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Warning Against Falling Away April 22, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 5:11-6:12.

Summary: The author begins by telling his readers that he has a multitude of important things to tell them regarding Melchizedek; yet he reproves them for their slothfulness – which has given them a weak understanding of this topic. Indeed, they had enjoyed a time of instruction in the Gospel message that should have enabled them to instruct others – yet they still need someone to teach them the first principles of Christian religion which stem from the Old Testament; these principles – and not the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel – are appropriate to their present condition. On one hand, anyone whose present condition requires them to learn the first principles of Christian religion is unable to use the Gospel message wisely, as they have made little spiritual progress. On the other hand, those who have made spiritual progress can be taught the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel, as they have attained – through constant exercise – the ability to make an exact judgment between good and evil.

The author then exhorts his readers to not dwell on the learning of the first principles of Christian religion; instead, they should aim to learn the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel. Indeed, other people have already taught them the first principles of Christian religion, including:

  • repentance from the sins of unregenerate people
  • special faith in Christ
  • baptism
  • the giving of the supernatural spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who have been baptized
  • the resurrection of the dead
  • a general judgment for all people.

If it is God’s will, then the author will help his readers learn the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel.

Now the author warns his readers that God’s image cannot be renovated in the nature of those who have:

  • been instructed in the teaching of the Gospel and understand it spiritually
  • experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in the dispensation of the Gospel
  • benefited from the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit
  • experienced the desirable nature of the Gospel
  • experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the kingdom of Christ
  • totally renounced all of the principles and teachings of Christianity.

This stems from the fact that those people had never been inwardly renewed in the first place. The author illustrates this point with an agricultural analogy: land that receives abundant rain and brings forth green herbs at the correct season for those who cultivate it is blessed by God, while land that brings forth thorns and thistles is rejected and neglected – and eventually it will be totally destroyed.

The author then hastens to assure his readers – for whom he has complete affection – that he is confident that they have saving grace in them. He assures them that God is not unrighteous; indeed, He cherishes and preserves them as they continue to obey the Gospel. In particular, He will reward them for their ongoing ministry toward poor saints. He exhorts all of them to continue diligently in carrying out their duties so that they can have a fixed, constant assurance that they will receive the good things that God has promised them. The author concludes by stating that his readers should follow those who quietly waited on God – exercising faith in Christ as their Savior from sin – and inherited the good things that God had promised them.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author reproves the Hebrews, since they have not made much spiritual progress. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 12 of chapter 5:

Here is a yardstick by which Christians can measure their spiritual maturity. If the solid doctrines about the work of Christ, especially his priesthood and sacrifice, are in their minds and emotions, and if they find spiritual nourishment in them, this is a sign of the progress they are making in understanding Christ and the Gospel.

Owen seems to draw a distinction between “plain, basic truths” and “the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel” in his commentary on the distinction between “milk” and “solid food.” Now this passage can be linked to 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul reproves the Corinthians, since they have not made much spiritual progress. In Hodge’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 3, he noted:

The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the Gospel that we are authorized to keep back from the people.

Now I may be mistaken on this point, but it certainly appears that Owen and Hodge have different conceptions of the distinction between “milk” and “solid food” as they relate to the Gospel message. Thus, I hope to be able to meet Owen, Hodge, Paul and the author of Hebrews in the next life; if it is God’s will, then perhaps we can discuss the distinction – if it exists – between “milk” and “solid food” at that time. Returning to the current passage, if Owen is correct in his interpretation of “solid food,” then one must wonder if there are other “great and deep mysteries of the Gospel” that God did not include in the Bible; perhaps Hebrews serves as a preview of the sublime truths that we will learn in the next life.

In this passage, while the author reproves the Hebrews for their lack of spiritual progress, he does commend them for their obedience to the Gospel. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 10 of chapter 6:

The Hebrews show their work and love by constantly engaging in it…They exercise their love toward the saints.

How did God view the Hebrews at that time? On one hand, they were rather slothful in terms of understanding the basic Gospel message, which prevented the author from immediately proceeding to his teaching regarding Jesus’ priesthood and sacrifice. On the other hand, they had taken concrete steps toward meeting the material needs of other poor believers. Did the Hebrews actually have saving grace in them, or was the author merely expressing his desire for their ultimate salvation? If the Hebrews actually had saving grace in them, were they able to hold fast to their faith when they died, or did they fall away before that time? I certainly hope to meet all of the Hebrews in the next life and see how they responded to this letter – including the harsh words that were employed by the author in this section. Now I should note that this passage has also spurred me to improve my understanding of the Gospel so that I can convey its basic principles to others; indeed, this blog is a means to that end.

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