James Smith, 1858
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." Hebrews 6:4-6
Here are some thoughts on these verses, in reply to one rendered unhappy by them.
Many people needlessly distress themselves, by dwelling on isolated passages of Scripture, and neglecting to look over the context, or consider the scope and design of the writer. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, aims to prevent backsliding, and preserve from apostasy. As those to whom he wrote were sorely persecuted, and exposed to peculiar temptations, he endeavors to comfort them with sweet views of Jesus, the grace and immutability of God, and the examples set before them in the history of their ancestors. He also warns them against unbelief, by the example of those who came out of Egypt — and yet perished in the desert. He exhorts them to hold fast their profession, to press on towards the mark, and expect the second coming of the Lord Jesus. These are wholesome preservatives.
In Hebrews 6:4-6, he supposes the case of professors, who after baptism, church membership, and having made great attainments — fall away, deny Christ, and become hardened in sin — and shows that their case is desperate. "It is impossible for them to brought back to repentance." Solemn as this declaration is in itself, and alarming as it is to certain characters — there is nothing in it to discourage, or terrify, a humble child of God. It only says, "Look to yourselves, examine yourselves, prove your own work; for if you prove counterfeits, by stopping short of the mark, by turning aside out of the path, and by rejecting Christ and his perfect work, your case is desperate!"
There is nothing in the passage that militates against the final perseverance of all saints, though there is much to excite godly fear and jealousy of self, and to lead us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Of course all who profess Christ, are looked upon as Christians — until they prove they are not. And as many go out of the church, and so prove that they were never saved — all must be addressed in words of caution, and be exhorted to dig deep and lay the foundation upon a rock.
Three things convince me, that the people referred to were never real Christians:
First, there is no mention made of a broken heart for sin, nor of faith, or receiving Christ, or the committing of the soul to Christ. Nor is there any mention of their love, either to God or the saints — and we know that a profession without love, is nothing. They had many gifts — which adorn; but no grace — which quickens, sanctifies, and saves. They were not in Christ's hands, nor was the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; they were not washed, sanctified, and justified; nor was the love of God ever shed abroad in their hearts, or they could not have fallen into a hopeless state.
Secondly, they are compared in verse 8, to bad soil, which only brings forth thorns and briars; now we know that all believers are represented by good ground, in which the seed of the Word vegetates, and brings forth fruit, thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold.
Thirdly, in verse 9 the Apostle says, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." Showing that as good as these things may be in themselves — they were not the best gifts; and as excellent as they may be — they were not the accompaniments of salvation.
A man may be enlightened in his understanding — without being created anew in Christ Jesus; Judas, Ananias, Sapphira, and Demas, no doubt were much enlightened.
A man may taste of the heavenly gift, and the good Word of God, as I doubt not those did, who wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of the Master's mouth, and followed him without food for three days, only to enjoy his communications; and those who shouted "Hosanna!" and thought the ground not good enough for the feet of the donkey that carried him to tread upon — and yet afterwards left him, went their way, and some of them cried, "Crucify him, crucify him!"
A man may be made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, as Saul the king of Israel was, and the many who wrought such wondrous works in the name of Jesus — and yet were denied by him at last.
"The powers of the world to come," or the gifts of the spiritual dispensation, many have received, who never received the graces, as Paul admits would have been his case, if he had not love to God and love to man. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
It is one thing to have light — another to have life.
It is one thing to taste the gift of God and the good Word of God — and another to feed upon the life-giving bread that comes down from heaven, and to find God's Word and eat it, to the joy and rejoicing of the heart.
It is one thing to partake of the Holy Spirit, as conferred upon saints and sinners, enabling them to work wonders, speak with tongues, and prophesy — and it is another to receive the Spirit of God, to teach us the things which are freely given to us of God; to lead us into truth, to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us, to be the bond of union between Christ and the soul.
In a word, the man who hates sin, relies on Jesus, cries to God, and pants for holiness — has nothing to fear from this, or any other passage in God's most holy Word. On the other hand, the man who never had a broken heart for sin, who never in self-despair committed his soul to Christ, who does not fear sin, and does not seek to be like Jesus in temper, disposition, and conduct — has everything to fear, not only from this — but from many other solemn and awful portions of the sacred Scriptures.
But if a person who has professed Christ, walked with the people of God, and passed for a Christian — falls away from his profession, deliberately rejects Christ, does despite to the Spirit of grace, and despises the atonement of the Son of God; such an one resisting the Holy Spirit, trampling under foot the Son of God, and treating his sacrifice with contempt, being given up of God — becomes so hardened, that it is impossible to bring him back by repentance. His case is desperate. His doom is sealed. His damnation is just.
But while there is any tenderness of conscience, any regard for the Savior, or any fear of falling into this state — there is hope, and for such there is forgiveness with God.
Reader, make sure work of it, rest not in slight convictions, feeble hopes, church membership, or the possession of gifts; but seek to realize union to Christ, to enjoy fellowship with Christ, and to breathe the Spirit of Christ. A broken heart for sin, faith in the Lord Jesus, and a holy life — are indubitable evidences of salvation; and whoever has them shall never, never perish. But there is no certainty without these.