The apostle had spoken, at the close of the preceding chapter, of "the first principles of the oracles of God," and here again he says, "Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit." (v. 1-3.)
We must remember to whom he was writing - persons who, though now professing to be, and, as he says (v. 9), really Christians, were those who had been familiar with the doctrines of the law before they were Christians at all, who had heard about Messiah, expected Messiah (another word for Christ), and had had their thoughts therefore connected with Christ, before the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven. But it was quite a different thing to have certain elements about Christ, and to have "the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven,"* after Jesus was glorified.
*"The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" is not being "born again," though we are born again by the Holy Ghost.
The apostle alludes here to things, all of which were connected with the first principles of there being a Christ. A Pharisee held them, though not a believer at all; he believed there would be a resurrection of the dead, etc. The great mass of Christians stop here. But the apostle says it is useless to rest here; he would have them go on unto perfection. What he calls "perfection" is not connected with practice or conduct (except, indeed, as truth sanctifies), it was the going on to a full revelation of what was in Christ; it refers entirely to doctrine.
In the next place he gives a reason why they should go on unto perfection. If they were firm in these truths, it was useless to begin them over again; if they had given them up, it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance."
All that belonged to the Jewish system, belonged to the old world; when Christ comes again it will be different. (Heb. 2:5.) It is in that sense he speaks of "the powers (the same word as 'miracles') of the world to come." The power of Christ will entirely deliver from the dominion of Satan, and these miracles were samples of that. A Jew, who had rejected Christ in humiliation, might be converted, and own a glorified Christ (unto whom these powers of the world to come bore testimony). There was a glorified Jesus to be presented to those who had rejected Jesus when here. "But then," he says, "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 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 an open shame" - if they reject these "powers" of the Holy Ghost, consequent upon the glorification of the Messiah - if they have seen and felt "the powers" of "the Holy Ghost, come down from heaven," from Jesus glorified, and then turn away, there is no other doctrine to be preached, there is no restoring them again unto repentance.
He is considering the case of Hebrews turning back from the profession of Christianity to Judaism - that to which there was (save for faith) every inducement. They had no longer a visible Messiah, or temple, or sacrifices, or altar; they had given up all these, and (there was joy, no doubt, in believing) they had nothing tangible in their stead. Confirmatory of the gospel, there were these powers of "the Holy Ghost come down," but there was no Christ, in a third condition, yet to be presented. As a nation they had crucified Him once; 'now' (he says) 'that He is glorified, and that there have been these proofs brought in, are you going to crucify Him again?'
There was no third condition. "The earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned;" all the rain that could come from heaven was spent upon this ground, and it remained just as it was, it brought forth thorns and briers.
Being "partakers of the Holy Ghost" is not being converted, but just what Simon Magus hoped to obtain. (Acts 8:18, 19.) With him it was no question of conversion; he wanted to buy this preternaturally exercised power. Saul was "amongst the prophets." (1 Sam. 10:10, 11.) He was made a partaker (not in a New, but in an Old Testament sense) of the Holy Ghost. So Balaam, a thoroughly ungodly man. The Lord "met him," and "put a word into his mouth." (Numbers 23)
I cannot turn back to these old elements, says the apostle, I desire to lead you on; but if you have rejected them, "it is impossible," etc.
And then he adds, although having put before them this terrible picture, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." (v. 9.)
There is one expression (perhaps the most difficult of the whole) which it may be well to notice in passing, that of "tasting the good word of God." It looks like something real. But it is just what we have in the parable - a man's "anon with joy receiving it," yet his having "no root in himself." (Matt. 13:20, 21.) A person may have his feelings moved, (like the women who followed Christ, weeping and wailing, and to whom He said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children,") the heart may be acted upon by certain truths just as much as the head, and there be no work of God in the conscience. Neither the natural heart or head have anything to do with it; there may be as much feeling as knowledge, and nothing of God at all.
The things to which the apostle refers, as seen in these believers, were not "the powers of the world to come," but real fruit, meet for Him by whom the earth was dressed. "God is not unrighteous," he says, "to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister; "I do not expect you to fall away, "and we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." There was the proof of life, and that which God would not disown (He never owned merely head and heart; it would be a sort of hopeless anomaly to say I own these fruits, and yet disown the persons who bore them; and he further desires for them full, undivided confidence in the Lord, and about themselves.
There are three things spoken of in Scripture - 1st, "Full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22); 2ndly, "Full assurance of hope" (v. 11); 3dly, "Full assurance of understanding." (Col. 2: 2.) The "full assurance of faith" rests on the testimony of God. God tells me the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin, and I rest upon that testimony. There is more than this in the "full assurance of hope;" my soul counts upon a person who has made a promise. (See vv. 12-20.) Hence there is the leaning upon God (a different thing from merely believing a testimony), and, moreover, a looking "within the veil." It is founded upon what is perfectly immutable, not upon anything produced here, and which might be liable to change. Entering into that within the veil, God's throne must be shaken before my hope. Faith rests upon a testimony that has come out; but it carries me up, and hope reckons on Him who is there. The "full assurance of understanding" goes a step further. Not only have I an object on which my heart and conscience rest, but it takes up God's counsels; it "understands;" I can say, "It became God" to do this and to do that.
When speaking about "hope," we must recollect it is not in the least like human hope (as though the thing was uncertain). In ordinary language I might say, "I hope such a person will come tomorrow," when that was extremely uncertain. Not so with "hope" in divine things. All that is meant is, that the thing hoped for is not present: "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it," because it is certainly coming.
"Be not slothful." There is a certain characteristic diligence; otherwise we shall be going into the world at every step. We have the flesh and the devil (who is going about seeking to devour) to do with. Moreover, we have to come to God. Whether we look at God, the flesh, or Satan, it is always diligence that characterises faith. The devil will be diligent if we are not. "Wherefore, the rather, my brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." Life is shown in action. Of a man that never stirs I cannot say, "He is alive." Satan is in the path, and the thing that guards us against Satan is diligence; without it, we shall get tripped, and be beaten. Satan cannot touch the new nature (1 John 5:18); hence, temptations really come to be siftings, and show if faith be in us. "Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
We have need of patience. All this sifting will purify us. Else (where there is not patience and faith), it will prove there is no real anchor within the veil, and the ship will be driven.
Then he turns to show them (while there will be temptations, and, therefore, the need of faith and patience) how strong and infallible the anchor is. "When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, He aware by Himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise." But he did not get it all at once; there was a little failure (i.e. as to Ishmael), just as he had gone down into Egypt, at the outset, when there was a famine in the land, and (while Sarah was in "the house of Pharaoh," Gen. 12:14-16) had acquired cattle, and Egyptian riches in abundance. (Hagar was an Egyptian woman.) A man may get what satisfies nature, and seem to be going on very comfortably, when far off from God. But he had no altar in Egypt. Every camel and ox that came in ought to have broken his heart, and made him feel where himself and his wife were.
"Saul," we read, "tarried for Samuel seven days;" but when he saw that he came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him, he offered the burnt-offering. Just when he had done, Samuel came, and said, "Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God: thy kingdom shall not continue." (1 Sam. 13) He had not had patience. A person may go on imitating faith, and the actings of faith, for a long time.
In Jacob there was real faith in the promises (though he could not trust God about them). He used unholy means to secure them, just as one might use unholy means to do God's work; but God did not take the promise from him, but He exercised and chastened him; so that at the end he had to say, "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been," etc. It is a troubled and distressing scene of exercise and sorrow.
We have need of patience. Faith is shown in the path, and God will put it to the test, while He is counted upon for power to accomplish the promises, as well as for faithfulness to secure them. And Jacob had to learn this lesson. In the end, when Joseph wants to get the blessing from his father for Manasseh instead of Ephraim, the old man crosses his hands, and says, "Not so, my son, not so." God will accomplish His purpose.
And mark further how He sustains our faith. (vv. 16-20.) He put faith in Abraham still more to the test by telling him to offer up Isaac, and He then confirmed it by an oath. God exercises our patience; but while He exercises our patience, He gives "a strong consolation" to those who are exercised. Of old, the ark "went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting-place for them." (Num. 10:33.) They were not to rest in the wilderness; still there was a little respite by the way. And there is this refreshment by the way to strengthen and cheer those who are in the way.
The great Heir is already crowned with glory and honour. (vv. 19, 20.) Thus we have our hope confirmed in a manner in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not. It is a heavenly hope, because it "entereth into that within the veil;" and it is a sure and steadfast hope, because of Jesus having entered already there (as our forerunner), and, moreover, by the Holy Ghost's being sent down. "Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them," etc.; but we have more than even that, we have "the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven," the witness of the glorification of Jesus, and "the earnest of our inheritance." Our consolation is strong. But we shall find we have "need of patience."