Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
We must proceed from the first principles of the doctrine of Christ unto perfection, and not lay the foundation a second time, Heb 6:1-3. Those who were once enlightened, and have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost and the various blessings of the Gospel, if they apostatize from Christ, and finally reject him as their Savior, cannot be renewed again to repentance, Heb 6:4-6. The double similitude of the ground blessed of God, and bearing fruit; and of that ground which is cursed of God, and bears briers and thorns, Heb 6:7, Heb 6:8. The apostle's confidence in them, and his exhortation to diligence and perseverance, Heb 6:9-12. God's promise and oath to Abraham, by which the immutability of his counsel is shown, in order to excite our hope, Heb 6:13-18. Hope is the anchor of the soul, and enters within the veil, Heb 6:19, Heb 6:20.
Therefore - Because ye have been so indolent, slow of heart, and have still so many advantages.
Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ - Ceasing to continue in the state of babes, who must be fed with milk - with the lowest doctrines of the Gospel, when ye should be capable of understanding the highest.
Let us go on unto perfection - Let us never rest till we are adult Christians - till we are saved from all sin, and are filled with the spirit and power of Christ.
The words τον της αρχης· του Χριστου λογον might be translated, The discourse of the beginning of Christ, as in the margin; that is, the account of his incarnation, and the different types and ceremonies in the law by which his advent, nature, office, and miracles were pointed out. The whole law of Moses pointed out Christ, as may be seen at large in my comment on the Pentateuch; and therefore the words of the apostle may be understood thus: Leave the law, and come to the Gospel. Cease from Moses, and come to the Messiah.
Let us go on unto perfection. - The original is very emphatic: Επι την τελειοτητα φερωμεθα· Let us be carried on to this perfection. God is ever ready by the power of his Spirit, to carry us forward to every degree of light, life, and love, necessary to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory. There can be little difficulty in attaining the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls from all sin, if God carry us forward to it; and this he will do if we submit to be saved in his own way, and on his own terms. Many make a violent outcry against the doctrine of perfection, i.e. against the heart being cleansed from all sin in this life, and filled with love to God and man, because they judge it to be impossible! Is it too much to say of these that they know neither the Scripture nor the power of God? Surely the Scripture promises the thing; and the power of God can carry us on to the possession of it.
Laying again the foundation of repentance - The phrase νεκρα εργα, dead works, occurs but once more in the sacred writings, and that is in Heb 9:14 of this epistle; and in both places it seems to signify such works as deserve death - works of those who were dead in trespasses, and dead in sins; and dead by sentence of the law, because they had by these works broken the law. Repentance may be properly called the foundation of the work of God in the soul of man, because by it we forsake sin, and turn to God to find mercy.
Faith toward God - Is also a foundation, or fundamental principle, without which it is impossible to please God, and without which we cannot be saved. By repentance we feel the need of God's mercy, by faith we find that mercy.
But it is very likely that the apostle refers here to the Levitical law, which, in its painful observances, and awful denunciations of Divine wrath against every breach of that law, was well calculated to produce repentance, and make it a grievous and bitter thing to sin against God. And as to faith in God, that was essentially necessary, in order to see the end of the commandment; for without faith in him who was to come, all that repentance was unavailable, and all ritual observances without profit.
Of the doctrine of baptisms - "There were two things," says Dr. Owen, "peculiar to the Gospel, the doctrine of it and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Doctrine is called baptism, Deu 32:2; hence the people are said to be baptized to Moses, when they were initiated into his doctrines, Co1 11:2. The baptism of John was his doctrine, Act 19:3; and the baptism of Christ was the doctrine of Christ, wherewith he was to sprinkle many nations, Isa 52:15. This is the first baptism of the Gospel, even its doctrine. The other was the communication of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Act 1:5; and this alone is what is intended by the laying on of hands; and then the sense will be the foundation of the Gospel baptisms, namely preaching and the gifts of the Holy Ghost."
I am afraid, with all this great man's learning, he has not hit the meaning of the apostle. As teaching is the means by which we are to obtain the gifts of the Holy Ghost, surely the apostle never designed to separate them, but to lead men immediately through the one to the possession of the other. Nor is the word baptism mentioned in the passage in Deuteronomy which he quotes; nor, indeed, any word properly synonymous. Neither βαπτισμος, baptism, ῥαντισμος, sprinkling, nor any verb formed from them, is found in the Septuagint, in that place. But the other proofs are sufficiently in point, viz. that by baptism in the other places referred to, doctrine or Teaching is meant; but to call Teaching one baptism, and the gifts of The Holy Ghost another baptism, and to apply this to the explanation of the difficulty here, is very far from being satisfactory.
I am inclined to think that all the terms in this verse, as well as those in the former, belong to the Levitical law, and are to be explained on that ground.
Baptisms, or immersions of the body in water, sprinklings, and washings, were frequent as religious rites among the Hebrews, and were all emblematical of that purity which a holy God requires in his worshippers, and without which they cannot be happy here, nor glorified in heaven.
Laying on of hands - Was also frequent, especially in sacrifices: the person bringing the victim laid his hands on its head, confessed his sins over it, and then gave it to the priest to be offered to God, that it might make atonement for his transgressions. This also had respect to Jesus Christ, that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The doctrine also of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment, were both Jewish, but were only partially revealed, and then referred to the Gospel. Of the resurrection of the dead there is a fine proof in Isa 26:19, where it is stated to be the consequence of the death and resurrection of Christ, for so I understand the words, Thy dead shall live; with my dead body shall they arise: awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. The valley of dry bones, Eze 37:1, etc., is both an illustration and proof of it. And Daniel has taught both the resurrection and the eternal judgment, Dan 12:2 : And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Now the foundation of all these doctrines was laid in the Old Testament, and they were variously represented under the law, but they were all referred to the Gospel for their proof and illustration. The apostle, therefore, wishes them to consider the Gospel as holding forth these in their full spirit and power. It preaches,
1. Repentance, unto life.
2. Faith in God through Christ, by whom we receive the atonement.
3. The baptism by water, in the name of the holy Trinity; and the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
4. The imposition of hands, the true sacrificial system; and, by and through it, the communication of the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the instruction of mankind, and the edification of the Church.
5. The resurrection of the dead, which is both proved and illustrated by the resurrection of Christ.
6. The doctrine of the eternal or future judgment, which is to take place at the bar of Christ himself, God having committed all judgment to his Son, called here κριμα αιωνιον, eternal or ever during judgment, because the sentences then pronounced shall be irreversible.
Some understand the whole of the initiation of persons into the Church, as the candidates for admission were previously instructed in those doctrines which contained the fundamental principles of Christianity. The Hebrews had already received these; but should they Judaize, or mingle the Gospel with the law, they would thereby exclude themselves from the Christian Church, and should they be ever again admitted, they must come through the same gate, or lay a second time, παλιν, this foundation. But should they totally apostatize from Christ, and finally reject him, then it would be impossible to renew them again to repentance - they could no more be received into the Christian Church, nor have any right to any blessing of the Gospel dispensation; and, finally rejecting the Lord who bought them, would bring on themselves and their land swift destruction. See the 4th and following verses, and particularly the notes on Heb 6:8-9 (note).
And this will we do - God being my helper, I will teach you all the sublime truths of the Gospel; and show you how all its excellences were typified by the law, and particularly by its sacrificial system.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened - Before I proceed to explain the different terms in these verses, it is necessary to give my opinion of their design and meaning:
1. I do not consider them as having any reference to any person professing Christianity.
2. They do not belong, nor are they applicable, to backsliders of any kind.
3. They belong to apostates from Christianity; to such as reject the whole Christian system, and its author, the Lord Jesus.
4. And to those of them only who join with the blaspheming Jews, call Christ an impostor, and vindicate his murderers in having crucified him as a malefactor; and thus they render their salvation impossible, by wilfully and maliciously rejecting the Lord that bought them. No man believing in the Lord Jesus as the great sacrifice for sin, and acknowledging Christianity as a Divine revelation, is here intended, though he may have unfortunately backslidden from any degree of the salvation of God.
The design of these solemn words is evidently, First, to show the Hebrews that apostasy from the highest degrees of grace was possible; and that those who were highest in the favor of God might sin against him, lose it, and perish everlastingly. Secondly, to warn them against such an awful state of perdition, that they might not be led away, by either the persuasions or persecutions of their countrymen, from the truth of the heavenly doctrine which had been delivered to them. And, Thirdly, to point out the destruction which was shortly to come upon the Jewish nation.
Once enlightened - Thoroughly instructed in the nature and design of the Christian religion, having received the knowledge of the truth, Heb 10:32; and being convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and led to Jesus the Savior of sinners.
Tasted of the heavenly gift - Having received the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, through the Day Spring which from on high had visited them; such having received Christ, the heavenly gift of God's infinite love, Joh 3:16; the living bread that came down from heaven, Joh 6:51; and thus tasting that the Lord is gracious; Pe1 2:3, and witnessing the full effects of the Christian religion.
Partakers of the Holy Ghost - The Spirit himself witnessing with their spirits that they were the children of God, and thus assuring them of God's mercy towards them, and of the efficacy of the atonement through which they had received such blessings.
And have tasted the good word of God - Have had this proof of the excellence of the promise of God in sending the Gospel, the Gospel being itself the good word of a good God, the reading and preaching of which they find sweet to the taste of their souls. Genuine believers have an appetite for the word of God; they taste it, and then their relish for it is the more abundantly increased. The more they get, the more they wish to have.
The powers of the world to come - Δυναμεις τε μελλοντος αιωνος. These words are understood two ways:
1. The powers of the world to come may refer to the stupendous miracles wrought in confirmation of the Gospel, the Gospel dispensation being the world to come in the Jewish phraseology, as we have often seen; and that δυναμις is often taken for a mighty work or miracle, is plain from various parts of the gospels. The prophets had declared that the Messiah, when he came, should work many miracles, and should be as mighty in word and deed as was Moses; see Deu 18:15-19. And they particularly specify the giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame, and speech to the dumb; Isa 35:5, Isa 35:6. All these miracles Jesus Christ did in the sight of this very people; and thus they had the highest evidence they could have that Jesus was this promised Messiah, and could have no pretense to doubt his mission, or apostatize from the Christian faith which they had received; and hence it is no wonder that the apostle denounces the most awful judgments of God against those who had apostatized from the faith, which they had seen thus confirmed.
2. The words have been supposed to apply to those communications and foretastes of eternal blessedness, or of the joys of the world to come, which they who are justified through the blood of the covenant, and walk faithfully with their God, experience; and to this sense the word γευσαμενους have tasted, is thought more properly to apply. But γευομαι, to taste, signifies to experience or have full proof of a thing. Thus, to taste death, Mat 16:28, is to die, to come under the power of death, fully to experience its destructive nature as far as the body is concerned. See also Luk 9:27; Joh 8:52. And it is used in the same sense in Heb 2:9 of this epistle, where Christ is said to taste death for every man; for notwithstanding the metaphor, which the reader will see explained in the note on the above place , the word necessarily means that he did actually die, that he fully experienced death; and had the fullest proof of it and of its malignity he could have, independently of the corruption of his flesh; for over this death could have no power. And to taste that the Lord is gracious, Pe1 2:3, is to experience God's graciousness thoroughly, in being made living stones, built up into a spiritual house, constituted holy priests to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God; see Pe1 2:5. And in this sense it is used by the purest Greek writers. See several examples in Schleusner.
It seems, therefore, that the first opinion is the best founded.
If they shall fall away - Και παραπεσοντας And having fallen away. I can express my own mind on this translation nearly in the words of Dr. Macknight: "The participles φωτισθεντας, who were enlightened, γευσαμενους, have tasted, and γενηθεντας, were made partakers, being aorists, are properly rendered by our translators in the past time; wherefore, παραπεσοντας, being an aorist, ought likewise to have been translated in the past time, Have fallen away. Nevertheless, our translators, following Beza, who without any authority from ancient MSS. has inserted in his version the word si, if, have rendered this clause, If they fall away, that this text might not appear to contradict the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. But as no translator should take upon him to add to or alter the Scriptures, for the sake of any favourite doctrine, I have translated παραπεσοντας in the past time, have fallen away, according to the true import of the word, as standing in connection with the other aorists in the preceding verses."
Dr. Macknight was a Calvinist, and he was a thorough scholar and an honest man; but, professing to give a translation of the epistle, he consulted not his creed but his candour. Had our translators, who were excellent and learned men, leaned less to their own peculiar creed in the present authorized version, the Church of Christ in this country would not have been agitated and torn as it has been with polemical divinity.
It appears from this, whatever sentiment may gain or lose by it, that there is a fearful possibility of falling away from the grace of God; and if this scripture did not say so, there are many that do say so. And were there no scripture express on this subject, the nature of the present state of man, which is a state of probation or trial, must necessarily imply it. Let him who most assuredly standeth, take heed lest he fall.
To renew them again unto repentance - As repentance is the first step that a sinner must take in order to return to God, and as sorrow for sin must be useless in itself unless there be a proper sacrificial offering, these having rejected the only available sacrifice, their repentance for sin, had they any, would be nugatory, and their salvation impossible on this simple account; and this is the very reason which the apostle immediately subjoins: -
Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God - They reject him on the ground that he was an impostor, and justly put to death. And thus they are said to crucify him to themselves - to do that in their present apostasy which the Jews did; and they show thereby that, had they been present when he was crucified, they would have joined with his murderers.
And put him to an open shame - Παραδειγματιζοντας· And have made him a public example; or, crucifying unto themselves and making the Son of God a public example. That is, they show openly that they judge Jesus Christ to have been worthy of the death which he suffered, and was justly made a public example by being crucified. This shows that it is final apostasy, by the total rejection of the Gospel, and blasphemy of the Savior of men, that the apostle has in view. See the note on Heb 6:4 (note).
For the earth which drinketh in the rain - As much as if he had said: In giving up such apostates as utterly incurable, we act as men do in cultivating their fields; for as the ground, which drinketh in the rain by which the providence of God waters it, brings forth fruit to compensate the toil of the tiller, and continues to be cultivated, God granting his blessing to the labors of the husbandman; so,
That which beareth thorns and briers is rejected - That is: The land which, notwithstanding the most careful cultivation, receiving also in due times the early and latter rain, produces nothing but thorns and briers, or noxious weeds of different kinds, is rejected, αδοκιμος, is given up as unimprovable; its briers, thorns, and brushwood burnt down; and then left to be pastured on by the beasts of the field. This seems to be the custom in husbandry to which the apostle alludes. The nature of the case prevents us from supposing that he alludes to the custom of pushing and burning, in order to farther fertilization. This practice has been common from very early times: -
Saepe Etiam Steriles Incendere Profuit Agros;
Atque Levem Stipulam Crepitantibus Urere Flammis.
Virg. Geor. I., 5:84.
Long Practice Has A Sure Improvement Found,
With Kindled Fires To Burn The Barren Ground;
When The Light Stubble To The Flames Resign'd,
Is Driven Along, And Crackles In The Wind.
But this, I say the circumstances of the case prevent us from supposing to be intended.
Is nigh unto cursing - It is acknowledged, almost on all hands, that this epistle was written before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This verse is in my opinion a proof of it, and here I suppose the apostle refers to that approaching destruction; and perhaps he has this all along in view, but speaks of it covertly, that he might not give offense.
There is a good sense in which all these things may be applied to the Jews at large, who were favored by our Lord's ministry and miracles. They were enlightened by his preaching; tasted of the benefits of the heavenly gift - the Christian religion established among them; saw many of their children and relatives made partakers of the Holy Ghost; tasted the good word of God, by the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham; and saw the almighty power of God exerted, in working a great variety of miracles. Yet, after being convinced that never man spake as this man, and that none could do those miracles which he did, except God were with him; after having followed him in thousands, for three years, while he preached to them the Gospel of the kingdom of God; they fell away from all this, crucified him who, even in his sufferings as well as his resurrection, was demonstrated by miracles to be the Son of God; and then to vindicate their unparalleled wickedness, endeavored to make him a public example, by reproaches and blasphemies. Therefore their state, which had received much moral cultivation from Moses, the prophets, Christ, and his apostles; and now bore nothing but the most vicious fruits, pride, unbelief, hardness of heart, contempt of God's word and ordinances, blasphemy, and rebellion; was rejected - reprobated, of God; was nigh unto cursing - about to be cast off from the Divine protection; and their city and temple were shortly to be burnt up by the Roman armies. Thus the apostle, under the case of individuals, points out the destruction that was to come upon this people in general, and which actually took place about seven years after the writing of this epistle! And this appears to be the very subject which the apostle has in view in the parallel solemn passages, Heb 10:26-31; and, viewed in this light, much of their obscurity and difficulty vanishes away.
But, beloved - Here he softens what he had before said; having given them the most solemn warning against apostasy, he now encourages them to persevere, commends the good that is in them, and excites them to watchfulness and activity.
Better things of you - Than that you shall resemble that unfruitful ground that can be improved by no tillage, and is thrown into waste, and is fit only for the beasts of the forests to roam in.
Things that accompany salvation - Τα εχομενα σωτηριας· Things that are suitable to a state of salvation; you give proofs still that you have not, whatever others have done, departed from the living God. Several of your brethren have already apostatized, and the whole nation is in a state of rebellion against God; and, in consequence of their final rejection of Christ and his Gospel, are about to be finally rejected by God. They must meet with destruction; they have the things that are suitable to, and indicative of, a state of reprobation; the wrath of God will come upon them to the uttermost; but, while they meet with destruction, you shall meet with salvation. It is worthy of remark, that no genuine Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem; they all, previously to the siege by Titus, escaped to Pella, in Coelosyria; and it is as remarkable that not one Jew escaped! all either fell by the sword, perished by famine, or were led into captivity! According to their own imprecation, His blood be upon us and our children, God visited and avenged the innocent blood of Christ upon them and upon their posterity; and they continue to be monuments of his displeasure to the present day.
God is not unrighteous - God is only bound to men by his own promise: this promise he is not obliged to make; but, when once made, his righteousness or justice requires him to keep it; therefore, whatever he has promised he will certainly perform. But he has promised to reward every good work and labor of love, and he will surely reward yours; God's promise is God's debt.
Every good work must spring from faith in the name, being, and goodness of God; and every work that is truly good must have love for its motive, as it has God for its end.
The word του κοπου, labor, prefixed to love, is wanting in almost every MS. and version of importance. Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Ministered to the saints - Have contributed to the support and comfort of the poor Christians who were suffering persecution in Judea. As they had thus ministered, and were still ministering, they gave full proof that they had a common cause with the others; and this was one of the things that proved them to be in a state of salvation.
We desire - Επιθυμουμεν, We earnestly wish, that each person among you may continue ενδεικνυσθαι, to manifest, exhibit to full view, the same diligence. There might be reason to suspect that some, through fear of man, might not wish the good they did to be seen, lest they also should suffer persecution. This would not comport with the generous, noble spirit of the Gospel; the man who is afraid to let his decided attachment to God be known, is not far from backsliding. He who is more afraid of man than he is of God Almighty, can have very little religion. As the Church of Christ required all those who in these times embraced the Gospel to be publicly baptized, those who submitted to this rite gave full proof that they were thoroughly convinced of the truths of Christianity; and they gave this as a public pledge that they would be faithful.
The same diligence - They had an active faith and a labouring love, and the apostle wishes them to persevere in both. They were diligent, very diligent, and he desires them to continue so.
To the full assurance of hope - Προς την πληροφοριαν της ελπιδος "The full assurance of faith," says Mr. Wesley, "relates to present pardon; the full assurance of hope, to future glory: the former is the highest degree of Divine evidence that God is reconciled to me in the Son of his love; the latter is the same degree of Divine evidence, wrought in the soul by the same immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, of persevering grace, and of eternal glory. So much as faith every moment beholds with open face, so much, and no more, does hope see to all eternity. But this assurance of faith and hope is not an opinion, not a bare construction of Scripture, but is given immediately by the power of the Holy Ghost, and what none can have for another, but for himself only." We must not misapprehend these excellent sayings of this eminent man.
1. The person who has this full assurance of hope is he who not only knows and feels that his sins are forgiven through Christ Jesus, but also that his heart is purified from all unrighteousness, that the whole body of sin and death is destroyed, and that he is fully made a partaker of the Divine nature. As without holiness, complete, entire holiness, no man can see God: so, without this, none can scripturally or rationally hope for eternal glory; it being a contradiction to profess to have the full assurance of hope to enjoy a state and place for which the soul is conscious it is not prepared.
2. All that is said here must be understood as still implying the absolute necessity of continuing in the same degree of grace from which this full assurance of hope is derived. This full assurance, therefore, does not imply that the man will absolutely persevere to the end; but that, if he do persevere in this same grace, he shall infallibly have an eternal glory. There is no unconditional perseverance in the Scripture, nor can there be such in a state of probation.
That ye be not slothful - This shows how the full assurance of hope is to be regulated and maintained. They must be diligent; slothfulness will deprive them both of hope and faith. That faith which worketh by love will maintain hope in its full and due exercise.
Followers of them - Μιμηται δε - κληρονομουντων τας επαγγελιας· That ye be mimics or imitators of them who are inheriting the promises. And they inherited these promises by faith in him who is invisible, and who, they knew, could not lie; and they patiently endured, through difficulties and adversities of every kind, and persevered unto death. "The promises made to Abraham and to his seed were,
1. That Abraham should have a numerous seed by faith as well as by natural descent.
2. That God would be a God to him and to his seed in their generations, by being the object of their worship and their protector.
3. That he would give them the possession of Canaan.
4. That he would bless all the nations of the earth in him.
5. That he would thus bless the nations through Christ, Abraham's seed.
6. That through Christ, likewise, he would bless the nations with the Gospel revelation. Four of these promises the believing Gentiles were inheriting at the time the apostle wrote this letter.
1. They were become Abraham's seed by faith.
2. God was become the object of their worship and their protector.
3. They were enjoying the knowledge of God in the Gospel Church, and the gifts of the Spirit. Gal 3:4.
All these blessings were bestowed upon them through Christ. By observing that the believing Gentiles were actually inheriting the promises; i.e. the four promised blessings above mentioned, the apostle appealed to an undeniable fact, in proof that the believing Gentiles, equally with the believing Jews, were heirs of the promises made to Abraham and his seed." See Dr. Macknight. The promises may be considered as referring to the rest of faith here, and the rest of glory hereafter.
When God made promise to Abraham - The promise referred to is that made to Abraham when he had offered his son Isaac on the altar, Gen 22:16-18 : "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Of this promise the apostle only quotes a part, as is generally the case, because he knew that his readers were well acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and particularly with the law.
He sware by himself - He pledged his eternal power and Godhead for the fulfillment of the promise; there was no being superior to himself to whom he could make appeal, or by whom he could be bound, therefore he appeals to and pledges his immutable truth and Godhead.
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee - I will continue to bless thee.
Multiplying I will multiply thee - I will continue to increase thy posterity. In the most literal manner God continues to fulfill this promise; genuine Christians are Abraham's seed, and God is increasing their number daily. See the notes on Gen 22:12-18 (note); and Gen 23:1 (note).
He obtained the promise - Isaac was supernaturally born; and in his birth God began to fulfill the promise: while he lived, he saw a provision made for the multiplication of his seed; and, having continued steadfast in the faith, he received the end of all the promises in the enjoyment of an eternal glory. And the inference from this is: If we believe and prove faithful unto death, we shall also inherit the promises; and this is what is implied in the apostle's exhortation, Heb 6:12 : Be not slothful, but followers of them, etc.
Men verily swear by the greater - One who has greater authority; who can take cognizance of the obligation, and punish the breach of it.
An oath for confirmation - "This observation teaches us," says Dr. Macknight, "that both promissory oaths concerning things lawful and in our power, and oaths for the confirmation of things doubtful, when required by proper authority, and taken religiously, are allowable under the Gospel."
The heirs of promise - All the believing posterity of Abraham, and the nations of the earth or Gentiles in general.
The immutability of his counsel - His unchangeable purpose, to call the Gentiles to salvation by Jesus Christ; to justify every penitent by faith; to accept faith in Christ for justification in place of personal righteousness; and finally to bring every persevering believer, whether Jew or Gentile, to eternal glory.
That by two immutable things - The promise and oath of God: the promise pledged his faithfulness and justice; the oath, all the infinite perfections of his Godhead, for he sware by himself. There is a good saying in Beracoth on Exo 32:13, fol. 32: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self. "What is the meaning of by thine own self? Rab. Eleazar answered, Thus said Moses to the holy blessed God, Lord of all the world. If thou hadst sworn to them by the heavens and the earth, then I should have said, As the heavens and the earth shall pass away, so may thy oath pass away. But now thou hast sworn unto them by thy great name, which liveth, and which endureth for ever, and for ever and ever; therefore thy oath shall endure for ever, and for ever and ever."
This is a good thought; if God had sworn by any thing finite, that thing might fail, and then the obligation would be at an end, but he has sworn by what is infinite, and cannot fail; therefore his oath is of eternal obligation.
We might have a strong consolation - There appears to be an allusion here to the cities of refuge, and to the persons who fled to them for safety. As the person who killed his neighbor unawares was sure if he gained the city of refuge he should be safe, and had strong consolation in the hope that he should reach it, this hope animated him in his race to the city; he ran, he fled, knowing that, though in danger the most imminent of losing his life, yet, as he was now acting according to an ordinance of God, he was certain of safety provided he got to the place.
It is easy to apply this to the case of a truly penitent sinner. Thou hast sinned against God and against thy own life! The avenger of blood is at thy heels! Jesus hath shed his blood for thee, he is thy intercessor before the throne; flee to him! Lay hold on the hope of eternal life which is offered unto thee in the Gospel! Delay not one moment! Thou art never safe till thou hast redemption in his blood! God invites thee! Jesus spreads his hands to receive thee! God hath sworn that he willeth not the death of a sinner; then he cannot will thy death: take God's oath, take his promise; credit what he bath spoken and sworn! Take encouragement! Believe on the Son of God, and thou shalt not perish, but have everlasting life!
Which hope we have as an anchor - The apostle here changes the allusion; he represents the state of the followers of God in this lower world as resembling that of a vessel striving to perform her voyage through a troublesome, tempestuous, dangerous sea. At last she gets near the port; but the tempest continues, the water is shallow, broken, and dangerous, and she cannot get in: in order to prevent her being driven to sea again she heaves out her sheet anchor, which she has been able to get within the pier head by means of her boat, though she could not herself get in; then, swinging at the length of her cable, she rides out the storm in confidence, knowing that her anchor is sound, the ground good in which it is fastened, and the cable strong. Though agitated, she is safe; though buffeted by wind and tide, she does not drive; by and by the storm ceases, the tide flows in, her sailors take to the capstan, wear the ship against the anchor, which still keeps its bite or hold, and she gets safely into port. See on Heb 6:20 (note).
The comparison of hope to an anchor is frequent among the ancient heathen writers, who supposed it to be as necessary to the support of a man in adversity, as the anchor is to the safety of the ship when about to be driven on a lee shore by a storm. "To ground hope on a false supposition," says Socrates, "is like trusting to a weak anchor." He said farther, ουτε ναυν εξ ἑνος αγκυριου, ουτε βιον εκ μιας ελπιδος ὁρμιστεον· a ship ought not to trust to one anchor, nor life to one hope. Stob., Serm. 109.
The hope of eternal life is here represented as the soul's anchor; the world is the boisterous, dangerous sea; the Christian course, the voyage; the port, everlasting felicity; and the veil or inner road, the royal dock in which that anchor was cast. The storms of life continue but a short time; the anchor, hope, if fixed by faith in the eternal world, will infallibly prevent all shipwreck; the soul may be strongly tossed by various temptations, but will not drive, because the anchor is in sure ground, and itself is steadfast; it does not drag, and it does not break; faith, like the cable, is the connecting medium between the ship and the anchor, or the soul and its hope of heaven; faith sees the haven, hope desires and anticipates the rest; faith works, and hope holds fast; and, shortly, the soul enters into the haven of eternal repose.
Whither the forerunner - The word προδρομος, prodromos, does not merely signify one that goes or runs before another, but also one who shows the way, he who first does a particular thing; also the first fruits. So in the Septuagint, Isa 28:4, προδρομος συκου signifies the first fruits of the fig tree, or the first ripe figs.
To this meaning of the word Pliny refers, Hist. Nat., lib. xvi., c. 26: Ficus et praecoces habet, quas Athenis Prodromos (προδρομος), vocant. "The fig tree produces some figs which are ripe before the rest, and these are called by the Athenians prodromos, forerunner." The word is interpreted in the same way by Hesychius; it occurs in no other part of the New Testament, but may be found in Ecclus. 12:8, and in Isa 28:4, quoted above from the Septuagint. From this we may at once perceive the meaning of the phrase: Jesus is the first fruits of human nature that has entered into the heavenly kingdom; the first human body that was ripe for glory, and ripe long before the rest of the children who are partakers of flesh and blood. And he is entered for us, as the first fruits of all who have found redemption in his blood. Compare Joh 14:2 (note); Co1 15:20 (note), Co1 15:23 (note); and the notes there.
The metaphorical allusion is to the person who carries the anchor within the pier head, because there is not yet water sufficient to carry the ship in; and to this I have already referred.
After the order of Melchisedec - After a long digression the apostle resumes his explanation of Psa 110:4, which he had produced, Heb 5:6, Heb 5:10, in order to prove the permanency of the high priesthood of Christ.
1. We have in this chapter a very solemn warning against backsliding and apostasy, and that negligence and sloth which are their forerunners. A man cannot be careless about God and heaven, till he has lost his relish for sacred things; and this relish he cannot lose while he is diligent and faithful. The slightest departure from truth and purity may ultimately lead to a denying, and even reviling, of the Lord who bought him.
2. Every obedient believer in Christ Jesus has both the oath and promise of God that he will make all grace abound towards him, for in blessing God will bless him; he may be greatly agitated and distressed, but, while he continues in the obedience of faith, he will ride out the storm. His anchor is within the veil while his heart is right with God. Jesus is gone before to prepare a place for him; and where the first fruits are, there will soon be the whole lump. He who perseveres unto death shall as surely see God as Jesus Christ now does. God's oath and promise cannot fail.