|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
6:1-8 Every part of the truth and will of God should be set before all who profess the gospel, and be urged on their hearts and consciences. We should not be always speaking about outward things; these have their places and use, but often take up too much attention and time, which might be better employed. The humbled sinner who pleads guilty, and cries for mercy, can have no ground from this passage to be discouraged, whatever his conscience may accuse him of. Nor does it prove that any one who is made a new creature in Christ, ever becomes a final apostate from him. The apostle is not speaking of the falling away of mere professors, never convinced or influenced by the gospel. Such have nothing to fall away from, but an empty name, or hypocritical profession. Neither is he speaking of partial declinings or backslidings. Nor are such sins meant, as Christians fall into through the strength of temptations, or the power of some worldly or fleshly lust. But the falling away here mentioned, is an open and avowed renouncing of Christ, from enmity of heart against him, his cause, and people, by men approving in their minds the deeds of his murderers, and all this after they have received the knowledge of the truth, and tasted some of its comforts. Of these it is said, that it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Not because the blood of Christ is not sufficient to obtain pardon for this sin; but this sin, in its very nature, is opposite to repentance and every thing that leads to it. If those who through mistaken views of this passage, as well as of their own case, fear that there is no mercy for them, would attend to the account given of the nature of this sin, that it is a total and a willing renouncing of Christ, and his cause, and joining with his enemies, it would relieve them from wrong fears. We should ourselves beware, and caution others, of every approach near to a gulf so awful as apostacy; yet in doing this we should keep close to the word of God, and be careful not to wound and terrify the weak, or discourage the fallen and penitent. Believers not only taste of the word of God, but they drink it in. And this fruitful field or garden receives the blessing. But the merely nominal Christian, continuing unfruitful under the means of grace, or producing nothing but deceit and selfishness, was near the awful state above described; and everlasting misery was the end reserved for him. Let us watch with humble caution and prayer as to ourselves.
Verses 4-6. - For it is impossible for those who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and have fallen away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. It is not, of course, implied that the Hebrew Christians had fallen into the condition thus described, or were near it; only that such a condition might be, and that, if they went back instead of advancing, they might arrive at it. The process intimated is that of complete apostasy from the faith after real conscious enjoyment of the gifts of grace. In such a case the hopelessness of the fall is in proportion to the privileges once enjoyed. This is the drift of the passage, though other views have been taken of its meaning, which will be noticed below. "Once enlightened" denotes the first apprehension of the light, which could be but once; when those that saw not began to see (John 5:39); when the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ shone once for all upon believers (2 Corinthians 4:4); when (according to the cognate passage, Hebrews 10:26; cf. Hebrews 10:32) they received the knowledge of the truth. The verb φωτίζω means in the LXX." to enlighten by instruction," and was in common use in the early Church to express the enlightenment that accompanied baptism; whence baptism itself was called φωτισμός. Thus Justin Martyr ('Apol.' 1:62) says, Καλεῖται δὲ τοῦτο τὸ λοῦτρον φωτισμός ὡς φωτιζομένων τὴν διάνοιαν τῶν ταῦτα μανθανόντων Cf. the title of Chrysostom's 'Hem.' 49, Πρός τοὺς μέλλοντας φωτίζεσθαι, Since the expression was thus commonly used as early as Justin Martyr, there may probably be in the text a special reference to baptism as the occasion of the enlightenment. But, if so, more is meant by the phrase than "those who have been once baptized:" an inward spiritual illumination is plainly pointed to; and it would not have been said of Simon Magus that he had been "once enlightened" in the sense intended. And this is indeed the real meaning of φωτισμός as applied to baptism by Justin Martyr, as his explanation, above quoted, shows. So also Chrysostom ('Hem.' 116.), "The heretics have baptism, but not enlightenment (φωτισμα); they are baptized indeed as to the body, but in the soul they are not enlightened; as also Simon was baptized, but was not enlightened." This consideration is important in view of one misapplication of the passage before us, which will be noticed below. But, further, those whom it is impossible to renew unto repentance are supposed not only to have been enlightened, but also to have "tasted of the heavenly gift," the emphatic word here being apparently γενσαμένους: they have had experience as well as knowledge (cf. Psalm 34:8, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;" and 1 Peter 2:3, "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious"). The word "gift" (δωρεά) is elsewhere used both for that of redemption generally (Romans 5:15-17), and especially, and most frequently, for the gift of the Holy Ghost (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable Gift"). They have become also partakers of the Holy Ghost, not merely been within the range of his influence, but actually shared it; and tasted (the same word as before, and with the same meaning, though here followed by an accusative) what is further spoken cf. The expression ῤήματα occurs, Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:15; Zechariah 1:13, for gracious Divine utterances. The idea of the Word of God being what is "tasted" may be suggested by Deuteronomy 8:3, quoted by our Lord in Matthew 4:4, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proeeedeth out of the month of God." By the powers (δυνάμεις) are to be especially understood (as in Hebrews 2:4 and elsewhere in the New Testament) the extraordinary ones in which the gift of the Holy Ghost was manifested, the χαρίσματα of the apostolic Church. But why said here to be μέλλοντος αἰῶνος? For the meaning of this expression, see under ἐνσχάτεν τῶν ἠμερῶν τούτων (Hebrews 1:1), and οἰκουμένην τὴν μέλλουσαν (Hebrews 2:5). It denotes the predicted age of the Messiah's triumph. And if (as has appeared most probable, and as μέλλοντος here seems evidently to imply) that age was regarded as still future, not properly beginning till the second advent, still the "powers" spoken of are of it, being earnests and foretastes of a new order of things (cf. Ephesians 1:14, where the "Holy Spirit of promise" is called "the earnest of our inheritance;" also 2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5). There are other passages in which Christians are regarded as already in the dawn of the future daybreak, and irradiated by the coming glory. The falling away (παραεσόντας) after such enlightenment and such experience means (as aforesaid) total apostasy from the faith. This appears from the expressions that follow, and still more from those in the cognate passage, Hebrews 10:26-31. "Non relapses mode dicit in pristina, sed nova pernicie praeterlapsos a toto statu illo lautissimo, simulque a fide, spe, et amore" (Bengel). Such an utter apostasy was possible to Hebrews oscillating between Church and synagogue: they might be so drawn at last into the atmosphere of the latter as, with the unbelieving Jews, to reject with contumely, and so to themselves recrucify, the Son of God. The force of "to themselves" is illustrated by Galatians 6:14, where St. Paul says that he so glories in the cross of Christ that through Christ the world is crucified to him, and he to the world; i.e. all fellowship between him and the world is broken off. So here the ἑαυτοῖς implies the breaking off of all fellowship with what a man is said to crucify. "They crucify again the Son of God, repeating what their fathers had done formerly when they gave him over to the death of the cross; and this, be it observed, still more culpably., since it is after personal experience proving him to be "the Son of God." And they not only make him as one dead to themselves: they also expose him (παραδειγματίζοντας: cf. Numbers 25:4, LXX.) to the reproach and mockery of the world. "Ostentantes, scil aliis" (Bengel). The above explanation is adopted from Delitzsch. Be it observed next what is said of those who do this - not that no repentance can henceforth avail them, but that even unto repentance it is impossible to renew them. Such falling away after such experience precludes the possibility of repentance. On such persons the powers of grace have been exhausted. It is not in the nature of things that they should return to Christ, or see the things that belong unto their peace any more. The correspondence between the state here described and the consequence of the "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:28; Luke 12:10) suggests itself at once; our Lord's words, in speaking of that unpardonable sin, being rightly supposed to point to obduracy in spite of experience of the Holy Spirit's power. Especially obvious is the correspondence with St. Luke's account of the Savior's warning - one of the not infrequent instances of resemblance between our Epistle and the writings of that evangelist. For St. Luke records the saying as spoken, not to the Jews on the occasion of their attributing Christ's works to Beelzebub, but to the disciples themselves, after a warning to them against "the leaven of the Pharisees," and against being moved by the fear of men, and immediately after the words, "He that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God." Compare also the "sin unto death" spoken of by St. John (1 John 5:16). Misconceptions of the drift of this passage, once prevalent, or possible, remain to be noticed.
(1) It has been from early times a main support of the strict Church discipline according to which deadly sin committed after baptism precludes re-admission to Church communion. It was so cited by Tertullian as early as the second century ('De Pudicitia,' cf. 20), and in the third used to justify the Novatians in their refusal of communion, even after penance, to the lapsi. The passage, as above explained, was really irrelevant, since it refers, not to the treatment by the Church of penitents, but to the impossibility of some persons being brought to penitence at all.
(2) The Catholic Fathers, rightly rejecting the Novatian position, generally understood the text as forbidding the iteration of baptism; thus turning it against the Novatians, who rebaptized those who joined their communion. So Ambrose, Theodoret, and others. But, though their position on this subject was in itself sound, the passage, as above explained, is as irrelevant to it as to that of the Novatians.
(3) This, and the other texts referred to in connection with it, have led some Christians to despair of salvation, however anxious for it, under the idea that they had themselves committed the unpardonable sin. This desperate view goes beyond that of the Novatians, who only precluded from Church communion, not of necessity from the mercies of God (Socrates, 'Hist. Eccl.,' 4:21). But the very state of mind of those who entertain such fears is a sign that they are not of those to whom this text applies. They cannot have entirely fallen from grace, if they have the grace to repent and long for pardon.
(4) Calvin's predestinarian views compelled him and his followers to do violence to the plain meaning of the passage. Holding the doctrine of the indefectibility of grace, which involved
(a) that one really regenerate cannot fall away, and
(b) that consequently one who falls away cannot have been really regenerate, he had to explain away the clauses descriptive of the grace enjoyed, as meaning only a superficial experience of it. With this view he laid stress on the word γευσαμένους as meaning "summis labris gustare." Only dogmatic prejudice could have suggested such a sense of the word as intended in this place, any more than in Hebrews 2:9, where it is plainly inadmissible. Nor can an impartial reader fail to see in the whole accumulation of pregnant clauses an intention of expressing the very reverse of a mere apparent and delusive experience of saving grace. The depth of the experience is, in fact, a measure of the hopelessness of the fall. Art. XVI. of the English Church is a protest against all the erroneous conclusions above specified. Vers, 7, 8 - For land which hath drunk in the oft-coming rain upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whom (not, as in A.V., "by whom") it is also tilled, receiveth blessing from God; but if it beareth thorns and thistles (not, as in A.V., "that which beareth"), it is rejected, and nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned (literally, for burning; cf. Isaiah 44:15, ἵνα ῇ ἀνθρώποις εἰς καῦσιν). The illustration is apt and close. Observe that the "land which hath drunk," etc., is the subject in ver. 8, as well as of ver. 7, as is shown by the absence of an article before ἐκφέρουσα. Hence the unproductive as well as the fruitful soil is supposed to have received, and not only received but imbibed also, abundant supplies of rain. Its failure is its own fault, and it is regarded as responsible for it, and deserving of its final fate. This exactly illustrates the case of those who "fall away" after not only receiving abundantly, but also taking in so as to be filled with the "gracious rain" of the Holy Spirit. The only difference is that in their case, free-will being a constituent of their productive power, the responsibility figuratively attributed to the land is real (cf. ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτανόντων, Hebrews 10:26). For similar illustrations drawn from unproductiveness in nature in spite of culture, cf. Isaiah 5:4 and Luke 20:23. The "blessing from God" refers to the view, pervading the Old Testament, of fruitfulness being the result and sign of the Divine blessing on the land (cf. Genesis 27:27, "The smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed"). And it is further implied that incipient fruitfulness is rewarded by more abundant blessing, according to our Lord's words, Matthew 13:12, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given," and John 15:2, "Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." The "thorns and thistles," connected with a curse on the ground, seem suggested by Genesis 3:17, 18, Απικατάρατος ἡ γῆ ἐν τοῖς ἕργοις σου ἀκάνθας καὶ τριβόλους ἀνατελεῖ σοι. LXX. (cf. "Cursed shall be the fruit of thy land," Deuteronomy 28:18). It is to be observed, further, that the land, though bearing thorns instead of fruit, is not spoken of as yet under the final curse, but only nigh unto it, so as to avoid even a remote suggestion that the Hebrew Christians had actually reached the hopeless state. But, unless fruitfulness should ensue, they are warned of the inevitable end by the fate of thorns and thistles, which is, not to be garnered, but to be burnt (cf. 2 Samuel 23:6, "The sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away.... and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place;" cf. also Deuteronomy 29:23, "The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth thereon" - a state of final hopeless barrenness).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened,.... The Syriac and Ethiopic versions render it, "baptized"; and the word is thought to be so used in Hebrews 10:32. And indeed baptism was called very early "illumination" by the ancients, as by Justin Martyr (i), and Clemens Alexandrinus (k), because only enlightened persons were the proper subjects of it; and the word once here used seems to confirm this sense, since baptism, when rightly administered, was not repeated; but then this sense depends upon an use of a word, which it is not certain did as yet obtain; nor does the apostle take notice of baptism in a parallel place, Hebrews 10:26. This gave rise to, and seems to favour the error of Novatus, that those who fall into sin after baptism are to be cut off from the communion of the church, and never more to be restored unto it; contrary to the promises of God to returning backsliders, and contrary to facts, as well as to the directions of Christ, and his apostles, to receive and restore such persons; and such a notion tends to set aside the intercession of Christ for fallen believers, and to plunge them into despair: it is better therefore to retain the word "enlightened", in its proper sense, and to understand it of persons enlightened with Gospel knowledge; there are some who are savingly enlightened by the Spirit of God, to see the impurity of their hearts and actions, and their impotency to perform that which is good, the imperfection of their own righteousness to justify them, their lost state and condition by nature, and to see Christ and salvation by him, and their interest in it; and these being "once" enlightened, never become darkness, or ever so fall as to perish; for if God had a mind to destroy them, he would never have shown them these things, and therefore cannot be the persons designed here; unless we render the words, as the Syriac version does, "it is impossible"----Nwjxy bwtd, "that they should sin again"; so as to die spiritually, lose the grace of God, and stand in need of a new work upon them, which would be impossible to be done: but rather such are meant, who are so enlightened as to see the evil effects of sin, but not the evil that is in sin; to see the good things which come by Christ, but not the goodness that is in Christ; so as to reform externally, but not to be sanctified internally; to have knowledge of the Gospel doctrinally, but not experimentally; yea, to have such light into it, as to be able to preach it to others, and yet be destitute of the grace of God:
and have tasted of the heavenly gift; either faith, or a justifying righteousness, or the pardon of sin, or eternal life; which are all spiritual and heavenly gifts of grace, and which true believers have real tastes of; and hypocrites please themselves with, having some speculative notions about them, and some desires after them, arising from a natural principle of self-love. Some think the Holy Ghost is intended; but rather Christ himself, the unspeakable gift of God's love, given from heaven, as the bread of life. Now there are some who have a saving spiritual taste of this gift; for though God's people, while unregenerate, have no such taste; their taste is vitiated by sin, and it is not changed; sin is the food they live upon, in which they take an imaginary pleasure, and disrelish every thing else; but when regenerated, their taste is changed, sin is rendered loathsome to them; and they have a real gust of spiritual things, and especially of Christ, and find a real delight and pleasure in feeding by faith upon him; whereby they live upon him, and are nourished up unto eternal life, and therefore cannot be the persons here spoken of: but there are others who taste, but dislike what they taste; have no true love to Christ, and faith in him; or have only a carnal taste of him, know him only after the flesh, or externally, not inwardly and experimentally; or they have only a superficial taste, such as is opposed to eating the flesh, and drinking the blood of Christ, by faith, which is proper to true believers; the gust they have is but temporary, and arises from selfish principles.
And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost; not his person, nor his special grace; there are some who so partake of him, as to be united to him, in whom he becomes the principle of spiritual life, and motion: such have the fruits of the Spirit, and communion with him; they enjoy his personal presence and inhabitation in them; they have received him as a spirit of illumination and conviction, of regeneration and sanctification, as the spirit of faith, and as a comforter; and as a spirit of adoption, and the earnest and seal of future glory; but then such can never so fall away as to perish: a believer indeed may be without the sensible presence of the Spirit; the graces of the Spirit may be very low, as to their exercise; and they may not enjoy his comforts, gracious influences, and divine assistance; but the Spirit of God never is, in the above sense, in a castaway; where he takes up his dwelling, he never quits it; if such could perish, not only his own glory, but the glory of the Father, and of the Son, would be lost likewise: but by the Holy Ghost is sometimes meant the gifts of the Spirit, ordinary or extraordinary, 1 Corinthians 12:4 and so here; and men may be said to be partakers of the Holy Ghost, to whom he gives wisdom and prudence in things natural and civil; the knowledge of things divine and evangelical, in an external way; the power of working miracles, of prophesying, of speaking with tongues, and of the interpretation of tongues; for the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost seem chiefly designed, which some, in the first times of the Gospel, were partakers of, who had no share in special grace, Matthew 7:22.
(i) Apolog. 2. p. 94. (k) Paedagog. l. 1. c. 6. p. 93.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
4. We must "go on toward perfection"; for if we fall away, after having received enlightenment, it will be impossible to renew us again to repentance.
for those—"in the case of those."
once enlightened—once for all illuminated by the word of God taught in connection with "baptism" (to which, in Heb 6:2, as once for all done," once enlightened" here answers); compare Eph 5:26. This passage probably originated the application of the term "illumination" to baptism in subsequent times. Illumination, however, was not supposed to be the inseparable accompaniment of baptism: thus Chrysostom says, "Heretics have baptism, not illumination: they are baptized in body, but not enlightened in soul: as Simon Magus was baptized, but not illuminated." That "enlightened" here means knowledge of the word of truth, appears from comparing the same Greek word "illuminated," Heb 10:32, with Heb 10:26, where "knowledge of the truth" answers to it.
tasted of the heavenly gift—tasted for themselves. As "enlightened" refers to the sense of sight: so here taste follows. "The heavenly gift"; Christ given by the Father and revealed by the enlightening word preached and written: as conferring peace in the remission of sins; and as the Bestower of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ac 8:19, 20),
made partakers of the Holy Ghost—specified as distinct from, though so inseparably connected with, "enlightened," and "tasted of the heavenly gift," Christ, as answering to "laying on of hands" after baptism, which was then generally accompanied with the impartation of the Holy Ghost in miraculous gifts.
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