By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER VI
Bishop J. P. Taylor, in his picturesque style of writing, points out that the Hebrew people were "so far from advancing that they were in danger of falling away, so it would be necessary to lay the foundation of repentance again and learn the first principles anew. They were not young babes anymore, but old dwarfs that looked like babes...The apostle calls them on to Christian perfection."1 The foundational teaching and principles must again be built upon.
We have all seen building projects where the excavation has been done and the basement blocks laid, but no superstructure ever rises. It is a haunting illustration of unfinished business and disappointment. The Hebrew Christians were living on the foundation level. Let us review the writer's list of basic doctrines and then proceed to the call to perfection.
I. Foundational Blocks of Repentance and Faith (6:1)
The sinner is "dead in trespasses and sins" and all of his works, efforts and attempts at attaining Godliness accomplish nothing. They buy him no favour. They merit him no admission to heaven. The message of Good News offers mercy in Jesus Christ if he will but turn around, confess his guilt, and throw himself on the mercy of God. This is repentance and faith. How simple the offer is, and yet how often it is overlooked because of its simplistic beauty and man's foolish pride. Dear Hebrews, do not be bewitched into apostatizing from such a matchless offer.
Many people have grasped the first block of repentance but failed to join faith with it. In their broken-hearted despair they confess and confess but never realize the joy of pardon. Some need to be willing to let God forgive them and give up the notion that God needs to make them suffer for their sins. In a sense, they need to be willing to forgive themselves! They must be willing not only to surrender to God's verdict of guilty, but also to His pronouncement of pardon. It is right at this point that man must place his full weight on the promises and Person of Jesus Christ for faith to be activated and fruitful.
II. The Foundation Blocks of Baptism and Laying on of Hands (6:2a)
One of the rudiments of the Christian doctrine is a public confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Christian baptism is one expression of this kind of acknowledgement. Baptism is an outward testimony of the actuality of an inward work. Thus, for the new convert, it is an early co-operation with the commands of Christ.
Baptism is first of all, a badge. It is a mark of identification that the Christian puts on to declare the side on which he stands. This beautiful ceremony, whether in a muddy river or in an ornate church baptistry, is the Christian's pledge of allegiance for forthcoming days. It is his pledge of aligning with the name and cause of Jesus Christ. It is his promise to follow Christ and shape his life around Biblical principles. Thus, it is a badge of identification and allegiance.
Secondly, baptism is a brand. It is God's brand on His man or woman. It is a fulfilment of His directive and thus a God-appointed brand of belonging to Him. What a privilege to be able to bear His brand; to belong to the family of God.
Finally, baptism is a blessing. It is certainly a blessing from the standpoint of obedience and personal testimony. However, more than that, it has been thought that baptism may be an avenue or means of grace to the candidate. If a proper attitude is embraced during this public act of testimony, God's presence may attend and seal the moment with His blessing. The laying on of hands seemed to be a privilege of the apostolic era and, yet, still today, as Wiley notes, it marks "the candidate as the object for whom earnest prayer was made".2
III. The Foundation Blocks of the Doctrine of the Resurrection and Judgment (6:2b)
Here is a tenet of Christianity of profound magnitude and, yet, of basic and primary concern. Jesus Christ died and rose again, and because of this we who die in faith will also be raised to immortality. What a glorious confidence blooms in the heart of a new believer.
Alongside this hope, we understand the message of God's day of judgment. There will come a day when all will stand before the Lord to give an account of their deeds. Those whose trust and faith is in Christ and His blood will be forever privileged to enjoy the bliss of God's immediate presence. Those who have rejected the message of salvation, and have failed to humble themselves before the Lord of all the earth, will be separated from God and cast into hell for ever and ever. This is eternal judgment.
These are the rudimentary doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ. As profound and clear as they are, they are not meant to be the end of all things. They are a basis upon which to build. May God help us to get on with the building!
As we have proceeded through these first chapters of Hebrews, the intensity of the writer's plea for the Hebrew people's sanctification has been growing. There is a lurking danger in their unsettled heart of unbelief. They are still lingering in the introductory course when they ought to be the teachers. They are basement Christians in need of actively progressing. This is the author's cry. Dr. Alexander Smellie says, "The Authorized Version renders it, 'Let us go on'. The Revised Version renders it, 'Let us press on'. Bishop Westcott, in his commentary on the Epistle, prefers to render it, 'Let us be borne on'. Put them together, and they speak to us of three dangers which beset us as we look to the perfection in front. There is the danger of sinking into discouragement. And there is the danger of supposing that we are left alone."3
I. The Call to Perfection (6:1-3)
The call to perfection, or maturity, is at first glance a pursual totally initiated on our part. Although it is true that we must put ourselves into growth, it is not a one-sided proposition. There is a wonderful and profitable influence being wrought upon our lives by the blessed Third Person of the Trinity. In the life of the unsanctified follower of Christ, He is leading toward adulthood and the grace of Christian perfection. Again, from the flow of previous chapters, we must recognize that this call to perfection is a call to go on to the Canaan rest. It is not the perfection of head, service and ability; that only comes with the glorious reality of resurrection glorification. Thus, in this sense, Paul could say, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). It should be noted that in this same chapter of Philippians, Paul makes claim to another perfection in verse 15. In commenting on this verse and in relation to the discussion at hand in the book of Hebrews, I am indebted to H. Orton Wiley for these remarks:
"Here he (Paul) is speaking of Christian adulthood and that stability of character and purpose which holds him steady in his desire to attain the more remote perfection found only in the resurrection of the redeemed... Christian perfection therefore means the attainment of the goal of adulthood as it is recognized in the present gospel dispensation. In a spiritual sense this does not so much involve the element of time as the entering into the fullness of the new covenant provided through the blood of Jesus and administered by the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Adulthood thus has not only a chronological but also a legal aspect; it is accomplished, not by growth alone, but by a divine pronouncement."4
If we simply submit to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives, His careful and timely ministry will bring us to the maturing of grace unto grace. Ralph Earle gives such practical advice in the following paragraphs that it merits its lengthy addition.
"The verb 'let us press on' is in the passive voice. Literally it means 'let us be borne on to perfection'. The significance of this is well pointed out by Wescott: 'The thought is not primarily of personal effort..., but of personal surrender to an active influence'. That is the main secret of being sanctified. So often seekers struggle at the altar of prayer, pleading earnestly with God to sanctify them wholly. We are never sanctified at the time of our greatest struggle but always at the moment of our complete surrender. No amount of pleading will substitute for the total abandonment of ourselves to the will of God. Unreserved submission to His will is the price of being sanctified. We cannot bargain with God. It is useless to attempt any compromise. His terms are always unconditional surrender. When we meet those terms we find perfect peace, and not until then. We cannot sanctify ourselves by our own efforts. But we can yield to the Spirit of God and let Him sanctify us wholly. And then we must keep on yielding ourselves to Him throughout life, that by Him we may be 'borne on to perfection' more and more in our daily living. For this verse certainly refers to the continuation as well as the crisis. It is a constant 'call to perfection' as long as we live."5
Thus, Christian perfection is certainly not a faultless or angelic condition. Our head is still painfully liable to make wrong judgments and hasty conclusions. Our service to Christ is regretfully limited and often seems to be so frail. Yet, our heart can rejoice in the fact that God sees the innermost motive and desire of our being. J. A. Wood defines Christian perfection by saying, "Negatively, it is the state of grace which excludes all sin from the heart. Positively, it is the possession of pure love to God."6
This perfection of our love is a crisis experience that follows a clear assurance of salvation. It is a cleansing or riddance of a nature that is "enmity against God" and basically hates God and His authority. However, this second work of grace it not the grand finale! We are not in heaven yet. There are worlds of growth in this wonderful grace of God's rest. According to Dr. Yocum, "there is a perfection of maturity that is progressive; but here is a crisis act of God, which brings an immediate perfection of heart to love and obey Him".7
The conclusion of this theme is well stated in I. C. Holland's writings. "We must recognize that in New Testament teaching perfection also refers to the ultimate goal, perfect love in this life, and after the resurrection, a perfection from our human frailties."8
II. The Peril of Apostasy (6:4-8)
A chilling warning is given here lest any fall away from the grace of God and reject the only offers of mercy mankind can hope to enjoy. This is certainly not teaching that a backslider cannot be reclaimed. It is saying that as long as, or while, the backslider continues to reject Christ and His out-stretched hand, it is impossible to renew him to the grace and fellowship of the redeemed. To abandon, or apostatize from, the doctrines of Christ leaves no other sacrifice for sin; no other hope, no other salvation. All is dark, desperate, dismal despair.
These verses leave no question as to the credibility of the teaching of unconditional eternal security. Some erroneously claim that once you are a child of God, you may lose fellowship with Him, but you can never forfeit your sonship. However, in truth, you may have been enlightened; you may have "tasted the heavenly gift"; you may have been made a "partaker of the Holy Ghost"; but you can fall away and lose all hope of heaven if you choose lawlessness and rebel against the God who saved you. Sonship in the spiritual kingdom is uniquely different from sonship in the natural realm. You must, by an act of your will, surrender to God and His claims on your soul in order to become a son of God. However, when you were conceived and born to your natural parents, there was no act of your will involved. You took the parents God gave you. In the spiritual realm, the same kind of an act of the will that brought you to your knees in humble contrition, can also make a moral and volitional choice to break away from God. Thus, salvation is conditional upon a continued submission to the will of God and obedience to His directives.
A host of preachers have preached people into heaven simply because at some point in their history they had made a profession of faith. The sad truth is that myriads of those still forms died in wickedness and rebellion. They did not go to heaven unless in their dying moments they begged God for mercy and believed again in His forgiving love. Verses seven and eight underscore this plain fact. If a plant brings forth fruit that is useful and beneficial, we cultivate and protect it. If it just brings forth thorns and briers, we cut it down and burn it. How much clearer does Scripture have to be before men will accept what it says? Ezekial cries out this same truth with all its stark reality. "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abomination that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (Ezekiel 18:24). No wonder than that Peter says, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (II Peter 2:20 & 21).
What a warning! Be on your guard
III. A Personal Endearment and Encouragement (6:9-12)
The writer is saying that though he has been dealing frankly with the danger of apostasy, he is expecting better things of these Hebrews. They have demonstrated their love for Jesus, and God has not been unmindful of that fact. Now, they must go on. They dare not give up now. They must fight off this sluggish, lazy, sleepy lethargy lest hypothermia overcome their spirits. They needed to hear A. W. Tozer's clarion call: "Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking".9 With lucid perception, Mr. Tozer expounds on what may seem contradictory to some. "To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart".10 Oh, God, keep our hearts on fire!
After the dark portrayal of apostasy in the earlier parts of this chapter, we conclude in the warm haven of hope. Sick hearts abound all around us because hope has been lost. What would it be to live without hope? It seems that the number one worry of today's youth is no longer a nuclear holocaust as it was a few years ago, but now it is the fear of futility, the nagging haunt of hopelessness.
I. The Assurance of Hope (6:11)
Rev. John Wesley, who himself found the richness of a personal, inner, warming assurance of acceptance in the beloved, writes this glowing treatise:
"The full assurance of faith 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."11
Oh the warmth and vitality of this God-inspired, Spirit-given, assurance of hope. Job declared, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another". (Job 19:25 & 26 NKJV) Hallelujah for such a "rock-ribbed" (Dr. Yocum's word) assurance of hope!
II. The Refuge of Hope (6:12-18)
Someone has said, "Promises, promises, and all of them mine". We might say, "Promises, promises, and all of them unquestionably true". God has sworn by Himself to encourage our feeble faith in what He proclaims. Now, with all unchangeable promises, we have "strong consolation" as we flee to the refuge of hope.
The sinner may run to this refuge from condemnation and judgement. The Christian knows the gracious harbour of this confidence. Satan may try to resurrect the past and parade former sins before the mind of the forgiven soul, but the Christian dwells in the refuge and harbour of hope. First, the promises declare his sins to be forgiven, forgotten and removed. Second, the assurance of faith and hope, the witness of the Spirit, agrees that it is so. Oh, my friend, what a refuge.
III. The Anchor of Hope (6:19&20)
It was my privilege to grow up in Goderich, Ontario, a harbour town along the shores of Lake Huron. I have watched the sunset from the top of the cliff upon which the lighthouse stood, and many nights I have fallen asleep with the fog horn blaring its warning into the night. Down at the harbour the great piers reached like long fingers out in the lake toward the great break walls between which the ships would enter. Jutting out of those reinforced cement piers were steel abutments filled with concrete. They made fine seats on which interested onlookers could rest while they watched the harbour activity. But they were more than seats appropriately placed. These unmoveable protrusions were actually anchoring pilings or bollards. Strong cables were drawn out from the sides of the ships and looped securely to these pilings.
Imagine a ship tossing on high waters, braving a screaming storm with its massive anchor firmly settled on the sea bed below; but the writer has a greater picture in mind. In these verses the struggling, groaning, creaking vessel's anchor has actually been drawn out through the churning waters to the calm harbour of its destination and is securely fastened to unmovable pilings there.
The great Captain of our Salvation, Who was made "perfect through sufferings" (2:10), has braved the angry tempest of sin, death and hell and safely arrived in the fair haven of God's presence. But, praise be to the Captain, He did not flee for His own welfare. He suffered to place the anchor "both sure and steadfast". He was our "forerunner" and solidly anchored the soul of believing mariners to the pilings of the throne, the place where God dwells. Hallelujah, that anchor will never drift. John Bunyon, who so sorely needed the anchor of hope during his imprisonment for the cause of Christ, has declared, "Faith lays hold of that end of the promise that is next to us, to wit, as it is in the Bible; hope lays hold of that end of the promise that is fastened to the mercy-seat. For the promise is like a mighty cable that is fastened by one end to a ship, and by the other to the anchor. This faith and hope, getting hold of both ends of the promise, they carry it safely away".12
Corrie ten Boom shares her story of confinement in Ravensbruck, the woman's death camp. She possessed a Bible that seemed to be her life-line to hope and sanity. Miraculously, God intervened so that her Bible was not discovered during the gruelling inspections of German guards. In a short time, she was holding secret Bible Studies "for an ever-growing group of believers, and Barracks 28 became know throughout the camp as 'the crazy place, where they hope'."13
Struggling seaman, can you feel the strain of that taut cable? Keep winching it in. It can stand the pull and the anchor is sure. Hold on to your Captain by faith. Hope on!
1. J. P. Taylor, Holiness, The Finished Foundation, (Winona Lake, Indiana: Light and Life Press, 1963) p. 184.
2. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) p. 201.
3. Quoted in W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews a Devotional Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970) p. 70.
4. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) p. 203.
5. Ralph Earle, Ed., Exploring the New Testament, (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1955) p. 382.
6. J. A. Wood, Perfect Love, (Noblesville, Indiana: Newby Books, reprint, 1967) p.34.
7. Dale Yocum, The Holy Way, (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1976) p.76.
8. I. C. Holland, Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult -Studies in Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. XXVI, No. 3, p. 29.
9. A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., n.d.) p. 15.
10. Tozer, p. 15.
11. Quoted in Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p. 727.
12. Quoted in Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, pp. 88-89.
13. Corrie ten Boom, "A Strange Place to Hope", New Wine, (March, l983) p.31.