An Exhortation to Progress and Steadfastness in the Faith. Heb. 6, 1-20.

Christians should make progress in knowledge: V.1. Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, v.2. of the doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment. V.3. And this will we do if God permit. The inspired writer continues the digression which began chap. 5, 11, in which he administers a sharp rebuke on account of spiritual sluggishness, warns against apostasy from the faith, and exhorts his readers to strive with great earnestness for the further growth and secure retention of the full certainty of their Christian hope. The first words of this chapter substantiate the last remark of the preceding chapter: Wherefore, leaving the doctrine of the beginning of Christ behind, let us be carried on to perfection, not laying the foundation over again of repentance from dead works and faith in God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of the laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. Because the Jewish Christians of Palestine, in spite of the many advantages they had enjoyed, were yet so sluggish in spiritual matters, and because, on the other hand, it could well be expected of them that they should leave behind them the state of spiritual childhood and immaturity, therefore the writer includes this exhortation. They were to leave the elements, the fundamentals of the Christian doctrine behind them and pass on to perfection. To this state they should permit themselves to be carried forward, they should surrender to the influence of the Word in its action upon their heart and mind, their will and their intellect. It should not be necessary again and again to lay the foundation of repentance and faith, and of all the simple instruction with which they might be expected to be familiar by this time.

This point is now analyzed. Repentance from dead works, as produced in men that are themselves spiritually dead, faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, the doctrine of baptisms, of Christian Baptism in its relation to Jewish washings, 1 Pet. 3, 21, of the laying on of hands in the case of the newly baptized, in order to transmit to them the gift of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8, 17-19; 19, 6, of the resurrection of the dead, and of the eternal judgment: all these are the material of which the foundation of Christian knowledge is composed and upon which Christian perfection is based. This material is divided into three groups, joined as pairs, the first two designating the fundamental demand of the Christian life, the next the beginning, the last its object or goal. Repentance and faith are the prerequisites for the Christian life; they mark a person’s turning from spiritual darkness to the light of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Through Baptism the convert became a member of the Church, receiving also, through the laying on of hands, such endowments as fitted him for service in the house of God. He looks forward, finally, to the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment; for this signifies to every believer the consummation of the glory which shall never end. With encouraging frankness the writer adds: And this we shall do if the Lord permits. He wants to press on toward perfection, to the maturity which was fitting for Christians that had had the advantages which his readers had enjoyed. At the same time he knows, not only that his success in this venture depends entirely upon God’s will, but also that it is by no means self-evident that God will permit this plan to be carried out. There may be difficulties of a very peculiar nature in the way, which might hinder the project altogether, as becomes evident in the next paragraph.

A warning against denial of the faith: V.4. 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, v.5. and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, v.6. if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. V.7. For the earth, which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; v.8. but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. Here we have the reason why progress and growth cannot be thought of in the case of certain people: For it is impossible that people that have once been enlightened, having tasted as well the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted the excellent Word of God and the powers of the world to come, and then having fallen away, may be renewed unto repentance, because they crucify the Son of God to themselves and hold Him up to shame. This difficult passage must be examined very closely if one wants to grasp the intended meaning. The writer declares that it is a flat impossibility for certain persons to be renewed, to be brought back a second time to repentance. These persons he characterizes by a description involving four points. The people whom he has in mind are such as have been enlightened by the Holy Ghost through the Word, that have a spiritual understanding of Christ and of their redemption through Christ, Eph. 1, 18; 5, 8; 1 Pet. 2, 9, in other words, Christians, such as have been called out of the darkness of godlessness to the marvelous light in Christ. The people referred to by the author are furthermore such as have tasted the heavenly gift, the gift of the salvation in Christ as a precious gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins, all the blessings of the adoption of children, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. They have furthermore become partakers of the Holy Ghost, they have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, Eph. 1, 14. They have finally tasted the splendid, the excellent Word of God and the powers of the future life; they feel, they realize, the mighty influence which God’s Word of promise exerts upon spirit, mind, and soul. They have experienced the power of God unto salvation, the vehicle of all eternal, heavenly blessings; they have, by faith, anticipated the enjoyment of the life to come, being partakers of the glory of heaven in hope.

If persons to whom this description applies, people that have undoubtedly accepted Jesus as their Savior, placed their trust in His salvation, and anticipated the joys of eternal life by reason of the power given to them through the Word, now fall away in spite of this saving knowledge, by a deliberate denial of that knowledge, then their return to repentance is excluded. The reason for this fact is not to be sought in God, as though His gracious intention and will in their behalf had not been sincere, but in the people themselves. If their apostasy takes place as here described, with a deliberate, malicious denial of the truth, then they crucify to themselves the Son of God and set Him forth to shame and ignominy before men. They purposely and willfully deny all connection with the Lord, who was crucified for them, they brand Him as a criminal, as a false Messiah, who suffered the disgrace of death on the cross. All this they perpetrate against Him whom they formerly acknowledged as the Son of God, whom they knew to be the Savior of the world. They cannot plead ignorance, or that they acted in foolish unbelief. For that reason their behavior brings upon them judgment, eternal condemnation. Therefore the reason why their hearts become hardened, why it becomes impossible for them to return and to be renewed unto repentance, is to be found in the character of their transgression. They steadfastly and persistently persevere in their antichristian, blasphemous conduct, they harden their own hearts against all attempts of the Word to find an entrance, and are thus finally given over into their hardness of heart, Acts 28, 27. 6)

The writer does not say that his readers have reached this stage; he merely states the possibility that it may happen to them as it has to others, thus warning them to beware of spiritual sluggishness, of lack of diligence in the use of the means of grace. Cp. 2 Cor. 6, 1. And he emphasizes his warning by a parable: For land which absorbs the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth plants that are useful to those that have tilled it partakes of a blessing from God, but that which produces thorns and thistles is worthless and on the verge of a curse, and its end is burning. This is an analogy from nature to illustrate the doom of the apostate. In the case of a piece of ground that responds to the tilling of the farmer or gardener and has a sufficient amount of rain for the crops which have been put in, yielding a harvest in proportion to the expectations which could fittingly be held, God’s approval is seen in the rich returns from the soil. But if a piece of ground that has been tilled with all care and gets all the moisture which is needed for a good crop, and yet refuses to respond to such treatment, does not prove worthy, it must be condemned as worthless, and the thorns and thistles which it hears must finally be burned. The application of the parable is not difficult. The abundant and frequently renewed rain represents the free and continued offer and bestowal of God’s grace, the enlightenment of the Word of God, the effective working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the believers. This should have enabled them all to bring forth proper fruit to God. If, therefore, any persons that have received these blessings harden their hearts and bring forth fruits of blasphemy and malicious denial of grace, they have sealed their own doom. For the behavior here described is the sin against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no forgiveness, neither in this world nor in the world to come. Cp. Matt. 12, 31. 32; Mark 3, 28. 29; Luke 12, 10. 7)

Progress in sanctification: V.9. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. V.10. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. V.11. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end; v.12. that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Here the inspired author expressly states that he does not mean to imply that any of his readers are in the condition of self hardening. He merely wishes to make his warning against denial of the faith very impressive, urging at the same time all progress in sanctification: But we are convinced concerning you, beloved, of things that are better and conducive to salvation, even if we speak thus. The very fact that he addresses his readers as “beloved” shows that he does not apply the picture which he has just drawn to them in their present condition. The inspired author is fully persuaded and convinced of the fact that a lot altogether unlike the one just described by him and immeasurably better will be theirs, one associated with, and tending toward, their soul’s salvation, allied with the everlasting bliss of heaven.

The reason why any misgivings which the author may have had have entirely disappeared, he now states: For God is not unjust to forget your work and the love which you have shown to His name, in that you have ministered to the saints and are ministering. The writer cannot look into the hearts of his readers and thus state his convictions, but he can infer the presence of faith in the hearts from the existence of truly good works. They had not grieved the Holy Spirit of God to the extent of driving Him from their hearts; there was still abundant evidence of the new spiritual life as begun by faith. Good works were undeniably in evidence, good works of love whereby they served the saints, their brethren in the faith. This condition, as a matter of fact, was known to God. And of injustice there is nothing in God, it is not even to be thought of. He is faithful, He is just, He does not overlook or forget that the entire life of the Jewish Christians who are here addressed is one long chain of evidence proving the existence of faith in their hearts, of love for the proper hallowing of His name.

It is not enough, however, that this much may be said in praise of the readers, but they must make progress as well: But we expect every one of you to show the same zeal toward the fulfillment of the hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are now inheritors of the promise. The sacred writer still had some misgivings with regard to the patient perseverance of his readers, for he emphasizes that he desires and earnestly expects every individual in their midst to bestir himself. Instead of the lukewarmness and half-heartedness which had been shown by them on the whole, he wanted every one to exhibit an earnest diligence and zeal, in order that they might have the full certainty of their Christian hope, a perfectness which left nothing to be desired. They must have the full certainty of conviction that the consummation of their redemption in Christ would come to pass. If they should lack this certainty for any length of time, the danger was that they would become sluggish, sleepy in their Christian life and thus also in their faith, that they would be wanting in the energy and cheerful confidence which God expects from His Christians. Instead of yielding to such an influence, therefore, they should take such people as an example, become imitators of such as had by faith and endurance to the end obtained the promised inheritance. The success of those whose perseverance they had witnessed was to be a constant spur to their faith. It means, of course, a daily renewal of faith, a patient waiting for the final revelation of the glory of the Lord. What the believers of old have attained to, what the Christians since the coming of Christ in the flesh have enjoyed as the fruit and reward of their faith, that we also may and should expect with firm confidence; for the promises of God are sure, as the writer shows in the next paragraph.

The certainty of God’s promises: V.13. For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by Himself, v.14. saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. V.15. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. V.16. For men verily swear by the greater; and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. V.17. Where in God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, v.18. that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; v.19. which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; v.20. whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. In reminding his readers of the sureness of God’s promises, the inspired author never loses sight of the fact that he wants to stimulate interest and further encouragement, in order that the believers might obtain the end of faith by patient perseverance in their trust in God. Since the writer has Jewish Christians to deal with, he reminds them of the example of Abraham, as one of those who did inherit the promise: For God, in making promise to Abraham, since He could swear by none greater, swore by Himself, saying, Blessing I will bless thee and multiplying I will multiply thee. The Lord had repeatedly given Abraham the promise that he should have offspring of his own body, a prophecy which included the Messianic promise, Gen. 12, 1-3. 7; 15, 5: 17, 5. 6; 18, 18. But this promise, sure as it was in itself, the Lord in addition supplemented with an oath by Himself, there being no greater to swear by, Gen. 22, 16-18. In the case of Abraham, therefore, it is seen that the promise is secure, God having pledged Himself with an oath to perform it. But its benefits can be obtained only by patient waiting, as in the case of the patriarch, whose faith was finally rewarded. He was so sure of the fulfillment that he was convinced God could just as soon cease to be as neglect the keeping of His promise. His reward came in due time: And so, having shown patience, he obtained the promise. Though delay followed delay and one year after the other rolled by; though he became a sojourner in a strange land and the barrenness of his wife seemed to mock all hope, yet he continued in his confident expectation, until the fulfillment of the first part of God’s promise came as a reward of his faith. A son, Isaac, was born to him by Sarah, and he saw his grandchildren as the bearers of the promise, before the Lord gathered him to his fathers. The birth of Isaac was a guarantee to Abraham that the Messianic part of the prophecy would also come true, that God would redeem and bless all nations in one of his descendants, and so he, in the spirit, saw the Lord’s day, and rejoiced, John 8, 56. Note: Since Christ is the Savior, not only of Abraham, but of the whole world, the promises of God, with the confirmatory oath, are meant not only for Abraham, but for the believers of all times.

The sacred writer wants to bring home the full significance of God’s promise and oath to his readers, and therefore introduces an analogy: For men swear by a greater (than themselves), and to them the oath is the end of all controversy unto confirmation. That has ever been the rule among men. Whenever an oath is really required and may be honestly given, as when the government commands it or the welfare of one’s neighbor or the honor of God demands it, then men swear by the greater being, by God Himself. The oath is made for the confirmation of a statement, it settles the matter in dispute, it brings all controversy to a speedy end, Ex. 22, 10. 11.

Now the great God, in order to remove all doubts from the hearts of men, in this case conformed to the custom justified by human usage: Wherefore God, intending more abundantly to demonstrate to the heirs of the promise the immutability of His will, intervened with an oath. The Lord accommodated Himself to the weakness of the human beings who were included in His gracious will. In a more emphatic way than by a mere promise He wanted to demonstrate to us the unchangeableness, the immutability of His gracious and good will. His solemn oath came between Him and us, as an added guarantee for the fact that His promises were intended for us all, lest any single one be tortured by doubt. In doing so, God actually disregarded the implied insult to His truthfulness, to the certainty of His Word, in placing Himself on a level with men. “God descended, as it were, from His own absolute exaltation, in order, so to speak, to look up to Himself after the manner of men and take Himself to witness; and so by a gracious condescension confirm the promise for the sake of its inheritors” (Delitzsch). “He brought in Himself as surety, He mediated or came in between men and Himself, through the oath by Himself” (Davidson).

God’s purpose in condescending in this manner is expressly stated: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong inducement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope held out to us. God’s promise and God’s oath are the two immutable things. By means of these, His promise which it is impossible for God to break, and His oath, which it is impossible for Him to falsify, we have a sound and firm encouragement, inducement, and consolation. Having fled for refuge, we found it and have it in Him. We may hold fast unswervingly to the hope held out to us, for a surer guarantee we cannot get, no matter where we apply. Fugitives from our own doubts and weaknesses, we have a safe refuge in the promise of the Lord. We map cling without wavering to the hope of eternal salvation as it is assured to us in the words of God’s grace.

How utterly and absolutely safe this hope is, appears from the final statement: Which we have as an anchor of the soul, safe and sure, and entering into that part behind the veil, where the Forerunner is entered for us, Jesus, becoming a High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Just as the anchor of a ship, if solidly placed, holds the vessel safe and secure, even against a strong wind and dangerous waves, thus the hope of our faith, being anchored in the promises of the Lord, gives us a firm and safe hold on salvation in the midst of the storms of these latter days. This anchor of our soul, by the grace of God, is firmly imbedded in the very presence of Almighty God, in the most holy place of the heavens. The Holy of Holies was the innermost shrine of the Jewish Temple, into which the high priest entered but once a year, in the name of the entire nation. Thus Jesus, our Forerunner, as well as our High Priest, has been exalted into the very presence, to the right hand, of His heavenly Father, in our behalf He has entered there, to become our Advocate with the Father, to intercede for us, with a continual reference to His perfect work of atonement. Jesus it is in whom we believe, in whom we trust. By His death and resurrection He secured for us the power to enter into the mansions of heaven, to follow where He has shown the way, when He became a priest throughout eternity after the order of Melchizedek. Note: If we Christians place the hope of our salvation on the promises and the oath of God, then our hope is anchored in the almighty God Himself. All languid ness and sluggishness must therefore be cast aside as we apply God’s promises to ourselves and thus daily become surer of our redemption.

Summary. The writer continues his exhortation to progress and steadfastness in the faith by showing how necessary progress in knowledge is, by warning against denial of the faith, by urging progress in sanctification, and by demonstrating the certainty of God’s promises.