Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 6

Going on to Perfection


VERSES 1,2  “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.”

These opening verses of Chapter Six are in reality a continuation of the lesson presented in the closing verses of Chapter Five. It is a lesson designed to encourage the Lord’s consecrated people, by study of the Word and the heart application of its principles, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Leaving the principles.’—This expression must be taken in connection with the explanation, ‘not laying again the foundation.’ Putting the two together the thought of ‘leaving’ the principles is simply that of building up from the foundation, not leaving them in the sense of deserting them, and never again thinking or talking about them. The illustration is clearly that of constructing a building. A building is not complete, or ‘perfect,’ while only the foundation is laid; neither would it be perfect if the superstructure were built elsewhere than on the foundation.

The word principles in this verse is the translation of a Greek word meaning ‘beginning, or chief.’ It is the Greek word arche, which is essentially the same as the first part of the word archangel, meaning ‘chief angel.’ It is not the same word which is used in the preceding chapter, in the expression ‘first principles.’ There, as we learned, the Greek word used signifies orderly arrangement, the thought being the orderly arrangement of the doctrines of the Bible to form the Divine plan of the ages.

The principles of the doctrine of Christ are not, therefore, the unimportant teachings of the Bible, but instead, the great foundation truths upon which all Christian belief and work must be built. How important it is, then, that we keep in constant and vital touch with these foundation principles. It would not be necessary to build the foundation repeatedly, but since the Hebrew brethren had let these things “slip” they needed to be taught over again, in order that they might, in renewing their devotion, have a foundation upon which to build.—Heb. 2:1

Repentance from dead works.’—Because Paul was addressing Hebrew Christians, the dead works here mentioned could be particularly their efforts to gain life by keeping the Law. These were dead works not only because they did not thereby gain life, but also because by them they were brought under the additional condemnation of the Law. But repentance is the principal thought in connection with this doctrine, and repentance is essential to receiving God’s blessings regardless of one’s former position in life.

Repentance is a definite step in the life of all who become Christians. It is not something with which we are concerned but momentarily when first drawn to the Lord. As Christians we are daily transgressing against God, and daily we need to be in a repentant attitude which seeks Divine forgiveness through the merit of the shed blood. This fundamental doctrine in the plan of salvation should serve continually to keep us humble before the Lord and in constant recognition of our need of Divine grace and mercy through Christ.

Faith toward God.’—The relationship of faith to our standing before God is a vital fundamental of the Divine plan. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the Scriptures declare. (Heb. 11:6) We see the importance of this doctrine by noting the manner in which Paul couples it with ‘repentance from dead works.’ No one can be justified by the works of the Law, but we can be justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1) How important it is to keep this fundamental truth clearly in mind and order our lives in keeping therewith!

The ‘doctrine of baptisms.’—Because all those of the Jewish nation had been “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” it was at first necessary for Jewish converts in the Early Church to be baptized with John’s baptism unto the remission of sins, and thus to be reinstated in their standing with God under the Law Covenant, in order to be transferred into Christ. (I Cor. 10:2) But even in the case of these, the real doctrine of baptism called for their burial into Christ, their covenant to be dead with him. Gentile converts had to symbolize this baptism in death by immersion in water. Thus ‘baptisms,’ in the plural, are involved in this basic teaching of the Truth, and all are important foundation truths upon which to build.

The ‘laying on of hands.’—This practice was familiar to the Jews under the Law Covenant. In Jesus’ day there were occasions when the sick were healed by the laying on of hands. The servants of the Early Church were elected by the laying on of hands, or, more literally, stretching forth the hand. Timothy was cautioned by Paul not to lay hands on anyone suddenly—without due consideration. (I Tim. 5:22) As a Christian doctrine, the laying on of hands seems to indicate clearly the giving of recognition and authority.

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. Those upon whom the apostles laid their hands received the Holy Spirit. This outward sign of approval was of great value in the Early Church; but the Lord’s people still need that which the laying on of hands represented; namely, the approval and acceptance of God, which is manifested by the “witness” of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:16) The doctrine, or teaching, which has to do with our being anointed by the Holy Spirit and being thereby recognized by the Lord as members of the body of Christ and authorized to be his ambassadors, is therefore fundamentally important. Surely we do not want to lose sight of this glorious significance of the Truth!

The ‘resurrection of the dead.’—“If in this life only we have hope in Christ,” writes Paul, “we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19) Surely the doctrine of the resurrection is a very vital one. This is true whether we think of it as pertaining to the “first resurrection” in which we hope to share; the “better resurrection” of the Ancient Worthies, or the general resurrection of the world. (Rev. 20:6; Heb. 11:35; Acts 17:31) It is the very foundation of our hope. It requires keen spiritual vision, which can be enjoyed only by “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised” to plumb the real depth of this glorious doctrine of the Truth. (Heb. 5:14) In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul says that he prayed for the opening of the eyes of understanding of “the saints which are at Ephesus,” that they might realize the mighty power being exercised on their behalf, explaining that it is the power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead and highly exalted him “far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.”—Eph. 1:18-21

Eternal judgment.’—The reference here seems to be to the final judgment, or determination as to the individual’s worthiness or unworthiness of everlasting life. The church is on trial now, and in the case of each probationary member the time will come when the decision must be made. Let us strive earnestly that we may be found among those who will hear those welcome words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21) 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 are able.

VERSE 3  “This we will do, if God permit.”—In two ways Paul reveals his humility by this statement. He had criticized the Hebrew brethren for their lack of zeal, and had pointed out to them their great need to make better progress in the Christian way, yet he puts himself on a level with them and says this will ‘we’ do, if God permits.

He realized that every blessing enjoyed by the Christian is a manifestation of Divine grace. We could not have come into this blessed relationship at all except the Heavenly Father had drawn us. (John 6:44) We could not know the Truth unless he had given us ‘ears to hear.’ (Matt. 13:16) We cannot make progress in the Truth unless the Lord permits, for we are able to work out our salvation only because he is working in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”—Phil. 2:12,13

VERSES 4-6  “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, And have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world [Greek, age] 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.”

The Greek word here rendered ‘once’ denotes more than the single fact that at one time we were enlightened. It is a word which means finality. Provision was made to rescue the fallen race from the result of Adam’s sin, but if we have been truly enlightened concerning this, have accepted the provision of Divine grace and have entered into covenant relationship with the Lord, and then fail, no further provision is made for us. We receive our enlightenment from the Word of truth. This is always the first step in approaching God. We may “feel after him,” but to find him we must be enlightened to know where he is and how to approach him.—Acts 17:27

The ‘heavenly gift.’—This heavenly gift is something which can be ‘tasted.’ What is it? It is Jesus, our Redeemer. The fact that we have tasted him implies that we have more than merely heard about him and believe that he is the Savior of the world. Jesus said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53) This denotes a close fellowship with the Master, based upon a full consecration to follow in his footsteps. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”—Song of Sol. 2:3

Partakers of the Holy Spirit.’—Those who have tasted of the heavenly gift as a result of making a full consecration to the Lord receive the begetting of the Holy Spirit. They are partakers of the Holy Spirit, suggesting a partnership in the sharing of its blessings.

The powers of the world to come.’—These are the powers of regeneration. In no other way will the power of God in the world, or age, to come be so wonderfully demonstrated as by the resurrection of the dead. Those who are partakers of the Holy Spirit now have by faith tasted of the power of the resurrection. They are, even now, in their hearts and minds, “risen with Christ,” and seated with him “in heavenly places.”—Col. 2:12;3:1-3;Eph. 2:6

If, after learning the ‘principles’ and experiencing the Christian blessings of this age, one then falls away, it would be impossible, says Paul, to renew him again to repentance. Evidently the Hebrew brethren had not progressed far enough to be exposed to this danger, although there is a warning here that they could not expect to be laying the foundation of repentance continually. To presume upon Divine grace after coming to a full knowledge of the Truth, and upon the basis of full consecration, experiencing its power in our lives would be like crucifying the Son of God afresh, and there is no provision for this in the Divine plan. “Christ dieth no more.”—Rom. 6:9

VERSES 7,8  “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.”

The apostle is using an illustration to help us grasp more clearly what he means by ‘going on to perfection.’ God’s purpose in watering the earth, and the purpose of those who till the ground, is that it might ‘bring forth herbs’; that is, that there might be a fruitage, or harvest. In this illustration the earth pictures those to whom are given the water of Truth, while the tillers of the soil might be those who are used by the Lord to assist the brethren in connection with their understanding of the Truth. This cooperative arrangement is intended to bring forth fruit, but if nothing but thorns and briers appear, the effort is wasted. So, the object in our receiving the Truth is not merely that we may enjoy it, but that it produce a fruitage in our lives, “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”—Heb. 12:11

VERSES 9,10  “Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

Although these Hebrew Christians had not been making use of their opportunities as they should, Paul was pleased to call them ‘beloved.’ This is the spirit of Divine love, the love that will not let go its hold on an individual while there is any evidence at all that reformation is possible. The expression, ‘better things’ is in contrast with the possibility just mentioned of falling away after being fully enlightened, and thereby crucifying the Son of God afresh. Here the apostle was encouraging them to take a firmer hold upon the Truth, and to follow that course of zeal and devotion which would result in their salvation—that “great salvation” which began to be spoken by our Lord.—Heb.2:3

These Hebrew brethren evidently ‘ran well’ for a time, for the apostle speaks of their ‘work and labour of love.’ Later, in Chapter Ten, verses 32-34, he asks them to call to remembrance these “former days” when they were first illuminated, when they “took joyfully” the spoiling of their goods, etc. He wanted them to renew their original zeal and love.

What could have been more encouraging to those who, perchance, had become weary in well doing than to assure them that the Heavenly Father had not forgotten their past faithfulness! While Paul does not say so, one of the evidences that God had not forgotten them was the fact that he stirred up the apostle’s mind to write this epistle as a means of helping them to take a more positive stand for the Truth and for righteousness.

God’s justice not only reproves and punishes where necessary, but treasures up every good deed and rewards it. Even the giving of a cup of cold water to one of his little ones will not go unrewarded. God also encourages every good trait that it might grow stronger and become more dominant in one’s life. He takes delight in every evidence of progress in the path of righteousness.

VERSES 11,12  “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.”

The same diligence.’—In the beginning, their work and labor of love was very manifest. God’s interest is in all his people—‘every one of you’—he does not want one to fail. But victory is dependent upon ‘full assurance of hope,’ not for a little while, merely, but until we have been faithful even unto death. Note the connection here with his former admonitions and warning with respect to failure to enter into rest because of unbelief.—Heb. 2:3;4:1-11

Every truly faithful and zealous disciple of Christ is an encouraging example to his brethren. Those who inherit the promises do so because of their implicit faith and patient endurance—even unto death. If we follow the example of these we will not be slothful, but diligent. God’s promises pertaining to the ‘great salvation’ are not unconditional. Those who actually inherit them must fulfill the conditions.

VERSES 13-15  “When God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware 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.”

The apostle here does not quote the entire oathbound covenant with Abraham, for he is not discussing the covenant, but is merely citing the illustration of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises or patiently waiting for their fulfillment as being essential to actually having them become a personal possession. God made a ‘promise’ to Abraham. Here the Greek word translated promise means simply an announcement. But the promise which Abraham obtained after he endured is from a Greek word meaning more than an announcement—it is, according to “Strong’s Bible Concordance” also a ‘pledge,’ or an ‘assurance.’ God gave Abraham this pledge, this assurance, when he ratified the original promise by his oath.

VERSES 16-18  “Men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

God’s willingness to give his people a more abundant assurance of his loving purpose toward them is fully in keeping with his grace and mercy. He did not need to confirm the covenant with his oath, for no one would ever have reason to doubt his word. Later, one of the requirements of the Law was that important matters should be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses, and God was willing to conform to this principle. His word was immutable and his oath was immutable, so by these two immutable things, he has given us strong consolation who have laid hold of the hope set before us in the covenant with Abraham.

VERSES 19-20  “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”

Our anchor is fastened ‘within the veil.’ Here the apostle puts the Christian in the position of the typical high priest who alone had the privilege of entering into the Most Holy of the Tabernacle. We can hope to enter into the antitypical Most Holy, even heaven, because Jesus, our Forerunner has, first of all, entered for us to prepare the way. What a glorious hope!

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