An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Two exhortations were set before the Hebrew Christians in the 6th chapter of this epistle· First, they were bidden to turn their backs upon Judaism and go on unto a full embracing of Christianity (verse 1). The application to God’s people today of the principle contained in this exhortation is, Abandon everything which enthralled your hearts in your unregenerate days, and find your peace, joy, satisfaction in Christ· In contemplating the peculiar temptation of the Hebrews to forsake the Christian position and path for a return to Judaism, let us not lose sight of the fact that a danger just as real menaces the believer today. The flesh still remains within him, and all that Satan used in the past to occupy his heart, still exists in the present· Though Israel came forth from the House of Bondage, passed through the Red Sea, and started out joyfully (Ex. 15:1) for the promised land, yet it was not long ere their hearts went back to Egypt, lusting after its fleshpots (Ex. 16:3).
It is worse than idle to reply to what has been pointed out above by saying, Real Christians are in no "danger", for God has promised to preserve them. True, but God has promised to preserve His people in a way of holiness, not in a course of sinful self-will and self-gratification. Those whom Christ has declared shall "never perish" are they who "hear His voice and follow Him" (John 10:27, 28). The apostles were not fatalists, neither did they believe in a mechanical salvation, but one that required to be worked out "with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Therefore Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, did not hesitate to refer to the Israelites who were "overthrown" in the wilderness, and say, "Now these things were our examples to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted· Neither be ye idolators, as were some of them;... Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents . . . Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition . . . Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:6-12).
The second exhortation of Hebrews 6 is found in verses 11, 12, the first part of which was before us at the close of our last chapter. There the apostle says, "And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence". This, together with the verses that follow, is a call to perseverance in the path of godliness. To a church which had left its "first love" Christ said, "Repent, and do the first works" (Rev. 2:4, 5). What are these "first works"? A submitting of ourselves unto God, an humbling of ourselves before Him, a throwing down of the weapons of our hostility against Him. A turning unto Christ as our only hope, a casting of ourselves upon Him, a trusting in the merits of His precious blood. A taking of His yoke upon us, bowing to His Lordship, owning His authority, earnestly seeking grace to do His commandments.
Now the Christian is to continue as he began. He is to daily own his sins before God. He is to daily renew the same acts of faith and trust in Christ which he exercised at the first. Instead of counting upon some experience in the past, he is to maintain a present living upon Christ. If he continues to cast himself upon the Redeemer, putting his salvation wholly in His hands, then He will not, cannot, fail him. But in order to cast myself upon Christ, I must be near Him; I cannot do so while I am following Him afar off. To be near Him, I must be in separation from all that is contrary to Him. Communion is based upon an obedient walk: the one cannot be without the other. For the maintenance of this, I must "show the same diligence" I did when I was first convicted of my lost estate, saw Hell yawning at my feet ready to receive me, and fled to Christ for refuge.
This same diligence which marked my state of heart and regulated my actions when I first sought Christ, is to be continued "unto the end". This means persevering in a holy living, and unto this the servants of God are to be constantly urging their hearers. "Ministerial exhortation unto duty, is needful even unto them who are sincere in the practice of it, that they may abide and continue therein. It is not easy to be apprehended how God’s institutions are despised by some, neglected by others, and by how few, duly improved; all for want of taking right measures for them. Some there are, who, being profoundly ignorant, are yet ready to say, that they know as much as the minister can teach them, and therefore, it is to no purpose to attend unto preaching. These are the thoughts, and this is too often the language, of persons profane and profligate, who know little, and practice nothing of Christianity. Some think that exhortations unto duty, belong only unto them who are negligent and careless in their performance; and unto them, indeed they do belong, but not unto them only, as the whole Scripture testifieth. And some, it may be, like well to be exhorted unto what they do, and do find satisfaction therein, but how few are there (it was the same then! A.W.P.) who look upon it as a means of God whereby they are enabled for, and kept up unto their duty, wherein, indeed, their use and benefit doth consist. They do not only direct unto duty, but through the appointment of God, they are means of communicating grace unto us, for the due performance of duties" (Dr. John Owen, 1680).
"Do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end". Hope is a spiritual grace quite distinct from faith or love. Faith casts me upon God. Love causes me to cleave to and delight in pleasing Him. Hope sustains under the difficulties and discouragements of the way. It supports the soul when the billows of trouble roll over it, or when we are tempted to despair, and give up the fight. That is why, in the Christian’s armor, Hope is called "the helmet"(1 Thess. 5:8), because it wards off the sharp blows or bears the weight of those strokes which befall the saint in trials and afflictions. Hope values the things promised, looks forward to the clay of their realization, and thus is nerved to fresh endeavor. Hope views the Promised Land, and this gives alacrity to the weary pilgrim to continue pressing forward. Hope anticipates the welcome and the glorious fare awaiting us at the Heavenly Port, and this gives courage to go on battling against adverse winds and waves. There is the test.
Many pretend to the possession of a good hope who yet have no faith. Others make a profession of faith who yet have no real hope. But real faith and real hope are inseparable. A spiritual faith eyes the Promiser, and is assured that He cannot lie. A spiritual hope embraces the promises, esteems them above all silver and gold, and confidently anticipates their fulfillment. But between the present moment and the actual realization of our hope lies a rugged path of testing, in which we encounter much that wearies, disheartens and retards us. If we are really walking in the path of God’s appointment, there will be oppositions to meet, fierce persecutions to be endured, grievous troubles to be borne. Yet, if our valuation of God’s promises be real, if our anticipation of their fulfillment be genuine, the comfort and joy they afford will more than offset and over-balance the effects of our trials. The exercise of hope will alone deliver from fainting and despondency under continued afflictions.
Now to be in the enjoyment of "the full assurance of hope unto the end", the Christian must continue giving "the same diligence" to the things of God and the needs of his soul, as he did at the beginning. When the terrors of God first awakened him from the sleep of death, when he was made to feel his own awful danger of being cast into the eternal burnings, when he learned that Christ was the only Refuge, no half-hearted seeker was he. How diligently he searched the Word! How earnestly he cried unto God! How sincere was his repentance! How gladly he received the Gospel! How radical was the change in his life! How real did Heaven seem unto him, and how he longed to go there! How bright was his "hope" then! Alas, the fine gold has become dim; the manna has lost much of its sweetness, and he has become as one who "cannot see afar off" (2 Pet. 1:9). Why? Ah, cannot the reader supply the answer from his own experience?
But we dare not stop short at the point reached at the close of the preceding paragraph. Backsliding is dangerous, so dangerous that if it be persisted in, it is certain to prove fatal. If I continue to neglect the Divine means of grace for spiritual strength and support, if I go back again into the world and find my delight in its pleasures and concerns, and if I am not recovered from this sad state, then that will demonstrate that I was only the subject of the Holy Spirit’s inferior operations, that I was not really regenerated by Him. The difference between thorny-ground and the good-ground hearers is, that the one brings forth no fruit "to perfection" (Luke 8:14), whereas the other brings forth fruit "with patience" or perseverance (Luke 8:15). It is continuance in Christ’s word which proves us His disciples indeed (John 8:31). It is continuing in the faith, grounded and settled, and being "not moved away from the hope of the Gospel" (Col. 1:23) which demonstrates the reality of our profession.
"He said to the end that they might know they had not yet reached the goal, and were therefore to think of further progress. He mentioned diligence that they might know they were not to sit down idly, but to strive in earnest. For it is not a small thing to ascend above the heavens, especially for those who hardly creep on the ground, and when innumerable obstacles are in the way. There is, indeed, nothing more difficult than to keep our thoughts fixed on things in heaven, when the whole power of our nature inclines towards, and when Satan by numberless devices draws us back to earth" (John Calvin).
Once more would we press upon our hearts that it is only as "diligence" in the things of God is continually exercised that a scriptural "hope" is preserved, and the full assurance of it attained. First, because there is an inseparable connection between these two which is of Divine institution: God Himself has appointed "diligence" as the means and way whereby His people shall arrive at this assurance: cf. 2 Peter 1:10, 11. Second, because such "diligence" has a proper and necessary tendency unto this end. By diligence our spiritual faculties are strengthened, grace is increased in us, and thereby we obtain fuller evidence of our interest in the promises of the Gospel. Third, by a faithful attention to the duties of faith and love we are preserved from sinning, which is the principal evil that weakens or impairs our hope.
"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (verse 12). These words confirm what we have said above concerning the force of the exhortation found in verse 11. There the apostle, is giving a call to perseverance in the path of practical holiness. But there are multitudes of professing Christians that cherish a hope of heaven, who nevertheless continue in a course of self-will and self-pleasing. "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness" (Prov. 30:12). Christ came here to save His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) not in them. No presumption is worse than entertaining the idea that I am bound for Heaven while I live like a child of Hell.
"That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises". This verse forms the connecting link between the preceding section and the closing one of this chapter. The apostle here warns against any evil, indolence and inertia, which stands opposed to giving "diligence": they are the opposite virtue and vice. Slothfulness persisted in would effectually prevent the performance of the duty just enjoined. In Hebrews 5:11 Paul had charged the Hebrews with being "dull (slothful—the same Greek word) of hearing", not absolutely, but relatively; they were not as industrious in heeding "the word of righteousness" (Heb. 5:13) as they ought to have been. Here he bids them be not slothful in good works, but emulators of the saints who had gone before.
"That ye be not slothful". "He knew that the utmost intention of our spirits, the utmost diligence of our minds, and endeavors of our whole souls, are required unto a useful continuance in our profession and obedience. This, God requireth of us; this, the nature of things themselves about which we are conversant, deserveth; and necessary it is, unto the end which we aim at. If we faint or grow negligent in our duty, if careless or slothful, we shall never hold out unto the end; or if we do continue in such a formal course as will consist with this sloth, we shall never come unto the blessed end which we expect or look for. The oppositions and difficulties which we shall assuredly meet with, from within and without, will not give way unto feeble and languid endeavors. Nor will the holy God prostitute eternal rewards unto those who have no more regard unto them, but to give up themselves unto sloth in their pursuits. Our course of obedience is called running in a race, and fighting as in a battle, and those who are slothful on such occasion will never be crowned with victory. Wherefore, upon a due compliance with this caution, depends our present perseverance, and our future salvation" (Dr. John Owen).
The slothfulness against which the apostle warns, is in each of us by nature. The desires of the "old man" are not toward, but away from the things of God. It is the "new man" which is alone capacitated to love and serve the Lord. But in addition to the two natures in the Christian, there is the individual himself, the possessor of those natures, the "I" of Romans 7:25, and he is held responsible to "make not provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:14) on the one hand, and to "desire" the sincere milk of the Word that he may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2) on the other. It is the consciousness of this native sloth, this indisposition for practical holiness, which causes the real saint to cry out, "Draw me, we will run after Thee" (Song 1:4); "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments, for therein do I delight"; "Order my steps in Thy Word, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me" (Ps. 119:35, 133). It is this which distinguishes the true child of God from the empty professor—his wrestling with God in secret for grace to enable him to press forward in the highway of holiness.
"But followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises". The reference here is to the believing forefathers of the Hebrews, who, by continuing steadfast in faith and persevering in hope amidst all the trials to which they were exposed, had now entered into the promised blessings—Heaven. Dr. J. Brown has pointed out that there is no conflict between this declaration and what is said in Hebrews 11:13. Though during their lives they had "not received the promises", yet at death, they had entered into their rest, and are among "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:23). The word "inherit" denotes their right thereto.
The example which the apostle here sets before the Hebrews was that of the Old Testament patriarchs. Just as in the 3rd chapter he had appealed to one portion of the history of their fathers in warning, so now he makes reference to another feature of it in order to encourage. Two things are here to be taken to heart: the happy goal reached by the patriarchs and the path of testing which led thereto. Two things were required of them: faith and patience. Their faith was something more than a general faith in God and the inerrancy of His Word (James 2:19); it was a special faith which laid hold of the Divine promises concerning the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus. Nor was this a mere notional faith, or bare mental assent to the Truth: it was marked by a practical and influential acknowledgement that they were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" see Hebrews 11:13. Such is the faith which God requires of us today.
The second grace ascribed unto the patriarchs is their "patience" or "longsuffering" as the word is usually rendered. A different word is employed in Hebrews 10:36 and Hebrews 12:1, where an active grace is in view. Here it is more of a passive virtue, hence it is used of the "longsuffering" of God in Romans 9:22, 1 Peter 3:20 etc. "It is a gracious sedate frame of soul, a tranquility of mind on holy grounds with faith, not subject to take provocation, not to be wearied with opposition" (Dr. John Owen). It is a spirit which refuses to be daunted by the difficulties of the way, which is not exasperated by trials and oppositions encountered, so as to desert the course or flee from the path of duty. In spite of man’s hatred, and of the seeming slowness of God’s deliverance, the soul is preserved in a quiet waiting upon Him.
"These were the ways whereby they came to inherit the promises. The heathen of old fancied that their heroes, or patriarchs, by great, and, as they were called, heroic actions, by valor, courage, the slaughter and conquest of their enemies, usually attended with pride, cruelty and oppression, made their way into heaven. The way of God’s heroes unto their rest and glory, unto the enjoyment of the Divine promises, was by faith, longsuffering, humility, enduring persecution, self-denial, and the spiritual virtues generally reckoned in the world unto pusillanimity, and so despised. So contrary are the judgments and ways of God and men even about what is good and praiseworthy" (Dr. John Owen).
As reasons why the apostle was moved to set before the Hebrews the noble example of their predecessors, we may suggest the following. First, that they might know he was exhorting them to nothing but what was found in those who went before them, and whom they so esteemed and admired. This, to the same end, he more fully confirms in chapter 11. Second, he was urging them to nothing but what was needful to all who shall inherit the promises. If "faith and patience" were required of the patriarchs, persons who were so high in the love and favor of God, then how could it be imagined that these might be dispensed with as their observance! Third, he was pressing upon them nothing but what was practicable, which others had done, and which was therefore possible, yea, easy for them through the grace of Christ.
Ere turning from this most important verse, we will endeavor to anticipate and dispose of a difficulty. Some of our readers who have followed attentively what has been said in the last few paragraphs, may be ready to object, but this is teaching salvation by works; you are asking us to believe that Heaven is a wage which we are required to earn by our perseverance and fidelity. Observe then how carefully the Holy Spirit has, in the very verse before us, guarded against such a perversion of the gospel of God’s grace. First, in the preposition He used: it is not "who for faith and patience inherit the promises", but "through". Salvation is not bestowed because of faith and patience, in return for them; yet it does come "through" them as the Divinely appointed channel, just as the sun shines into a room through its windows. The windows are in no sense the cause of the sun’s shining; they contribute nothing whatever to it; yet are they necessary as the means by which it enters.
Another word here which precludes all ground of human attainment and completely excludes the idea of earning salvation by anything of ours, is the verb used. The apostle does not say "purchase" or "merit", but "inherit". And how come we to "inherit"? By the same way as any come to an inheritance, namely, by being the true heirs to it. And how do we become "heirs" of this inheritance? By God’s gratuitous adoption. "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs"
(Rom. 8:15-17). God, by an act of His sovereign will, made us His children (Eph. 1:4, 5). This Divine grace, this free assignment, is the foundation of all; and God’s faithfulness is pledged to preserve us unto our inheritance (verse 10). Yet, we are such heirs as have means assigned to us for obtaining our inheritance, and we are required to apply ourselves thereunto.
"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could sware by no greater, He sware by Himself" (verse 13). The opening "For" denotes that the apostle is here giving a reason why he had appealed to the example of the patriarchs, as those who "through faith and patience inherit the promises": that they really did so, he now proves by a most illustrious instance. Paul here cites the case of one whom he knew would be most notable and forcible. God made promise to Abraham, but he did not obtain the fulfillment thereof until after he had "patiently endured" (verse 15).
The one to whom God made promise was Abraham. He was originally called "Abram", which signifies "an exalted father". Upon Jehovah’s renewal of the covenant to him, his name was changed to Abraham, God giving as the reason "for a father of many nations have I made thee" (Gen. 17:5). The reference was not only to those nations which should proceed naturally from him—the descendants of Ishmael (Gen. 17:20) and of Keturah’s sons (Gen. 25:1-4)—but to the elect of God scattered throughout the world, who should be brought to embrace his faith and emulate his works. Therefore is he designated "the father of all them that believe", and "the father of us all" (Rom. 4:11, 16).
"Because he could sware by no greater, He sware by Himself". The assurance which was given to Abraham was the greatest that Heaven itself could afford: a promise and an oath. We say the greatest, for in verse 16 the apostle declares that amongst men an "oath" is an end of strife; how much more when the great God Himself takes one! Moreover, observe He swear "by Himself": He staked Himself; it was as though He had said, I will cease to be God if I do not perform this. The Lord pledged His veracity, declared the event should be as certain as His existence, and that it should be secured by all the perfections of His nature. Dr. J. Brown has rightly pointed out, "The declaration was not in reality made more certain by the addition of an oath, but so solemn a form of asseveration was calculated to give a deeper impression of its certainty".
"Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee" (verse 14). It seems strange that almost all of the commentators have quite missed the reference in the preceding verse. There we read, "God made promise to Abraham". Some have regarded this as pointing back to the first promise Jehovah made to the patriarch in Genesis 12:2, renewed in Genesis 15:5; others have cited Genesis 17:2, 6; still others, the promise recorded in Genesis 17:15,16; and thus they limit the "patiently endured" (Heb. 6:15) to a space of twenty-five years, and regard the "he obtained the promise" as finding its fulfillment at the birth of Isaac. But these conjectures are completely set aside by the words of our present verse, which are a direct quotation from Genesis 22:17, and that was uttered after Isaac was born.
That which God swore to was to bless Abraham with all blessings, and that unto the end: "Surely, blessing I will bless thee". The phrase is a Hebrew mode of expression, denoting emphasis and certainty. Such reduplication is a vehement affirmation, partaking of the nature of an oath: where such is used, it was that men might know God is in earnest in that which He expressed. It also respects and extends the thing promised or threatened: I will do without fail, without measure, and eternally without end. It is indeed solemn to note the first occurrence in Scripture of this mode of expression. We find it in the awful threat which the Lord God made unto Adam: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt die" (Gen. 2:17).
It is Genesis 2:17 which supplies the first key that unlocks the meaning of Genesis 22:17. These are the first two occurrences in Holy Writ of this unusual form of speech. They stand in direct antithesis the one to the other. The first concerned the curse, the second respected the blessing. The one was the sentence of irrevocable doom, the other was the promise of irreversible bliss. Each was uttered to an individual who stood as the head and representative of a family, upon whose members the curse and the blessing fell. Each head sustained a double relationship. Adam was the head of the entire human family, and the condemnation for his sin has been imputed to all his descendants (Rom. 5:12, 18, 19). But in a narrower sense Adam was the head of the non-elect, who not only share his condemnation, partake of his sinful nature, but also suffer his eternal doom. In like manner, Abraham was the head of a natural family, that is, all who have descended from him; and they share in the temporal blessings which God promised their father. But in a narrower sense Abraham (type of Christ as the "everlasting Father" Isaiah 9:6 and cf. Isaiah 53:10, "His seed", and His "children" in Hebrews 2:13) was the head of God’s elect, who are made partakers of his faith, performers of his works, and participants of his spiritual and eternal blessings.
It was through their failing to look upon Abraham as the type of Christ as the Head and Father of God’s elect, which caused the commentators to miss the deeper and spiritual significance of God’s promise and oath to him in Genesis 22. In the closing verses of Hebrews 6 the Holy Spirit has Himself expounded the type for us, and in our next article (D.V.) we shall seek to set before the reader some of the supporting proofs of what we have here little more than barely asserted. The temporal blessings wherewith God blessed Abraham—"God hath blessed Abraham in all things" (Gen. 24:1 and cf. Hebrews 5:35)—were typical of the spiritual blessings wherewith God has blessed Christ. So too the earthly inheritance guaranteed unto Abraham’s seed, was a figure and pledge of the Heavenly inheritance which pertains to Christ’s seed. Let the reader ponder carefully Luke 1:70-75 where we find the type merging into the antitype.
"Surely, blessing I will bless thee" is further interpreted for us in Galatians 3:14, where we read, "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ". Thus, in blessing Abraham, God blessed all the heirs of promise, and pledges Himself to bestow on them what He had sworn to give unto him: "If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). That the deeper and ultimate signification of Genesis 22:17 had reference to spiritual and future "blessing" is not only established, unequivocally, by Romans 9:7, 8, but also by the fact that otherwise there had been no relevancy in Paul’s setting before the Hebrews, and us, the example of Abraham.
That with which God promised to bless Abraham and his seed was faith, holiness, perseverance, and at the end, salvation (Gal. 3:14). That which God pledged Himself unto with an oath was that His power, His long-suffering, should be engaged to the uttermost to work upon the hearts of Abraham and his spiritual children, so that they would effectually attain unto salvation. Abraham was to live on the earth for many long years after God appeared unto him in Genesis 22. He was to live in an adverse world where he would meet with various temptations, much opposition, many discouragements; but God undertook to deliver, support, succor, sustain him unto the end, so that His oath should be accomplished. Proof of this is given in our next verse.
"And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (verse 15). This means that, amid all the temptations and trials to which he was exposed, Abraham studiously persevered in believing and expecting God to make good His word. The emphatic and all-important word here is "And so" which joins together what was said in verses 13, 14 and what follows here in verse 15. It was in this way and manner of God’s dealing with him; it was in this way of conducting himself. He "patiently endured", which covers the whole space from the time that God appeared to him in Genesis 22 until he died, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years (Gen. 25:7). It is this exercise of hope unto the end which Paul was pressing upon the Hebrews. They professed to be Abraham’s children, let them, then, manifest Abraham’s spirit.
"He obtained the promise": by installments. First, an earnest of it in this life, having the blessing of God in his own soul; enjoying communion with Him and all that that included—peace, joy, strength, victory. By faith in the promise, he saw Christ’s day, and was glad (John 8:56). Second, a more complete entering into the blessing of God when he left this world of sin and sorrow, and departed to be with Christ, which is "far better" (Phil. 1:23) than the most intimate fellowship which may be had with Him down here. Abraham had now entered on the peace and joy of Paradise, obtaining the Heavenly Country (Heb. 11:16), of which Canaan was but the type. Third, following the resurrection, when the purpose of God shall be fully realized in perfect and unending blessing and glory.