Be On Guard!
What are we to be On Guard for?
"If God permit" Heb. 6:3-6
"If God permit". It is most essential that every believer who contemplates running the race, pressing for the prize, gaining the crown, and being numbered among those who are called "the perfect", should realize the meaning hidden behind the Apostle's words, "If God permit". The verses that follow are an explanation, speaking as they do of the impossibility of renewing again unto repentance those who, having tasted the heavenly gift, fall away. The type given later, of Esau, is very explicit.
Heb. 12:16,17 "Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of REPENTANCE, though he sought it carefully with tears"
The only occurrences of the word "repentance" in Hebrews are in Heb. 6:1,6 and Heb. 12:17. It is evident that the case of Esau is an amplification or an illustration of the case of those spoken of in Hebrews six.
The words "If God permit" glance back to that period of Israel's history that has already provided the great basis of exhortation in chapters three and four, "the day of temptation in the wilderness". It will be remembered that, upon hearing the evil report of the ten spies, Israel murmured and said, "Let us make a captain, and let us return to Egypt". The Lord then bade Moses say: "As truly as I live . . . your carcases shall fall in this wilderness . . . and the people mourned greatly." It would appear also that their mourning was in some measure a repentance, for "they rose up early in the morning and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned. And Moses said. Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you: that ye be not smitten before your enemies . . . BUT THEY PRESUMED TO GO UP UNTO THE HILL TOP . . . then the . . . Canaanites . . . smote them..." (Num. 14 : 28-45).
In the words "but they presumed", we have a parallel with the expression in Heb. 11:29, "the Egyptians assaying to do". This passage together with those of Hebrews six and twelve causes one to pause and think of the seriousness of the lesson here being taught.
Turning to Philippians three it may be as well to observe another parallel before proceeding. In Heb. 6:6 there occurs that strong expression "having crucified again the Son of God and are exposing Him to shame", and again in 10:29, "having trampled on the Son of God, and having esteemed the blood of the covenant a common thing". So in Philippians three we have many walking as the enemies of the cross of Christ.
Returning for a moment to Numbers fourteen, we must remember that although that great multitude perished in the wilderness, they were a pardoned people. Moses had prayed
"Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people . . . and the Lord said, I have pardoned" (verses 19,20).
Yet it was not possible to renew again unto repentance that people, pardoned though they were. If this had been remembered when dealing with Hebrews six many would have been spared the awful error that some have taught from this chapter, namely, the possibility of a child of God losing his salvation. This epistle, as we have said again and again, and this chapter particularly, deals with things that accompany salvation, things that belong to the perfect and the overcomer. These things may be lost or forfeited, but salvation is by grace, and works or reward have no place in it.
"If God permit" therefore reveals that sometimes God may not permit. To attempt to ascend the mountain and enter the land of Canaan without the assurance of His presence was madness and destined to fail. Our first and greatest concern must be to walk with Him. If for any failure on our part the permission to go on unto perfection should be withdrawn, let us humbly bow to the will of God, and in lowliness of mind seek the presence of the Lord. While we feel the crown and the prize will but add to His glory, and therefore we should run with patience the race set before us, the prize is valueless, the crown a bauble if it does not glorify Him.
It is impossible to be too keenly sensitive to the serious nature of the failure dealt with in this chapter. To be "dull of hearing", to remain "a babe", to be satisfied with the "milk" of the word, and to make no advance may seem bad but not serious. The inspired Apostle takes another view. To remain a babe is really to go back, and this may be the beginning of apostasy. Let us see how the Scriptures speak of those who failed to go on unto perfection.
"It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance if they should fall away, having crucified again to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6: 6).
"If we should voluntarily sin after having received the full knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins . . . having trampled under foot the Son of God" (Heb. 10:26-29).
We must distinguish between the fact that many, if not all saints after conversion, lapse into sin of one sort or another, and the falling away intended here. It is the teaching of the Scriptures that if a man be overtaken in a fault, the spiritual ones of the church must restore him in a spirit of meekness, considering themselves lest they also should be tempted Gal. 6:1. The exhortations to the seven churches of Revelation chapters two and three are further illustrations of the same truth. It is evident that here in the epistle to the Hebrews something more serious is involved.
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the coming age, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6).
We must first of all seek to understand the nature of these blessings so that we may the better understand the nature of the falling away from them.
(1) They were once enlightened (photizo). In chapter ten this word occurs again and the context is so helpful that we must draw attention to it. To save space we will not quote fully:
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . . for if we sin wilfully after receiving the full knowledge of the truth . . . no more sacrifice . . . fearful expectation of judgment . . . consume the adversaries . . . trampled on the Son of God . . . but remember the former days in which having been enlightened ye endured a great contest of sufferings . . . cast not away your confidence, which has great recompense of reward . . . if any man draw back . . . we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them who believe unto the acquiring of the soul" (Heb. 10 :25-39).
This is a valuable commentary, setting Hebrews six in its true light and preventing us from making erroneous applications of its solemn teaching. Some who do not realize the setting of Hebrews six have sought to minimize the force of the word "enlighten", so that it only means an external, but not a real and inward illumination. If this is proved, then of course we are dealing merely with professors and the problem is ended. But Heb. 10:32, wherein is the only other occurrence of the word photizo, does not allow of such an interpretation. These enlightened ones were believers, not empty professors.
(2) They had tasted of the heavenly gift. They were made partakers of holy spirit. These two statements explain one another. They moreover look back to the laying on of hands which usually was instrumental in the bestowal of this gift. It will be remembered that when "Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostle's hands holy spirit was given he offered them money", and that Peter said, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that THE GIFT OF GOD may be purchased with money".
(3) They had tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the coming age. The promise of restoration from Babylon is thus called in Jer. 29:10.
"After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place".
The miraculous gifts of the Acts were foretastes of the age to come. It will be seen that a great place is occupied in this list by the Holy Spirit and His gifts. This we find is likewise true of Hebrews. There, as we find in Hebrews ten, the punishment that followed the violation of the law of Moses is small when compared with that which shall follow the despising of the Holy Spirit's witness of Christ:
"How shall we escape if we neglect . . . which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him, God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles and distributions of holy spirit according to His own will? For unto the angels hath He not subjected the world to come whereof we speak" (Heb. 2:3-5).
One quotation from Hebrews ten we now include, as bearing out the strong emphasis placed upon the Holy Spirit here-"and done despite unto the Spirit of grace" Heb. 10:29.
This falling away which occupies so large a place in Hebrews is variously referred to as "letting slip", "neglecting", "hardening hearts as in the provocation", "lest any fall under the same example of unbelief", "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together", "sinning willfully after full knowledge", "drawing back unto perdition".
The falling away was after enlightenment and partaking of holy spirit, and herein lies the extreme danger. This aspect of teaching in Hebrews is but the application to the Hebrews of the teaching of the Lord given in Matt. 12:21,32::
"All sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men, but blasphemy of the Spirit shall NOT BE FORGIVEN. And whoever may speak a word against the Son of man it shall be forgiven: but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it will in no wise be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in the coming one".
Here is the sore punishment awaiting those who; after having all the confirmation of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, and after having embraced the witness and having become partakers of the Spirit's gifts, fall away. They echo the fatal words of Numbers fourteen, appointing themselves a Captain to return to Egypt. The more one penetrates into the structure and atmosphere of Hebrews, the more marked the gracious distinctions of the dispensation of the Mystery become. Let us try the things that differ and approve those things that are more excellent, at the same time learning from these other records the essential need for growth in grace.
"Things that Accompany salvation" (Heb. 6:7-9).
The character of the falling away of Hebrews 6:4-6 may be understood by a consideration of the illustration which immediately follows in verses 7 and 8. The figure is that of a field. The Greek word translated "earth", ge, stands for "land, as distinct from water; or earth as distinct from heaven; or region or territory, used of one special land or country. as distinct from other countries, in which peoples dwell, each on its own soil" (The Companion Bible, Appendix 129 / 4).
"For land which hath drunk in the rain which often comes upon it, and which bringeth forth vegetation useful to those for whom also it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but that yielding thorns and thistles is disapproved and near to a curse; the end of which is for burning" (.Heb. 6:7,8).
Two words are of special importance as indicating the line of teaching that we are to observe here, the word "disapproved", which in the A.V. is rendered "rejected", and the word "near" or "nigh" unto cursing. Adokimos= "disapproved" is best understood by observing the context of the word in 1 Corinthians 9:27. The scene is the Corinthian racecourse.
"Know ye not that they which run in a race course run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain. But every one that striveth in the games, in all things useth self control; They indeed then that a corruptable crown they may receive; but we an incorruptable. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly. I am boxing, as not beating air, but I am beating my body under, and leading it captive, lest by any means having proclaimed the contest to others, I myself should become disapproved" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
The verses that follow, viz. 1 Corinthians ten, are very strongly reminiscent of Hebrews three and four. The argument hinges upon the "all" and the "many". All may have passed out from Egypt as the redeemed of the Lord, but all did not enter the promised land. We now see that the whole of Hebrews six is dealing with the question of "going on unto perfection", or of being disqualified or disapproved in the race. The entry into the land of promise is placed in the same place as the crown at the end of the race. The showers of God's love and grace had fallen for many years upon Israel, but comparatively few brought forth fruit.
We must observe that it does not say that the alternatives are blessing or cursing, but blessing or disapproval, which places such nigh unto a curse. Take for example the two servants of Matthew 24:44-51. The one is rewarded by being made ruler over all his Lord's goods, the other servant is cut asunder, and finds his position with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The same fate awaits the unprofitable servant of Matthew 25 who hid his talent in the earth.
Both suffer loss and are certainly perilously "near unto a curse". In neither case is salvation in view, but service. "The end of which is for burning". When a field produces thorns and thistles "the end" is burning. The field itself is not destroyed, but that which it has produced. This is quite in harmony with 1 Corinthians three. The foundation remains unchanged whether the building be destroyed by fire or whether it stands the test:
"He shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, YET So As BY FIRE" (1 Cor. 3:15).
In Hebrews 12:16,17, Esau is brought before us as one who forfeited his birthright. There is an evident parallel with Hebrews six, the words "he found no place of repentance" echoing "it is impossible to renew unto repentance". So also the word adokimos (disapproved or rejected) is echoed by Hebrews 12:17, apodokimazo ("rejected").
The "blessing" also is one received "by inheritance". The chapter ends with the words "For our God is a consuming fire", which are parallel with the words "whose end is burning" The whole situation is summed up in Hebrews 6:9 where the Apostle says:
"But beloved, we are persuaded THE BETTER THINGS".
Readers will remember that the word "better" is a key word of Hebrews, closely associated with "perfect" throughout the epistle. "The better resurrection" is expressed by the words, "The spirits of perfected righteous ones". Here in chapter six, those who go on unto perfection produce the better things, "even those things which accompany salvation although we thus speak" (verse 9). The word "accompany" is a rendering of the middle voice of echo, "to have, to hold". So in Mark 1:38, "next towns", and Luke 13:33, "the day following". The epistle to the Hebrews does not deal with salvation, but the things that accompany it. Not the "resurrection of the dead" (6:2) but the "better resurrection", not the exodus from Egypt, but the entrance of the land of promise, not justification by faith, but the emphasis upon the fact that the just shall live by faith. We find the distinction observed in 6:10 and throughout the chapter. May we, called though we are with a different calling, produce the better things, even those things that "follow" or "go with salvation".
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