THIS chapter is one of three passages in the New Testament which Satan has most incessantly used to torture and distress the souls of the children of God. One of three, I say; the other two being John xv. And Hebrews x.
I want you to notice that it comes in here as a kind of parenthesis, and this parenthesis commences at chap. ν. 11; and then in chapter vii, he goes on with his subject, "For this Melchizedek" &c. You must connect, therefore, the last four verses of chapter v. with chapter vii. in order rightly to understand it. The apostle is writing to Jewish professors of Christianity, though there were among them a great many real, bright Christians; he is writing to those who had been brought up with the traditional religion of Judaism. And now Christianity had come in; and what is Christianity? Christianity is not outward forms, and ceremonies, and ordinances; but the knowledge of the Son of God—a living Man at the right hand of God—and faith addressing itself to this living One—Christ Jesus the Lord—and finding its all for time and for eternity in Him. Therefore, Christianity is a heavenly system, for it has to do with Heaven. Judaism was for earth and an earthly system. Satan always delights in drawing people down to earth; it is what he is busy about at this present time; he would have the heart occupied with anything short of the living Christ in the glory. The object of the Holy Ghost, on the contrary, is to attract the heart, and therefore the hearts of these to whom He is writing, to this living Man, this Christ, of God in the glory, and therefore to detach them from all that was earthly and carnal.
The danger of these Jewish converts was, because of persecution, to give up a heavenly Christ, and to turn back again to the earthly ritual which God had set aside. Judaism had had its death-blow in the cross of Christ. It came to an end there; was as a dead thing in God's sight. And what does God do? He sends Titus and Trajan to sweep away the dead body and bury it entirely from off the scene. Now it is no longer external ceremonies, but the Spirit of God is drawing the hearts of God's ancient people to the person of Christ in glory; and here in chapter v., He is reproaching them with being babes, when they ought to have been full-grown men. In 1 Cor. iii., where He is writing to the philosophizing Greeks, He says, ‘Milk for babes and meat for men; but I cannot give you meat, for you are babes, you are carnal.' That which hindered the Corinthians' growing was philosophy, that which hindered the Hebrews was traditional religion; and how much of traditional religion there is in your days and mine, you yourselves know, and if He has gathered us out around the person of His Son, and in His name, and has shown us what the thought of His heart is as to the Church of God, in measure at any rate, it is only His own grace that has done it.
"Strong meat belongs to full-grown men." Now, you will find, He contrasts Christianity, as a spiritual and a heavenly thing, with Judaism, as an earthly and now a carnal system. Judaism, though originally set up by God Himself, had become this, because Christ had come and been rejected; and therefore, all that He had to say to man in the flesh was now over, and everything was to be heavenly, connected with the Man at God's right hand. A babe, therefore, in this epistle, is one who is still associated with that which simply appeals to the senses, and who is not simply and only connected with a living Christ where He is.
"Therefore, laying aside the word of the beginning of Christ." I have no doubt the apostle alludes here to Judaism as divinely set up, and Christ as the Messiah, the head and centre of it all; but Messiah, the head and centre, had been slain, and so Judaism was all over before God; and therefore He says, you must leave the earthly thing, and go on to perfection, and by perfection in Hebrews, He means Christ in heavenly glory. "Perfect" is used in several different ways in Scripture, and you must know the scope of the passage to understand how it is used in each one. Abraham, for example, is told to walk before God and be perfect, and his perfection was to be in absolute dependence on the God who had called him out to be a pilgrim. Israel's perfection again, was to have nothing to do with idols—they were not perfect, they fell into idolatry. Our perfection in one way, is to be always like our Father, always to show grace; for He makes His sun to rise upon the evil and upon the good. (Matthew v.) Then in Philippians iii., we get perfect twice spoken of, first in verse 12, Paul says, "Not as though . . . I were already perfect," because perfect there means to be like Christ in glory, and Paul says I am not there yet; but a few verses lower down, in verse 15, he says, " Let us therefore, as many as be perfect," because there, perfect is as to the object, having the soul lifted to Christ where He now is in Heaven; taken quite off from earth, and linked with Him where He is, and going on to conformity with Him there.
All that you have in the first two verses of Hebrews vi was common to Judaism and known quite well by the Jew. There must be "repentance from dead works,” and a few certainly knew "faith towards God." Then as to "baptisms," here I apprehend the word means simply washings, of which we know there were many under the Jewish ritual; the priests had to wash their hands and their feet, the victims had to be washed ere they were offered, the defiled had to wash their clothes as well as their persons, &c. Then again, as to the "laying on of hands," there was in Judaism the laying on of the priest's hands, and the laying on of the worshipper's hands on the head of the victim. "Resurrection of the dead," too, was perfectly well known among the Jews. Resurrection out from among the dead was what was not known to the Jew, but is the doctrine of Christianity. In Judaism, there was a measure of light; but the veil was not rent, Christ had not died, and therefore man had not been looked upon as utterly ruined; but now Christ has come, and has gone into death, and been raised out from among the dead, and the heart is linked with Him where He is in heavenly glory; and now the only thing it looks for is for the moment when He shall return and take out from among the dead His own people, His resurrection being the pattern and assurance of theirs.
"Well," Paul says, "laying aside all these beginnings of things," "eternal judgment" too, for every Jew believed that; but he says, you are not to stop at these things now, but to pass on and learn that the judgment, the eternal judgment you deserved, was borne by another, and having been borne by Him, you can never come into it, you have passed to the other side of death and judgment.
Verses 1 and 2 belong then to Judaism, and verses 4 and 5 belong to professing Christianity. I say professing Christianity, for there are two things which are the very kernels of vital Christianity. I mean, there is no mention of divine life here, and there is no mention of the possession, as a seal from God, of the Holy Ghost. "Once enlightened." What does that mean? "Oh," you say, "that must mean converted." Not at all. In John i. 9, it is said of the Lord Jesus, "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." Is every man therefore converted? Not so; but every man coming into the world is brought into the place where the light is shining. But does every man avail himself of the light though it is there? You know it is not so. The sun shines upon this earth, day by day, and sheds its light around. Is a blind man conscious of it? Is therefore the sun less shining? The being enlightened is the coming to a man of the good tidings of the gospel, without at all necessitating his receiving them, or being converted by them. Such an one is not left in darkness whether he avails himself of the light or not.
"And have tasted of the heavenly gift." Surely that must mean really converted? No, not necessarily. They may have been moved and touched after a carnal sort. How many a one has come into a gospel preaching, heard of Christ, been deeply impressed for the moment, thought it a wonderful thing, meant to be a Christian; but there has been no work in his conscience. Like the stony-ground hearers, such receive the word with joy, and give it up for a little trouble. And yet they tasted the joy of it, they felt it was a wonderful thing that God could love such as they, and for a moment were touched, but nothing more. They leave the spot where they were thus impressed for the moment and give it all up—give it up after tasting the joy of it, anon with joy received it.
"And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost." What is a partaker of the Holy Ghost? The Holy Ghost has come down consequent on the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is on this earth dwelling in each believer; but dwelling also in what professes the name of the Lord down here, viz., in the house of God; therefore, if I am in the sphere. where He is acting, I am in that sense a partaker of the Holy Ghost. In the early days of Christianity, when Paul is writing, people gathered in the name of the Lord, and with the Spirit of God in their midst; and they were very conscious of the presence of the Holy Ghost too in their midst, and also of His miraculous powers. Look at the gift of tongues, for example. The Holy Ghost was on earth giving a testimony to the hearts of God's people, and to the world also; and He was present in such power, that a stranger coming in became conscious that God was there. There was an atmosphere of love as well as of power that could not but be felt. If then, a stranger came in and took his place there, he was with an assembly of people of whom the Holy Ghost made one, and in this sense, was a partaker of the Holy Ghost. If the Holy Ghost were acting in power, and a man were in the place where he was acting, he was a partaker of that power—felt its influence.
"And have tasted the good word of God." This even does not necessarily imply divine life in the soul. I ask you, ‘Cannot an unconverted man admire Scripture?’ You know he can. He may admire it, feel its beauty and its depth, and yet his conscience not be reached by it. The Word of God may be brought to him, and he may see its preciousness, but it may leave him as lifeless as before; he may not be quickened by its means.
"And the powers of the world to come." "The world to come" is not eternity, but the future habitable earth under the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, during which time the power of Christ will be put forth, and Satan's power will be removed from this scene, for he himself will be bound in the bottomless pit. When that time comes, and the Messiah is reigning, the lame shall walk, and the deaf hear, and the blind see, and the sick be healed; but there were beautiful little foretastes of the power of that coming kingdom seen in those early apostolic days. Did not the lame man walk and leap at the gate of the temple (Acts iv.), and the palsied man arise and make his bed? and did not Dorcas, who was dead, come to life again? Do we not read too, of their bringing out the sick on beds and couches, that the very shadow of Peter might rest on them, and of their being all healed? and also that handkerchiefs and aprons were taken from Paul's body to the sick, and that their diseases departed from them, and that the evil spirits went out of them? These are the "powers of the world to come," and the Holy Ghost says all this may be known, and yet a person not be converted at all—not have a spark of divine life in him. When the disciples were casting out devils, Judas no doubt cast them out also; for we find from 1 Cor. xiii., a person may have faith enough to remove mountains, and yet not have divine life at all; and Judas doubtless believed in the power of his Master, though there was no life in his soul.
Verse 6. Well, the apostle says, if a person who has been brought under all this power of the Holy Ghost give it all up, "it is impossible to renew such an one to repentance, for he has crucified for himself the Son of God." What had the nation done? It had crucified the Son of God. What were the people doing? The same as their fathers did. If you give up Christianity, give up this heavenly Christ—and God says He has nothing else left—all God's resources have been employed without effect.
Why does He speak of it being impossible to renew them again to repentance? I believe because repentance is always produced in the soul by the effect of the testimony of the Spirit of God, and God had no further witness to give. When God sent His Son into this world, what did man do? Man spat upon Him and slew Him. What did God do? Did He draw the sword of judgment? No; He took Him up to Heaven, and sent from Heaven the Holy Ghost to say to man, "You would not have Him as an earthly Christ, now will you have Him as a heavenly Christ?" If man refuses this—rejects a heavenly Christ—God, as it were, declares that there is no other means of producing repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. As another has said, "After having been the subject of this influence of the presence of the Holy Ghost, after having tasted the revelation thus made of the goodness of God, and experienced the proofs of His power, if any one then forsook Christ, there remained no other means for restoring the soul, for leading it to repentance. The heavenly treasures were already expended; he had given them up as worthless; he had rejected the full revelation of grace and power, after having known it. What means could now be used?
To return to Judaism, and the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, when the truth had been revealed, was impossible, and the new light had been known and rejected. In a case like this, there was only the flesh; there was no new life. Thorns and briars were being produced as before. There was no real change in the man's state.
When once we have understood that this passage is a comparison of the power of the spiritual system with Judaism, and that it speaks of giving up the former, after having known it, its difficulty disappears. The possession of life is not supposed, nor is that question touched. The passage speaks not of life, but of the Holy Ghost as a power present in Christianity. To "taste the good word" is to have understood how precious that word is, and not the having been quickened by its means. Hence, in speaking to the Jewish Christians, he hopes better things, and things which accompany salvation, so that all these things could be there and no salvation then. Fruit there could not be. That supposes life. The apostle does not however apply what he says to the Hebrew Christians, for, however low their state might be, there had been fruits, proofs of life, which in itself no mere power is; and he continues his discourse by giving them encouragement and motives for perseverance.
It will be observed, then, that this passage is a comparison between that which was possessed before and after Christ was glorified, the state and privileges of professors at these two periods, without any question as to personal conversion. When the power of the Holy Ghost was present, and there was the full revelation of grace, if any forsook the assembly, fell away from Christ, and turned back again, there was no means of renewing them to repentance. The inspired writer, therefore, would not again lay the foundation of former things with regard to Christ—things already grown old—but would go on for the profit of those who remained steadfast in the faith."
“The Christian Friend” 1885