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 Hebrews 6:4; (note).
If they shall fall away - literally, “and having fallen away.” “There is no if in the Greek in this place - “having fallen away.” Dr. John P. Wilson. It is not an affirmation that any had actually fallen away, or that in fact they would do it; but the statement is, that “on the supposition that they had fallen away,” it would be impossible to renew them again. It is the same as supposing a case which in fact might never occur: as if we should say, “had a man fallen down a precipice it would be impossible to save him,” or “had the child fallen into the stream he would certainly have been drowned.” But though this literally means, “having fallen away,” yet the sense in the connection in which it stands is not improperly expressed by our common translation. The Syriac has given a version which is remarkable, not as a correct translation, but as showing what was the prevailing belief in the time in which it was made, (probably the first or second century), in regard to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. “For it is impossible that they who have been baptized, and who have tasted the gift which is from heaven, and have received the spirit of holiness, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the coming age, should again sin, so that they should be renewed again to repentance, and again crucify the Son of God and put him to ignominy.”
The word rendered “fall away” means properly “to fall near by anyone;” “to fall in with or meet;” and thus to fall aside from, to swerve or deviate from; and here means undoubtedly to “apostatize from,” and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, paganism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is material to remark here that the apostle does not say that any true Christian ever had fallen away. He makes a statement of what would occur on the supposition that such a thing should happen - but a statement may be made of what would occur on the supposition that a certain thing should take place, and yet it be morally certain that the event never would happen. It would be easy to suppose what would happen if the ocean should overflow a continent, or if the sun should cease to rise, and still there be entire certainty that such an event never would occur.
To renew them again - Implying that they had been before renewed, or had been true Christians. The word “again” - πάλιν palin- supposes this; and this passage, therefore, confirms the considerations suggested above, showing that they were true Christians who were referred to. They had once repented, but it would be impossible to bring them to this state “again.” This declaration of course is to be read in connection with the first clause of Hebrews 6:4, “It is impossible to renew again to repentance those who once were true Christians should they fall away.” I know of no declaration more unambiguous than this. It is a positive declaration. It is not that it would be very difficult to do it; or that it would be impossible for man to do it, though it might be done by God; it is an unequivocal and absolute declaration that it would be utterly impracticable that it should be done by anyone, or by any means; and this, I have no doubt, is the meaning of the apostle. Should a Christian fall from grace, he “must perish.” he never could be saved. The reason of this the apostle immediately adds.
Seeing - This word is not in the Greek, though the sense is expressed. The Greek literally is, “having again crucified to themselves the Son of God.” The “reason” here given is, that the crime would be so great, and they would so effectually exclude themselves from the only plan of salvation, that they could not be saved. There is but one way of salvation. Having tried that, and then renounced it, how could they then be saved? The case is like that of a drowning man. If there was but one plank by which he could be saved, and he should get on that and then push it away and plunge into the deep, he must die. Or if there was but one rope by which the shore could be reached from a wreck, and he should cut that and cast it off, he must die. Or if a man were sick, and there was but one kind of medicine that could possibly restore him, and he should deliberately dash that away, he must die. So in religion. There is “but one” way of salvation. If a man deliberately rejects that, he must perish.
They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh - Our translators have rendered this as if the Greek were - ἀνασταυροῦντας πάλιν anastaurountas palin- “crucify again,” and so it is rendered by Chrysostom, by Tyndale, Coverdale, Beza, Luther, and others. But this is not properly the meaning of the Greek. The word ἀνασταυρόω anastauroō- is an “intensive” word, and is employed instead of the usual word “to crucify” only to denote “emphasis.” It means that such an act of apostasy would be equivalent to crucifying him in an aggravated manner. Of course this is to be taken “figuratively.” It could not be literally true that they would thus crucify the Redeemer. The meaning is, that their conduct would be “as if” they had crucified him; it would bear a strong resemblance to the act by which the Lord Jesus was publicly rejected and condemned to die. The act of crucifying the Son of God was the great crime which outpeers any other deed of human guilt. Yet the apostle says that should they who had been true Christians fall away and reject him, they would be guilty of a similar crime. It would be a public and solemn act of rejecting him. It would show that if they had been there they would have joined in the cry “crucify him, crucify him.” The “intensity and aggravation” of such a crime perhaps the apostle meant to indicate by the intensive or emphatic ἀνὰ anain the word ἀνασταυροῦντας anastaurountasSuch an act would render their salvation impossible, because:
(1) the crime would be aggravated beyond that of those who rejected him and put him to death - for they knew not what they did; and,
(2) because it would be a rejection of the only possible plan of salvation after they had had experience of its power and known its efficacy.
The phrase “to themselves,” Tyndale readers, “as concerning themselves.” Others, “as far as in them lies,” or as far as they have ability to do. Others, “to their own heart.” Probably Grotius has suggested the true sense. “They do it for themselves. They make the act their own. It is as if they did it themselves; and they are to he regarded as having done the deed.” So we make the act of another our own when we authorize it beforehand, or approve of it after it is done.
And put him to an open shame - Make him a public example; or hold him up as worthy of death on the cross; see the same word explained in the notes on Matthew 1:19, in the phrase “make her a public example.” The word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Their apostasy and rejection of the Saviour would be like holding him up publicly as deserving the infamy and ignominy of the cross. A great part of the crime attending the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, consisted in exhibiting him to the passing multitude as deserving the death of a malefactor. Of that sin they would partake who should reject him, for they would thus show that they regarded his religion as an imposture, and would in a public manner hold him up as worthy only of rejection and contempt. Such, it seems to me, is the fair meaning of this much-disputed passage - a passage which would never have given so much perplexity if it had not been supposed that the obvious interpretation would interfere with some prevalent articles of theology. The passage “proves” that if true Christians should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew and save them. If then it should be asked whether I believe that any true Christian ever did, or ever will fall from grace, and wholly lose his religion, I would answer unhesitatingly, no! (compare the John 10:27-28 notes; Romans 8:38-39 notes; Galatians 6:4 note.) If then it be asked what was the use of a warning like this, I answer:
(1) it would show the great sin of apostasy from God if it were to occur. It is proper to state the greatness of an act of sin, though it might never occur, in order to show how it would be regarded by God.
(2) such a statement might be one of the most effectual means of preserving from apostasy. To state that a fall from a precipice would cause certain death, would be one of the most certain means of preserving one from falling; to affirm that arsenic would be certainly fatal, is one of the most effectual means of preventing its being taken; to know that fire certainly destroys, is one of the most sure checks from the danger. Thousands have been preserved from going over the Falls of Niagara by knowing that there would be no possibility of escape; and so effectual has been this knowledge that it has preserved all from such a catastrophe, except the very few who have gone over by accident. So in religion. The knowledge that apostasy would be fatal, and there could be no hope of being of the danger than all the other means that could be used. If a man believed that it would be an easy matter to be restored again should he apostatize, he would feel little solicitude in regard to it; and it has occurred in fact, that they who suppose that this may occur, have manifested little of the care to walk in the paths of strict religion, which should have been evinced.
(3) it may be added, that the means used by God to preserve his people from apostasy, have been entirely effectual. There is no evidence that one has ever fallen away who was a true Christian, (compare John 10:27-28, and 1 John 2:19); and to the end of the world it will be true that the means which he uses to keep his people from apostasy will not in a single instance fail.
(This view seems not opposed to the doctrine of the saint‘s perseverance. It professes indeed, to meet the objection usually raised from the passage, if not in a new mode, yet in a mode different from that commonly adopted by orthodox expositors. Admitting that true Christians are intended, it is asserted only, that if they should fall, their recovery would be impossible, It is not said that they ever have fallen or will fall. “The apostle in thus giving judgment on the case, if it should happen, does not declare that it actually does.” And as to the use of supposing a case which never can occur, it is argued that means are constantly used to bring about what the decree or determination of God had before rendered certain. These exhortations are the means by which perseverance is secured.
Yet it may be doubted, whether there be anything in the passage to convince us, that the apostle has introduced an “impossible” case. He seems rather to speak of what “might” happen, of which there was “danger.” If the reader incline to this view, he will apply the description to professors, and learn from it how far these may go, and yet fall short of the mark. But how would this suit the apostle‘s design? Well. If “professors” may go “so far,” how much is this fact suited to arouse all to vigilance and inquiry. We, notwithstanding our gifts and “apparent” graces, may not be “true” Christians, may, therefore, not be “secure,” may fall away and sink, under the doom of him whom it is impossible to renew. And he must be a very exalted Christian indeed, who does not occasionally find need of inquiry, and examination of evidences. Certainly, the whole passage may be explained in perfect consistency with this application of it.
Men may be enlightened, that is, well acquainted with the doctrines and duties of the Christian faith; may have tasted of the heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Spirit in his miraculous influences, which many in primitive times enjoyed, without any sanctifying virtue; may have tasted the good word of God, or experienced impressions of affection and joy under it, as in the case of the stony ground hearers; may have tasted the powers of the world to come, or been influenced by the doctrine of a future state, with its accompanying rewards and punishments; - and yet not be “true” Christians. “All these things, except miraculous gifts, often take place in the hearts and consciences of people in these days, who yet continue unregenerate. They have knowledge, convictions, fears, hope, joys, and seasons of apparent earnestness, and deep concern about eternal things; and they are endued with such gifts, as often make them acceptable and useful to others, but they are not truly “humbled;” they are not “spiritually minded;” religion is not their element and delight” - Scott.
It should be observed, moreover, that while there are many “infallible” marks of the true Christian, none of these are mentioned in this place. The persons described are not said to have been elected, to have been regenerated, to have believed, or to have been sanctified. The apostle writes very differently when describing the character and privileges of the saints, Romans 8:27, Romans 8:30. The succeeding context, too, is supposed to favor this opinion.
“They (the characters in question) are, in the following verses, compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briars. But this is not so with true believers, for faith itself is an herb special to the enclosed garden of Christ. And the apostle afterward, discoursing of true belief, doth in many particulars distinguish them from such as may be apostates, which is supposed of the persons here intended. He ascribeth to them, in general, better things. and such as accompany salvation. He ascribes a work and labor of love, asserts their preservation, etc.” - Owen.
Our author, however, fortifies himself against the objection in the first part of this quotation, by repeating and applying at Romans 8:7, his principle of exposition. “The design,” says he, “is to show, that if Christians should be come like the barren earth, they would be cast away and lost.”
Yet the attentive reader of this very ingenious exposition will observe, that the author has difficulty in carrying out his principles, and finds it necessary to introduce the “mere” professor ere he has done with the passage. “It is not supposed,” says he, commenting on the 8th verse, “that a true Christian will fall away and be lost, but we may remark, that there are many professed Christians who seem to be in danger of such ruin. Corrupt desires are as certainly seen in their lives, as thorns on a bad soil. Such are nigh unto cursing. Unsanctified, etc., there is nothing else which can be done for them, and they must be lost. What a thought!” Yet that the case of the professor in danger cannot very consistently be introduced by him, appears from the fact, that such ruin as is here described is suspended on a condition which never occurs. It happens “only” if the “Christian” should fall. According to the author, it is not here denounced “on any other supposition.” As then true Christians cannot fall, the ruin never can occur “in any case whatever.” From these premises we “dare not” draw the conclusion, that any class of professors will be given over to final impenitence.
As to what may be alleged concerning the “apparent” sense of the passage, or the sense which would strike “the mass of readers;” every one will judge according to the sense which himself thinks most obvious. Few perhaps would imagine that the apostle was introducing an impossible case. Nor does the “connection” stand much in the way of the application to professors. In addition to what has already been stated, let it be further observed, that although the appropriate exhortation to awakened, yet unconverted persons would be, “to become converted; not to warn them of the danger of falling away;” yet the apostle is writing to the Hebrews at large, is addressing a body of professing Christians, concerning whom he could have no infallible assurance that “all of them” were true Christians. Therefore, it was right that they should be warned in the way the apostle has adopted. The objection leaves out of sight the important fact that the “exhortations and warnings addressed to the saints in Scripture are addressed to mixed societies, in which there may be hypocrites as well as believers.”
Those who profess the faith, and associate with the church, are addressed without any decision regarding state. But the very existence of the warnings implies a fear that there may be some whose state is not safe. And “all,” therefore, have need to inquire whether this be their condition. How appropriate then such warnings. This consideration, too, will furnish an answer to what has been alleged by another celebrated transatlantic writer, namely, “that whatever may be true in the divine purposes as to the final salvation of all those who are once truly regenerated. and this doctrine I feel constrained to admit, yet nothing can be plainer, than that the sacred writers have every where addressed saints in the same manner as they would address those whom they considered as constantly exposed to fall away and to perish forever.” Lastly. The phraseology of the passage does not appear to remove it out of all possible application to “mere” professors.
It has already been briefly explained in consistency with such application. There is a difficulty, indeed, connected with the phrase, παλιν ανακαινιζειν εις μετανοιαν palin anakainizein eis metanoian“again” to renew to repentance; implying, as is said, that they, to whom reference is made, had been renewed “before.” But what should hinder this being understood of “reinstating in former condition,” or in possession of former privilege; Bloomfield supposes, there may be an allusion to the non-reiteration of baptism, and Owen explains the phrase of bringing them again into a state of profession by a second renovation, and a second baptism, as a pledge thereof. The renewing he understands here “externally” of a solemn confession of faith and repentance, followed by baptism. This, says he, was their ἀνακαινισμος anakainismostheir renovation. It would seem then that there is nothing in the phrase to prevent its interpretation on the same principle that above has been applied to the passage generally.)
Paul writes to the Galatians: “I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” 5T 243.1
False teachers had brought to the Galatians doctrines that were opposed to the gospel of Christ. Paul sought to expose and correct these errors. He greatly desired that the false teachers might be separated from the church, but their influence had affected so many of the believers that it seemed hazardous to take action against them. There was danger of causing strife and division which would be ruinous to the spiritual interests of the church. He therefore sought to impress upon his brethren the importance of trying to help one another in love. He declared that all the requirements of the law setting forth our duty to our fellow men are fulfilled in love to one another. He warned them that if they indulged hatred and strife, dividing into parties, and like the brutes biting and devouring one another, they would bring upon themselves present unhappiness and future ruin. There was but one way to prevent these terrible evils and that was, as the apostle enjoined upon them, to “walk in the Spirit.” They must by constant prayer seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which would lead them to love and unity. 5T 243.2
A house divided against itself cannot stand. When Christians contend, Satan comes in to take control. How often has he succeeded in destroying the peace and harmony of churches. What fierce controversies, what bitterness, what hatred, has a very little matter started! What hopes have been blasted, how many families have been rent asunder by discord and contention! 5T 244.1Read in context »
Such mourning “shall be comforted.” God reveals to us our guilt that we may flee to Christ, and through Him be set free from the bondage of sin, and rejoice in the liberty of the sons of God. In true contrition we may come to the foot of the cross, and there leave our burdens. MB 10.1
The Saviour's words have a message of comfort to those also who are suffering affliction or bereavement. Our sorrows do not spring out of the ground. God “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” Lamentations 3:33. When He permits trials and afflictions, it is “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. If received in faith, the trial that seems so bitter and hard to bear will prove a blessing. The cruel blow that blights the joys of earth will be the means of turning our eyes to heaven. How many there are who would never have known Jesus had not sorrow led them to seek comfort in Him! MB 10.2
The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace. MB 10.3Read in context »
The truth, when received into the heart, sanctifies the receiver; kept apart from the life and practice, it is dead and useless to the receiver. How can you, oh, how can you grieve your Redeemer? How can you dishonor Him before His angels and before men? How can you grieve the Holy Spirit of God? How can you crucify the Lord of glory afresh, and put Him to open shame? How can you give occasion for Satan and his angels to exult and triumph over those who claim to be loyal subjects of Jesus Christ? TM 431.1
All fornicators will be outside the City of God. Already God's angels are at work in judgment, and the Spirit of God is gradually leaving the world. The triumph of the church is very near, the reward to be bestowed is almost within our reach, and yet iniquity is found among those who claim to have the full blaze of heaven's light. TM 431.2Read in context »
There are thousands who are traveling the road of darkness and error, the broad road which leads to death, who flatter themselves that they are in the path to happiness and heaven; but they will never find the one nor reach the other. Brother B needs the helps that God has placed in the church, for he cannot constitute a church of himself, and yet his course shows that he would be satisfied to be a complete church, subject to none. Brother B long since lost his consecration to God; he did not guard the avenue of his soul against the suggestions of Satan. I saw that angels of God were writing his words and actions. He was going further and further from the light of heaven. When the grace of God does not especially control you, Brother B, you are a hard man to connect with. You have great self-confidence and firmness, which are felt in your family and in the church. You have but little reverence and respect for anyone. You do not possess the grace of humility. 3T 438.1
Brother B returned to this coast in great darkness; he had lost his love for the truth and his love for God. His natural feelings controlled him, and he was proud. He loved himself, and he loved money better than he loved the truth and his Redeemer. I was shown that his course after he returned to the coast was a dishonor to the Christian name. I saw him joining hands with the gay lovers of pleasure. He grieved his brethren and wounded his Saviour and put Him to open shame before unbelievers. I saw that from this time he did not take pleasure in the service of God or in the advancement of the truth. He seemed to possess a zeal to search the Scriptures and different authors, not that he might become established upon important points of present truth which the providence of God had furnished him through men of His choice, but to find a new position and to advance new views in opposition to the established faith of the body. His researches were not made for the glory of God, but to promote self. 3T 438.2
When Brother B once takes a position on the wrong side, it is not according to his nature to see his error and confess his wrong, but to fight it out to the last, whatever may be the consequences. This spirit is ruinous to the church and ruinous in his family. He needs to soften his heart and let in tenderness, humility, and love. He needs benevolence and noble generosity. In short, he needs to be thoroughly converted, to be a new man in Christ Jesus. Then his influence in the church will be all right and he will be just the help they need. He will have the respect and love of his family and will command his household after him. Duty and love like twin sisters, will be his helps in the management of his children. 3T 438.3Read in context »