Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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,II
Hence the summons to the readers to strive after Christian maturity and perfection
1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on [let us hasten on, φερώμεθα] unto perfection: not laying again the [a] foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2Of the doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead and of [om. of] eternal judgment. 3And this will we [or, let us] do,1 if [provided that, ἐάνπερ] God permit.
[Hebrews 6:1.—φερώμεθα, let us hasten onward, speed forward.
Hebrews 6:3.—ἐάνπερ, precisely if=provided that.—K.].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
HEBREWS 6:1. Wherefore leaving the first principles, etc. (Lit. the doctrine of the beginning of Christ).—Taken grammatically, it is commonly considered that these words may with about equal propriety be regarded either as the declaration of the author respecting his purpose, leaving behind him the elementary doctrine of Christ, to advance to perfection in his teaching (Erasmus, Luth., Grot., De W., Thol., Bisp., etc.), or as a summons to the readers, himself included along with them, to strive after their subjective perfection (Chrys., Lün., etc.).2—The latter view, however, is decidedly favored by the form of the sentence, connected as it is by διό, as an immediate deduction from the preceding; by the fact that τελειότης retains thus the sense which has been just previously assigned to it; and finally the declaration in Hebrews 6:4 ff.—The contents, however, of the participial clauses (not laying again the foundation, etc.) might warrant the supposition that the plurals (καταβαλλόμενοι, etc.) have here mainly reference to the author, for which reason Del. and Riehm unite both ideas, regarding the plural of the principal verb as having unquestionably a common reference. The φέρεσθαι denotes a movement toward the goal under a rapid and impetuous guidance. The genitive τοῦ χριστοῦ depends not upon ἀρχῆς, but upon λόγον, which latter word is more exactly defined by τῆς ἀρχῆς.
Not laying again a foundation, etc.—Those portions of doctrine are here commonly supposed to be referred to, which seem to have constituted the catechetical instructions of the early Church. Some old expositors even understand the words ἐπὶ θεόν directly of Christ, in order to include the indispensable cardinal doctrine of faith in Christ, and appeal in support of their view to Rom. 9:6; while others maintain that Christian faith, as such, is of course taken for granted, and needs, therefore, no special mention. There is even an American sect that regards precisely the six articles here named as the proper cardinal doctrines of Christianity. With a correct perception of the incongruity of the whole passage as thus interpreted, Ebrard proposes to go back to the original signification of καταβάλλειν, to cast down, overthrow, which is also adopted by the Itala, and to take πάλιν in a privative or reversing sense, as Gal. 4:9; Acts 18:21, explaining the absence of the article before θεμέλιον, partly from its frequent omission in our Epistle, partly from the fact that it is sufficiently explained by the accompanying Genitives. But this artificial resort to an unnatural interpretation is totally unnecessary. For here first, 1, the author is not speaking of specifically Christian doctrine, but of those which the Jews had in common with the Christians (Beng., Thol., etc.), and in which the distinctive Christian features might easily be lost sight of, if those purely elementary and fundamental principles of doctrine were held as if ultimate and final. In the second place, 2, the question is not of fundamental articles of Christian doctrine, but of such fundamental points as must be presupposed in the case of the readers. And finally, 3, the question is not exclusively of doctrine, but primarily of repentance and conversion from dead works, and of that turning to the living God which corresponds to this act. This is the basis on which the readers are so to advance that they shall not always be laying foundations anew; but on the foundation already laid be brought on their part to Christian perfection as well in character and in action (Chrys., Œc., etc.) as in intellectual ripeness and maturity. The works are called dead, not because, as sinful works, they produce death (Schlicht., Lün., Bisp., etc.), or defile like corpses (Michaelis), but because, as works of a man who stands in no right relation to the living God, they can neither express nor give life. [Perhaps, considering the character of the readers, these again may be the dead works of the Jewish law.—K.].
HEBREWS 6:2. Of the doctrine of baptisms, etc.—Beng., Michael., Winer, De Wette make διδαχῆς dependent on βαπτισμῶν, and refer it to those “teaching baptisms,” which, by the instructions that were connected with them, were distinguished from the purely legal lustrations of the Jews. The mere order of the words does not decide the question; for, as Thol. has shown, there are not unfrequently found with the Greeks, for the sake, not merely of emphasis, but of euphony, precisely such inverted constructions as that here assumed by the majority of commentators, who make not merely βαπτισμῶν and ἐπιθέσεως χειρῶν, but also ἀναστάσεως and κρίματος dependent on διδαχῆς. And this is decidedly required by the connection. Instructions in regard to such rites and doctrines as are elementary to the Christian, and, while they are found also in Judaism, have received from Christianity a specific import and character, and these must have been clear to Hebrews converted to Christianity, must not be always needed afresh by the readers (comp. Hebrews 9:10). Thus also is explained the plural βαπτισμῶν; for βαπτισμὀς is a comprehensive term, which at Hebrews 9:10; Mark 7:8, denotes the Jewish washing, and in JOSEPH. Jud. Antt. xviii. 5, 2 denotes the baptism of John, while the specifically Christian baptism is in the New Testament always called βάπτισμα. The interpreters who suppose the author to refer specially to this latter baptism, explain the plural either of outward and inward baptism (Grot., Bald., Braun, Reuss) or of the different acts of baptism (Calov), or of triple immersion (De W.), or of the threefold baptism, fluminis, flaminis, sanguinis (Thomas Aquinas). Some (as Bald and Brochm.) refer the laying on of hands especially to ordination; the majority to the laying on of hands immediately connected with baptism, which, after the third century, was, in connection with the chrism, elevated to the independent act of confirmation. But why should we not refer the term to setting apart or dedication in general? Alike the import and the rythmical structure of this period are opposed to the view mentioned as early as Œc., that a comma is to be placed after βαπτισμῶν, διδαχῆς to be taken separately as coördinate with βαπτισμῶν, and, like this word, dependent on θεμέλιον; and that these we are to understand by the words catechetical instruction, which in the earliest times was frequently imparted only after baptism. And it is equally inadmissible, with Gennadius and Klee, to make even the Genitives μετανοίας and πίστεως dependent on διδαχῆς; or, with Calvin, to put in parenthesis the words βαπτισμῶν—χειρῶν. Finally, there is no reason for referring, with Est., Schlicht., and others, the ἀνάστασις exclusively to the pious, the κρίμα exclusively to the ungodly.
HEBREWS 6:3. And this let us do, etc.—The demonstrative τοῦτο is referred by Grot., Limb., Seml., Storr, etc. (retaining the reading ποιήσομεν as Indicative future) to θεμέλιον καταβάλλειν, and they then take καί=also, as implying that the author will undertake this work of laying foundations so soon as God will allow him to come in person to the Hebrews. The majority, however, rightly refer it to φερώμεθα as the finite verb of the preceding sentence; yet with this difference, that according to some the author would seem to be expressing the purpose to proceed now, if permitted, to unfold the deeper meaning of the doctrine of righteousness (λόγον δικαιοσύνης), while, according to others, who take the ποιήσωμεν communicatively (i.e, as embracing the author with his readers), he is exhorting them to advance to the desired Christian perfection. This latter view accords with the connection. The conditional clause (provided that=ἐάνπερ, etc.) points to the possibility of a falling away, which would absolutely exclude the progress referred to. It is not made a matter of direct statement, whether in fact such persons are found in the Church. But it lays upon each individual the duty of self-examination. This intimation is in keeping with the rebuking and warning tone of the section which is lost sight of by Abresch and De Wette.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The goal of Christian development is perfection. For the attainment of this goal a striving is required, which rests upon reliable foundations, and is rightly directed by the word of sound doctrine, and by the supervision and discipline of church fellowship.
2. That which lies at the basis is not the doctrine of Divine things, but a personal entrance on the way of salvation by turning away from dead works (that is, works which contain in themselves no life from God), and a turning in faith to the only true and living God of Revelation and Redemption. With this personal entrance on the path of salvation, commences not merely the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ in the history of the Gospel (Mark 1:15; Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Acts 20:21); but also the influence of the Word of God on the hearts of men.
3. The living power and reality of such a commencement is incompatible with a simple standing still amidst the very rudiments of Christian life and knowledge, and excludes the bare repetition of those fundamental acts which inaugurate the commencement as such; but at once urges us to, and fits us for, the confirming and unfolding of the new relation to God, which that foundation has secured for us, Phil. 3:14.
4. Repentance and faith must daily testify their existence in the life of the Christian, inasmuch as he has not yet reached the goal of perfection, but is tending toward it. They have, however, a different significance, according as they are fundamental acts preceding and conditioning regeneration, and according as they belong to daily Christian Renewal.
5. The very elementary doctrine of Christ has to do with sacramental rites and eschatological facts, and, consequently, even elementary instruction in Christianity must be complete in the articles of doctrine, and leave no gap to be filled up in the capital points. But he who would restrict himself to the rudiments, and allow himself to deal only with them, not only deprives himself of deeper insight and of richer knowledge, but also puts himself into antagonism with the legitimate and fully authorized demand of progressive Christian life.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Life and doctrine have in Christianity a very noteworthy reciprocal influence.—On the foundation which has been laid we must, so far as God allows it, proceed onward to perfection.—He who has not thoroughly turned himself to God will hardly get on well even with the elementary doctrine of Christ.—Confidence in the patience and goodness of God must not render us negligent in striving after perfection.—There is a neglect in the means of grace for the furtherance of the Christian life, which cannot be made good, but brings with it apostasy and Divine judgment.
STARKE:—It is a sad sign of a great decline in Christianity, that there are so few who lay a right foundation in their knowledge, and are zealous to make further progress therein.—Where God does not aid us with His grace we can accomplish nothing rightly.—They are bad Christians, or rather they are no Christians, who know not the ground of the Christian religion.
RIEGER:—The bold determination: We will go on to perfection! must still rejoice every one who has but a slight knowledge of what is entrusted to us in the Gospel.—We may often now still experience that we have not the same power over one portion of the treasures of the knowledge of God, as over another, and not the same power at one time as at another.
HAHN:—The realm of truth is very wide. We must not, therefore, stand still, but go on to perfection.
HEUBNER:—There is a distinction between Christian doctrines, not, however, in respect of importance, as essential and unessential—for no such doctrine have Jesus and the Apostles delivered to us—but as elementary or properly foundation doctrines, and doctrines built upon them, and of still profounder character. There is thus a distinction of order, of connection, and of comprehensibleness.
HEDINGER:—It is well for many to advance slowly in the knowledge of doctrine, that they may be all the richer in sincere and simple-minded action.
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,III
For it is impossible to bring back to a state of grace those who, after experiencing the gracious power of Christianity, have fallen back from it.
4For it is impossible for [in respect to] those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were [been] made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5and have tasted the good word of God [a precious word of God] and the powers of the world to come, 6if they shall fall away [and have fallen away, παραπεσόντας] to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify [while crucifying] to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [putting] him to an open shame. 7For the earth [land] which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them [useful herbs for those] by [for the sake of] whom it is dressed [cultivated], receiveth 8[shareth μεταλαμβάνει] blessing from God; but that which beareth [but when bearing] thorns and briers [thistles] [it] is rejected [reprobated, ἀδόχιμος] and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.
[Hebrews 6:4.—τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας, those who were once for all (not at one time, or formerly) illuminated.
Hebrews 6:5.—καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα, tasted an excellent or precious utterance of God.
Hebrews 6:6.—καὶ παραπεσόντας, and fell aside or fell away; παρά, nearly as Hebrews 2:1—πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν, to renew back again, or over again, πάλιν, not pleonastic (as Grot.) but indicates a second renewing, which is not necessarily nor ordinarily implied in ἀνακαινίζειν, but simply renewing. (Alf. and Moll.,)—εἰς μετ. into repentance with Eng. Ver. Moll, etc.,—ἀνασταυροῦντας, while they are renailing to the cross, crucifying afresh: such the force of the ἀνά and the present Participle.
Hebrews 6:7.—Γῆ ἡ πιοῦσα, Earth or Land which drank (Aor. Part.):—ἐπ’ αὐτῆς upon it pregnant Gen. with verb of motion coming on and remaining on.—τίκτουσα, and is bearing, apparently connected back by καί so as to be coördinated with πιοῦσα=which drank and is producing. We might expect τίκτουσα μἐν—ἐκφέρουσα δέ (Alf.) which would be more idiomatic and elegant. Observe the life implied in πιοῦσα, τίκτουσα, μεταλαμβάνει,—δι’ οὓς, for the sake of whom, not as Eng. Ver. by whom—μεταλαμβάνει, shareth in, participateth. Rec. Ver. receiveth, misses the special force of the word (as if it were δέχεται, λαμβάνει).
Hebrews 6:8.—ἐκφέρουσα δέ, but while bringing forth, joined to its noun γῆ predicatively, while τίκτουσα with ἡ is united to it attributively.—τριβόλους rendered Matt. 7:16; Gen. 3:18, thistles. So Moll: Disteln.—ἀδόκιμος again a term of life, reprobated. See Rom. 1:28; Heb. 12:17, ὰπεδοκιμάσθη, was reprobated, discarded.—K].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
HEBREWS 6:4. For it is impossible, etc.—The γάρ refers neither to the conditional clause immediately preceding [Abresch], nor to the clause μὴ πάλιν θεμέλιον καταβαλλόμενο, Hebrews 6:1 (De Wette after the earlier interpp.), nor to both together (Schlicht.); but to the leading exhortation of Hebrews 6:3, τοῦτο ποιήσωμεν, which looks back to the exhortation (Hebrews 6:1) to strive after perfection. To weaken down the ἀδύνατον into perdifficile (Jerome, Erasm., Zwingle, etc.) under the plea of a rhetorical exaggeration, is purely arbitrary. Neither are we to supply παρ’ ἀνθρώποις according to Matth. 19:26 (Ambrose, Limb., Beng., Heubn., etc.). The object of the author is precisely this: to set before the eyes of the readers the whole magnitude of the danger, and the fearful import and gravity of the crisis to which they have come.
Once enlightened.—The patristic interpreters aimed chiefly to oppose the Montanists and Novatians, who sought by this passage to justify their refusal to readmit to the Church those who had backslidden. These patristic expositors, and after them Thom. Aquinas, Este, Corn. a Lapide, Michael., Ernesti, etc., take φωτίζειν in the sense in which it is employed by JUSTIN MARTYR (Apol. i. 62, 65), viz., of baptism. They sought, then, to show that the author is not speaking here of regeneration in the narrower sense, but of reception into the Christian community by means of baptism; and that thus only the repetition of baptism upon the readmission of those who had deeply fallen, is declared inadmissible. But the context, and the use of the word, (Hebrews 10:32), show that the word here denotes spiritual enlightenment effected through the preaching of the Gospel (comp. John 1:9; Eph. 3:9; Ps. 36:10). The ἅπαξ stands in contrast with πάλιν, Hebrews 6:6. Men pass the turning point from darkness to light (Eph. 5:14) only once; the change can never occur again (Del.).
Have tasted the heavenly gift.—By this heavenly gift many interpreters, with Primas., understand the Lord’s Supper; others, with Chrys., justifying grace, or forgiveness of sin; some, with Grotius, the peace of mind, which it engenders; many, with Calmet, the Holy Spirit, or with Seb. Schmidt, and Bengel, the person of Jesus Christ. Abresch and Bleek understand the above-mentioned illumination or the heavenly light which produces this illumination; Morus and others, the Christian religion or the Gospel. Tholuck, however, and the more recent interpreters, declare themselves, with good reason against every special interpretation, pointing to 2 Cor. 10:15, where salvation in Christ is called “the unspeakable gift” of grace, and laying stress, partly on the close connection of this clause with the preceding, made by the particle τε, and partly on the emphatic position of γευσαμένους at the beginning of the clause.
The connection and object of the passage require that we take this latter word according to rabbinical usage, just as at Hebrews 2:9, in the sense of practical experience, by actual personal appropriation and enjoyment. The construction with the Gen. (instead of the Accus. as at Hebrews 6:5) does not warrant the interpretation made in the interests of Calvinism, of a mere tasting with the tip of the tongue. The former construction is Greek—the latter Hellenistic. Perhaps it may also be said that the choice of the former construction was dictated by the idea of an enjoyment out of the fulness of those heavenly riches of grace which were designed for, and proffered to, the collective body, while the second construction points to the idea “that the good word of God has been, as it were, the daily bread of the persons whom the language describes” (Del.).
HEBREWS 6:5. The precious word of God, and the powers of the world to come.—Many interpreters regard, with Chrys. and Primas., the first expression merely as a description of the Gospel generally; Calvin and Braun regard it at least as placed in contrast with the judicial rigor of the Mosaic law. The majority, however, referring to Josh. 21:43; Zech. 1:13, and similar passages find in it a special reference to the divine promises of a blessed future, and to peaceful rest in the Land of Promise. The world to come (αἰὼν μέλλων) stands in the same sense as Hebrews 2:5, μέλλουσα οἰκουμένη and the “powers” (δυνάμεις) of that world are those mentioned Hebrews 2:4. And thus too narrow is the reference, on the one hand, to the foretaste of future glory (Primas., Böhme, etc.), and, on the other, to the miraculous acts of the Apostles that have been witnessed by believers, or experienced in their own persons (Wittich, Braun, etc.).
HEBREWS 6:6. And have fallen away.—The author has not in mind particular gross or conscious sins, as Luther erroneously supposed, and hence took offence at the passage. He has rather in view apostasy from the recognized and experienced truth of salvation, as a sin closely allied to the sin against the Holy Ghost. The Aor. particip. points to the fact that this breaking off from all fellowship with Christ is a single and once for all accomplished act; while the following Present Participles express the condition which follows upon this falling away, characterizing its state alike of utter hopelessness and self-condemnation. [As to the question of the moral condition of the persons here described, I shall add but little. The question had probably hardly presented itself at this time as a distinct point of Christian doctrine, whether a regenerated person could fall away. One thing was certain, viz., that the Christian profession and the actual Christian character of the members of the church did not take them out of the category of free moral agents, who stood personally responsible for their perseverance and steadfastness in their Christian profession, and who were, therefore, to be appealed to by every consideration, which could address itself to persons who, under God, held their destiny in their own keeping. It was also equally certain that their salvation depended on their perseverance; that he, and he only, who held out to the end, would be saved, and this was equally true whether we adopt the supposition that they actually could apostatize from a state of grace, or whether their apostasy only proved that they had never been in a regenerated state. In either case the mode of spiritual treatment was the same. None could look behind the curtain into the volume of the divine decrees; and the only practical test of the reality of one’s Christianity, and the only assurance of his salvation, was his holding on to the end. As a doctrinal question, therefore, it was totally unnecessary that it should be raised and decided. Meantime another thing was equally certain, because lying in the very nature of the case. If a person who had partaken of the grace of Christ, and been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, and sanctified by the blood of Jesus, did fall away, and turn his back completely on all these gracious agencies, and these highest and final means of salvation, his case was hopeless. There was no more sacrifice for sin. He had exhausted all the provisions of Divine love and compassion, and henceforth nothing remained to him but a fearful looking for of inevitable judgment. If, then, this and like passages in Hebrews do teach the possibility of falling from grace, they teach, in like manner, the impossibility of restoration to it. The saint who has once apostatized, has apostatized forever. Meantime, the case is only put hypothetically. There is not, so far as I am aware, a distinct declaration that such a falling away does actually occur; but only a declaration, if it should occur, what in the nature of the case must be the inevitable consequence. And I cannot forbear adding, that in my judgment, the tenor of many passages of the New Testament is decidedly against the actual possibility of such apostasy, and that the admission of the doctrine would revolutionize the whole orthodox conception of the New Testament system of salvation.—K.].
To renew them again unto repentance.—The position of πάλιν forbids our connecting it with παραπεσόντας (Heinr. etc.); nor need we with Grot, regard it as pleonastic in its connection With ἀνακαινίζειν. For ᾶνά in composition does not necessarily denote a return into a previous state, but may regard the action as commencing (with the kindred meaning of springing up). Thus ἄνακαινίζειν, ἀνακαινοῖν, particularly may denote the inauguration of a new state of things, and, referring to man’s transfer from his old state, imply his being brought up back into a higher life, Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16;. Col. 3:10. Repentance (μετάνοια) appears here not as the means (Chrys., Corn, a Lapide, etc.), but as the result and state of renewal. Ἀνακαινίζειν is properly to be renewing, to endeavor to renew. Some, therefore, (as Ambrose, Beng., Heubner, etc.), would find in the active voice ground for restricting the statement to the efforts of men, for the conversion of others, leaving their renewal still among the things which are possible with God (Matt. 19:26). But the fact that alike here Hebrews 6:7, 8, and subsequently Hebrews 10:26 ff. special emphasis is laid on the judicial and retributive judgment of God, forbids such a limitation. Thus, undoubtedly, the active form is neither to be confounded with the Pass. (Vulg., Calv., etc.), nor to be taken reflexively=to renew oneself (Orig., Erasm., Lapide, etc). But the active is explained from a reference to the employment in the church of the ordinary means of grace.
While crucifying for themselves the Son of God afresh.—With the Greeks ἀνασταυροῦν means only to nail to the cross; but even the Greek expositors find here expressed in ἀνά, the natural and appropriate idea of repetition. The ἑαυτοῖς is by many expositors erroneously rendered (with (Œc. and Calv.), so far as in them lies; and by Heinrichs each for himself. Schultz takes it as Dat. of the instrument=by themselves. More natural would be the Dat. loc. (Beng., Abresch, Thol.), according to which the apostates place themselves on the same platform and level with the unbelieving Jews; but better than either, it may be taken as the Dat. commodi; not, however, in the sense of Klee, and Stengel, viz., for their own satisfaction and for the gratification of their hardened heart, but rather as the Dat. incommodi, viz., for their own destruction, (Vatabl., Bl., Lün., Del). [With Alf. I regard this last meaning of “in perniciem” as too strong, and as carrying that which lies in the nature and necessities of the case, into the grammatical relation of the word. It is I think simply the Dat. commodi—expressing that which is done for, with reference to themselves, and the question of the consequences, whether destruction or otherwise, is not to be found in the relation itself. Wordsworth explains artificially crucifying “not to him, for he is impassable; but to themselves and to their own perdition.”—K].
HEBREWS 6:7.—For the sake of whom.—Δι’ οὔς is erroneously referred by the Vulg., Erasm., Luth., Calv., etc., to those who cultivate the land [so our Eng. Ver.]. It in fact refers to the possessors, to whose benefit the cultivating is to inure. We have rendered τὸν ἐπ’ ἐρχόμενον by the perfect, has come upon it; because, ἐπί with the Gen. used with verbs of motion, includes also the subsequent remaining in that state.—(WIN. Gr. 6 Ed. p. 336).
HEBREWS 6:8.—Whose end is for burning.—The relation of the words ἧς τὸ τέλος εἰς καῦσιν to the immediately preceding κατάρας, curse, [viz., the end of which curse] is that which most immediately forces itself upon the reader, Camerar., Abr., Heinr., Bl.), yet the majority of expositors, since Chrys. have referred the phrase back to the main subject of the clause, making it declare not the end of the curse, but the end of the land (γῆς)—a construction which is certainly possible. At all events the allusion is undoubtedly to a consuming with brimstone and salt (Deut. 29:22; Is. 34:9) by which the land is condemned to utter sterility and uselessness. Some, in advocacy of the ἀποκατάστασις, have endeavored to draw from it the opposite doctrine, and find in the passage such a burning up of weeds and noxious vegetation as should cleanse the ground and restore its fertility (so Schlicht. etc.); but no explanation could be more totally alien from the context.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
We may imagine a man’s reaching a state of abandonment and moral corruption from which no deliverance is possible, and which draws after itself inevitably eternal damnation. All endeavors to banish this thought from our passage do violence to the words, and spring from theoretical prejudices against the truth which is here advanced, and which also receives Hebrews 10:26 ff. a more full elucidation. It is not, however, said that this condition has in the case of any one already taken place. The reader is only warned, but this in the most startling manner, against sinking into this state as one that threatens him.
2. This condition does not precede regeneration, but necessarily presupposes it; yet not in the broader sense in which regeneration denotes the forgiveness of sins and a transfer into the condition of the children of God, but in the narrower sense which at the same time includes subsequentem renovationem (Form. Concord. III. 19; JOHN GERHARD, Loc. Theol., tom. VIII).
3. The possibility of such an inexcusable and consciously guilty falling off from Christ, and which involves a complete falling away from the gracious state, is presupposed by the Lord Jesus Himself, not indeed Luke 22:31 ff., yet certainly John 15:1 ff. and the sin of denial mentioned Matth. 10:38; Luke 12:9, threatened with the most fearful consequences, presumes a like condition in one who had previously professed discipleship. Moreover, John recognizes a sin unto death (ἁμαρτία πρὸς θάνατον) 1 John 5:16, which even admits no further intercession. There is thus no contradiction in our epistle to the elsewhere recognized doctrine of the Gospel, and the Calvinistic theory of the identity of the renatus and the electus appears in this respect also as unscriptural. Compare besides on this point Rom. 11:21; 1 Cor. 10:1–13; Gal. 5:4; 1 Tim. 1:19, 4:1, 6:10, 21; 2 Pet. 2:20; ReHebrews 6:3:16.
4. The entire identification of the apostasy here named with the sin against the Holy Ghost (in regard to which compare the treatises of MAGN FR. ROOS, 1771, and of PHIL. SCHAFF, 1841; MÜLLER’S Doctrine of Sin, 4 ed., 1860; and ALEX. VON ŒTTINGER, de pecato in Spir. S. qua cum eschatologia Christiana contineatur ratione, 1856), becomes questionable from the fact that the latter may be committed even by those who from the very commencement have hardened themselves against the influences of the Holy Spirit, and have thus passed on to obduracy and blasphemy, Matt. 12:31 ff.; Mark 3:28 ff.; Luke 12:10. The majority of interpreters, therefore, since Bleek regard the sin against the Holy Ghost as the broader and more comprehensive Comp. RIEHM, II., 764 ff., 819 ff.
5. Neither does this statement of our author stand in contradiction with the doctrine of the power of Divine grace, or of the full authority of the Church to forgive all sins. For the grace of God operates neither magically nor violently, and the forgiveness of sins has for its condition repentance and faith. But the very characteristic of this sin of apostasy consists in the fact of rejecting the means of grace, which had been previously employed and experienced as fraught with saving power, and this in a radical hostility to their truth and saving efficacy; and thus rendering all their influence objectively impossible. There is a continued re-crucifying of the Son of God, by which He becomes exposed anew to the derision of the world.
6. The designation of this sin as apostasy is as far from excluding the fact of its gradual development in a soul, as the description of it as sinning wilfully, (ἑκουσίως ἀμαρτάνων, Hebrews 10:26) is from denying the fact of the deceptive working of sin, Hebrews 3:13. “It is the fruit of an entire series of individual, wilful, and unrepented sins; the final result of a whole series of misdeeds, and of violent repressions of the impulses of the Holy Spirit,” (Riehm). All the more necessary then are the warnings and exhortations of our epistle for those who have not yet destroyed within themselves a susceptibility to the influences of the Spirit of God, and who have not as yet made themselves incapable of faith or of repentance.
7. But in the destruction in man of the susceptibility of moral and religious renovation, there is accomplished not merely a law of psychological development, but at the same time a Divine, punitive judgment which has its ground in a condemning sentence of God. This sentence proves itself ultimately valid and decisive, not indeed in accordance with any eternal decree, but judicially, after God has proved the apostates to be utterly reprobate. But the entire carrying through of this judgment is still in the future. By this let none be deceived. “Yet we must guard ourselves alike against making the apostolic warning a source of torture and despair, and a billow of fleshly security” (Del.). Comp. SPENER, Theol. Reflections, IHebrews 6:634; Latest Theol. Reflections, II. 398; PALMER, Pastoral Theology (1860); 2d ed., 1863; VALENTI, Pastoral Healing, 2 parts, 1832, “On Spiritual Conflicts.”
8. “He who through moral unfaithfulness has fallen into the illusion that he has been deceived by objective truth, can no longer prove indifferent toward this, since he is unable entirely to deny it. It has, as truth, maintained itself in his inner being; there remains, therefore, within him, a sting of conscience, which urges him to self-justification, and with this to inward and outward struggles, whether in argument or in wanton railing against that truth which will no longer leave the sinner, whom it once claimed as its possession. If now we take into consideration that ever growing, ever deepening power of evil, which is expressed in the saying: “In the first step ye are free; at the second, ye are slaves,” then assuredly we can, recognize as possible, within the sphere of such a conscious though unconfessed self-deception, a degree of obduracy in which conversion is impossible” (THOLUCK).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The lapse from a state of grace: a. in its origin; b. in its characteristics; c. in its consequences.—He who has fallen from grace is worse than he who has never attained to it.—That which was written for our warning, and that which takes place for our example, whether in nature or in history, we should never allow to minister to our perverseness.—The susceptibility to the repeated influences of grace.—The way to Heaven is much easier and pleasanter than the way to Hell; those who walk in it have already, in the enjoyment of the blessings of salvation, a foretaste of heavenly powers and delights.
STARKE:—The impossibility of the conversion of a fallen sinner, consists not in a deficiency of the grace of God, or of the merit of Christ, or of the influence of the Holy Spirit; but in the conduct and character of the sinner who wilfully rejects Christ, and the economy of salvation.—The happy, gracious state of believers, is a glorious token of the Divine origin, truth, and excellency of the Christian religion.—All backslidings are not equally dangerous, but none is without danger.—The grace of God visits all men, but with a great difference in spiritual productiveness, according to the quality and moral condition of the heart.—We need even after conversion, perpetual accessions of the grace of God, and repeated anointings of the Divine Spirit; after these must we yearn, and eagerly receive them, like a well prepared field.—For us also it may doubtless be said: “The plough or the curse.”
RIEGER:—He who labors in accordance with the Divine appointment, receives what he must ascribe not to his labor, but manifestly to the blessing of God.—Hidden and secret as may be the workings of grace, we could always track them out, if we would give to them the same heed that we apply to our domestic and worldly affairs.
HEUBNER:—The condition of men is all the more dangerous, their reformation all the more difficult, by how much the farther they have previously been, by how much the higher they have arisen.—The gifts of grace already obtained, impose a solemn obligation; and he who has already received the Spirit, has a heavy responsibility.—The falling away of advanced Christians is an insult offered to Christianity and to Christ Himself; is a declaration that Christ was justly crucified.—The heart that receives in vain the labor employed upon it, and bears no fruit, is rejected of God.—Moral desolation and reprobation are the heaviest punishments and judgments of God.
STEIN:—Sinners are frequently visited by Divine grace. If they produce the righteous fruits of repentance, then they may expect anew proofs of the Divine favor; while in the opposite case, they may expect no long forbearance, and least of all, when they apostatize, may they look for any new exercise of compassion.
FRICKE:—A fearful sin, and a frightful judgment.
HEDINGER:—The devil in his heart, death in his bosom, hell beneath his feet, and a curse on his posterity.
Hebrews 6:3.—Instead of ποιήσομεν, we are to read ποιήσωμεν after A. C. D. E., 23, 31, 39. The Ind., however, is found in Sin. [in Cod. Vat., and is retained by Tisch. The meaning is good with either reading; in my opinion, equally good or better with ποιήσομεν.—K.].
[Some, however, as Owen and Delitzsch, conceive it possible to unite both meanings. To these also Alford partially attaches himself, considering “that on the one hand, θεμέλιον καταβαλλόμενοι can hardly be properly said of any but a teacher; and on the other, Hebrews 6:4 ff., ἀδύνατον γάρ, etc., must necessarily have a general reference of warning to the readers.—The whole, then, is a συγκατάβασις of the writer to his readers. He, with his work of teaching, comes down to their level of learning, and regards that teaching and learning as all one work going on together; himself and them as bound up in one progress. Thus best may we explain the expressions which oscillate between writer and readers.” So Alford. While holding clearly that the main tenor of the passage has reference to the spiritual progress of the hearers, and that the general urbanity of the writer would be sufficient to account for the first person plur., and while also conceiving that καταβαλλόμενοι θεμέλιου, may refer not inaptly to the readers, I yet concur with Alf. in finding a little coloring in this phrase drawn from his position as teacher.—K.].
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.IV
But the readers are still in a condition which, by the grace of God, renders possible the attainment of the goal, for which they are earnestly to strive
9But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, 10though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of [om. labor of]3 love, which ye have [om. have] shewed toward his name, in that ye have [om. have] ministered to the saints, and do minister [are ministering]. 11And [But] we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to [in respect to] the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12That ye be [become=prove yourselves] not slothful, but followers [imitators] of them, who through faith and patience [long-suffering] inherit the promises.
[Hebrews 6:9.—τὰ κρείσσονα καὶ ἐχ., the things which are better, and are connected with salvation. The article not repeated.—εἴ καί, if also, or even=although.
Hebrews 6:11.—ἐπιθυμοῦμεν δέ, But (better than and here as adversative) we desire.—τὴν αὐτὴν σπουδήν, the same zeal, πρός, with reference to, in respect to, Eng. ver. inadequately simply to, and mars the sense by putting a comma after diligence.
Hebrews 6:12.—ἵνα μὴ γένησθε, that ye may not became, or prove yourselves—μιμηταί, imitators.—μακροθυμία, long-suffering—K.].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
HEBREWS 6:9. But we are persuaded better things, etc.—The epithet ἀγαπητοί (beloved), so frequent with Paul, is found in our epistle only in this place, where the author, by the verb πεπείσμεθα, emphatically expresses his conviction that the terrible results which he has depicted will not be realized in the case of his readers. Τὰ κρείσσονα is referred by some to a better destiny, by others to a better condition. The former, then, regard ἐχόμενα σωτηρίας chiefly as a periphrasis for σωτηρία itself; while the latter refer this expression to that which tends to salvation. More exactly ἐχόμενόν τινος denotes that which stands connected with an object (whether outwardly or inwardly, locally or temporally), and belongs to it. The words are thus to be taken in a comprehensive sense, and stand parallel to the κατάρας ἐγγύς.
HEBREWS 6:10. For God is not unrighteous, etc.—This verse contains the ground on which the author bases his persuasion. That ground is not properly the judicial and retributive justice of God, nor the anticipation of the reward which God, according to the Romish doctrine de merito condigno, might bestow on such good works as man is enabled to perform by the aid of Divine grace. It is rather that consistency and uniformity in God’s dealings, inseparable from His fidelity (1 John 1:9), which would render it seemingly impossible for Him to withdraw His gracious assistance from those who in their life, walk, and conduct display the truth and power of their faith, and the genuineness and depth of their conversion. Τὸ ἔργον denotes the moral conduct as a whole (1 Thess. 1:3, Gal. 6:4), in distinction from τὰ ἔργα, which denotes its manifold attestations (comp. Rom. 2:6 with 2:15). Εἰς τὸ ὅνομα Chrysostom regards as indicating purpose = for the glorifying of His name, so that it might also be taken = διὰ τὸ ὄνομα, for the sake of the name of God. The majority, however, with Theophyl., take it as the object of τῆς ἀγάπης = love toward His name. The Aor. Inf. ἐπιλαθέσθαι expresses neither past time (Seb. Schmidt) nor future (Bisp.); but the mere action of the verb, without reference to the relation of time [thus not to have forgotten, nor to be going to forget, but simply to forget]. (Kühn., II. § 445, 2).
To the saints.—KÖSTLIN (Tüb. Theol. Jahrb., 1854, Heft. 3, p. 373) maintains, after Credner, that the expression τοῖς ἁγίοις indicates that the “Hebrews,” to whom our epistle is directed, must be regarded as a non-Palestinian church which had rendered succor to the Christians of Palestine. But the words τῶν ἐν Ἱερουσαλήμ, which the apostle deemed it necessary to add, Rom. 15:26, to τῶν ἁγίων, refutes his hypothesis, based on the opinion that the Christians of Palestine, and particularly those of Jerusalem, were regarded as ἅγιοι κατ’ ἐξοχήν (saints par excellence), and passages like Rom. 16:2, 1 Cor. 6:1, 2, in connection with the salutations in the epistles of Paul, show the groundlessness of the assumption that none other than the original Church could have been designated simply as οἱ ἄγιοι. Moreover, Del. calls attention to the fact that this manifestation of love may very well have taken place within the limits of the readers’ own country, Hebrews 10:34, 13:24; Acts 4:32, 11:29.
HEBREWS 6:11. The same zeal.—The author does not mean to say that all the members of the Church have a like loving zeal, nor that they must still not fail to evince the same loving zeal which they have hitherto manifested (Chrys., Grot., etc.), but rather that the like zeal which they have manifested in respect to love they must in future evince in regard to the πληροφορία of Christian hope (so the majority since Beng.). The want of a “full assurance of faith” or of an assured conviction of the truth of the specifically Christian hope, is precisely the reason of the doubtful and unstable condition of the readers, who stand in peril of a defection from Christianity.
HEBREWS 6:12. That ye do not prove sluggish, etc.—Here the author is speaking of growth in Christian hope, in a believing and assured hope; at Hebrews 5:11, on the contrary, he speaks of a like growth in the understanding of Christian truth. There is thus no contradiction in his using here γένησθε, may (not) become, and there γέγονατε, have become; and we need not, with Heinrichs, instead of νωθροί conjecture according to Hebrews 12:8 νόθοι. [I doubt much if the author’s consistency requires precisely such a defence, substantially that of Lün., viz., that in the former case the author speaks of “sluggishness of Christian hearing, here of Christian practice.” It is scarcely possible that the hearers had fallen so low in spiritual understanding and brought themselves to the verge of apostasy without having become already liable to the charge of sluggishness in Christian practice. But in addressing a Christian body the author is not necessarily confined to a stereotyped style of expression. He may at one time charge them with actual backsliding, and at another, in a strain of tender exhortation, guard them against the danger of it, especially as what was true of some might not be true of all, and even of some only in a degree.—K.]. The inheriting the promises (κληρονομεῖν τὰς ἐπαγγελίας) is designated as a consequence of faith (πίστις) and long-suffering (μακροθυμία). It can thus not refer to receiving the words of promise (Bl.), but to the obtaining of its substance. The Pres. Part τῶν κληρονομούντων who are inheriting, implies a continuous and abiding act, so that the reference can scarcely be exclusively to the Patriarchs (Bl., De W., Thol., Bisp., etc.). It is not until the following verse that the sentiment, here stated in general terms, is illustrated for the readers by the concrete example of Abraham.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
The personal conviction that the members of the Church have their desires still fixed on things which lie within the sphere of salvation, and have in them their supreme interest, does not release the teacher from the duty of emphatically warning against unfaithfulness and apostasy; from laying open truthfully its causes and consequences, and so depicting the magnitude and imminence of the danger as to penetrate and affect the conscience. But, on the other hand, also, even in the case of those who hold a questionable position in the Church, he is not to forget that God himself has pleasure in remembering that which deserves recognition, and will call it forth and render it productive of blessing. Such means of influence are least of all to be overlooked in the case of those who are in conditions of assault and peril; and the manifestation of personal sympathy along with an affectionate recognition of the attestations and works of Christian feeling and conduct which they have displayed are entirely in place after they have been previously rebuked from the Word of God, and been convinced of their wrong.
2. There is found not unfrequently a zealous and enduring manifestation of love not merely in general toward those who are in need, but in particular toward their oppressed and afflicted companions in faith, shown by those Christians who are partly insecure and weak in their recognition of Christian truth; partly wavering and feeble in the assurance of their Christian hope; partly neglectful and indolent in their striving specifically after a full assurance of faith. We are in this matter to insist that the one be done without the neglect of the other; and we are carefully to avail ourselves of the encouragement which lies in the fact that living service toward the members of the Church of Jesus Christ is regarded by God as a testifying of their love toward His own nature, Matth. 25:31 ff.
3. From the holy nature of God there follows such a system of divine action as to insure that no attestation of love to Him shall remain unrewarded, but rather shall bring a blessing in return in our spiritual advancement. Under this state of the case, we may regard such a blessing also under the point of view of righteousness and of reward, as in fact the Scripture speaks even of a recompensing of the good. But we are not warranted in demanding this recompense on the basis of our claim to a reward for services rendered, nor in basing on it any alleged title to salvation; for every performance on the part of man of that which is acceptable to God, and which He has commanded, is only rendering the service which is due (Luke 17:10). BERNH. WEISS, in his stirring Treatise on Christ’s Doctrine of Reward (Deutsche Zeitsch. für christl. Wiss. und christl. Leben, 1853, Nr. 40–42), very significantly styles the relation of reward between God and man “an economical one, a matter of economy or arrangement, instituted by God for the realizing of His plan of salvation.”
4. The moral condition of the world and the state of the Christian Church may greatly contribute to the apparent impossibility of reaching the goal of perfection and of attaining the promised inheritance, or may at least render their attainment so difficult that many Christians become sluggish and grow cold in that zeal and fervor of faith which has approved itself in their previous walk, and which is still evinced in other spheres of action. In this case the example of those who by faith and enduring patience have reached the goal may prove greatly stimulating.
5. But it belongs essentially to the influence of examples that they be not merely held up to view, contemplated, and admired, but that they be imitated; and in this lies the difficulty and consequent rareness of genuine disciples’ life. For faith has to do with the invisible, heavenly, and future, which it is to apprehend and hold fast as the most absolutely certain and reliable of all things; and long-suffering patience, “without falling into despondency and despair, must await with cheerfulness and with equable, abiding courage, the yet lingering salvation.”
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Love must not cease to warn, to serve, and to hope.—We are not the first on the way to perfection; let us look well to it that we do not remain behind among the last.—Where there are still points of character that link us to salvation, God has long since had them in mind, and would fain make use of them.—Love seeks no reward; yet it finds it.—Services rendered to our companions in the faith are a work of faith with which God is well pleased, and a labor of love which God will reward.—The love that labors and sacrifices for the good of our neighbor is also a service rendered to God, but this only in connection with love to the name of God and with the faith of the saints.—How the striving after the anticipated inheritance of the promise is hindered in the world, but in the Church of God is at once demanded and promoted.
STARKE: We must hope good of every one, and not easily despair of the salvation of any; for God is wont to go forth even “about the eleventh hour.”—Rebuke thy neighbor, if there is great need, at the right time and in the right place, with compassion, without too severe words, and without the spirit of detraction. Perchance thou gainest him.—A believing Christian may be indeed certain of his own felicity, but still not without a holy solicitude for his perseverance and steadfastness in what is good.—God rewards the good works which He demands of us from grace.—It is not merely in heaven that the saints are to be sought and found: they are to prove themselves saints on earth.—Our strengthening and support come indeed from the Lord; but we must industriously employ the means which strengthen and keep us unto eternal life.—Nothing so much favors backsliding as negligence and sloth.—Faith and Christian patience belong together; the former produces the latter, and the latter is a genuine test of faith.—Blessed is he who fails not of the eternal inheritance: he may have much, little, or nothing of temporal things: to have God is to have all.
RIEGER: Though we may have good hope in regard to the majority, we should still give zealous attention to individuals, Acts 20:31.—One may frequently be more ready to suffer for a good cause, and to perish with it, than to persevere in the hope of a victorious issue. Hence exhortation to equal diligence in hope is very needful; for unless hope were renewed the sparks of love would be entirely extinguished.—To mark the footsteps of those that have preceded us is on the race-course of faith a great advantage.—Faith first apprehends and seizes the promise; patience and long-suffering await it to the end.
HEUBNER: The picture of the wretchedness and ruin of apostates tends strongly to arouse the faithful and to guard them against security and remissness.—The thought of Divine aid should spur on and arouse us also to diligence, zeal, and perseverance.—So far from faith tending to check activity, it rather preserves us against sloth and gives us power for action.
Hebrews 6:10.—The words τοῦ κόπου before τῆς ἀγάπης, noted by Beza, Mill, Bengel, and others, as spurious, have, since Griesbach, been properly cancelled as a gloss from 1 Thess. 1:3.
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,V
The example of Abraham shows that perseverance in faith leads to the attainment of the promised blessing, which is pledged by the oath of God
13For when God made promise to Abraham, because be could swear by no greater, 14he sware by himself, saying, Surely4 blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15And so, after be had patiently endured [patiently enduring], he obtained the promise.
[Hebrews 6:13.—Ἐπαγγειλάμενος Moll renders “after making promise,” thus making the promise precede the oath in time, the promise being given at various times, as Gen. 12:7, 17:5, 18:18, while it is not until Gen. 22:16–18 that the oath is given. So, previously, De Wette and Lünemann. Delitzsch and Alford, however, more correctly, I think, make the ἐπαγγειλ. express an act contemporaneous with the ὤμοσεν, viz., God, when He promised, swore, and refer both to Gen. 22. The Eng. ver. is, I think, correct.
Hebrews 6:15.—Καὶ οὕτως, and thus, i. e. under these conditions,—μακροθυμήσας ἐπέτυχεν, by patiently enduring he obtained=he patiently endured and obtained; not having patiently endured, he obtained.—K.].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
HEBREWS 6:13. For to Abraham—“Exemplum Abrahæ adducitur, non quia unicum sit, sed quia præ aliis illustre.” (CALV.).
God in making promise, etc.—Lünem. rightly follows De Wette in taking ἐπαγγειλάμενος, as in time preceding the ὤμοσεν, and refers it to the promises which had been already given to Abraham, Gen. 12:7; 17:5; 18:18, which finally, at Gen. 22:16–18, were not merely repeated and confirmed by an oath, but at the same time had an incipient fulfilment. Del. refers the language only to the last named passage, in which, after the offering of Isaac, promise and oath are united. The Aor. Part, would then express an act contemporaneous with the finite verb. [God promising swore=he promised and swore.] But Abraham had previously nothing upon which he could rely but the promise. This was now, after he had long waited for the promised Son, and had then consented to the sacrifice of Him, been not merely renewed to him, but by the Divine oath attested as thoroughly to be relied on; yet at the same time alike by the oath itself, and by its own intrinsic nature, the promise was marked as one which could have only a gradual realization, and that completely only in the distant future. For this reason Abraham was even to the last remitted to the μακροθυμία, which was conditioned upon his faith, and in this relation stands as an individual and concrete example of the general truth uttered in the preceding verse, and as an instructive and stimulating pattern for his readers; precisely as also at Hebrews 11:13, 29, they are reminded that the Patriarchs did not live to see the fulfilment of the promise, but only saluted it from afar.
HEBREWS 6:15. And thus patiently enduring, he obtained the promise.—The οὔτως, thus, is to be constructed with ἐπέτυχεν (Bl., De W., Lün., Alf.), not with μακροθυμήσας (Stein, Thol., Bisp., Hofm.), nor to the two combined (Del.); but points back to the just previously mentioned pledge of the Divine oath confirming the Divine promise. It thus presents the objective historical condition under which Abraham obtained the promise, while μακροθυμήσας indicates his subjective condition; i.e, he, under the condition of having waited long and patiently since the promise of God was first made (Gen. 15.), now (Gen. 22.) received the oath which guaranteed the fulfilment of the promise. The added clause thus involves a slight progress in the discourse (even if we make τῆς ἑπαγγελίας, refer only to the word of promise), inasmuch as at all events it holds up to the view of the readers, as strongly brought out in the typical history of Abraham, that μακροθυμία which is so essentially involved in the preceding exhortation. If we seek a still further advance, we shall scarcely find it in the verb (as does OTTO, who, p. 103, interprets the ἐπέτυχε as an actual taking possession, or as an attainment—no longer dependent on the tried and approved fidelity of the subject—of the irrevocably pledged promise); nor in the fact that ἐπαγγελία is to be interpreted specially of the Messianic salvation (Bleek); but only by explaining the ἐπαγγελία of the subject matter of the promise, whose attainment (ἐπέτυχε) commences with the receiving back of Isaac (Hebrews 11:17, 19), yet is not to be restricted (as by De W., Lün.) to that which Abraham even on earth lived to see of the multiplication of his posterity. The promise (which here substitutes the abbreviated and concentrated form πληθυνῶ σέ, for the fuller expression of the LXX., πληθυνῶ τὸ σπέρμα σου) embraces in its fulfilment a blessing bestowed on Abraham, extending down through time and onward into eternity.
[The precise relations and import of the passage just explained, are matter of some difficulty, and of a good deal of diversity of opinion. Grammatically the difficulty lies in determining whether the Aor. Participles ἐπαγγειλάμενος (Hebrews 6:13) and μακροθυμήσας (Hebrews 6:15) are, either or both of them, to be construed as expressing an action anterior to, or contemporaneous with the principal verb—either of which construction is equally consistent with the use of the Aorist. In the former case we should render: “after giving promise to Abraham, God swore,” etc.; and “and thus, after having waited patiently, he obtained,” etc. In the latter case we should render thus: “upon giving promise or when he gave promise—God swore;” and “suffering long he obtained” = “he waited patiently and obtained,” or, “by waiting patiently he obtained.” In the former case the giving of the promise precedes the swearing of the oath, and the promise (ἐπαγγειλάμ. must be supposed to refer to Gen. 12:7; 15:4, 5, etc.; 17:5; 18:18, as preceding the oath given Gen. 22, at the time of the offering of Isaac. In this case also the μακροθυμήσας, having waited patiently, will refer to Abraham’s patient waiting during the time which elapsed between the promise of the birth of his son, and its fulfilment, and also perhaps to his cheerful submission to the command to offer up his son in sacrifice. So the passage is taken substantially by De Wette, Lönemann, and Moll; and in this case the “obtaining the promise” after his long waiting, took place in part in his receiving his son back from the grave, while in part this only prefigures and commences its fulfilment, which runs on into the indefinite and endless future. In the other construction—which makes the action of the Participles contemporaneous with that of the principal verbs,—the whole action would naturally refer to the one event in which the promise and oath were both given, viz., Gen. 22, and we should render thus: “For in giving, or when He gave promise to Abraham, God, because, etc., sware by Himself, saying, Surely blessing, etc.; and so (under these conditions of promise and blessing) Abraham waited patiently and obtained (=by patiently waiting obtained) the promise.” So substantially Delitzsch. The objection to the former is that it makes an unnatural separation between the giving of the promise and the giving of the oath, (which the author seems to link closely together), and that it seems to attach a special significance to the period of the giving of the oath, which does not really belong to it, for although the promise was then repeated with a special fulness and emphasis, yet it was substantially but a repetition of the earlier promises, while Abraham’s receiving his son from threatened death, which then occurred, took place before the utterance of the oath, and could be conceived to stand in no consecutive relation to it. The objection to the second construction would seem to be, that if the reference is only to the promise and oath of Gen. 22, then all the earlier promises are apparently ignored, and therefore all Abraham’s patient waiting since they were given, could scarcely come into the account. But to this we may reply, I think, that it is not a matter of importance to the writer to distinguish the separate times and forms of the promise which was made to Abraham; but he naturally, in referring to the promise, takes that occasion in which the promise was finally, and with the greatest fulness and emphasis repeated, and ratified by an oath; while the μακροθυμήσας refers to Abraham’s entire, patient waiting for the fulfilment of the Divine promise, and the ἐπέτυχεν, as it seems to me, refers mainly not to that which Abraham experienced in his life-time, but to the reward of his faith and patience, which, commencing in his life-time, continued on into eternity. I would thus regard ἐπαγγειλάμενος as referring specially indeed to the promise of Gen. 22, where it stands connected with the oath, but to this in reality as the representative of God’s whole collective promise to Abraham; and the καὶ οὔτως μακρ. ἐπέτ. and thus waiting patiently he obtained, etc., as virtually covering Abraham’s bearing during the entire period after God had made to him His promises. I prefer, therefore, substantially Delitzsch’s construction. To make, as Alford does, ἐπαγγειλάμενος, refer to the time of the oath (when he promised, he swore) and yet refer μακροθ. ἐπέτυχεν back to Abraham’s having obtained the promise in the birth of a son in consequence of his long and patient waiting, seems specially inconsistent, and totally confuses the passage.—K.].
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The promises of God, in so far as they are declarations of the time and words of the Almighty One, have, in themselves, the pledge and power of their accomplishment. But the Searcher of hearts condescends in His love to the needs of men, has respect to the weakness of those that are assailed, and gives to them for the strengthening of their faith special pledges and guaranties for perfect reliableness in His promises. In accordance, however, with the sacred character of the relations which are hereby to be confirmed and enhanced, these pledges are themselves of a moral and religious nature; they point to eternity, have respect to the holy nature of God, and have value and significance only for him who is already a believer.
2. Inasmuch as an oath is a form of ratifying a declaration, in which the attributes just mentioned appear not perchance as concomitant merely, but as constitutive, and since for this reason an oath forms for men the highest form of solemn assurance, and sacred affirmation, it becomes clear why precisely this sort of pledge is the most appropriate to the condescension of God, and the simplest and surest for the attainment of the proposed end.
3. From the nature and form of the oath as a solemn appeal to the omniscient Holy God for confirmation of the truth and credibility of a definite utterance, it follows that God can swear only by Himself (=so truly as I live), but that all appeal to this example of God in justification of the use of such a form of swearing among men, cannot be admissible.
4. The promises of God enter with determining power into the course of history. They are not mere words, but are germs of blessing and salvation implanted in the souls of believers, with which he who receives and awaits them grows into an increasingly vital union, and attains to the richness of the promise.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The undeserved goodness of God toward us shows itself, specially: 1. in the promises of immeasurable blessing; 2. in giving assurance of their reliableness; 3. in the experience of their fulfilment.—Only they who wait in faith attain to what God has promised to them in His grace.—The compassion and faithfulness of God must be responded to by us with faith and steadfastness.—The sacredness of the oath through the example of God.
STARKE:—O happy people, for whose sake God swears an oath! and miserable they who will not trust to His oath.—Material blessing is a benefit, but spiritual blessing is a far greater. If thou hast the latter, cheerfully resign the former; but if God gives thee both, thou art doubly blessed.—To throw forward is not to throw aside; deferral is not reversal; God does every thing at its right time; wait in hope; what He has promised to thee, will be done for thee.
RIEGER:—God’s entire way from the beginning, has been in the path of waiting. God gave promises; to these faith had to attach itself, and make its way through all difficulties.
Hebrews 6:14.—Instead of ἦ μήν we should read, with Cod. Sin., A. B. D. E., 17, 23, εἰ μήν. This is the customary form with the LXX., springing from the blending of the classical ἦ μήν with the Hellenistic εἰ μή, which C. and J**, read here, and which imitates the Hebrew אִם לֹא.
For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.VI
Exhortation to Christians to hold fast to the promise which has been in such a manner assured to them
16For men verily [indeed, μέν]5 swear by the greater; and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife [and to them a confirmatory limit to all gainsaying is an oath]. 17Wherein God, willing [wishing] more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of [the] promise the immutability of his counsel [purpose], confirmed it by [interposed with] an oath: 18That by two immutable things, in which it was [is] impossible for God to lie, we might [may] have a strong consolation [incitement], who have fled for refuge 19to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that [the part] within the vail; 20Whither [literally where, ὅπου] the forerunner is [om. is] for us [on our behalf] entered, even [om. even] Jesus, made [becoming] a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek.
[Hebrews 6:16.—Μέν rendered as often in our Ep. in Eng. ver., verily; but always improperly. It is never a particle of emphasis but of concession, or simply where the two members are equally balanced, of contrast; to be sure, it is true, indeed.—πάσης αὐτοῖς ἀντιλογίας, of all gainsaying to them=of all their gainsaying; here not, strife as between equals or rivals, but contradiction, gainsaying, as of one who questions the assertion, or doubts the promise of another.—Εἰς βεβαίωσιν belongs apparently to πέρας, not to ὃρκος=a limit for confirmation, a limit or end designed for and producing confirmation.—Ὁ ὃρκος, the oath—the article generic, that thing called oath.
Hebrews 6:17.—Ἐν ᾧ, In which matter=in which state of the case, viz., the confirmatory power of the oath; ᾦ neuter (with Bl., De W., Thol., Ebr., Lün., Del., etc.), not masc, agreeing with ὃρκῳ—βουλόμενος, wishing, θέλων might be more properly rendered willing.—ἐπιδεῖξαι more than simply show (δηλόω, φανερόω) or even point out (δεῖξαι); rather exhibit, make an exhibition of. display; ἐπίδειξις, Greek rhetorical term for display, exhibition. The term thus carries with it an idea of more formality than is implied in the simple show.—ἐμεσίτευσεν, hardly confirmed; rather, came between, to wit, Himself and His promise, interposed.
Hebrews 6:18.—παράκλησιν, not here consolation (which the context disfavors), but encouragement, incitement, exhortation (so Del., Moll, Ermunterung, Alf., etc.).—κρατῆσαι, to seize upon, to lay hold of, (Eng. ver., De W., Thol., Del., Alf., etc.), or with Moll, hold fast. If we render hold fast, it would seem more natural to connect it with παράκλ. ἔχωμεν (though Moll constructs it with καταφυγόντες). If lay hold of it is more naturally, with most, constructed with καταφυγ. fled for refuge to lay hold. In favor of lay hold is, as mentioned by Alf., the Aor. tense; to hold on to would seem to require the Pres. κρατῖν. On the other hand the construction παράκλ. ἔχωμεν κρατ., may have strong incitement to hold on to, would make a sentiment eminently in harmony with the context. But as καταφυγ. is rather harshly left absolute, and κρατῆσαι, Aor. can hardly be rendered hold fast, I think the rendering of the Eng. ver. preferable to any other, agreeing with Moll in the construction, but not in rendering κρατῆσαι.
Hebrews 6:19.—Είσερχομένην, ἀσφαλῆν τε καὶ βεβαίαν. I am strongly inclined to regard all these words as agreeing with ἣν, scil., ἐλπίδα, and not with ἄγκυραν. The construction is perfectly easy and natural, and avoids the figure of the anchor entering, etc., which though we may, when it is once admitted, defend and even find beautiful, yet must be conceded to be at first view harsh and unnatural.—Εἰς τὸ ἐσώτερον, into the part within=within.
Hebrews 6:20.—ὅπου, where, with εἰσῆλθεν, used pregnantly for ὃποι, whither=whither He entered and where He remained.—πρόδρονος, forerunner, placed emphatically at the beginning of the clause, Ἰησοῦς, emphatically at its close—ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, on behalf of us.—εἰσῆλθεν, entered, historical, not (as Eng. ver.), is entered.—γενόμενος, becoming, when He entered, not being made.—K.].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
HEBREWS 6:16. For men, indeed, etc.—Statement of the reason why God has employed the swearing of an oath, and that in the form here described. Ἀντιλογία never has the signification of dubitatio, doubt, (Grot., Cram.) though it may have that of judicial controversy (Theophyl., Erasm., Schlicht., etc.). Here, however, the meaning of gainsaying is to be preferred with Bleek, inasmuch as the subject is the credibility of the promises of God.
HEBREWS 6:17. In which matter, etc.—Εν ῷ refers not to the oath (Vulg., Primas.), nor to the transaction between Abraham and God (Bez., etc.), but introduces the deduction drawn from Hebrews 6:16, and is=in accordance with which relation or circumstance, viz., that the oath is the highest means of confirmation, or, on account of which. Hebrews 6:18 shows that the “heirs of the promise” cannot be merely the pious of the Old Testament (Calv., Thol., etc.), while neither are we authorized (with Lün.) to restrict the language entirely to Christians. This latter restriction would annihilate the historical basis of the entire passage; while, in fact, the historical illustration forms the starting-point for a more expanded statement. Beza and others erroneously take περισσότερον as = “over and above,” ex abundanti. For the point of the statement is not to affirm that God’s truthful word needs in itself no confirmation by an oath, but that God, in a condescending regard to the relations and usages of men, has given His promise in a more emphatic manner than by the mere assurance.
HEBREWS 6:18. A strong incitement, etc.—The nature of the connection forbids our taking παράκλησις (with Luth. and most others, after the Vulg.) as = consolation. Κρατῆσαι, as Inf. Aor. marks purpose, and is not = lay hold of, seize upon (De W., Thol., etc.), but hold fast. The readers have hope; what they lack is πληροφορία. But this Infin. is not dependent on παράκλησιν ἔχωμεν, under which construction οἱ καταφυγόντες, they that have fled for refuge, denotes the fugitives or secured ones, and is taken absolutely (Œc., Theoph., Grot., Bl., Lün.) as an independent idea, whether εἰς θεόν, be understood or not. The: προκειμένη ἐλπίς, is in that case the hope, lying, as it were, in readiness in the soul. If, on the contrary (with Primas., Erasm., Bez., Grot., De W., Ebr., Del., etc.), we make κρατῆσαι dependent on καταφυγ., then καταφυγεῖν receives the undoubtedly legitimate meaning of profugere, and the προκειμ. ἐλπίς, is the hope, objectively regarded, which belongs to and lies before Christians. If author and readers have already, as Christians, taken their refuge in the holding fast to this hope, they must receive a strong encouragement to this holding on from the sworn promises of God. In harmony also with the objective meaning of ἐλπίς, is the following clause, in which the author by uniting the two images of sea and temple, glides gracefully back to his main theme. The anchor, elsewhere unmentioned in Scripture, appears often in the classics and on ancient coins, as a symbol of hope. The several predicates—particularly the last one, “entering, etc.,”—intimate that the anchor is found not merely in the soul, but at the same time in heaven, and this too, not, as is commonly maintained, by the fact of the soul’s having thrown in thither its anchor of hope, but by the fact that Christ, as our high-priest, has preceded us thither; and the soul, although it as yet sees Him not, withdrawn as He is into the inner sanctuary, and His life hidden in God, yet in faith stands connected with Him, and by this connection attains, on the one hand, like the ship riding at anchor, to rest in this restless world, and on the other, to the possibility and the assurance of being itself drawn thither, where, holding it securely, its anchor already lies. For assuming a blending of the subjective and objective signification of ἐλπίς, there is no adequate reason; nor is προκειμ. ἐλπίς=ἐλπ. τῶν προκειμένων (Bl., De W., Thol.). Only we must guard against taking the objective ἐλπίς, in the sense of the res sperata (the thing hoped for); but take it in the same way in which we speak specifically of Christian faith.—Ὅπου, where, instead of ὀποι, whither, implies the remaining at the attained goal, and ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, is not to be connected with πρόδρομος (as Heinr., Böhm., Thol., Ebr.), but with εἰσῆλθεν.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The strongest assurance of our salvation as purposed by God, and the most powerful incitement to a believing maintenance of our Christian hope, lies partly in the reliableness which belongs to those sure promises which God for our establishment has confirmed by an oath; partly in the fact, that Jesus, as forerunner, has already entered into heaven on our behalf, and there mediates forever for our salvation, embodying in Himself not only the Aaronic but the Melchisedek high-priesthood, and carrying the type of that priesthood to perfection.
2. That which holds of the word of promise made to Abraham and confirmed by the oath of God, holds also of that word of promise in regard to the everlasting high-priesthood of Christ (Ps. 110:4) which in like manner was accompanied by an oath, and which to us as Christians is specially important.
3. The admissibleness of the oath of promise, as well as that of asseveration, within the Christian world, is by this passage of Scripture assured beyond doubt, which in fact derives the strength of the exhortation from the two-fold assurance of the promise by God’s word and oath, and regards the latter as the authorized form of mediatorial interposition, which by appealing to God puts an end to gainsaying with regard to the matter in question, and is followed by a consequent βεβαίωσις. “And the case stands thus; that our intention is accredited by the oath, but the oath itself is accredited by God; since so far from God’s being worthy of credit on account of His oath, the oath rather derives its credit from God.” (PHILO). The idea that God may make Himself surety for man appears also in Job 17:3; Isa. 38:14.
4. The substance of Christian hope is the inheritance of the promise; its goal is union with the exalted Christ; its foundation the word of God; its root is living faith. It forms thus, not merely an indispensable, but powerfully efficacious means for the maintenance of our connection with the unseen world, and for the attainment of the heavenly blessings which are promised to us.
5. “As the Aaronic high-priest, after he had, in the outer court, slain the heifer as a sin-offering for himself and his house, and then slain the goat as a sin-offering for the congregation, entered with the blood of the slaughtered victim into the typical holiest of all, so Jesus, after offering up Himself in sacrifice upon earth, and shedding on earth His own blood, has entered into the Heavenly holiest of all, in order thereby to accomplish, once for all, an expiation on our behalf, and there perpetually to represent us; but at the same time (Hebrews 10:19–21), in order to break the path, and to open the way, for us, who are eternally to be where He is. That He thus, in His entrance on our behalf, is at the same time our precursor, this it is which distinguishes Him from the legal high-priests of a community that was absolutely excluded from the inner sanctuary. And not only this: He is not merely high-priest, but also king; and He is a high-priest not merely for a season, but forever.” (DEL.).
6. “What a firm anchoring-ground for hope is God’s eternal heaven, by which our Jesus is encompassed. Since after having suffered for us, He has also, on our behalf, been so highly exalted. We see Him not, since the place of God to which He has gone is hidden from our carnal eyes, and in so far, there is still a veil between us and Him. But the anchor of our hope, unrestrained by this limitation, reaches into those silent deeps of the spirit world into which He has withdrawn from our senses, and amidst the wild waves of life keeps our souls firm and tranquil.” (DEL.).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
The unchangeableness of the purpose of God: a. to what that purpose refers itself; b. by what its unchangeableness is assured; c. to what this assurance should incite us.—Nature, object and justification of the Christian oath.—The maintenance of our Christian hope: 1. as it is rendered difficult; a. by unsteadiness of faith; b. by the condition of the world; c. by the veil before the future; 2. as it is made easy; a. by the word of promise; b. by the oath of God; c. by the entrance of Jesus into heaven.—The advantage of Jesus’ entrance into the heavenly sanctuary; a. to Him; b. to us.
STARKE:—Believers can, with steadfast faith, be certain of eternal life.—The purposes of God are in part without condition, and are thus surely executed; but those which belong to the economy of salvation are under a certain condition established and bound to this economy.—The first attribute of faith, is, in the feeling of our deficiency in every good, and of our extreme need, to look around after Jesus, in order to seek from Him help and counsel. Its next attribute, is to lay hold of the blessedness that has been obtained through Christ, and to hold fast with manly strength and power to the blessedness once obtained, and on account of no threat or danger, come they as they may, timidly, to cast it away.—God deals with us as with a father’s spirit, since while He knows our weakness, to wit, that as with the aged Moses, both our arms speedily sink down, and become faint and weary, so He sustains with these two strong pillars, His unchangeable truth, and His priceless oath.—Word, faith and hope must stand together; the word lays the foundation; Faith builds thereon; and Hope expectantly stretches herself forth from time into eternity.
RIEGER:—By keeping in view the oath of God in regard to His gracious promise, we are incited to follow on in faith and patience.—The Christian hope is a sure anchor, with which we cannot receive harm, and a firm one, as consisting entirely of God’s counsel at once firm and confirmed by an oath.
HEUBNER:—The hope of the Christian has a limitless reach. It reaches outwardly into eternity, inwardly into the sanctuary of God.—The surety of our hope is Christ. His entrance into the sanctuary is the pledge of our own future entrance into it.
AHLFELD:—The ascension of Christ is the final pledge of our entrance into glory. 1. There is a hidden kingdom of glory. 2. Into this our hope casts its anchor. 3. Christ’s entrance therein renders this hope a certainty.
Hebrews 6:16.—Μέν is wanting; in Sin. A. B. D*. 47, 53, [and is expunged by Lach., Bl., Lün.; but retained by Tisch., Del., Alf., but of course before they had the testimony of Sin. It seems on the whole not unnatural, and yet as the following clause is not added with a contrasted θεὸς δέ, but rather as if filling out the thought, (ἐν ᾦ), I should prefer to follow the authorities that omit it.—K.].