Hebrews 6:4
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,
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(4) For it is impossible for those . . .—The connection of thought has been already explained (Hebrews 6:3); the general meaning will be examined below (Hebrews 6:6). It will be seen that the greater part of this long sentence is dependent on the word “renew” in Hebrews 6:6, “It is impossible to renew again unto repentance those who were once,” &c.

Those who were once enlightened.—This metaphor is introduced again in Hebrews 10:32; neither there nor here does the context contain any notice or expansion of the figure. In that passage, however, it is applied generally to all who are addressed, and includes everything that was involved in the reception of the Christian faith. This inclusive application of the term (familiar from prophecy, from our Lord’s own words, from Apostolic usage; see Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:18; 1Peter 2:9) throws light on the construction of the verse before us. As the words stand in the Authorised version, “enlightened” is but the first term of a series; but it is far more probable that the clauses which follow should be regarded as explanatory of the enlightenment itself: “. . . those who were once enlightened, having both tasted . . . and been made partakers . . . and tasted . . .”

Tasted of the heavenly gift.—On the first word, see the Note on Hebrews 2:9. From the clear parallelism which exists between these verses and Hebrews 2:3-5 we may infer that the “salvation” offered in the gospel (Hebrews 2:3) is intended by this “gift.” It is a gift which belongs to heaven (comp. Hebrews 1:14), bestowed by Him from whom has come the “heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 2:10). The following words at once recall Hebrews 2:4, “gifts (distributions) of the Holy Ghost.”

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.For it is impossible - It is needless to say that the passage here Hebrews 6:4-6, has given occasion to much controversy, and that the opinions of commentators and of the Christian world are yet greatly divided in regard to its meaning. On the one hand, it is held that the passage is not intended to describe those who are true Christians, but only those who have been awakened and enlightened, and who then fall back; and on the other it is maintained that it refers to those who are true Christians, and who then apostatize. The contending parties have been Calvinists and Arminians; each party, in general, interpreting it according to the views which are held on the question about falling from grace. I shall endeavor, as well as I may be able, to state the true meaning of the passage by an examination of the words and phrases in detail, observing here, in general, that it seems to me that it refers to true Christians; that the object is to keep them from apostasy, and that it teaches that if they should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew them again or to save them. That it refers to true Christians will be apparent from these considerations.

(1) Such is the sense which would strike the great mass of readers. Unless there were some theory to defend, the great body of readers of the New Testament would consider the expression used here as describing true Christians.

(2) The connection demands such an interpretation. The apostle was addressing Christians. He was endeavoring to keep them from apostasy. The object was not to keep those who were awakened and enlightened from apostasy, but it was to preserve those who were already in the Church of Christ, from going back to perdition. The kind of exhortation appropriate to those who were awakened and convicted, but who were not truly converted, would be "to become converted;" not to warn them of the danger of "falling away." Besides, the apostle would not have said of such persons that they could not be converted and saved. But of sincere Christians it might be said with the utmost propriety, that they could not be renewed again and be saved if they should fall away - because they rejected the only plan of salvation after they had tried it, and renounced the only scheme of redemption after they had tasted its benefits. If that plan could not save them, what could? If they neglected that, by what other means could they be brought to God?

(3) This interpretation accords, as I suppose, with the exact meaning of the phrases which the apostle uses. An examination of those phrases will show that he refers to those who are sincere believers. The phrase "it is impossible" obviously and properly denotes absolute impossibility. It has been contended, by Storr and others, that it denotes only great difficulty. But the meaning which would at first strike all readers would be that "the thing could not be done;" that it was not merely very difficult, but absolutely impracticable. The word - ἀδύνατον adunaton - occurs only in the New Testament in the following places, in all which it denotes that the thing could not be done; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27, "With men this is impossible;" that is, men could not save one who was rich, implying that the thing was wholly beyond human power. Luke 18:27, "the things which are impossible with men are possible with God" - referring to the same case; Acts 14:8, "A man of Lystra, impotent in his feet;" that is, who was wholly "unable" to walk; Romans 8:3, "For what the law could not do;" what was absolutely "impossible" for the Law to accomplish; that is, to save people; Hebrews 6:18, "In which it was impossible for God to lie;" Hebrews 10:4, "It is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sin;" and Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God;" in all of these instances denoting absolute impossibility.

These passages show that it is not merely a great difficulty to which the apostle refers, but that he meant to say that the thing was wholly impracticable; that it could not be done. And if this be the meaning, then it proves that if those referred to should fall away, they could never be renewed. Their case was hopeless, and they must perish: that is, if a true Christian should apostatize, or fall from grace, "he never could be renewed again," and could not be saved. Paul did not teach that he might fall away and be renewed again as often as he pleased. He had other views of the grace of God than this; and he meant to teach, that if a man should once cast off true religion, his case was hopeless, and he must perish; and by this solemn consideration - the only one that would be effectual in such a case - he meant to guard them against the danger of apostasy.

For those who were once enlightened - The phrase "to be enlightened" is one that is often used in the Scriptures, and may be applied either to one whose understanding has been enlightened to discern his duty, though he is not converted (compare the note on John 1:9); or more commonly to one who is truly converted; see the note on Ephesians 1:18. It does not of necessity refer to true Christians, though it cannot be denied that it more obviously suggests the idea that the heart is truly changed, and that it is more commonly used in that sense; compare Psalm 19:8. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem of knowledge, holiness, and happiness, and there is no impropriety here in understanding it in accordance with the more decisive phrases which follow, as referring to true Christians.

And have tasted - To "taste" of a thing means, according to the usage in the Scriptures, to "experience," or to "understand" it. The expression is derived from the fact that the "taste" is one of the means by which we ascertain the nature or quality of an object; compare Matthew 16:28; John 8:51; Hebrews 2:9. The proper idea here is, that they had "experienced" the heavenly gift, or had learned its nature.

The heavenly gift - The gift from heaven, or which pertains to heaven; compare the note on John 4:10. The expression properly means some favor or gift which has descended from heaven, and may refer to any of the benefits which God has conferred on man in the work of redemption. It might include the plan of salvation; the forgiveness of sins; the enlightening, renewing, and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, or any one of the graces which that Spirit imparts. The use of the article, however - "the heavenly gift," limits it to something special, as being conferred directly from heaven, and the connection would seem to demand that we understand it of some "special" favor which could be conferred only on the children of God. It is an expression which "may" be applied to sincere Christians; it is at least doubtful whether it can with propriety be applied to any other.

And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost - Partakers of the influences of the Holy Spirit - for it is only in this sense that we can partake of the Holy Spirit. We "partake" of food when we share it with others; we "partake" of pleasure when we enjoy it with others; we "partake" of spoils in war when they are divided between us and others. So we partake of the influences of the Holy Spirit when we share these influences conferred on his people. This is not language which can properly be applied to anyone but a true Christian; and though it is true that an unpardoned sinner may be enlightened and awakened by the Holy Spirit, yet the language used here is not such as would be likely to be employed to describe his state. It is too clearly expressive of those influences which renew and sanctify the soul. It is as elevated language as can be used to describe the joy of the Christian, and is undoubtedly used in that sense here. If it is not, it would be difficult to find any language which would properly express the condition of a renewed heart. Grotius, Bloomfield, and some others, understood this of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. But this is not necessary, and does not accord well with the general description here, which evidently pertains to the mass of those whom the apostle addressed.

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.

The foregoing counsel the Spirit enforceth on these Hebrews, from the danger of apostacy, to which the neglect of it doth dispose them, and the terrifying consequents of it, from Hebrews 6:4-8. We must go on to perfection, unless we will draw back to perdition: so that he bespeaks them: You have been sluggish and dull, and going backward already; lest you grow worse, stir up yourselves; if you neglect it you are in danger of utter falling away:

for it is impossible, not in respect of God’s absolute and almighty power, but in respect of any created power in others or themselves, justly, and by right, it is impossible, because contrary to God’s declared will and resolution in his church, by which his power is limited, so as he will never do it, nor suffer it to be done; in this he will not, cannot deny himself, Hebrews 6:11 11:6; compare Matthew 7:18 19:24,26 2 Timothy 2:13.

For those who were once enlightened: fwtisyentav, several interpreters render, the baptized, who were illuminated with the beams of Divine light; others, the penitent, such who had been initiated into repentance, as Hebrews 6:1, and think the term once may be limited to baptisms, whereas it refers to all the other particulars. These are such who are instructed in the principles of the Christian religion, and brought out of the darkness and ignorance of Judaism and heathenism, so that they were other persons for the knowledge of gospel truths than before: they see with a new light spiritual things, and have the mind raised up to such objects as thcy knew not before; but they have no new eyes or understandings given them, and so are but as devils like angels of light, whereas the light of a real Christian is the light of life, John 8:12: see 2 Timothy 1:10 2 Peter 1:19. Such some Hebrews professed themselves to be, Romans 2:17-19; and as Balaam was, Numbers 24:2,3.

And have tasted of the heavenly gift; an act of sense in the body, put metaphorically for an act of the mind. Tasting in the soul, is an apprehension and reception by it, and but merely such, and no more; a taste, and not a digestion, of Christ and his benefits as revealed to them in the gospel, John 4:39,40, followed with the superficial relishes of their joy and peace on their temporary believing in them, as it was with the stony ground, Matthew 13:20. A sinner enlightened so as to see Christ and the glorious promises made to believers in him, it being agreeable to his natural principles, and being not much humbled, runs away with them with joy, having good desires and affections, but a stony heart still: such was Herod, Mark 6:20.

And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost; not by an inhabitation of his person in them, but by his operations in them, whereby he is trying how far a natural man may be raised, and not have his nature changed: as is evident in Socrates, who died for owning the unity of the Deity; and as the scribe near the kingdom of heaven, Mark 12:34. He is proving by his gifts to them how much supernatural good, and workings towards salvation, they are capable of, without the putting forth of the exceeding greatness of his power to make them new creatures, as Genesis 6:3; compare 1 Corinthians 1:21 1 Peter 3:18-20. These did partake of from the Holy Ghost, the light of nature, of the law, of the gospel, with some spiritual power accompanying all these; which as they are trials of lapsed nature, so are lessening many punishments by keeping men off from many sins, as 2 Peter 2:20. These professors had escaped the gross and outward pollutions and defilements that many were drenched with in their lives, but have lusts abiding unmortified, from whence these would arise in them still; but here is no pure heart or divine nature wrought in them, and the lusting principle is unmortified still; this God accepts according to its kind: compare Mark 10:21,22.

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.

{2} For it is {b} impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have {c} tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

(2) He adds a vehemency to his exhortation, and a sharp threatening of the certain destruction that will come to them who fall away from God and his religion.

(b) He speaks of a general backsliding and those who fall away from the faith completely, not of sins committed through the weakness of a man against the first and the second table of the law.

(c) We must note the force of this word, for it is one thing to believe as Lydia did, whose heart God opened in Ac 16:13 and another thing to have some taste.

Hebrews 6:4. Γάρ] goes back to the last main utterance,—thus to τοῦτο ποιήσωμεν, Hebrews 6:3, and by means thereof to ἐπὶ τὴν τελειότητα φερώμεθα, Hebrews 6:1, not to μὴ πάλιν θεμέλιον καταβαλλόμενοι, Hebrews 6:1 (Whitby, de Wette, Bloomfield, Conybeare), nor yet to ἐάνπερ ἐπιτρέπῃ ὁ θεός, Hebrews 6:3 (Piscator, Abresch, Delitzsch, Kurtz, Hofmann, Woerner), still less, at the same time, to ἐάνπερ ἐπιτρέπῃ ὁ θεός and μὴ πάλιν θεμέλ. καταβ. (Schlichting).

ἀδύνατον] it is impossible. The import of the expression is absolute; and to weaken it into “difficile est” (so, after the example of the Latin translation in D and E: Ribera, Corn, a Lapide, Clericus, Limborch, Storr, Heinrichs, Kuinoel, and others), according to which we should have to suppose a rhetorical exaggeration, is an act of caprice. Nor are we justified in seeking to obtain a softening of the declaration, as is done by Er. Schmid, Clericus, Limborch, Schöttgen, Bengel, Cramer, Baumgarten, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Bloomfield (comp. already Ambrose, de Poenit. ii. 3), by urging the force of the infin. active ἀνακαινίζειν as pointing to human activity, and thus, with a reference to Matthew 19:26, making the impossibility to exist only on the part of men, not on the part of God. For only the impossibility of the ἀνακαινίζειν in itself is accentuated, without respect to the person by whom it must otherwise be effected. Instead of the infinitive active, therefore, the infinitive passive ἀνακαινίζεσθαι might have been chosen by the author without affecting the sense.

τοὺς ἅπαξαἰῶνος, Hebrews 6:5] characterizing of such as have not only become Christians, but also have already experienced the plenitude of blessing conferred upon Christians.

τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας] those who were, once illumined (Hebrews 10:32), i.e. had already, through the preaching of the gospel, been made participants of the light of the knowledge (sc. of Christianity as the perfect religion). As regards the thought, the same thing is said by μετὰ τὸ λαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, Hebrews 10:26.

ἅπαξ belongs, as to φωτισθέντας, so also to the three following participles (against Hofmann), and finds its opposition in πάλιν, Hebrews 6:6. It does not signify “plene” or “perfecte” (Wolf), nor does it denote an act which admits of no repetition (Delitzsch); contains, however, the implication, that the once ought to have sufficed and satisfied. Comp. [Hebrews 9:26] Hebrews 10:2; Judges 1:3.

φωτίζειν τινά, of the spiritual enlightenment effected by teaching, is purely Hellenistic. Comp. Ephesians 3:9; John 1:9; LXX. Ps. 118:130; 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Kings 17:27, al.

γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου] and have tasted the heavenly gift. γεύεσθαί τινος, to taste or receive a savour of a thing, figurative indication of perception by one’s own experience. See on Hebrews 2:9. The construction of the verb with the genitive (instead of being with the accusative, as Hebrews 6:5) does not justify us, with many strict Reformed expositors, in finding a mere “gustare extremis labris” in the expression. Besides, such an interpretation would be in conflict with the design of the writer, since it cannot be within his intention to represent the culpability of the persons in question as small; he must, on the contrary, aim at bringing out the same in all its magnitude.

By δωρεὰ ἐπουράνιος, Primasius, Haymo, Estius, Michaelis, Semler, and others understand the Lord’s Supper; Owen, Calmet, Ernesti, Whitby, M‘Lean, Bloomfield, the Holy Ghost (against which the following special mention of the same is decisive); Klee, regeneration in general, in contradistinction from the special communication of the Spirit in baptism; M‘Caul, “the persuasion of the eternal life, the χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ, Romans 6:23;” Hofmann, righteousness; Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Theophylact, Faber Stapulensis, Erasmus, Paraphrase; Cameron, Hammond, Rambach, Ebrard, Maier, the forgiveness of sins; Justinian, Schlichting, Grotius, the peace of mind arising from forgiveness; Pareus, faith; Seb. Schmidt, Dorscheus, Peirce, Bengel, Carpzov, Cramer, Bisping, and others, Christ; Morus, Heinrichs, Böhme, Kuinoel, Stuart, Stengel, and others, the Christian religion or the gospel; Abresch, Bleek, the enlightenment imparted to men through the preaching of the gospel, or the heavenly light itself, which effects the enlightenment, and by means thereof communicates itself to men. Inasmuch as τε points to a close connection between the second clause and the first, and the emphasis rests upon the foregoing γευσαμένους, ἡ δωρεά is at any rate to be taken quite generally. Most naturally, therefore, shall we think in general of the gift of grace, i.e. of the abundant grace of Christianity. It is called heavenly, inasmuch as Christ was sent forth from heaven in order to communicate it, and heaven is the scene of its full realization.

καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου] and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost. The consequence and seal of the gift of grace just mentioned.

Hebrews 6:4-8. Warning enforcement of the foregoing exhortation, by dwelling on the impossibility of leading back Christians who have already experienced the abundant blessing of Christianity, and for all that have fallen away again from the same, anew to a state of grace. Very appropriately (against de Wette) does this warning justification attach itself to the preceding demand; since the readers were not merely still far from the τελειότης in Christianity, but were, moreover, upon the way of entirely falling off again from Christianity. Comp. especially Hebrews 10:25-31. In order, therefore, to deter them from such contemplated apostasy, there is very fitly set before the eyes of the readers the magnitude of the culpability which the completed apostasy would involve, and the terrible nature of the divine punitive judgment which it would entail.

In connection with the other view, that a declaration of the purpose of the author is contained in Hebrews 6:1-3, the connection of thought would be: Passing over the subjects of catechumenical instruction in Christianity, I shall apply myself to the subjects of deeper Christian knowledge. For it is surely impossible to convert anew Christians who have already been enlightened, and then have fallen away again. By the fruitlessness of enlarging on the initial doctrines, therefore, the author would justify his resolution. But one does not perceive the relevancy of this statement to the case of the readers. For since a preparatory transition, such as is afforded by the paraenetic φερώμεθα, Hebrews 6:1, and ποιήσωμεν, Hebrews 6:3,—in that the endeavour after Christian perfection necessarily includes the putting away of all that is opposed to it, thus also of the inclination to apostasy,—would then be entirely wanting, on the contrary, the declaration of the purpose of the author would connect itself with the censure expressed, Hebrews 5:11-14; in this way the explanation of this resolution must be found in the presupposition either that the readers already actually belonged to the number of the παραπεσόντες, or else that, since they must already be reckoned among the τέλειοι, what is said admits of no application to them. In the first case, however, the author would represent his own undertaking, for the benefit of such readers to pass over to the higher subjects of teaching, as a fruitless one; in the last case, having already just before blamed the readers for their νηπιότης, would have fallen into self-contradiction.

Hebrews 6:4-6 give the writer’s reason for not attempting again to lay a foundation. It is, he says, to attempt an impossibility. The statement falls into three parts: (1) A description of a class of persons τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθένταςκαὶ παραπεσόντας. (2) The statement of a fact regarding these persons ἀδύνατον πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν. (3) The cause of this fact found in some further characteristics of their career ἀνασταυροῦνταςπαραδειγματίζοντας.

4–8. The awfulness of apostasy

4. For] An inference from the previous clauses. We must advance, for in the Christian course stationariness means retrogression—non progredi est regredi.

For it is impossible for those] We shall see further on the meaning of the word “impossible.” The sentence begins with what is called the accusative of the subject, “For as to those who were, &c., it is impossible, &c.” We will first explain the particular expressions in these verses, and then point out the meaning of the paragraph as a whole.

once] The word, a favourite one with the writer, means “once for all.” It occurs more often in this Epistle than in all the rest of the N.T. It is the direct opposite of πάλιν in Hebrews 6:6.

enlightened] illuminated by the Holy Spirit, John 1:9. Comp. Hebrews 10:26; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Corinthians 4:4. In the LXX. “to illuminate” means “to teach” (2 Kings 12:2). The word in later times came to mean “to baptise,” and “enlightenment,” even as early as the time of Justin Martyr (a.d. 150), becomes a technical term for “baptism,” regarded from the point of view of its results. The Syriac Version here renders it by “baptised.” Hence arose the notion of some of the sterner schismatics—such as the Montanists and Novatians—that absolution was to be refused to all such as fell after baptism into apostasy or flagrant sin (Tertull. De Pudic. 20). This doctrine was certainly not held by St Paul (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20), and is rejected by the Church of England in her xvith Article (and see Pearson, On the Creed, Art. x.). The Fathers deduced from this passage the unlawfulness of administering Baptism a second time; a perfectly right rule, but one which rests upon other grounds, and not upon this passage. But neither in Scripture nor in the teaching of the Church is the slightest sanction given to the views of the fanatics who assert that “after they have received the Holy Ghost they can no more sin as long as they live here.” It will be remembered that Cromwell on his deathbed asked his chaplain as to the doctrine of Final Perseverance, and on being assured that it was a certain truth, said, “Then I am happy, for I am sure that I was once in a state of grace.”

and nave tasted of the heavenly gift …] These clauses may be rendered “having both tasted of … and being made … and having tasted.” It is not possible to determine which heavenly gift is precisely intended; perhaps it means remission, or regeneration, or salvation, which St Paul calls “God’s unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15); or, generally, “the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-46). Calvin vainly attempts to make the clause refer only to “those who had but as it were tasted with their outward lips the grace of God, and been irradiated with some sparks of His Light.” It is clear from 1 Peter 2:3 that such a view is not tenable.

partakers of the Holy Ghost] The Holy Spirit worked in many diversities of operations (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Hebrews 6:4. Ἀδύνατον) it is impossible for men, however qualified.—ἅπαξ, once for all) The adverb does not extenuate the matter, but renders the expression precise.—φωτισθέντας, enlightened) Christianity is the Whole, into which men get an entrance through the Gospel received by faith, and through baptism. There follow here the three parts in respect of the three principal benefits in the New Testament, proceeding from the Son of God, from the Holy Spirit, from GOD. So, enlightened (illuminated), ch. Hebrews 10:32. Whence the use of this word is very frequent in the writings of the Fathers concerning baptism. Life and light are often mentioned conjointly; the one is often observed to be included in the notion of the other. Therefore, as regeneration is said to take place in baptism, so also enlightening. And this phrase is particularly suited to the Israelites, who had not been without life by faith, according to the Old Testament, when they abstained from dead works, Hebrews 6:1; but yet afterwards they were bathed in the new light of the New Testament.—γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου, who have tasted the heavenly gift) The enjoyment of light is in vision: now to vision is added taste, by which believers, being allured, ought to be always retained. Ἡ δωρεὰ ἡ ἐπουράνιος, the heavenly gift, is the Song of Solomon of GOD, as it is expressed, Hebrews 6:6,—Christ, who is tasted by faith, and also in His own sacred Supper; 1 Peter 2:3; and this taste involves more than repentance from dead works, and faith toward GOD. The participle, γευσαμένους, although the genitive [Hebrews 6:4] and accusative [Hebrews 6:5] are often used promiscuously, seems, however, in this passage to carry with it a difference in the cases. The one (Genitive) denotes a part; for we do not exhaust the tasting [enjoy the whole fulness, but only a part] of Christ, the heavenly gift, in this life: the other (Accusative) expresses more, inasmuch as the whole tasting of the Word of GOD preached belongs to this life, although the powers of the world to come are joined to this Word.—μετόχους, partakers) This partaking, as we have observed at Hebrews 6:1, involves more than the doctrines of baptism and the imposition of hands. In this clause the word taste is not used, because the Holy Spirit here is considered as rather producing the taste, than as its object.—Πνεύματος Ἁγίου, of the Holy Ghost) He is often mentioned in connection with Christ; Acts 2:38.

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). Hebrews 6:4

Impossible (ἀδύνατον)

It is impossible to dilute this word into difficult.

Those who were once enlightened (τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας)

Rend. "once for all enlightened." Ἅπαξ is frequent in the Epistle. Comp. Hebrews 9:7, Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 9:27, Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 12:26, Hebrews 12:27. Indicating that the enlightenment ought to have sufficed to prevent them from falling away; not that it does not admit of repetition. Enlightened, through the revelation of God in Christ, the true light, and through the power of the Spirit. Φωτίζειν in lxx usually to teach or instruct; see Psalm 119:130; 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Kings 17:27. Comp. in N.T. John 1:9; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 10:32. Erasmus gives the correct explanation: "Who once for all have left the darkness of their former life, having been enlightened by the gospel teaching." There is no ground for explaining the word here of baptism, although the fathers from the time of Justin Martyr used φωτίζειν and φωτοσμός in that sense, and this usage continued down to the Reformation. See Just. Mart. Apol. i. 62. Chrysostom entitled his 59th Homily, addressed to candidates for baptism, πρὸς τοὺς μέλλοντας φωτίζεσθαι to those who are about to be enlightened; and justified this name for baptism by this passage and Hebrews 10:32. The Peshitto translates this passage, "who have once (for all) descended to baptism." The N.T. gives no example of this usage.

Tasted of the heavenly gift (γευσαμένους τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου)

For γευσαμένους tasted, comp. Hebrews 2:9. The meaning is, have consciously partaken of. Comp. 1 Peter 2:3, and τρώγων eateth, John 6:56. The heavenly gift is the Holy Spirit. It is true that this is distinctly specified in the next clause, but the two clauses belong together.

Partakers of the Holy Ghost (μετόχους πνεύματος ἁγίου)

"Heavenly gift" emphasizes the heavenly quality of the gift. The Holy Ghost is the gift itself which possesses the heavenly quality.

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