Going on to Perfection

“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.” —Hebrews 6:1-3

PAUL’S LETTER TO the Hebrews evidently was prompted by a tendency on the part of those to whom it was written to waver in their faith and hope. They were not holding firmly to the truth, hence were failing to imbibe its richness of joy and peace in the Lord. This background of the epistle appears throughout nearly all of its thirteen chapters. Chapter 2, verse 1, reads: “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. The opening verse of the 4th chapter exhorts: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” It is necessary to keep this general theme of the epistle in mind in order to understand clearly what the apostle means in our text by leaving the principles [Greek—same Greek word as translated “first” in Heb. 5:12, meaning ‘chief’] of the doctrine of Christ and going on to perfection.

What are the ‘principles of the doctrine of Christ’ which the apostle refers to as the ‘foundation’ upon which we build as Christians? He mentions first, ‘repentance from dead works’. As the epistle was written to Hebrew converts to Christianity, the ‘dead works’ mentioned are doubtless the efforts of the Jews to gain life by keeping the Law. These were dead works for the reason that they failed to give life. But repentance is the important consideration in this doctrine.

It is repentance from whatever may have been our past—repentance, and through faith, the acceptance of the shed blood of our Redeemer as a covering for our imperfections. This is a definite step in the life of all who become Christians, but it cannot be forgotten, or left behind. As Christians we should daily be in a repentant attitude of heart and mind. This fundamental teaching should serve continuously to keep us humble before the Lord, and in constant recognition of our need of divine grace and mercy through Christ.

The apostle mentions ‘faith toward God’ as another principle of the doctrine of Christ. Does a Christian ever reach the point where he does not need to exercise faith toward God? Surely not! Instead, we will want our faith to increase, knowing, as Paul explained, that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God].” (Heb 11:6) No matter what progress we make in the narrow way, we certainly cannot progress beyond the need of faith.

The ‘doctrine of baptisms’ is another one which Paul listed as among the chief principles. The fact that he uses the term in the plural indicates that he has reference to more than one baptism. In Paul’s day there was John’s baptism for the remission of sin, which applied to Jews only; and there was the doctrine of baptism as it has applied to all Gentile converts throughout the entire Gospel Age. This is our baptism into Christ’s death—the burial of our will to do the will of God. Then there is the symbol of that baptism, which is immersion in water. When accepted as members of the Christ body, we come under the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which came upon the church at Pentecost.

All these baptisms are vital to the Christian from the beginning to the end of his walk in the narrow way. He does not need to symbolize his consecration over and over again, but the meaning of the symbol should be ever fresh in his mind and heart. Daily we need to keep our wills buried in the will of God, and daily we need to yield ourselves to the sweet and mellowing influence of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit which pervades and fills all who are members of the body of Christ. No, we cannot with safety ignore, neglect, or progress beyond the implications of the doctrine of baptisms—it is indeed one of the chief fundamentals of truth by which we are to be guided.

‘The laying on of hands’ is another doctrine included among the apostle’s list of ‘principles’. The literal act of laying on of hands ceased with the death of the apostles, but its symbolic significance has continued with the church throughout the age, and is a vital factor in the Christian life today. As a symbol it designates acceptance and authority. Those upon whom the apostles laid their hands received the Holy Spirit. This outward sign of approval was of value in the Early Church because, for one reason, it helped to establish the authority of the apostles.

But the Lord’s people still need that which the laying on of hands indicated; namely, the approval and acceptance of God, which now is manifested by the witness of the Spirit. What peace and joy is ours in the knowledge that we have been set apart by God, given his Spirit, and have been accepted as probationary members of the royal priesthood! Surely we who are endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of the Master do not want to lose sight of this glorious significance of the truth.

The ‘resurrection of the dead’ is also included among the ‘principles’. There is to be “a resurrection of the dead,” says the apostle, “both of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15) The resurrection of the ‘unjust’ will take place during the Millennial reign of Christ. The resurrection of the ‘just’ will consist of the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5,6) of those who “live and reign with Christ”; the resurrection of the Great Company (great multitude of Rev. 7:9); and the “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35) of the Ancient Worthies—faithful men of past ages.

Are these unimportant facts which we can afford to ignore in our general fellowship? Surely not! The resurrection constitutes the inspiration of our hopes. In I Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul made it clear that our faith and hope are vain without the resurrection. The doctrine of the resurrection includes the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. In Ephesians 1, Paul said that he prayed for the opening of the eyes of our understanding in order that we might realize the mighty power being exercised on our behalf, explaining that it is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. Could anything be more inspirational, more ennobling, more faith-strengthening, than meditation upon the realities of the resurrection! Surely we cannot progress beyond our need of what this doctrine means to us as Christians!

The last doctrine mentioned in our text is ‘eternal judgment’. That there is a future Judgment Day for the world, and that we as Christians are now passing through our judgment day, are vital doctrinal facts which we should cherish. Paul’s use of the expression ‘eternal judgment’ would seem to refer to the rightness or justice of God’s dealings both now and in the future. It is certainly important that we keep constantly before us the fact that our lives are an open book before God; and that while he is merciful and just, our trial will end favorably only if we keep our hearts pure, and render unto him the very best that we have. This doctrine of eternal judgment is therefore most important as a guide in the building of Christian character. Let us never deny this doctrine its proper place in the foundation of our faith.

If we are not to ignore, minimize, neglect, nor make commonplace the ‘principles of the doctrine of Christ’, what does the apostle mean by ‘leaving’ them? Certainly he does not mean their neglect, for in the preceding chapter he tells the Hebrews that their need was that these first principles should be taught to them again—they had left them—that was their difficulty!

For one to progress in the understanding of the truth to the point outlined in these ‘principles’, and to have experienced their verities in their life, and then neglect them, is serious. To ‘fall away’ from them entirely would mean the loss of everything, as Paul clearly shows. It is manifest then that the apostle is not suggesting that these precious doctrines of truth are merely of temporary value, to be laid aside as we progress to higher things.

What then does he mean by ‘leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ’ and going on ‘to perfection’? The very next clause in the text explains. Paul says: “Not laying again the foundation.” There is only one way a builder can properly leave the foundation of a building, and that is to build up from that foundation. But as he builds up from the foundation, if it is to stand, it must be kept in line with the foundation. To keep a building in line with the foundation, the builder must square the entire superstructure with that foundation. This means that the foundation is a constant guide to him. He cannot ignore it, nor lose sight of it, for it is the guide to the placing of every other piece of material in the entire building.

How then, in this building process, do we go on to ‘perfection’? What is the state of perfection to which the apostle here alludes? These questions are clearly answered in the remaining verses of the chapter. Following his warning of the dangers involved through neglect of the truth—a neglect which could lead to a complete falling away—Paul continues: “For 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. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak.”—Heb. 6:7-9

The thought of the apostle is apparent. As the rain upon the tilled soil causes life-giving food to spring from the earth, so the truth in the broken and contrite hearts of the Lord’s people is likewise designed to ‘bring forth fruit’—the fruit of the Spirit—the exemplification of godlikeness in our lives. Elaborating on the thought, the apostle continues: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Heb. 6:10-12

Making a proper use of the principles, in contrast to giving merely a temporary mental assent to them, is further stressed by Paul’s use of ‘milk’ and ‘strong meat’ as illustrations of progress in Christian knowledge and growth. The milk illustrates the doctrines, he indicates; and the strong meat the discerning of what is truth and what is error. We quote: “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use [of the milk] have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”—Heb. 5:14

The apostle is not here suggesting that the ‘strong meat’ represents complex and involved speculations, but rather a heart appreciation of the principles in such a full sense that they can be used to direct the Christian in the discernment of the Lord’s will. It is for this purpose that God gives us the doctrines. They are the outline of his plan for us as Christians. They are a guide to what is correct and what is incorrect, and it is the discerning of the meaning of these doctrines and their use in our lives that constitutes the ‘strong meat’.

Notice that Paul couples the need of endurance with the thought of fruit-bearing. James gives us the same lesson, saying, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it. … Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts.”—James 5:7,8

To further clinch the lesson concerning the need of endurance and stability, Paul cites God’s dealings with faithful Abraham. He speaks of the time when God made a promise to Abraham and of the fact that subsequently this promise was confirmed by God’s oath. But the confirmation of the promise was not obtained by the patriarch until he had “patiently endured.”—Heb. 6:13-15

The full force of this lesson is lost in the King James Version by reason of the fact that the English word ‘promise’ is used to translate two different Greek words. When Paul speaks of the original promise to Abraham, he uses a Greek word which simply means an announcement—a statement of fact. But when he says that after Abraham endured he “obtained the promise,” he uses a Greek word which, according to Professor Strong, means ‘a divine assurance’.

Here, then, we see what Paul means by building upon the foundation doctrines of the truth, and thereby going on to perfection. To start with, those truths, like the promise made to Abraham, are merely statements of God’s plans and intentions toward us. Like Abraham, we believe them, but if their full implications are to be realized in our lives we must demonstrate our ability to “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” to endure under trial, as Abraham did. (Heb. 10:23) And, like Abraham, if we do not waver, but steadfastly remain firm in the faith, we, too, will receive the divine assurance of our standing before God, the advance witness or seal of the Spirit. This is the present goal of the Christian—the ‘perfection’, or ideal state for which we should strive.

Paul explains that by two immutable things we have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” in the Gospel. (Heb. 6:18,19) These two ‘things’ are (1) the promise of God to Abraham with the subsequent binding of that promise by his oath; and (2) the assurance of its future accomplishment by another oath concerning Melchisedek as a type of Jesus in his kingdom. (Heb. 7:20-22) We, in turn, believe the promise, and prove our worthiness to inherit it by enduring faithfully every test the Lord may permit to come upon us.

And what was that promise? Simply that through the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth are to be blessed. This promise and its confirmation is the very embodiment of our hope. Paul calls it the “Gospel,” and declares that if we have been baptized into Christ, we have become heirs of the promise as the ‘seed’ which is to bless all the families of the earth.—Gal. 3:8,27-29

And it is this hope which we “have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Heb. 6:19,20) How apparent, then, is the lesson the apostle is bringing to our attention.

The failure of the Hebrew brethren was not in the fact that they did not delve into allegedly deep and complex interpretations of the Scriptures; nor that they did not give sufficient attention to devotional truths. Rather, it was because they did not hold to the foundation truths of the divine plan, building upon them, endure the tests which the Lord permitted, and throughout it all remain steadfast and unmovable in their faith and practice.

The ‘perfection’ referred to by the apostle in his admonition to ‘go on to perfection’ is, therefore, manifestly that ideal Christian state of being established, of standing firm in the faith, in contrast to the condition of those who vacillate and who are blown about by every wind of doctrine. Those who thus waver, fail to attain the ‘promise’, that is, the assurance of their acceptance with God. They lay the foundation of their faith, but fail to build thereon, and sometimes may even spend their time and energy building that which is out of line with the foundation, and contrary to the truth of God’s Word.

Paul indicated that these brethren had failed to take proper heed to the things which they had heard, and had let them slip. He admonished them to “call to remembrance the former days” when they were first enlightened, and when for a time they had endured a great fight of affliction. They had suffered for a while, but not long enough. So the apostle wrote, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise [divine assurance].”—Heb. 10:32,36

As revealed in the ‘principles of the doctrine of Christ’, it was the will of God that they repent from dead works. It was the will of God that they have faith in him and in all his provisions for them. It was the will of God that they be baptized into Christ. It was the will of God that they receive the Holy Spirit in connection with the laying on of hands. It was the will of God that they rejoice in and be inspired by the hope of the resurrection. And it was the will of God that they be cognizant of his eternal judgment by which the faithful would be rewarded and the unfaithful punished.

But having been enlightened concerning these doctrines, and having done the will of God by accepting them, it was necessary that they exercise proper patience, even as the husbandman in waiting for the fruit of the earth, if they were to have that full assurance of faith which is necessary in order not to be blown about by every wind of doctrine. This full assurance of faith centered in the oath-bound covenant with Abraham, was to be an anchor to their souls entering into that which is within the veil.

Springing forth from this oath-bound covenant come all the features of divine truth upon which a Christian feeds and grows strong in the Lord. But, as with Abraham, our faith in this promise must be strong and enduring. This covenant, and what it means to us, should be the all-absorbing theme of our lives. It is the only promise of God which he confirmed with his oath. The principles of the doctrine of Christ are in it, and only as we cherish these doctrines and use them as a foundation upon which to build, will the covenant itself become an anchor to our souls.

There is no way to live nearer to the Lord than by appreciating and living up to the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant. The blessing coming to mankind through the ‘seed’ promised in that covenant is the theme of all the holy prophets. The call and development of the ‘seed’ is the main theme of the New Testament. To actually ‘leave’ these things with the thought of centering our hearts and minds on something supposedly better, would be tantamount to leaving the Bible itself.

In that covenant God reveals his heart’s desire to bless all the families of the earth. Nothing is nearer to God’s heart than the plan he has made whereby these promised blessings may reach the people. If we want to be like God, we, too, will be interested in all the people. Jesus tells us that God sends the sunshine and the rain upon the evil and the good, and then admonishes us to be like our Father in heaven. We can be like him by being interested in his plan to bless all nations.

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |