt nihilominus bonum Dei verbum.” Rhem., “Have moreover tasted the good word of God.” But “moreover” doth not express “nihilominus.” [It must be rendered,] “And have notwithstanding,” etc., which hath no place here. Καλὸν ῥῆμα, — “verbum pulchrum.”
Δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος. “Virtutesque seculi futuri.” Syr., חַיְלָא, — “virtutem,” the “power.” Vulg., “seculi venturi.” We cannot in our language distinguish between “futurum” and “venturum,” and so render it “the world to come.”
Καὶ παραπεσόντας. Vulg., “Et prolapsi sunt.” Rhem., “And are fallen.” Others, “Si prolabantur,” which the sense requires; “If they fall,” that is, “away,” as our translation, properly. Syr., דְּתוּב יֶחְטוּן, “That sin again,” — somewhat dangerously, for it is one kind of sinning only that is included and expressed.
Πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν. Vulg., “Rursus renovari ad pœnitentiam,” — “To be renewed again to repentance,” rendering the active verb passively. So Beza also, “Ut denuo renoventur ad resipiscentiam;” — “That they should again be renewed to repentance.” The word is active as rendered by ours, “To renew them again to repentance.”
Ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ. “Rursum crucifigentes sibimetipsis Filium Dei.” Καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας. Vulg., “Et ostentui habentes.” Rhem., “And making him a mockery.” Erasmus, “Ludibrio habentes” Beza, “Ignominiæ exponentes.” One of late, “Ad exemplum Judæorum excruciant;” — “Torment him as did the Jews.”
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away,” (for any) “to renew 13them again to repentance; seeing they crucify again to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame” (or treat him ignominiously.)
That this passage in our apostle’s discourse hath been looked upon as accompanied with great difficulties is known to all, and many have the differences been about its interpretation; for both doctrinally and practically, sundry have here stumbled and miscarried. It is almost generally agreed upon that from these words, and the colourable but indeed perverse interpretation and application made of them by some in the primitive times, occasioned by the then present circumstances of things, to be mentioned afterwards, the Latin church was so backward in receiving the epistle itself, that it had not absolutely prevailed therein in the days of Jerome, as we have elsewhere declared. Wherefore it is necessary that we should a little inquire into the occasion of the great contests which have been in the church, almost in all ages, about the sense of this place.
It is known that the primitive church, according to its duty, was carefully watchful about the holiness and upright walking of all that were admitted into the society and fellowship of it. Hence, upon every known and visible failing, they required an open repentance from the offenders before they would admit them unto a participation of the sacred mysteries. But upon flagitious and scandalous crimes, such as murder, adultery, or idolatry, in many churches they would never admit those who had been guilty of them into their communion any more. Their greatest and most signal trial was with respect unto them who, through fear of death, complied with the Gentiles in their idolatrous worship in the time of persecution; for they had fixed no certain general rule whereby they should unanimously proceed, but every church exercised severity or lenity according as they saw cause, upon the circumstances of particular instances. Hence Cyprian, in his banishment, would not positively determine concerning those of the church in Carthage who had so sinned and fallen, but deferred his thoughts until his return, when he resolved to advise with the whole church, and settle all things according to the counsel that should be agreed on amongst them. Yea, many of his epistles are on this subject peculiarly: and in them all, if compared together, it is evident that there was no rule agreed upon herein; nor was he himself well resolved in his own mind, though strictly on all occasions opposing Novatianus; wherein it had been well if his arguments had answered his zeal. Before this, the church of Rome was esteemed in particular more remiss in their discipline, and more free than other churches in their re-admission unto communion of notorious offenders. Hence Tertullian, in his book de Pœnitentia, reflects on Zephyrinus, the bishop of Rome, that he 14had “admitted adulterers unto repentance, and thereby unto the communion of the church.” But that church proceeding in her lenity, and every day enlarging her charity, Novatus and Novatianus, taking offence thereat, advanced an opinion in the contrary extreme: for they denied all hope of church pardon or of a return unto ecclesiastical communion unto them who had fallen into open sin after baptism; and, in especial, peremptorily excluded all persons whatsoever who had outwardly complied with idolatrous worship in time of persecution, without respect unto any distinguishing circumstances; yea, they seem to have excluded them from all expectation of forgiveness from God himself. But their followers, terrified with the uncharitableness and horror of this persuasion, tempered it so far as that, leaving all persons absolutely to the mercy of God upon their repentance, they only denied such as we mentioned before a re-admission unto church communion, as Acesius speaks expressly in Socrates, lib. i. cap. 7. Now, this opinion they endeavoured to confirm, as from the nature and use of baptism, which was not to be reiterated, — whereon they judged that no pardon was to be granted unto them who fell into those sins which they lived in before, and were cleansed from at their baptism, — so principally from this place of our apostle, wherein they thought their whole opinion was taught and confirmed. And so usually doth it fall out, very unhappily, with men who think they clearly see some peculiar opinion or persuasion in some singular text of Scripture,22 “Solenne est hæreticis alicujus capituli ancipitis occasione adversus exercitum sententiarum Instrumenti totius armari.” — Tert. de Pudicit. “Utique æquum, incerta de certis, obscura de manifestis præjudicari, ut ne inter discordiam certorum et incertorum, manifestorum et obscurorum, fides dissipetur.” — Id. de Resur. Ἅπαντα ὀρθὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν συνιέντων, φησὶ ἡ γραφὴ, τοῦτ’ ἔστι, τῶν ὅσοι ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ σαφηνισθεῖσαν τῶν γραφῶν ἐξήγησιν κατὰ τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν κανόνα ἐκδεχόμενοι διασώζουσι, κανὼν δὲ ἐκκλησιαστικὸς ἡ συνῳδία καὶ συμφωνία νόμου τε καὶ προφητῶν τῇ τὴν τοῦ κυρίου παρουσίαν παραδιδομένῃ διαθήκῃ. — Clem. Alex., Stromat. vi. Εὖ οἶδα ὅτι ῥητά τινα παραλήψονται τῆς γραφῆς οἱ καὶ ταῦτα βουλόμενοι τολμᾷν φάσκειν ἀπὸ Θεοῦ γεγονέναι, μὴ δυνάμενοι ἕν ὕφος ἀποδεῖξαι τῆς γραφῆς αἰτιωμένης μὲν τοῦς ἁμαρτάνοντας, ἀποδεχομένης δὲ τοὺς εὖ πράττοντας, καὶ οὐδὲν ἧττον κᾴκεῖνα λεγούσης ἅτινα περισπᾷν δοκεῖ, ὀλίγα ὄντα, τοὺς ἀμαθῶς τὰ θεῖα γράμματα ἀναγινώσκοντας. — Origen. adv. Cels. lib. vi. — Ed. and will not bring their interpretation of it unto the analogy of faith, whereby they might see how contrary it is to the whole design and current of the word in other places. But the church of Rome, on the other side, though judging rightly, from other directions given in the Scripture, that the Novatians transgressed the rule of charity and gospel discipline in their severities, yet, as it should seem, and is very probable, knew not how to answer the objection from this place of our apostle. Therefore did they rather choose for a season to suspend their assent unto the authority of the whole epistle than to prejudice the church by its admission. And well was it that some learned men afterward, by their sober interpretations 15of the words, plainly evinced that no countenance was given in them unto the errors of the Novatians; for without this it is much to be feared that some would have preferred their interest in their present controversy before the authority of it: which would, in the issue, have proved ruinous to the truth itself; for the epistle, being designed of God unto the common edification of the church, would have at length prevailed, whatever sense men, through their prejudices and ignorance, should put upon any passages of it. But this controversy is long since buried, the generality of the churches in the world being sufficiently remote from that which was truly the mistake of the Novatians; yea, the most of them do bear peaceably in their communion, without the least exercise of gospel discipline towards them, such persons as concerning whom the dispute was of old, whether they should ever in this world be admitted into the communion of the church, although upon their open and professed repentance. We shall not therefore at present need to labour in this controversy.
But the sense of these words hath been the subject of great contests on other occasions also; for some do suppose and contend that they are real and true believers who are deciphered by the apostle, and that their character is given us in and by sundry inseparable adjuncts and properties of such persona Hence they conclude that such believers may totally and finally fall from grace, and perish eternally; yea, it is evident that this hypothesis of the final apostasy of true believers is that which influenceth their minds and judgments to suppose that such are here intended. Wherefore others who will not admit that, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, true believers can perish everlastingly, do say that either they are not here intended, or if they are, that the words are only comminatory, wherein, although the consequence in them in a way of arguing be true, namely, that on the supposition laid down the inference is certain, yet the supposition is not asserted in order unto a certain consequent, whence it should follow that true believers might so really fall away and absolutely perish. And these things have been the matter of many contests among learned men.
Again; there have been sundry mistakes in the practical application of the intention of these words unto the consciences of men, mostly made by themselves who are concerned; for whereas, by reason of sin, they have been surprised with terrors and troubles of conscience, they have withal, in their darkness and distress, supposed themselves to be fallen into the condition here described by our apostle, and consequently to be irrecoverably lost. And these apprehensions usually befall men on two occasions; for some having been 16overtaken with some great actual sin against the second table, after they have made a profession of the gospel, and having their consciences harassed with a sense of their guilt (as it will fall out where men are not greatly hardened through the deceitfulness of sin), they judge that they are fallen under the sentence denounced in this Scripture against such sinners, as they suppose themselves to be, whereby their state is irrecoverable. Others do make the same judgment of themselves, because they have fallen from that constant compliance with their convictions which formerly led them unto a strict performance of duties, and this in some course of long continuance.
Now, whereas it is certain that the apostle in this discourse gives no countenance unto that severity of the Novatians whereby they excluded offenders everlastingly from the peace and communion of the church; nor to the final apostasy of true believers, which he testifieth against in this very chapter, in compliance with innumerable other testimonies of Scripture to the same purpose; nor doth he teach any thing whereby the conscience of any sinner who desires to return to God and to find acceptance with him should be discouraged or disheartened; we must attend unto the exposition of the words in the first place, so as not to break in upon the boundaries of other truths, nor transgress against the analogy of faith. And we shall find that this whole discourse, compared with other scriptures, and freed from the prejudices that men have brought unto it, is both remote from administering any just occasion to the mistakes before mentioned, and is a needful, wholesome commination, duly to be considered by all professors of the gospel.
In the words we consider, — 1. The connection of them unto those foregoing, intimating the occasion of the introduction of this whole discourse. 2. The subject described in them, or the persons spoken of, under sundry qualifications, which may be inquired into jointly and severally. 3. What is supposed concerning them. 4. What is affirmed of them on that supposition.
1. The connection of the words is included in the causal conjunction, γάρ, “for.” It respects the introduction of a reason for what had been before discoursed, as also of the limitation which the apostle added expressly unto his purpose of making a progress in their farther instruction, “If God permit.” And he doth not herein express his judgment that they to whom he wrote were such as he describes, for he afterward declares that he “hoped better things” concerning them; only, it was necessary to give them this caution, that they might take due care not to be such. And whereas he had manifested that they were slow as to the making of a progress in knowledge and a suitable practice, he lets them here know the danger that there was in continuing in that slothful condition; for not to proceed in the ways 17of the gospel and obedience thereunto is an untoward entrance into a total relinquishment of the one and the other. That therefore they might be acquainted with the danger hereof, and be stirred up to avoid that danger, he gives them an account of the miserable condition of those who, after a profession of the gospel, beginning at a non-proficiency under it, do end in apostasy from it. And we may see that the severest comminations are not only useful in the preaching of the gospel, but exceeding necessary, towards persons that are observed to be slothful in their profession.
2. The description of the persons that are the subject spoken of is given in five instances of the evangelical privileges whereof they were made partakers; notwithstanding all which, and against their obliging efficacy to the contrary, it is supposed that they may wholly desert the gospel itself. And some things we may observe concerning this description of them in general; as, — (1.) The apostle, designing to express the fearful state and judgment of these persons, describes them by such things as may fully evidence it to be, as unavoidable, so righteous and equal. Those things must be some eminent privileges and advantages, whereof they were made partakers by the gospel. These, being despised in their apostasy, do proclaim their destruction from God to be rightly deserved. (2.) That all these privileges do consist in certain especial operations of the Holy Ghost, which were peculiar unto the dispensation of the gospel, such as they neither were nor could be made partakers of in their Judaism; for the Spirit in this sense was not received by “the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith,” Gal. iii. 2. And this was a testimony unto them that they were delivered from the bondage of the law, namely, by a participation of that Spirit which was the great privilege of the gospel. (3.) Here is no express mention of any covenant grace or mercy in them or towards them, nor of any duty of faith or obedience which they had performed. Nothing of justification, sanctification, or adoption, is expressly assigned unto them. Afterwards, when he comes to declare his hope and persuasion concerning these Hebrews, that they were not such as those whom he had before described, nor such as would so fall away unto perdition, he doth it upon three grounds, whereon they were differenced from them; as, — [1.] That they had such things as did accompany salvation, — that is, such as salvation is inseparable from. None of these things, therefore, had he ascribed unto those whom he describeth in this place; for if he had so done, they would not have been unto him an argument and evidence of a contrary end, that these should not fall away and perish as well as those. Wherefore he ascribes nothing to these here in the text that doth peculiarly “accompany salvation,” verse 9. [2.] He describes them by their duties of obedience 18and fruits of faith. This was their “work and labour of love” towards the name of God, verse 10. And hereby also doth he difference them from these in the text, concerning whom he supposeth that they may perish eternally, which these fruits of saving faith and sincere love cannot do. [3.] He adds, that in the preservation of those there mentioned the faithfulness of God was concerned: “God is not unrighteous to forget.” For they were such he intended as were interested in the covenant of grace, with respect whereunto alone there is any engagement on the faithfulness or righteousness of God to preserve men from apostasy and ruin; and there is so with an equal respect unto all who are so taken into that covenant. But of these in the text he supposeth no such thing, and thereupon doth not intimate that either the righteousness or faithfulness of God was any way engaged for their preservation, but rather the contrary. This whole description, therefore, refers unto some especial gospel privileges, which professors in those days were promiscuously made partakers of; and what they were in particular we must in the next place inquire.
The first thing in the description is, that they were ἅπαξ φωτισθέντες, “once enlightened.” Saith the Syriac translation, as we observed, “once baptized.” It is very certain that, early in the church, baptism was called φωτισμός, “illumination;” and φωτίζειν, to “enlighten,’’ was used for to “baptize.” And the set times wherein they solemnly administered that ordinance were called ἡμέραι τῶν φώτων, “the days of light.” Hereunto the Syriac interpreter seems to have had respect; and the word ἅπαξ, “once,” may give countenance hereunto. Baptism was once only to be celebrated, according to the constant faith of the church in all ages. And they called baptism “illumination,” because it being one ordinance of the initiation of persons into a participation of all the mysteries of the church, they were thereby translated out of the kingdom of darkness into that of light and grace. And it seems to give farther countenance hereunto in that baptism really was the beginning and foundation of a participation of all the other spiritual privileges that are mentioned afterwards; for it was usual in those times, that, upon the baptizing of persons, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and endowed them with extraordinary gifts, peculiar to the days of the gospel,33 Apostles? — Ed. as we have showed in our consideration of the order between baptism and imposition of hands. And this opinion hath so much of probability in it, that, having nothing therewithal unsuited unto the analogy of faith or design of the place, I should embrace it, if the word itself, as here used, did not require another interpretation; for it was good while aider the writing of this epistle and all other parts of the New Testament, at least an age or two, if not more, before this word 19was used mystically to express baptism. In the whole Scripture it hath another sense, denoting an inward operation of the Spirit, and not the outward administration of an ordinance. And it is too much boldness to take a word in a peculiar sense in one single place, diverse from its proper signification and constant use, if there be no circumstances in the text forcing us thereunto, as here are not. And for the word ἅπαξ, “once,” it is not to be restrained unto this particular, but refers equally unto all the instances that follow, signifying no more but that those mentioned were really and truly partakers of them.
Φωτίζομαι is to give light or knowledge by teaching, the same with הוֹרָה, which is therefore so translated ofttimes by the Greeks; as by Aquila, Exod. iv. 12, Ps. cxix. 33, Prov. iv. 4, Isa. xxvii. 11, as Drusius observes. And it is so by the LXX., Judges xiii. 8, 2 Kings xii. 2, xvii. 27. Our apostle useth it for to “make manifest,” — that is, to “bring to light,” 1 Cor. iv. 5; 2 Tim. i. 10. And the meaning of it, John i. 9, where we render it “lighteth,” is to teach. And φωτισμός is knowledge upon instruction: 2 Cor. iv. 4, Εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι αὐτοῖς τὸν φωτισμὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου· — “That the light of the gospel should not shine into them,” — that is, the knowledge of it. So verse 6, Πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως· — “The light of the knowledge.” Wherefore, to be “enlightened” in this place is to be instructed in the doctrine of the gospel, so as to have a spiritual apprehension thereof; and this is so termed on a double account:—
1. Of the objects, or the things known or apprehended; for “life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel,” 2 Tim. i. 10. Hence it is called “light,” — “The inheritance of the saints in light.” And the state which men are thereby brought into is so called in opposition to the darkness that is in the world without it, 1 Pet. ii. 9. The world without the gospel is the kingdom of Satan: Ὁ κόσμος ὅλος ἐν τῷ πονηρῷ κεῖται, 1 John v. 19. The whole of the world, and all that belongs unto it, in distinction from and opposition unto the new creation, is under the power of the wicked one, the prince of the power of darkness, and so is full of darkness. It is τόπος αὐχμηρός, 2 Pet. i. 19, — “a dark place,” wherein ignorance, folly, errors, and superstition do dwell and reign. By the power and efficacy of this darkness are men kept at a distance from God, and know not whither they go. This is called “walking in darkness,” 1 John i. 6, whereunto “walking in the light,” — that is, the knowledge of God in Christ by the gospel, — is opposed, verse 7. On this account is our instruction in the knowledge of the gospel called “illumination,” because itself is light.
2. On the account of the subject, or the mind itself, whereby the gospel is apprehended; for the knowledge which is received thereby expels that darkness, ignorance, and confusion which the mind before 20was filled and possessed withal. The knowledge, I say, of the doctrines of the gospel concerning the person of Christ, of God’s being in him reconciling the world to himself, of his offices, work, and mediation, and the like heads of divine revelation, doth set up a spiritual light in the minds of men, enabling them to discern what before was utterly hid from them, whilst alienated from the life of God through their ignorance. Of this light and knowledge there are several degrees, according to the means of instruction which men do enjoy, the capacity they have to receive it, and the diligence they use to that purpose; but a competent measure of the knowledge of the fundamental and most material principles or doctrines of the gospel is required unto all that may thence be said to be illuminated, — that is, freed from the darkness and ignorance they once lived in, 2 Pet. i. 19–21.
This is the first property whereby the persons intended are described: they are such as were illuminated by the instruction they had received in the doctrines of the gospel, and the impression made thereby on their minds by the Holy Ghost; for this is a common work of his, and is here so reckoned. And the apostle would have us know that, —
I. It is a great mercy, a great privilege, to be enlightened with the doctrine of the gospel by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost. But, —
II. It is such a privilege as may be lost, and end in the aggravation of the sin, and condemnation of those who were made partakers of it. And, —
III. Where there is a total neglect of the due improvement of this privilege and mercy, the condition of such persons is hazardous, as inclining towards apostasy.
Thus much lies open and manifest in the text. But that we may more particularly discover the nature of this first part of the character of apostates, for their sakes who may look after their own concernment therein, we may yet a little more distinctly express the nature of that illumination and knowledge which is here ascribed unto them; and how it is lost in apostasy will afterward appear. And, —
1. There is a knowledge of spiritual things that is purely natural and disciplinary, attainable and attained without any especial aid or assistance of the Holy Ghost As this is evident in common experience, so especially among such as, casting themselves on the study of spiritual things, are yet utter strangers unto all spiritual gifts. Some knowledge of the Scripture and the things contained in it is attainable at the same rate of pains and study with that of any other art or science.
2. The illumination intended, being a gift of the Holy Ghost, 21differs from and is exalted above this knowledge that is purely natural; for it makes nearer approaches unto the light of spiritual things in their own nature than the other doth. Notwithstanding the utmost improvement of scientifical notions that are purely natural, the things of the gospel, in their own nature, are not only unsuited unto the wills and affections of persons endued with them, but are really foolishness unto their minds. And as unto that goodness and excellency which give desirableness unto spiritual things, this knowledge discovers so little of them that most men hate the things which they profess to believe. But this spiritual illumination gives the mind some satisfaction, with delight and joy in the things that are known. By that beam whereby it shines into darkness, although it be not fully comprehended, yet it represents the way of the gospel as a “way of righteousness,” 2 Pet. ii. 21, which reflects a peculiar regard of it on the mind.
Moreover, the knowledge that is merely natural hath little or no power upon the soul, either to keep it from sin or to constrain it to obedience. There is not a more secure and profligate generation of sinners in the world than those who are under the sole conduct of it. But the illumination here intended is attended with efficacy, so as that it doth effectually press in the conscience and whole soul unto an abstinence from sin and the performance of all known duties. Hence persons under the power of it and its convictions do ofttimes walk blamelessly and uprightly in the world, so as not with the other to contribute unto the contempt of Christianity. Besides, there is such an alliance between spiritual gifts, that where any one of them doth reside, it hath assuredly others accompanying of it, or one way or other belonging unto its train; as is manifest in this place. Even a single talent is made up of many pounds. But the light and knowledge which is of a mere natural acquirement is solitary, destitute of the society and countenance of any spiritual gift whatever. And these things are exemplified unto common observation every day.
3. There is a saving, sanctifying light and knowledge which this spiritual illumination riseth not up unto; for though it transiently affect the mind with some glances of the beauty, glory, and excellency of spiritual things, yet it doth not give that direct, steady, intuitive insight into them which is obtained by grace. See 2 Cor. iii. 18, iv. 6. Neither doth it renew, change, or transform the soul into a conformity unto the things known, by planting of them in the will and affections, as a gracious, saving light doth, 2 Cor. iii. 18; Rom. vi. 17, xii. 2.
These things I judged necessary to be added, to clear the nature of the first character of apostates.
The second thing asserted in the description of them is, that they 22have “tasted of the heavenly gift,” — γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου. The doubling of the article gives emphasis to the expression. And we must inquire, — 1. What is meant by the “heavenly gift;” and, 2. What by “tasting” of it.
1. The gift of God, δωρεά, is either δόσις, “donatio,” or δώρημα, “donum.” Sometimes it is taken for the grant or giving itself, and sometimes for the thing given. In the first sense it is used, 2 Cor. ix. 15, “Thanks be unto God ἐπὶ τῇ ἀνεκδιηγήτῷ αὐτοῦ δωρεᾷ,” — for his gift that cannot be declared;” that is, fully or sufficiently. Now this gift was his grant of a free, charitable, and bountiful spirit to the Corinthians in ministering unto the poor saints. The grant hereof is called “God’s gift.” So is the gift of Christ used also: Eph. iv. 7, “According to the measure of the gift of Christ;” that is, “According as he is pleased to give and grant of the fruits of the Spirit unto men.” See Rom. v. 15–17; Eph. iii. 7. Sometimes it is taken for the thing given, properly δῶρον or δώρημα, as James i. 17. So it is used John iv. 10, “If thou knewest the gift of God,” τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ Θεοῦ, “The gift of God,” — that is, the thing given by him, or to be given by him. It is, as many judge, the person of Christ himself which in that place is intended; but the context makes it plain that it is the Holy Ghost, for he is that “living water” which the Lord Jesus in that place promiseth to bestow. And, so far as I can observe, δωρεά, the “gift,” with respect unto God, as denoting the thing given, is nowhere used but only to signify the Holy Ghost; and if it be so, the sense of this place is determined, Acts ii. 38, “Ye shall receive τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου Πνεύματος, — the gift of the Holy Ghost;” not that which he gives, but that which he is. Chap. viii. 20, “Thou hast thought δωρεὰν τοῦ Θεοῦ, — that the gift of God may be purchased with money;” that is, the power of the Holy Ghost in miraculous operations. So expressly chap. x. 45, 11, 17. Elsewhere δωρεά, so far as I can observe, when respecting God, doth not signify the thing given, but the grant itself. The Holy Spirit is signally the gift of God under the new testament.
And ἐπουράνιος, “heavenly,” or from heaven. This may have respect unto his work and effect, — they are heavenly, as opposed to carnal and earthly; but principally it regards his mission by Christ, after his ascension into heaven: Acts ii. 33, being exalted, and having received the promise of the Father, he sent the Spirit. The promise of him was, that he should be sent from heaven, or מִמַּעַל, “from above,” as God is said to be above, which is the same with “heavenly,” Deut. iv. 39; 2 Chron. vi. 23; Job xxxi. 28; Isa. xxxii. 15, מִמָּרוֹם, and chap. xxiv. 18. When he came upon the Lord Christ to anoint him for his work, “the heavens were opened,” and he came from above, Matt. iii. 16. So Acts ii. 2, at his first 23coming on the apostles, there came “a sound from heaven.” Hence he is said to be ἀποσταλεὶς ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ, — that is, to be ἡ δωρεὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἠ ἐπουράνιος, “sent from heaven,” 1 Pet. i. 12. Wherefore, although he may be said to be “heavenly” upon other accounts also, which therefore are not absolutely to be excluded, yet his being sent from heaven by Christ, after his ascension thither and exaltation there, is principally here regarded. He therefore is this ἡ δωρεὰ ἡ ἐπουράνιος, the “heavenly gift” here intended, though not absolutely, but with respect unto an especial work.
That which riseth up against this interpretation is, that the Holy Ghost is expressly mentioned in the next clause: “And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” It is not therefore probable that he should be here also intended.
Ans. (1.) It is ordinary to have the same thing twice expressed, in various words, to quicken the sense of them; and it is necessary it should be so, when there are divers respects unto the same thing, as there are in this place.
(2.) The following clause may be exegetical of this, declaring more fully and plainly what is here intended; which is usual also in the Scripture: so that nothing is cogent from this consideration to disprove an interpretation so suited to the sense of the place, and which the constant use of the word makes necessary to be embraced. But, —
(3.) The Holy Ghost is here mentioned as the great gift of the gospel times, as coming down from heaven, not absolutely, not as unto his person, but with respect unto an especial work, — namely, the change of the whole state of religious worship in the church of God, — whereas we shall see in the next words, he is spoken of only with respect unto external actual operations. But he was the great, the promised heavenly gift, to be bestowed under the new testament, by whom God would institute and ordain a new way and new rites of worship, upon the revelation of himself and his will in Christ. Unto him was committed the reformation of all things in the church, whose time was now come, chap. ix. 10. The Lord Christ, when he ascended into heaven, left all things standing and continuing in religious worship as they had done from the days of Moses, though he hod virtually put an end unto it [the Mosaic dispensation]; and he commanded his disciples that they should attempt no alteration therein until the Holy Ghost were sent from heaven to enable them thereunto, Acts i. 4, 5. But when he came as the great gift of God, promised under the new testament, he removes all the carnal worship and ordinances of Moses, and that by the full revelation of the accomplishment of all that was signified by them, and appoints the new, holy, spiritual worship of the gospel, that was to succeed in their room. The Spirit of God, therefore, as bestowed for the introduction 24of the new gospel state in truth and worship, is the “heavenly gift” here intended. Thus our apostle warneth these Hebrews that they “turn not away from him who speaketh from heaven,” chap. xii. 25, — that is, from Jesus Christ speaking in the dispensation of the gospel by the “Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” And there is an antithesis included herein between the law and the gospel, the former being given on earth, the latter being immediately from heaven. God, in giving of the law, made use of the ministry of angels, and that on the earth; but he gave the gospel church-state by that Spirit which, although he worketh in men on earth, and is said in every act or work to be sent from heaven, yet is he still in heaven, and always speaketh from thence, as our Saviour said of himself with respect unto his divine nature, John iii. 13.
2. We may inquire what it is to “taste” of this heavenly gift, The expression of “tasting” is metaphorical, and signifies no more but to make a trial or experiment; for so we do by tasting naturally and properly of that which is tendered unto us to eat. We taste such things by the sense given us to discern our food, and then either receive or refuse them, as we find occasion. It doth not therefore include eating, much less digestion and turning into nourishment of what is so tasted; for its nature being only thereby discerned, it may be refused, yea, though we like its relish and savour, upon some other consideration. Some have observed, that “to taste is as much as to eat; as 2 Sam. iii. 35, ‘I will not taste bread, or ought else.’ “But the meaning is, “I will not so much as taste it,” whence it was impossible he should eat it. And when Jonathan says that he only tasted a little of the honey, 1 Sam. xiv. 29, it was an excuse and extenuation of what he had done. But it is unquestionably used for some kind of experience of the nature of things: Prov. xxxi. 18, טָעֲמָה כּי טוֹב סַחְרָהּ — “She tasteth that her merchandise is good,” or hath experience of it, from its increase. Ps. xxxiv. 8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good;” which Peter respects, 1 Pet. ii. 3, “If so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious,” or found it so by experience. It is therefore properly to make an experiment or trial of any thing, whether it be received or refused, and is sometimes opposed to eating and digestion, as Matt. xxvii. 34. That, therefore, which is ascribed unto these persons is, that they had had an experience of the power of the Holy Ghost, that gift of God, in the dispensation of the gospel, the revelation of the truth, and institution of the spiritual worship of it, Of this state, and of the excellency of it, they had made some trial and had some experience; a privilege that all men were not made partakers of. And by this taste they were convinced that it was far more excellent than what they had been before accustomed unto, although now 25they had a mind to leave the finest wheat for their old acorns Wherefore, although tasting contains a diminution in it, if compared with that spiritual eating and drinking, with that digestion of gospel truths, turning them into nourishment, which are in true believers, yet, absolutely considered, it denotes that apprehension and experience of the excellency of the gospel as administered by the Spirit, which is a great privilege and spiritual advantage, the contempt whereof will prove an unspeakable aggravation of the sin, and the remediless ruin of apostates The meaning, then, of this character given concerning these apostates is, that they had some experience of the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit from heaven, in gospel administrations and worship. For what some say of faith, it hath here no place; and what others affirm of Christ, and his being the gift of God, comes in the issue unto what we have proposed. And we may observe, farther to clear the design of the apostle in this commination, —
I. That all the gifts of God under the gospel are peculiarly heavenly, John iii. 12; Eph. i. 3; — and that in opposition, 1. To earthly things, Col. iii. 1, 2, ii.. To carnal ordinances, Heb. ix. 23. Let them beware by whom they are despised.
II. The Holy Ghost, for the remission of the mysteries of the gospel, and the institution of the ordinances of spiritual worship, is the great gift of God under the new testament.
III. There is a goodness and excellency in this heavenly gift which may be tasted or experienced in some measure by such as never receive them in their life, power, and efficacy. They may taste, — 1. Of the word in its truth, not its power; 2. Of the worship of the church in its outward order, not in its inward beauty; 3. Of the gifts of the church, not its graces.
IV. A rejection of the gospel, its truth and worship, after some experience had of their worth and excellency, is a high aggravation of sin, and a certain presage of destruction.
The third property whereby these persons are described is added in these words, Καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας Πνεύματος ἁγίου, — “And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” This is placed in the middle or centre of the privileges enumerated, two preceding it and two following after, as that which is the root and animating principle of them all. They all are effects of the Holy Ghost, in his gifts or his graces, and so do depend on the participation of him. Now, men do so partake of the Holy Ghost as they do receive him; and he may be received either as unto personal inhabitation or as unto spiritual operations. In the first way, “the world cannot receive him,” John xiv. 17, — where the world is opposed unto true believers; and therefore those here intended were not in that sense partakers of 26him. His operations respect his gifts. So to partake of him is to have a part, share, or portion in what he distributes by way of spiritual gifts; in answer unto that expression, “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will,” 1 Cor. xii. 11. So Peter told Simon the magician that he had no part in spiritual gifts; he was not partaker of the Holy Ghost, Acts viii. 21. Wherefore, to be partaker of the Holy Ghost is to have a share in and benefit of his spiritual operations.
But whereas the other things mentioned are also gifts or operations of the Holy Ghost, on what ground or for what reason is this mentioned here in particular, that they were “made partakers of him,” which, if his operations only be intended, seems to be expressed in the other instances?
Ans. 1. It is, as we observed before, no unusual thing in the Scripture to express the same thing under various notions, the more effectually to impress a consideration and sense of it on our mind, especially where an expression hath a singular emphasis in it, as this hath here used; for it is an exceeding aggravation of the sins of those apostates, that in these things they were “partakers of the Holy Ghost.”
2. As was before intimated also, this participation of the Holy Ghost is placed, it may be, in the midst of the several parts of this description, as that whereon they do all depend, and that they are all but instances of it. They were “partakers of the Holy Ghost” in that they were “once enlightened;” and so of the rest.
3. It expresseth their own personal interest in these things. They had an interest in the things mentioned not only objectively, as they were proposed and presented to them in the church, but subjectively, as they themselves in their own persons were made partakers of them. It is one thing for a man to have a share in and benefit by the gifts of the church, another to be personally himself endowed with them.
4. To mind them in an especial manner of the privilege, they enjoyed under the gospel, above what they had in their Judaism: for whereas they had not then so much as heard that there was a Holy Ghost, — that is, a blessed dispensation of him in spiritual gifts, Acts xix. 2, — now they themselves in their own persons were made partakers of him; than which there could be no greater aggravation of their apostasy. And we may observe, in our way, that the Holy Ghost is present with many as unto powerful operations with whom he is not present as to gracious inhabitation; or, many are made partakers of him in his spiritual gifts who are never made partakers of him in his saving graces, Matt. vii. 22, 23.
Fourthly, It is added in the description, that they had tasted καλὸν Θεοῦ ῥῆμα, “the good word of God.” And we must inquire, — 271. What is meant by the “word of God;” 2. How it is said to be “good;” and, 3. In what sense they “taste” of it.
1. Ῥῆμα is properly “verbum dictum,” a word spoken; and although it be sometimes used in another sense by our apostle, and by him alone, — Heb. i. 3, xi. 3, where it denotes the effectual active power of God, — yet both the signification of the word and its principal use elsewhere denote words spoken, and, when applied unto God, his word as preached and declared. See Rom. x. 17; John vi. 68. The word of God, — that is, the word of the gospel as preached, — is that which they thus tasted of. But it may be said, that they enjoyed the word of God in their state of Judaism. They did so as to the written word, for “unto them were committed the oracles of God,” Rom. iii. 2; but it is the word of God as preached in the dispensation of the gospel that is eminently thus called, and concerning which such excellent things are spoken, Rom. i. 16; Acts xx. 32; James i. 21.
2. This word is said to be καλόν, “good,” desirable, amiable, as the word here used signifieth. Wherein it is so we shall see immediately. But whereas the word of God preached under the dispensation of the gospel may be considered two ways, — (1.) In general, as to the whole system of truths contained therein; and, (2.) In especial, for the declaration made of the accomplishment of the promise in sending Jesus Christ for the redemption of the church, — it is here especially intended in this latter sense. This is emphatically called ῥῆμα Κυρίου, 1 Pet. i. 25. So the promise of God in particular is called his “good word:” Jer. xxix. 10, “After seventy years be accomplished I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you;” as he calls it the “good thing that he had promised,” chap. xxxiii. 14. The gospel is the “good tidings” of peace and salvation by Jesus Christ, Isa. lii. 7.
3. Hereof they are said to “taste,” as they were before of the heavenly gift. The apostle, as it were, studiously keeps himself to this expression, on purpose to manifest that he intendeth not those who by faith do really receive, feed, and live on Jesus Christ as tendered in the word of the gospel, John vi. 35, 49–51, 54–56. It is as if he had said, “I speak not of those who have received and digested the spiritual food of their souls, and turned it into spiritual nourishment, but of such as have so far tasted of it as that they ought to have desired it as sincere milk, to have grown thereby; but they had received such an experiment of its divine truth and power as that it had various effects upon them.” And for the farther explication of these words, and therein of the description of the state of these supposed apostates, we may consider the ensuing observations, which declare the sense of the words, or what is contained in them.
28I. There is a goodness and excellency in the word of God able to attract and affect the minds of men who yet never arrive at sincere obedience unto it.
II. There is an especial goodness in the word of the promise concerning Jesus Christ and the declaration of its accomplishment.
For the first of these propositions, we may inquire what is that goodness, and wherein it doth consist; as also, how apostatizing backsliders may taste thereof: which things tend to the explanation of the words, and what is designed by the apostle in them.
1. (1.) This goodness and excellency of the word of God consists in its spiritual, heavenly truth. All truth is beautiful and desirable; the perfection of the minds of men consists in the reception of it and conformity unto it; and although “true” be one consideration of any thing, and “good” another, yet they are inseparable properties of the same subject. Whatever is true is also good. So are these things put together by the apostle, Phil. iv. 8. And as truth is good in itself, so is it in its effects on the minds of men; it gives them peace, satisfaction, and contentment. Darkness, errors, falsehood, are evils in themselves, and fill the minds of men with vanity, uncertainty, superstition, dread, and bondage. It is truth that makes the soul free in any kind, John viii. 32. Now, the word of God is the only pure, unmixed, and solid truth: “Thy word is truth,” John xvii. 17. In most other things, as to the best evidence attainable, men wander in the wilderness of endless conjectures. The truth of the word of God alone is stable, firm, infallible; which gives rest to the soul. As God is a “God of truth,” Deut. xxxii. 4, the “only true God,” John xvii. 3, so he is, and he alone is, essentially truth, and the eternal spring of it unto all other things. Hereof is this word the only revelation. How excellent, how desirable, therefore, must it needs be! and what a goodness, to be preferred above all other things, must it be accompanied withal! As it is infallible truth, giving light to the eyes and rest to the soul, it is the “good word of God.”
(2.) It is so in the matter of it, or the doctrines contained in it; as, — [1.] The nature and properties of God are declared therein. God being the only good, the only fountain and cause of all goodness, and in whose enjoyment all rest and blessedness do consist, the revelation made of him, his nature and attributes, reflects a singular goodness on it, John xvii. 3. If it be incomparably better to know God than to enjoy the whole world and all that is in it, that word must be good whereby he is revealed unto us, Jer. ix. 23, 24. [2.] It is exceeding good in the revelation of the glorious mystery of the Trinity, therein alone contained. This is that mystery the knowledge whereof is the only means to have a right apprehension of all other 29sacred truths; and without it no one of them can be understood in a due manner, nor improved unto a due end. This is that alone which will give true rest and peace to the soul. And there is not the meanest true believer in the world, who is exercised in faith and obedience, but he hath the power of this truth in and upon his mind, though he be not able to speak much of the notions of it. All grace and truth are built hereon and do centre herein, and thence derive their first power and efficacy. Not one saving apprehension can we have of any gracious dispensation of God towards us, but it is resolved into the existence of God in a trinity of persons, and the economy of their operations with respect unto us. It is a “good word” whereby that mystery is revealed. [3.] It is so in the revelation of the whole mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, with all the effects of infinite wisdom and grace thereunto belonging. What a satisfactory goodness this is accompanied withal, it is the most part of my business in this world to inquire and declare. [4.] It is so in the declaration of all the benefits of the mediation of Christ, in mercy, grace, pardon, justification, adoption, etc.
(3.) It is a good word with respect unto its blessed effects, Ps. xix. 7–9; Acts xx. 32; James i. 21. On this account the psalmist assures us that it is “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold;” that it is “sweeter than honey and the honey-comb,” Ps. xix. 10; — that is, there is an incomparable excellency, worth, and goodness in it. And he who discerns not this goodness in the word of God is a stranger unto all real benefits by it.
2. How apostatizing persons do taste of this good word of God may be briefly declared. And their so doing hath respect unto the threefold property of it mentioned, whence it is denominated “good:” (1.) Its truth; (2.) Its subject-matter; (3.) Its effects.
And, — (1.) They taste of it as it is true, in the convictions they have thereof, in their knowledge in it, and acknowledgment of it. This gives (as it is the nature of truth to do) some serenity and satisfaction unto their minds, although they are not renewed thereby. They that heard John preach the truth rejoiced in his light, as finding much present satisfaction therein, John v. 35. So was it with them, Luke iv. 22, John vii. 46, and others innumerable, on the like occasion of hearing our Saviour preach.
When men, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, do escape the pollutions that are in the world through lust, and them that live in error, they taste a goodness, a sweetness, in the rest and satisfaction of their minds, so as that they suppose they are really possessed of the things themselves.
(2.) With respect unto the matter of the word, they have a taste of its goodness in the hopes which they have of their future enjoyment. 30Mercy, pardon, life, immortality, and glory, are all proposed in the “good word of God.” These, upon those grounds which will fail them at last, they have such hopes to be made partakers of as that they find a great relish and satisfaction therein, especially when they have relief thereby against their fears and convictions; for, even in those ways wherein they deceive themselves, they have a taste of what sweetness and goodness there is in these things unto them by whom they are enjoyed. And as those who really believe and receive Jesus Christ in the word do thereon “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” 1 Pet. i. 8, so those who only taste of the word do feel in themselves a great complacency in their affections, Matt. xiii. 20; for, —
(3.) By this taste they may receive many effects of the word on their minds and consciences, and therein have an experience of the word as unto its power and efficacy. It belongs unto the exposition of the place to speak a little hereunto, and withal to declare what the difference is between them, and wherein this tasting comes short of that receiving and feeding on the word by faith which is peculiar unto true believers.
[1.] This taste is accompanied, or it may be so, with delight, pleasure, and satisfaction in hearing of the word preached, especially when it is dispensed by any skillful “master of assemblies,” who finds out “acceptable words,” or “words of delight,” which yet are “upright, and words of truth,” Eccles. xii. 10, 11. So was it with those naughty Jews, Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32; and with Herod, who heard John the Baptist gladly, finding delight and pleasure in his preaching. So was it with multitudes that pressed after Christ to hear the word; and so it is to be feared that it is with many in the days wherein we live.
[2.] It gives not only delight in hearing, but some joy in the things heard. Such are the hearers of the word whom our Saviour compared to the stony ground; they receive it with joy, Matt. xiii. 20, as it was with the hearers of John the Baptist, John v. 35. The word, as tasted only, hath this effect on their minds, that they shall rejoice in the things they hear, not with abiding solid joy, not with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but with that which is temporary and evanid. And this ariseth from that satisfaction which they find in hearing of the good things declared; such are mercy, pardon, grace, immortality, and glory. They cannot but rejoice sometimes at the hearing of them, though they will not be at the pains of getting an interest in them.
[4.] What inward effects it may have on the minds and affections 31of men, in illumination, conviction, and humiliation, I have declared at large elsewhere. But, all this while, this is but tasting. The word of the gospel, and Christ preached therein, is the food of our souls; and true faith cloth not only taste it, but feed upon it, whereby it is turned into grace and spiritual nourishment in the heart. And hereunto is required:— 1st. The laying it up, or treasuring of it in the heart, Luke i. 66, ii. 19. No nourishment will ever be obtained by food unless it be received into the stomach, where the means and causes of digestion and communication are placed; and if the word be not placed in the heart by fixed meditation and delight, it may please for a season, but it will not nourish the soul. 2dly. Food must be mixed and incorporated with the digestive humour, power, and faculty of the stomach, whereinsoever it consists, or it will not nourish. Give a man never so much food, if there be any noxious humour in the stomach hindering it from mixing itself with the means of digestion, it will no way profit him; and until the word in the heart be mixed and incorporated with faith, it will not advantage us, Heb. iv. 2; — and there is nothing hereof where there is a taste of the word only. 3dly. When men feed on the word, it is turned into a principle of life, spiritual strength, and growth within; which a taste of it only will not give. As food, when it is digested, turns into flesh and blood and spirits, so doth the word, and Christ therein, unto the souls of men spiritually. Hence Christ becometh “our life,” and “liveth in us,” as the efficient cause of our spiritual life, Gal. ii. 20; Col. iii. 3; and we grow and increase by the word, 1 Pet. ii. 2. A mere taste, though it may yield present refreshment, yet it communicates no abiding strength. Hence multitudes relish the word when it is preached, but never attain life, or strength, or growth by it. 4thly. The word received as it ought will transform the soul into the likeness of God, who sends us this food to change our whole spiritual constitution, and to render our nature like unto his, in “righteousness and true holiness,” Eph. iv. 21–24; 2 Cor. iii. 18. This a taste only will effect nothing towards; nor, to conclude, will it give us such a love of the truth as to abide by it in trials or temptations, 2 Thess. ii. 10, nor bring forth the fruits of it in universal obedience. And I might farther discourse from hence of the deplorable condition of them who satisfy their minds in mere notions of the truth, and empty speculations about it, without once attaining so much as a taste of the goodness of the word, — of which sort there are many in the world; as also show the necessity, which all the hearers of the word lie under, of a severe scrutiny into their own souls, whether they do not rest in a taste only of the word, but come short of feeding upon it and of Christ therein, but that I must not divert from the text. What hath been here spoken was needful to 32declare the true state and condition of the persons spoken of. The second proposition mentioned hath been treated of elsewhere.
Lastly, It is added, Δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος, — “And the powers of the world to come.” Δυνάμεις are הַגְּבוּרוֹת or נִפְלָאוֹת, the mighty, great, miraculous operations and works of the Holy Ghost. What they were, and how they were wrought among these Hebrews, hath been declared in our Exposition on chap. ii. 4, whither I refer the reader; and they are known from the Acts of the Apostles, where sundry instances of them are recorded. I have also proved on that chapter, that by “The world to come,” our apostle in this epistle intends the days of the Messiah, that being the usual name of it in the church at that time, as the new world which God had promised to create. Wherefore these “powers of the world to come” were the gifts whereby those signs, wonders, and mighty works, were then wrought by the Holy Ghost, according as it was foretold by the prophets that they should be so. See Joel ii. 28–32 compared with Acts ii. 16–21. These the persons spoken of are supposed to have tasted, for the particle τε refers to γευσαμένους foregoing. Either they had been wrought in and by themselves, or by others in their sight, whereby they had had an experience of the glorious and powerful working of the Holy Ghost in the confirmation of the gospel. Yea, I do judge that themselves in their own persons were partakers of these powers, in the gift of tongues and other miraculous operations; which was the highest aggravation possible of their apostasy, and that which peculiarly rendered their recovery, impossible: for there is not in the Scripture an impossibility put upon the recovery of any but such as peculiarly sin against the Holy Ghost; — and although that guilt may be otherwise contracted, yet in none so signally as by this of rejecting that truth which was confirmed by his mighty operations in them that rejected it; which could not be done without an ascription of his divine power unto the devil. Yet would I not fix on extraordinary gifts exclusively unto those that are ordinary. They also are of the “powers of the world to come;” so is every thing that belongs to the erection or preservation of the new world, or the kingdom of Christ. To the first setting up of a kingdom great and mighty power is required; but being set up, the ordinary dispensation of power will preserve it. So it is in this matter. The extraordinary miraculous gifts of the Spirit were used in the erection of Christ’s kingdom, but it is continued by ordinary gifts; which therefore also belong unto the “powers of the world to come.”
From the consideration of this description in all the parts of it, we may understand what sort of persons it is that is here intended by the apostle. And it appears, yea, is evident, —
1. That the persons here intended are not true and sincere believers 33in the strict and proper sense of that name, at least they are not described here as such; so that from hence nothing can be concluded concerning them that are so, as to the possibility of their total and final apostasy: for, — (1.) There is in their full and large description no mention of faith or believing, either expressly or in terms equivalent. And in no other place of the Scripture are such intended, but [except where] they are mentioned by what belongs essentially to their state. And, (2.) There is not any thing ascribed to these persons that is peculiar to them as such, or discriminative of them, as taken either from their especial relation unto God in Christ, or any such property of their own as is not communicable unto others. For instance, they are not said to be called according to God’s purpose; to be born again, not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God; not to be justified, or sanctified, or united unto Christ, or to be the sons of God by adoption; nor have they any other characteristical note of true believers ascribed to them. (3.) They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not so with true believers; for faith itself is an herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and meet for him by whom we are dressed. (4.) The apostle, discoursing afterwards of true believers, doth in many particulars distinguish them from such as might be apostates, which is supposed of the persons here intended, as was in part before declared; for, — [1.] He ascribes unto them in general “better things,” and such as “accompany salvation,” as we observed, verse 9. [2.] He ascribes unto them a “work and labour of love,” as it is true faith alone which worketh by love, verse 10, whereof he speaks not one word concerning these. [3.] He asserts their preservation, on the account, — 1st. Of the righteousness and faithfulness of God, verse 10; 2dly. Of the immutability of his counsel concerning them, verses 17, 18. In all these and sundry other instances doth he put a difference between these apostates and true believers. And whereas the apostle intends to declare the aggravation of their sin in falling away by the principal privileges whereof they were made partakers, here is not one word, in name or thing, of those which he expressly assigns to be the chief privileges of true believers, Rom. viii. 27–30.
2. Our next inquiry is more particularly whom he doth intend; and, — (1.) They were such as not long before were converted from Judaism unto Christianity, upon the evidence of the truth of its doctrine, and the miraculous operations wherewith its dispensation was accompanied. (2.) He intends not the common sort of them, but such as had obtained especial privileges among them; for they had received extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, as speaking with tongues 34or working of miracles. And, (3.) They had found in themselves and others convincing evidences that the kingdom of God and the Messiah, which they called “The world to come,” was come unto them, and had satisfaction in the glories of it. (4.) Such persons as these, as they have a work of light on their minds, so, according unto the efficacy of their convictions, they may have such a change wrought upon their affections and in their conversation, as that they may be of great esteem among professors; and such these here intended might be. Now, it must needs be some horrible frame of spirit, some malicious enmity against the truth and holiness of Christ and the gospel, some violent love of sin and the world, that could turn off such persons as these from the faith, and blot out all that light and conviction of truth which they had received. But the least grace is a better security for heaven than the greatest or privileges whatever.
These are the persons concerning whom our apostle discourseth; and of them it is supposed by him that they may “fall away,” καὶ παραπεσόντας. The especial nature of the sin here intended is afterward declared in two instances or aggravating circumstances. This word expresseth the respect it had to the state and condition of the sinners themselves; they “fall away,” — do that whereby they do so. I think we have well expressed the word, “If they shall fall away.” Our old translations rendered it only, “If they shall fall,” which expressed not the sense of the word, and was liable unto a sense not at all intended; for he doth not say, “If they shall fall into sin,” this or that, or any sin whatever that can be named, suppose the greatest sin imaginable, — namely, the denial of Christ in the time of danger and persecution. This was that sin (as we intimated before) about which so many contests were raised of old, and so many canons were multiplied about the ordering of them who had contracted the guilt thereof. But one example, well considered, had been a better guide for them than all their own arbitrary rules and imaginations.
But Peter fell into this sin, and yet was renewed again to repentance, and that speedily. Wherefore we may lay down this, in the first place, as to the sense of the words: There is no particular sin that any man may fall into occasionally, through the power of temptation, that can cast the sinner under this commination, so that it should be impossible to renew him to repentance. It must, therefore, secondly, be a course of sin or sinning that is intended. But there are various degrees herein also, yea, there are divers kinds of such courses in sin. A man may so fall into a way of sin as still to retain in his mind such a principle of light and conviction as may be suitable to his recovery. To exclude such from all hopes of repentance is expressly contrary to Ezek. xviii. 21, Isa. lv. 7, yea, and to the whole sense of 35the Scripture. Wherefore, men, after some conviction and reformation of life, may fall into corrupt and wicked courses, and make a long abode or continuance in them. Examples hereof we have every day amongst us, although, it may be, none to parallel that of Manasseh. Consider the nature of his education under his father Hezekiah, the greatness of his sins, the length of his continuance in them, with his following recovery, and he is a great instance in this case. Whilst there is in such persons any seed of light, or conviction of truth which is capable of an excitation or revival, so as to put forth its power and efficacy in their souls, they cannot be looked on to be in the condition intended, though their case be dangerous.
3. Our apostle makes a distinction between πταίω and πίπτω, Rom. xi. 11, between “stumbling” and “falling,” and would not allow that the unbelieving Jews of those days were come so far as πίπτειν, — that is, to fall absolutely: Λέγω οὖν, Μὴ ἔπταισαν ἵνα πέσωσι; μὴ γένοιτο· — “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid!” that is, absolutely and irrecoverably. So, therefore, doth that word signify in this place. And παραπίπτω increaseth the signification, either as to perverseness in the manner of the fall, or as to violence in the fall itself.
From what hath been discoursed, it will appear what falling away it is that the apostle here intendeth. And, —
(1.) It is not a falling into this or that actual sin, be it of what nature it will; which may be, and yet not be a “falling away.”
(2.) It is not a falling upon temptation or surprisal, for concerning such fallings we have rules of another kind given us in sundry places, and those exemplified in especial instances; but it is that which is premeditated, of deliberation and choice.
(3.) It is not a falling by relinquishment or renunciation of some, though very material, principles of Christian religion, by error or seduction, as the Corinthians fell in denying the resurrection of the dead, and the Galatians by denying justification by faith in Christ alone. Wherefore, —
(4.) It must consist in a total renunciation of all the constituent principles and doctrines of Christianity, whence it is denominated. Such was the sin of them who relinquished the gospel to return unto Judaism, as it was then stated, in opposition unto it and hatred of it. This it was, and not any kind of actual sins, that the apostle manifestly discourseth concerning.
(5.) For the completing of this falling away, according to the intention of the apostle, it is required that this renunciation be avowed and professed, as when a man forsaketh the profession of the gospel and falls into Judaism, or Mohammedanism, or Gentilism, in persuasion and practice; for the apostle discourseth concerning faith and obedience 36as professed, and so, therefore, also of their contraries. And this avowment of a relinquishment of the gospel hath many provoking aggravations attending it. And yet whereas some men may in their hearts and minds utterly renounce the gospel, but, upon some outward, secular considerations, either dare not or will not profess that inward renunciation, their falling away is complete and total in the sight of God; and all they do to cover their apostasy, in an external compliance with Christian religion, is in the sight of God but a mocking of him, and the highest aggravation of their sin.
This is the “falling away” intended by the apostle, — a voluntary, resolved relinquishment of, and apostasy from, the gospel, the faith, rule, and obedience thereof; which cannot be without casting the highest reproach and contumely imaginable upon the person of Christ himself, as it is afterward expressed.
Concerning these persons, and their thus “falling away,” two things are to be considered in the text:— 1. What is affirmed of them; 2. The reason of that affirmation.
1. The first is, That it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. The thing intended is negative; to “renew them again unto repentance,” this is denied of them. But the modification of that negation turns the proposition into an affirmation, “It is impossible so to do.”
Ἀδύνατον γὰρ. The importance [import] of this word is dubious; some think an absolute, and others only a moral impossibility is intended thereby. This latter most fix upon, so that it is a matter rare, difficult, and seldom to be expected, that is intended, and not that which is absolutely impossible. Considerable reasons and instances are produced for either interpretation. But we must look farther into the meaning of it.
(1.) All future events depend on God, who alone doth necessarily exist. Other things may be or may not be, as they respect him or his will; and so things that are future may be said to be impossible, to be so either with respect unto the nature of God, or his decrees, or his moral rule, order, and law. Things are impossible with respect unto the nature of God, either absolutely, as being inconsistent with his being and essential properties; so it is impossible that God should lie; — or on some supposition; so it is impossible that God should forgive sin without satisfaction, on the supposition of his law and the sanction of it. In this sense, the repentance of these apostates, it may be, is not impossible. I say it may be. It may be there is nothing in it contrary to any essential properties of the nature of God, either directly or reductively, but I will not be positive herein; for the things ascribed unto these apostates are such, — namely, their “crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to 37an open shame,” — as that I know not but that it may be contrary to the holiness, and righteousness, and glory of God, as the supreme ruler of the world, to have any more mercy on them than on the devils themselves or those that are in hell But I will not assert this to be the meaning of the place.
(2.) Again; things possible in themselves and with respect unto the nature of God are rendered impossible by God’s decree and purpose; he hath absolutely determined that they shall never be. So it was impossible that Saul and his posterity should be preserved in the kingdom of Israel It was not contrary to the nature of God, but God had decreed that it should not be, 1 Sam. xv. 28, 29. But the decrees of God respecting persons in particular, and not qualifications in the first place, they cannot be here intended; because they are free acts of his win, not revealed, neither in particular nor by virtue of any general rule, as they are sovereign acts, making differences between persons in the same condition, Rom. ix. 11, 12. What is possible or impossible with respect unto the nature of God we may know in some good measure, from the certain knowledge we may have of his being and essential properties; but what is so, one way or other, with respect unto his decrees or purposes, which are sovereign, free acts of his will, knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, Isa. xl. 13, 14; Rom. xi. 34.
(3.) Things are possible or impossible with respect unto the rule and order of all things that God hath appointed. When in things of duty God hath neither expressly commanded them, nor appointed means for the performance of them, then are we to look upon them as impossible; and then, with respect unto us, they are so absolutely, and so to be esteemed. And this is the impossibility here principally intended. It is a thing that God hath neither commanded us to endeavour, nor appointed means to attain it, nor promised to assist us in it. It is therefore that which we have no reason to look after, attempt, or expect, as being not possible by any law, rule, or constitution of God.
The apostle instructs us no farther in the nature of future events but as our own duty is concerned in them. It is not for us either to look, or hope, or pray for, or endeavour the renewal of such persons unto repentance. God gives law unto us in these things, not unto himself. It may be possible with God, for ought we know, if there be not a contradiction in it unto any holy properties of his nature; only he will not have us to expect any such things from him, nor hath he appointed any means for us to endeavour it. What he shall do we ought thankfully to accept; but our own duty towards such persons is absolutely at an end, — and indeed they put themselves wholly out of our reach.
38That which is said to be thus impossible with respect unto these persons is, πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν, “to renew them again unto repentance.” Μετάνοια in the New Testament, with respect unto God, signifies a “gracious change of mind” on gospel principles and promises, leading the whole soul into conversion unto God. תְּשׁוּבָה, this is the beginning and entrance of our turning to God, without which neither the will nor the affections will be engaged unto him, nor is it possible for sinners to find acceptance with him.
It is impossible ἀνακαινίζειν, “to renew.” The construction of the words is defective, and must be supplied. Σέ may be added, to renew “themselves,” — it is not possible they should do so: or τινάς, that “some” should, that any should renew them; and this I judge to be intended, for the impossibility mentioned respects the duty and endeavours of others. In vain shall any attempt their recovery, by the use of any means whatever. And we must inquire what it is to be “renewed,” and what it is to be “renewed again.”
Now, our ἀνακαινισμός is the renovation of the image of God in our nature, whereby we are dedicated again unto him; for as we had lost the image of God by sin, and were separated from him as things profane, this ἀνακαινισμός respects both the restoration of our nature and the dedication of our persons to God. And it is twofold:—
(1.) Real and internal, in regeneration and effectual sanctification: “The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Tit. iii. 5; 1 Thess. v. 23. But this is not that which is here intended; for this these apostates never had, and so cannot be said to be renewed again unto it, for no man can be renewed again unto that which he never had.
(2.) It is outward in the profession and pledge of it. Wherefore renovation in this sense consists in the solemn confession of faith and repentance by Jesus Christ, with the seal of baptism received thereon; for thus it was with all those who were converted unto the gospel. Upon their profession of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, they received the baptismal pledge of an inward renovation, though really they were not partakers thereof. But this estate was their ἀνακαινισμός, their renovation. From this state they fell totally, renouncing Him who is the author of it, his grace which is the cause of it, and the ordinance which is the pledge thereof.
Hence it appears what it is πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν, “to renew them again.” It is to bring them again into this state of profession by a second renovation, and a second baptism as a pledge thereof. This is determined impossible, and so unwarrantable for any to attempt; and, for the most part, such persons do openly fall into such blasphemies against, and engage (if they have power) into such persecution 39of the truth, as that they give themselves sufficient direction how others should behave themselves towards them. So the ancient church was satisfied in the case of Julian. This is the sum of what is affirmed concerning these apostates — namely, that “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance;” that is, so to act towards them as to bring them to that repentance whereby they may be instated in their former condition.
Hence sundry things may be observed for the clearing of the apostle’s design in this discourse; as, —
(1.) Here is nothing said concerning the acceptance or refusal of any upon repentance, or the profession thereof after any sin, to be made by the church; whose judgment is to be determined by other rules and circumstances. And this perfectly excludes the pretence of the Novatians from any countenance in these words; for whereas they would have drawn their warranty from hence for the utter exclusion from church communion of all those who had denied the faith in times of persecution, although they expressed a repentance whose sincerity they could not evince, those only are intended who neither do nor can come to repentance itself, nor make a profession of it; with whom the church had no more to do. It is not said that men who ever thus fell away shall not, upon their repentance, be admitted again into their former state in the church, but that such is the severity of God against them that he will not again give them repentance unto life.
(2.) Here is nothing that may be brought in bar against such as, having fallen by any great sin, or any course in sinning, and that after light, convictions, and gifts received and exercised, desire to repent of their sins and endeavour after sincerity therein; yea, such a desire and endeavour exempt any one from the judgment here threatened.
There is therefore in it that which tends greatly to the encouragement of such sinners; for whereas it is here declared, concerning those who are thus rejected of God, that “it is impossible to renew them,” or to do any thing towards them that shall have a tendency unto repentance, those who are not satisfied that they do yet savingly repent, but only are sincerely exercised how they may attain thereunto, have no concernment in this commination, but evidently have the door of mercy still open unto them, for it is shut only against those who shall never endeavour to turn by repentance. And although persons so rejected of God may fall under convictions of their sin, attended with despair (which is unto them a foresight of their future condition), yet as unto the least attempt after repentance, on the terms of the gospel, they do never rise up unto it. Wherefore, the impossibility intended, of what sort soever it be, respects the 40severity of God, not in refusing or rejecting the greatest sinners which seek after and would be renewed unto repentance (which is contrary unto innumerable of his promises); but in the giving up such sinners as these are, here mentioned, unto such obdurateness and obstinacy in sinning, that blindness of mind and hardness of heart, as that they neither will nor shall ever sincerely seek after repentance, nor may any means, according to the mind of God, be used to bring them thereunto. And the righteousness of the exercise of this severity is taken from the nature of this sin, or what is contained in it, which the apostle declares in the ensuing instances. And we may in our passage observe, that, —
In the preaching of the gospel, it is necessary to propose unto men, and to insist on, the severity of God in dealing with provoking sinners against it. And indeed the severity of God is principally, though not solely, exercised with respect unto sins against the gospel. This our apostle calls us to the consideration of in the case of the unbelieving Jews: Rom. xi. 22, Ἴδε οὖν χρηστότητα καὶ ἀποτομίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ· ἐπὶ μὲν τοὺς πεσόντας ἀποτομίαν· — “Behold the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell” (those in the text), “severity.” Ἀποτομία is a sharp direction or cutting off. I do not, therefore, understand by it an essential property of the nature of God. It is not the same with his holiness, righteousness, or vindictive justice. These are essential properties of the divine nature, whence it is that he neither will nor can absolutely suffer men to sin and let them go for ever unpunished, without any satisfaction or atonement made for their sins; whereof we have treated elsewhere. But by God’s “severity” is intended the free act of his will, acting according unto these properties of his nature in an eminent manner, when and how he pleaseth; and therefore into them it is resolved. So our apostle, when he would intimate this severity unto us, to ingenerate in us a holy fear and reverence of God in his worship, adds as his motive, “For our God is a consuming fire,” Heb. xii. 29; that is, of an infinitely pure, holy, righteous nature, according to which he will deal with us, and so may unexpectedly break forth upon us in severity if we labour not for “grace to serve him acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Wherefore, this severity of God is his exemplary dealing with provoking sinners, according to the exigence of his holiness and wisdom, without an interposition of longer patience or forbearance. There are some sins, or degrees in sinning, that neither the holiness, nor majesty, nor wisdom of God can so bear withal as to suffer them to pass unpunished or unremarked on in this world. In such cases is God said to exercise his severity; and he doth so, —
(1.) In extraordinary, outward judgments upon open, profligate sinners, 41especially the enemies of his church and glory. Hence on such an occasion doth God give that description of himself, Nahum i. 2, “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. When God acteth towards his adversaries according to the description here given of himself, he deals with them in severity. And two things are required to make these judgments of God against his adversaries in this world to be instances thereof:— [1.] That they be unusual, such as do not commonly and frequently fall out in the ordinary dispensation of divine providence, Num. xvi. 29, 30. God doth not, in the government of the world, suffer any thing to fall out or come to pass that in the issue shall be contrary to his justice or inconsistent with his righteousness; but yet he beareth with things so, for the most part, as that he will manifest himself to be exceedingly full of patience and long-suffering, as also to exercise the faith of them that believe in the expectation of a future judgment. Wherefore there must be somewhat extraordinary in those judgments wherein God will exercise and manifest severity. So it is expressed, Isa. xxviii. 21, “The Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” The work he will do is his work, but it is his “strange work;” — that is, not strange from or opposite unto his nature, for so he will do nothing; but that which is unusual, which he doth but seldom, and is therefore marvellous. Thus, in sudden destructions of persecutors or persons of a flagitious wickedness, in great desolations of provoking families, cities, and nations, in fire from heaven, in inundations, plagues, earthquakes, and such sudden, extraordinary, consuming judgments, God giveth instances of his severity in the world, Rom. i. 18. [2.] In this case it is required that such judgments be open, visible, and manifest, both unto those who are punished and to others who wisely consider them. So God speaketh of himself, Deut. vii. 10, “God that re-payeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face;” — that is, he will do it openly and manifestly, so that themselves and all others shall take notice of his severity therein. This, I say, is one way whereby God acts his severity in this world. And hereby he poureth everlasting contempt upon the security of his proudest and haughtiest adversaries; for when they think they have sufficiently provided for their own safety, and stopped all avenues of evil, according to the rules of their policy and wisdom, with the best observations they are able to make of the ordinary effects of his providence, and so give up themselves to take satisfaction in their lusts and pleasures, 42he breaks in upon them with an instance and example of his severity to their utter destruction. So, “when they say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman With child; and they shall not escape,” 1 Thess. v. 3. This will be the state one day of the whole Babylonish interest in the world, Rev. xviii. 7–10. But this is not directly intended in this place, although even this effect of God’s severity overtook these apostates afterward.
(2.) In spiritual judgments. By these God in his severity leaveth unprofitable, provoking, and apostate professors under the impossibility here intended of being renewed unto repentance. And this is the sorest of all God’s judgments. There is in it a sentence of eternal damnation denounced on men aforehand in this world. So our apostle tells us, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment,” 1 Tim. v. 24. God so passeth judgment concerning them in this world as that there shall be no alteration in their state and condition to eternity. And this severity of God towards sinners under the gospel, shutting them up under final impenitency, consists in these four things:—
[1.] God puts an end unto all his expectation concerning them; he looks for no more from them, and so exerciseth no more care about them. Whilst God is pleased to afford the use of means for conversion and repentance unto any, he is said to look for and expect answerable fruits: “I did,” saith he, “so and so to my vineyard; and I looked that it should bring forth grapes,” Isa. v. 2, 4. Wherefore, when God takes away all means of grace and repentance from any, then he puts an end unto his own expectation of any fruits; for if a man can have no fruit from his vineyard whilst he dresseth it, or from his field whilst he tilleth it, he will never look for any after he hath given them up and laid them waste. And, on the other side, when he utterly ceaseth to look for any fruit from them, he will till them no more; for why should he put himself to charge or trouble to no purpose? Woe unto the souls of men when God in this sense looks for no more at their hands! — that is, when he puts an end unto that patience or long-suffering towards them from whence all supplies of the means of conversion and repentance do arise and spring. This God doth by some, and that in such ways as we shall afterward declare.
[2.] God will actually punish them with, or inflict on them, hardness of heart and blindness of mind, that they never shall repent or believe: John xii. 39, 40, “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” God 43will now judicially blind them and harden them, and, by one means or other, every thing that befalls them shall promote their induration. So it was with these Jews; the doctrine of Christ filled them with envy, his holiness with malice, and his miracles with rage and madness. Their table was a snare to them, and that which should have been for their good turned to their hurt. So is it with all them whom God in his severity hardeneth. Whether the outward means be continued unto them or no, all is one; every thing shall drive them farther from God, and increase their obstinacy against him. From hence they become scoffers and persecutors, avowedly scorning and hating the truth; and herein, it may be, they shall please themselves until they are swallowed up in despair or the grave.
[3.] God usually in his severity gives them up unto sensual lusts. So he dealt with the idolaters of old: he “gave them up unto vile affections,” Rom. i. 26, such as those there described by the apostle; and in the pursuit of them “gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” verse 28; whence they were “filled with all unrighteousness,” verse 29. So doth God frequently deal with apostates from the gospel, or from the principal truths of it, unto idolatry and superstition. And when they are engaged in the pursuit of these lusts, especially when they are judicially given up unto them, they are held assuredly, as under cords and chains, unto final impenitency.
[4.] God gave such persons up unto Satan, to be blinded, and led by him into pernicious delusions: “Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness,” 2 Thess. ii. 10–12. This was the state and condition of the persons here prophesied of. The truth of the gospel was preached unto them, and for some time professed by them. They received the truth; but they received not the love of it, so as to comply with it and improve it unto its proper end. This kept them barren and unfruitful under their profession; for where the truth is not loved, as well as believed or assented unto, it will bring forth no fruit. But this was not all; they had pleasure in their sins, lusts, and unrighteousnesses, resolving not to part with them on any terms. Whereas, therefore, these are all of them absolutely and without limitation judged and condemned by the truth of the gospel, they began to dislike and secretly to hate the truth itself. But whereas, together with their lusts and unrighteousnesses, wherein they had pleasure, they found a necessity of a religion, one or other, or the pretence of some religion or other, to give them countenance against the truth which they rejected, they were in a readiness to any thing that 44should offer itself unto them. In this condition, in the way of punishment, and as a revenge of their horrible ingratitude and contempt of his gospel, God gives them up to the power of Satan, who blinds, deludes, and deceives them with such efficacy as that they shall not only readily embrace, but obstinately believe and adhere to, the lies, errors, and falsehoods that he shall suggest unto them. And this is the way and course whereby so many carnal gospellers are turned off unto Romish idolatry every day.
Other instances of the severity of God on this occasion might be given, but these are fully sufficient to declare the manner of his dealing with such as those described in the text: whence it follows that their renovation unto repentance is impossible; for what hopes or expectations should we have concerning such as God hath utterly forsaken, whom he hath judicially smitten with blindness and hardness of heart, whom he hath given up not only to the power and efficacy of their own lusts and vile affections, but also immediately unto Satan, to be deluded and led captive at his pleasure? In vain shall the repentance of such persons be either expected or endeavoured.
And this severity of God ought to be preached and insisted on in the declaration of the gospel Let the reader consult what hath been already offered concerning the use of gospel threatenings and comminations on the third and fourth chapters. There is a proneness in corrupted nature to “despise the riches of the goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering of God, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance;” and thereon, “after their hardness and impenitent heart, they treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath,” as our apostle speaks, Rom. ii. 4, 5. Considering nothing in God but mercy and long-suffering, and nothing in the gospel but grace and pardon, they are ready to despise and turn them into lasciviousness, or from them both to countenance themselves in their sins. By this means, on such mistaken apprehensions, suited to their lusts and corrupt inclinations, heightened by the craft of Satan, do multitudes under the preaching of the gospel harden themselves daily to destruction. And others there are who, although they will not on such wicked pretences give up themselves to their lusts and carnal affections, yet, for want of constant vigilancy and watchfulness, are apt to have sloth and negligence, with many ill frames of spirit, to increase and grow upon them. Both sorts are to be stirred up by being put in mind of this severity of God. They are to be taught that there are secret powers, accompanying the dispensation of the gospel, continually “in a readiness to revenge all disobedience,” 2 Cor. x. 6; — that “God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: for he that 45soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting,” Gal. vi. 7, 8. But I have elsewhere already showed the necessity there was of arming the gospel with threatenings, as well as confirming of it with promises, so as that it may not be here again at large insisted on.
From what hath been discoursed, it is evident how necessary and wholesome a warning or threatening is here expressed by the apostle. It is the open mistakes of men that have drawn undue entanglements out of it; in itself it is both plain and necessary. Shall we be afraid to say that God will not renew such sinners as those before described unto repentance? or to declare unto sinners that without repentance they cannot be saved? or shall we preach to men, that whatever light they have had, whatever gifts they have received, whatever privileges they have been made partakers of, whatever profession they have made, or for how long a season soever, if they fall totally and despitefully from the gospel into that which is most opposite both to its truth and holiness, yet there is no doubt but they may again repent and be saved? God forbid so great a wickedness should fall from our mouths! Nay, we are to warn all persons in danger of such apostasies that “if any one so draw back, God’s soul shall have no pleasure in him;” that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” that he will harden such sinners, and “give them up to strong delusions, that they may be damned;” that he is not under the engagement of any promise to give them repentance, but hath rather given many severe threatenings to the contrary. He hath told us that such persons are as “trees twice dead, plucked up by the roots,” of which there is no hope; that “denying the Lord that bought them, they bring on themselves, swift destruction, — whose damnation slumbereth not;” with the like declarations of severity against them innumerable.
But what shall be said unto them who, having through great temptations, and it may be fears and surprises, for a season renounced the gospel, or such as, by reason of great sins against light and backsliding in profession, do apprehend themselves to be fallen into this condition, and yet are greatly desirous of a recovery, and do cry to God for repentance and acceptance? I answer as before, they are not at all concerned in this text. Here is nothing excluding them from acceptance with God and eternal salvation, be they who or what they will that seek it by repentance; only there are some who are excluded by God, and do obstinately shut up themselves from all endeavours after repentance itself, with whom we have not any thing to do.
It is true, those alone are here firstly and directly intended who in 46those days had received extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost. But this, by just analogy, may be extended unto others, now those gifts are ceased in the church; for those gifts and privileges which are yet continued unto men do lay (in present circumstances) the same obligation upon them unto perseverance in profession, and give the same aggravation unto their apostasy, as did those extraordinary gifts formerly conferred upon profession. “Let us not, then, be high-minded, but fear.” It is not good approaching too near a precipice. Let unprofitable hearers and backsliders in heart and ways be awaked, lest they may be nearer falling under God’s severity than they are aware of. But we must return unto our apostle, giving an account of the nature of this sin, which is attended with so sore a judgment. And this he doth in a double instance.
2. Ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ. Beza affirms that ἑαυτοῖς, “to themselves,” is absent from some copies, and then the words may admit of a sense diverse from that which is commonly received; for ἀνασταυροῦντας, “crucifying again;” may refer unto τινάς included and supposed in ἀνακινίζειν, that some or any should renew them. It is impossible that any should renew them to repentance; for this cannot be done without crucifying the Son of God again, since these apostates have utterly rejected all interest in and benefit by his death, as once undergone for sinners. This none can do. We ought not, we cannot, crucify Christ again, that they may be renewed and saved. Who can entertain a thought tending towards a desire that so it might be? And this sense, in the same or an alike case, the apostle plainly expresseth, chap. x. 26, 27, “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Christ cannot be offered again, and so crucified again, without which the sins of such persons cannot be expiated; for the unbloody sacrificing of Christ every day in the mass was not as yet invented, and it is a relief fit only for them to trust unto who have no interest in that sacrifice which he offered once for all. But there is in that other place an allusion to the sacrifices under the law. Because they could legally expiate no sins but what were past before their offering, they were to be frequently repeated, upon reiterated sinning. So from time to time they sinned (as no man liveth and sinneth not), and had sacrifices renewed for their sins, applied unto the particular sins they had committed. This could now be so no more. Christ being once offered for sin, whoever loseth his interest in that one offering, and forfeiteth the benefit of it, there is no more sacrifice for him: “Christ henceforth dieth no more.” It cannot be hence imagined that the grace of the gospel is restrained, as being all confined unto that one sacrifice, from what was represented in the multiplied sacrifices of the law; for, —
47(1.) The one sacrifice of Christ extended farther, as to sins and persons, than all those of the law with all their repetitions put together: “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses,” Acts xiii. 39. There were some sins under the law for which no sacrifice was provided, seeing he who was guilty of them was to die without mercy, as in the cases of murder and adultery, with respect whereunto David saith, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering,” Ps. li. 16, — namely, in such cases as his then was. But, —
(2.) In case of apostasy from the one and the other, the event was the same. There was under the law no sacrifice appointed for him who had totally apostatized from its fundamental principles, or sinned בְיָד חֲזָקָה, “presumptuously,” with a hand high and stubborn. This was that “despising of Moses’ law,” for which those that were guilty thereof were to “die without mercy,” Heb. x. 28. And so it is under the gospel. Willful apostates forfeiting all their interest in the sacrifice of Christ, there is no relief appointed for them, but God will cut them off and destroy them; as shall, God willing, be declared on that place. And this may be the sense of the words, supposing ἑαυτοῖς not to belong originally unto this place. God hath confined all hopes of mercy, grace, and salvation, unto the one single offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This our apostle insisteth on and presseth, chap. ix. 25–28, x. 12, 14. Infinite wisdom and sovereign pleasure have centered all grace, mercy, and blessedness in him alone, John i. 14, 16, 17; Acts iv. 12; Col. i. 19. And this “one offering” of his is so sufficient and effectually powerful unto all that by faith seek an interest therein, that this restraint is no restraint, nor hath any sinner the least cause to complain of it. If they reject and despise it, it is their own fault, and at their own peril; nor is it the reiterated sacrifice of the mass, or whatever else they may betake themselves unto, that will afford them any relief.
But the word is constant enough in ancient copies to maintain its own station, and the context requires its continuance; and this makes the work of “crucifying again” to be the act of the apostates themselves, and to be asserted as that which belongs unto their sin, and not denied as belonging to a relief from their sin: “They crucify him again to themselves.” They do it not really, they cannot do so; but they do it to themselves morally. This is in their sin of falling away, part of it comprised in it, which renders it unpardonable; they again crucify the Son of God, not absolutely, but in and to themselves.
And we must inquire how they did it, or in what sense it is by 48the apostle charged on them. Now, this (to omit all other things that may be thought to concur herein) was —
(1.) Principally by an accession in suffrage unto them who had crucified him once before. Hereby they went over the same work with them, and did that for their own parts which the others had done before for theirs. They approved of and justified the fact of the Jews in crucifying him as a malefactor; for there is no medium between these things. The Lord Christ must be esteemed to be the Son of God, and consequently his gospel to be indispensably obeyed, or be supposed to be justly crucified as a seducer, a blasphemer, and a malefactor; for professing himself to be the Son of God, and witnessing that confession unto his death, he must be so received or rejected as an evil-doer. And this was done by these apostates; for, going over to the Jews, they approved of what they had done in crucifying of him as such an one.
(2.) They did it by declaring, that having made trial of him, his gospel and ways, they found nothing of substance, truth, or goodness in them, for which they should continue their profession. Thus that famous or infamous apostate, Julian the emperor, gave this as the motto of his apostasy, Ἀνέγνων, ἔγνων, κατέγνων, — “I have read, known, and condemned” your Gospel. And this hath been the way of apostates in all ages. In the primitive times they were the Gentiles’ intelligencers, and, like the spies of old, brought up a false report upon the land; for they were not satisfied, for the most part, to declare their disapprobation of what was really taught, believed, and practised among the Christians, but, the more to countenance their apostasy, not only invidiously represented and odiously traduced what was really professed, but withal invented lies and calumnies about conspiracies, seditions, and inconsistencies with public peace among them, so [as], if it were possible, to ruin the whole interest and all that belonged unto it. This is to “crucify Christ afresh, and to put him to an open shame.” And such is the manner of them unto this day. If any have made an accession to the more intimate duties of religion, as prayer and preaching, by virtue of spiritual gifts, with other acts of mutual spiritual communion, which the generality of men concern not themselves in, when, in compliance with their occasions and temptations, they fall from them and renounce them, they aim at nothing more than, by malicious, scurrilous representations of them, and false additions unto them of things perverse or ridiculous, to expose them to open shame and ignominy. Their language is, Ἀνέγνωμεν, ἔγνωμεν, κατέγνωμεν, — “We have known and tried these things, and declare their folly;” so hoping to be believed, because of their pretended experience, which alone is sufficient to render them suspected with all persons of wisdom and sobriety. Now, 49no man living can attempt a higher dishonour against Jesus Christ, in his person or in any of his ways, than openly to profess that upon trial of them they find nothing in them for which they should be desired. But “it had been better for such persons not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”
And this is the first aggravation of the sin mentioned, taken from the act ascribed unto the sinners, “they crucify him again;” they do it as much as in them lieth, and declare that they would actually do it if it were in their power. He adds another from the consideration of the person who was thus treated by them. It was the “Son of God” whom they dealt thus withal. This they did, not when he had “emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation,” so that it was not an easy matter to look through all the veils of his outward weakness and condition in this world, to “behold his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father” (in which state he was crucified by the Jews); but now when he had been “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” and when his divinity was variously attested unto in the world and among themselves. And this is the great aggravation of sin against the gospel, namely, of unbelief, that it is immediately against the “Son of God.” His person is despised in it, both absolutely and in the discharge of all his offices; and therefore is God himself so, because he hath nothing to do with us but by his Son. Thirdly, The apostle adds, as another aggravation of their sin, καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας, “exposing him again to public ignominy,” or “shame.” Παραδειγματίζω is to bring any supposed offenders unto such open punishment as is shameful in the eyes of men, and renders them vile who are so traduced and punished. The word is but once more used in the New Testament, namely, Matt. i. 19, where it is spoken of Joseph in reference unto his espoused wife, the holy Virgin: Μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν παραδειγματίσαι, — “Not willing to make her a public example;” that is, by bringing of her forth unto a shameful punishment, for the terror of others.
According unto this sense, our apostle, expressing the death of Christ as inflicted by men, reduces the evils that accompanied it unto two heads, — (1.) The pain of it; and, (2.) The shame: Heb. xii. 2, “He endured the cross and despised the shame;” for as the death of the cross was penal, or painful and dolorous, so in the manner of it, in all its circumstances of time, place, person, it was most highly shameful. He was in it παραδειγματισθείς, “ignominiously traduced,” or “put to an open shame;” yes, the death of the cross amongst all people was peculiarly shameful. Thus in calling over his death in this place, he refers it unto the same heads of suffering and shame, 50— “crucifying him,” and “putting him to an open shame.” And in this latter he was not spared by these apostates more than in the former, so far as it lay in their power.
And hence we may raise a sufficient answer unto an objection of no small importance that ariseth against our exposition of this place: for it may be said, “That if those, or many of them, or any of them, who actually and really crucified the Son of God in his own person, and put him to open shame, did yet obtain mercy and pardon of that and all other sins, as it is confessed they did, whence is it that those who renounce him, and do so crucify him and put him to shame only metaphorically and to themselves, should be excluded from all hopes of repentance and pardon?”
I answer, That the sin of those who forsake Christ and the gospel, after their conviction of its truth and profession of it, is on many accounts far greater than that of those who crucified him in the days of his flesh. And there are sundry reasons whereon God will exercise more severity towards this latter sort of sinners than towards the former:—
1. The sin is greater, because no way to be extenuated by ignorance. This is everywhere allowed as that which made the sin of crucifying of Christ pardonable upon their repentance, and their repentance possible. So Peter, in his sermon to them, lays down this as the foundation of his exhortation unto repentance: “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers,” Acts iii. 17. “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” 1 Cor. ii. 8; which our apostle pleads also in his own case, 1 Tim. i. 13. This put their sin among the number of those which sacrifices were allowed for of old, and which fell under the care of Him who knows how to have “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.”
But it may be inquired, “How they could be excused by ignorance who had so many means and evidences of conviction as to the truth of his person, that he was the Messiah, and of his doctrine, that it was from heaven? for besides the concurrent testimony of Moses and the prophets given unto him, the holiness of his person and life, the efficacy of his doctrine, and the evidence of his miracles, did abundantly prove and confirm the truth of those things, go that they could be no otherwise ignorant but by willful obstinacy.”
Ans. First, These were indeed such means of conviction as that their sin and unbelief against them had no real excuse, as himself everywhere expresseth, John xv. 22, xii. 47, 48, x. 36–38. Secondly, Nothing is allowed unto this ignorance, but that it left their repentance possible and their sin pardonable. Thirdly, This it will do until God hath used all the means of conviction which he intendeth, 51and no longer. This as yet he had not done. He had yet two farther testimonies unto the truth which he would graciously afford: First, His resurrection from the dead, Rom. i. 4, which was always afterward pleaded as the principal evidence of God’s approbation of him; Second, The effusion of the Holy Spirit in his miraculous operations, Acts ii. 32, 33, v. 32; 1 Tim. iii. 16. But where at any time God hath granted all the means of conviction that he pleaseth, be they ordinary or extraordinary, if they are rejected, there is no hope, Luke xvi. 29–31. On the other side, this sin of rejecting Christ and the gospel after profession is absolutely willful and with a high hand, against all the light and conviction that God will give of the truth unto any of the children of men in this world.
2. These persons had an experience of the truth, goodness, and excellency of the gospel, which those others had not, nor could have; for they had “tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” and had received great satisfaction in the things they were convinced of, as was before at large declared. Wherefore, in their rejection of him and them, an unconquerable hatred and malice must be granted to be predominant. And let men take heed what they do when they begin to sin against their own experience, for evil lies at the door.
3. In and under the crucifying of the Lord Christ God had yet a design of mercy and grace, to be communicated unto men by the dispensation of his Spirit. Therefore there was a way set open unto those who were guilty of that sin to repentance and pardon. But now, having made use of this also, that being sinned against, there is no place left for any thing but severity. Wherefore, —
4. There was in the sin of these persons blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; for they had received in themselves, or seen in others, those mighty operations of his whereby he gave attestation unto Christ and the gospel. Therefore they could not renounce the Lord Christ without an ascription of these works of the Holy Ghost unto the devil, which the devil acted them unto. So saith our apostle, “No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus anathema,” or “accursed,” 1 Cor. xii. 3. To call him anathema is to declare and avow that he was justly crucified as an accursed person, as a public. This was done by these persons who went over to the Jews, in approbation of what they had done against him. This no man can do speaking by the Holy Ghost, — that is, whosoever doth so is acted by the spirit of the devil; and if he have known the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the contrary, he doth it in despite of him, which renders the sin irremissible.
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