For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift…
There can be no doubt that the apostle here marks out as a possible thing, the making great apparent progress in religion, and then of so offending, as to be finally excluded from the mercies of the gospel. The parties, of whom the apostle speaks, are such you see as have " tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come." There is no difficulty as to the meaning of "Tasting the good Word of God." You all understand the words to denote an appreciation of the beauty and excellence of the gospel, and. therefore, the feeling its suitableness, and receiving it with delight in the soul. we are very much struck with this expression, and greatly wish to make you conscious of its energy. We desire, if it be possible, that you should all understand how the invisible world comes out, as it were, from its impenetrable secrecy, and operates on those who feel themselves strangers upon the earth; and we desire yet further, that every one of you should learn that there is such a thing as anticipating the future; ay, and that there may be experienced on this side of the grave so much of the wretchedness, as well as of the gladness, which shall enter into everlasting portions, as justifies the assertion that the powers of eternity are already brought to bear on mankind. Take two cases — consider, in the first place, how the powers of the world to come are tasted by a man in the season of conversion; in the second place, how they may be tasted in the continued experience whether of the godly or of the wicked. It is surprisingly strange, and would be wholly inexplicable if we did not know how man's powers were disordered by the fall, that beings who have a thorough persuasion of their deathliness, can go on, day after day, and year after year, as though certain that the soul would die with the body. This is, perhaps, the strongest of all demonstrations, that our powers have been shattered and perverted through some great moral catastrophe; for in this it is that man offers a direct insult to himself as a rational being, acting with a fatuity and short-sightedness that could only have been expected from the inferior creation. And hence the chief matter, in working upon men as the recipients of moral impressions, is to rouse them to the feeling themselves immortal. The world which now is, exerts incessant power over all of us: persuading us, by the objects which it presents, and the duties which it imposes, to give our toil and our industry to certain pursuits and occupations. And the world which is to come will exert the very same kind of power if it can only gain our belief and attention, so that it may set forth its objects with the duties which their attainment demands. The man, therefore, who is in earnest as to the saving of the soul, is not a man within whom has been implanted a new principle of action; he is rather one in whom a principle of action, vigorous from the first, but contracted in its range, has received a fresh direction, so that in place of limiting itself to the brief stage of human existence, it expatiates over the whole, providing for the distant as well as for the near. Here, then, it is that you have the general case of the putting forth of the powers of the world to come. You observe one man, and you perceive that he is giving his whole energy to the things of time and sense; you observe another man, and you perceive that, though not neglectful of providing for the present, his main labour is employed on securing his welfare in an invisible but everlasting state. The difference between these men is, therefore, the one has received his impulse from the world which is; the other, from the world which is to come. The one has submitted himself to no powers but those wielded by things which are seen and temporal, whereas the other is obedient to the powers put forth by the things that are unseen and eternal; the one is no consciousness of belonging to more than one world; the other is practically persuaded that he is a citizen of two worlds. Ay, there hath risen before the man who is gathering eternity within range of his anxieties, the image of himself as inextinguishable by death; but thrown without a shred and without a hope on scenes whence he cannot escape, and for which he cannot then provide, and this has roused him. But the force of this expression, "tasting the powers of the world to come," will be far more apparent if you consider the men as acted on by the communications of the gospel. We are sure of any one of you who has been translated out of darkness into marvellous light, that he must have had at times a sense of God's wrath, and of the condemnation beneath which the human race lies, such as has almost overwhelmed him, and made him feel as though the future were upon him in its terrors. He has risen as though the avenger of blood were just crossing his threshold, he has not tarried, he has not turned either to the right band or to the left, but has gone straightway to the one Mediator between God and man, and cried for mercy passionately, as a condemned criminal would plead for his life. And whence this energy? Why, when every other beneath the same roof, or in the same neighbourhood, is utterly indifferent, moved with no anxiety as to death and judgment — why has this solitary individual who has no greater stake than all his fellows in futurity, started up with irresistible vehemence of purpose, and given himself no rest till he has sought and found acceptance with God? We reply at once, that he has been made to " taste the powers of the world to come." The world which now is arraying before him its fascinations; the world which is to come arraying before him its punishments. The one put forth its influence in the objects of sense; the other put forth its influence through the objects of faith. The one solicited him by the wealth and the revel; but the other threatened him with the fire and the shame. The one used its power of ministering to carnal passions; the other asserted its power of making those passions our tormentors; and the future has carried it over the present. Nor is this all. We should convey a most erroneous impression in regard to the process of conversion, if we represented it as carried on exclusively through a terrifying instrumentality. If one man is driven, so to speak, to God, another may be drawn; the promises of the gospel being more prominently employed than the threatenings. For we may rather say, in the majority of cases, and perhaps in all, conversion is brought about through a combination of agency; the coming wrath being used to produce fear and repentance, and the provided mercy to allay anxiety, encourage hope, and confirm in holiness. We cannot imagine a converted man who has never dreaded the being lost; neither can we imagine one who has never exulted in the prospect of heaven. And though fear or joy may predominate according to circumstances, which we need not attempt to define, we may venture to speak of conversion as a process through which man is alike made to feel that he is a fallen creature doomed to destruction, and a redeemed creature admissible into glory. He is as much acted on by promises as by threatenings; he does not take half the Bible, but places as much faith in declarations which speak of honour and peace and triumph made accessible to man, as in others which set forth the fact, "that the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God." And is it not then certain that the world to come brings to bear upon him its instruments of happiness as well as its instruments of vengeance — that the future in struggling into the present, is equally energetic and equally influential, if regarded as the scene in which the good shall be rewarded, or considered as charged with the overthrow of the reprobate? And if therefore you can say of the converted individual, surveying him merely as one who is moved by great and impending destruction, that he manifests the having imbibed the influences of another state of being, will you not make a like statement when you regard him as animated by the hope of pleasures stored up at the right hand of God? And what is this, inasmuch as in the invisible world are the magazines of Divine retribution, so that the powers with which it is replete, are those of exacting the penalty of crime, and rewarding the efforts of obedience? what, I ask you, is this but saying of an individual — "He hath tasted the powers of the world to come "? And now let us consider how the powers of the world to come may be tasted in the continued experience, whether of the godly or of the wicked. For we may be persuaded, that through not endeavouring to bring the future into close connection with the present, or rather through not regarding the future as in every sense the continuation of the present, men strip the realities of another state of much of that influence which they must otherwise have. We put it to yourselves to decide, whether you are not accustomed to place, as it were, a great gulf between the two states of being, to regard the invisible as having few or no points in common with the visible? When heaven is mentioned, there is ordinarily altogether an indefiniteness in your apprehension of its delights; and when hall is mentioned, there is the like indefiniteness in your apprehension of its torments. You consider, in short, that little or nothing can be ascertained in regard to the nature of future joy and misery; they differ so widely from what now hear the names, that they must be felt before they can be understood. But we hold it of great importance that men should be reminded that whatever the changes effected by death and the resurrection, they will be identically the same beings, with the same organs, the same capacities, the same in nature, though, we doubt not, marvellously quickened and mightily enlarged. And if the grave shall give us up, the same, except in the degree in which we can admit either happiness or misery, it is quite evident that both heaven and hell may begin on this side eternity. There may be the commencement, however vastly we come short of the consummation. It is in thorough consistency with this view that the apostle speaks of men " tasting the powers of the world to come." It is not necessary that they should die, and actually enter another world, before they can know anything of the powers of that world. In their sohourning upon earth ere there hath passed on them aught of that mysterious change through which the corruptible shall put on incorruption, they may have acquired a degree of acquaintance with those powers — the power of making happy, the power of making wretched. The evil man may have the commencement of an anguish, which shall be the same in kind, though not to be compared in intenseness to that by which he shall be racked if he die in impenitence. The righteous man may enjoy a peace and be elevated by a rapture which shall be as an introduction to the deep tranquility and lofty ecstasy of the land in which the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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,